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From Trigueñita to Afro–Puerto Rican: Intersections of the Racialized, Gendered, and Sexualized Body in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Mainland
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Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism 7.1 (2006) 162-182

From Trigueñita to Afro–Puerto Rican
Intersections of the Racialized, Gendered, and Sexualized Body in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Mainland

Me quiere hacer pensarque
soy parte de una trilogía racial
Donde to' el mundo es igual, sin trato especial
A quién mas
Se le ocurría
Saturar la mente a niños inocentes
Con educación incosistente
Manipulada viciosamente a
Conveniencia del prominente de los pudientes
1

--Tego Calderón, "Loiza," (2002)

This autoethnography examines the intersections of the racialized, gendered, and sexualized body that have defined my life across and within Puerto Rico and U. S. racial and political borders. Through personal accounts of my lived experience in both locations, I compare Puerto Rico's racialization process of mestizaje—an ideology that purports a state of harmonious race relations in which discrimination supposedly does not exist—with the [End Page 162] racial polarization of the mainland, where the existence of racism is more openly acknowledged.

Initially, I had planned to engage in a rather straightforward comparative analysis of these racializing models. However, by incorporating subaltern voices, I seek to demonstrate how the personal becomes political as feminists of color and transnational feminist scholars contend with racializing practices. As my grandmother used to say, "Dejáte de tapujos!" which translates roughly as, Tell it like it is! Through this essay, I reflect critically on my own racial experiences in an effort to give voice to Afro–Puerto Rican women's lived experiences, across and within Puerto Rico and U.S. racial and political borders.

Race and Racialization in Puerto Rico

Racialized as a hybrid, mestiza, negra, trigueña, prieta, morena, or mulata woman, an "organic metaphor of the three roots: Taíno, Spaniard, and African" (Duany 2002, 19). I have been situated throughout my life in a complex racial system. Phenotype, hair texture, skin pigmentation, social class status, and heritage and/or genealogy are the defining features of race. (Mintz 1989; Wade 1997; Torres and Whitten 1998; Duany 1998; and Rivero 2002). To publicly acknowledge racial differences is a threat to the island's class- and color-blindness, where individuals—regardless of their social, economic, and racial/ethnic background—are ostensibly able to realize their potential and achieve economic and social mobility. In other words, todo el mundo es igual sin trato especial.2 For some, this assertion has become a protective shield, diverting attention away from the persistent societal denial of African heritage among Puerto Ricans. Afro–Puerto Ricans have to negotiate their blackness3 silently, while protecting their Puerto Ricanness, their common denominator, in an often antagonistic racial environment. Tomás Blanco (1950, 15) once wrote that Puerto Rico racism "es un inocente juego de niño."4 Indeed, these child games serve to perpetuate a culture of racial silence and have driven the attention away from persistent racial problems in Puerto Rico.

On the island, the politics of difference are subdued, silenced, and embedded within imaginary nationalist discourses. One of these discourses involves the idea of mestizaje, or race mixing. An important factor in the discursive construction of a purportedly racially homogeneous Puerto Rican nationality, the ideology of mestizaje tends to omit African or indigenous [End Page 163] ethnicity. Frances Aparicio (1998) claims that mestizaje is the sign for Whiteness, the rationale for the denial of pure Blackness (40). Along with other racist national ideologies such as blanqueamiento (Whitening), hispanophilia, and Afrophobia, mestizaje serves as a mechanism to reinforce Eurocentrism and thus limit the participation of underrepresented groups in politics, law, media, education, and other fields. Such ideologies are well known and thoroughly documented in Latin America and the Spanish Caribbean (Wade 1997; Aparicio 1998; Rivero 2000; and Godreau 2002). Their discursive function is to erase blackness from the systematic project of nation building. Anani Dzidzienyo and Lourdes Casal (1979) argue that the real problem for...