Puerto Ricans and the Latinization of American Culture
Publication Year: 2004
Boricua Pop is the first book solely devoted to Puerto Rican visibility, cultural impact, and identity formation in the U.S. and at home. Frances Negrón-Muntaner explores everything from the beloved American musical West Side Story to the phenomenon of singer/actress/ fashion designer Jennifer Lopez, from the faux historical chronicle Seva to the creation of Puerto Rican Barbie, from novelist Rosario Ferré to performer Holly Woodlawn, and from painter provocateur Andy Warhol to the seemingly overnight success story of Ricky Martin. Negrón-Muntaner traces some of the many possible itineraries of exchange between American and Puerto Rican cultures, including the commodification of Puerto Rican cultural practices such as voguing, graffiti, and the Latinization of pop music. Drawing from literature, film, painting, and popular culture, and including both the normative and the odd, the canonized authors and the misfits, the island and its diaspora, Boricua Pop is a fascinating blend of low life and high culture: a highly original, challenging, and lucid new work by one of our most talented cultural critics.
Published by: NYU Press
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This book would not have been possible in any shape or form without the love and intellectual support of my parents, Ada Muntaner and Mariano Negr�n, scholars in their own right. I am especially thankful to my sister, Marianne Mason, now a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, for her rigorous comments on the manuscript. If she had also not threatened to finish...
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“There has never been,” wrote the columnist Taki Theodoracopulos in the London-based journal the Spectator, “—nor will there ever be—a single positive contribution by a Puerto Rican outside of receiving American welfare and beating the system.”1 Deeply disgusted by the “fat, squat, ugly, dusky, dirty and unbelievably loud” people who disrupted his bagel breakfast during...
Part I Founding Spectacles
1 Weighing In Theory: Peurto Ricans and American Culture
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Shame is at the core of most cultures’ origin myths, and in this sense it is not particular to boricuas.1 Puerto Ricans are also not the only “American” subjects whose identities have been crossed by shame; arguably all other racialized groups and queers are to different effect. Yet unlike African American identity or lesbian identity, for instance, modern Puerto Rican ethno-national...
2 1898: The Trauma of Literature, the Shame of Identity
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A survey conducted in 1998, on the centennial of the Spanish-American War, revealed that only 12 percent of Americans were aware that “Puerto Rico has been part of the United States for the past 100 years.”1 If Americans have chosen to forget how and under what circumstances the United States became an empire—and hence mask the shame of the Republic—the invasion of the...
3 Feeling Pretty: West Side Story and U.S. Puerto Rican Identity
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There are cultural icons that never seem to die no matter how much dirt you throw on them. And the multi-faced West Side Story—Broadway show, Hollywood film, staple of high school drama programs, inspiration for the 2000 Gap campaign featuring “the latest Spring styles and colors of the Khakis and the Jeans,”1 and possible remake featuring a “real” Puerto Rican cast—refuses...
Part II Boricuas in the Middle
4 From Puerto Rico with Trash: Holly Woodlawn's A Low Life in High Heels
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West Side Story may be the best known but it is not the only cultural artifact to imply that migration had queer effects on boricuas. In Island literary narratives and sociological discourse after the 1950s, migration to the United States is often considered a desgracia—disgrace in the sense of both a calamity and a fall from grace, a shameful disintegration of one’s signifying world....
5 The Writing on the Wall: The Life and Passion of Jean-Michel Basqulat
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The 1970s and 1980s gave rise to a New York queer-inflected, multiethnic urban culture that spurred new forms in music, the visual arts, and dance. In the words of the curator and art consultant Jeffrey Deitch, it “was an era of greater sexual openness to different cultures, and interchange between races.”1 Fueled to a great extent by racialized communities, this transculturation...
6 Flagging Madonna: Performing a Puerto Rican-American Erotics
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Before Puerto Ricans became “individually” wrapped cultural products, the record of U.S. urban boricua cultures was often widely accessible only through mainstream performances that consistently ended up erasing or displacing the source. Without the means to record, disseminate, and pass on Puerto Rican cultural capital on a “national” scale, the hunger to consume...
Part III Boricua Anatomies
7 Rosario’s Tongue: Rosario Ferré and the Commodification of Island Literature
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During the 1990s, Puerto Rican agency in mass culture became more noticeable. Yet, despite “foreignly” induced debates such as the Madonna “incident” or perceived subaltern assaults on upper-class taste such as Island-style hip hop, Puerto Rican high culture still seemed “safe” from the corrupting forces of commodified transculturation. Until the national organ most invested...
8 Barbie’s Hair: Selling Out Puerto Rican Identity in the Global Market
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A year before the life-size Puerto Rican “Ken” doll—Ricky Martin—jolted a jaded Grammy Awards audience to their feet with Latin pop, Puerto Ricans from both the Island and the United States were tearing their hair out over the impact of another “plastic” globalized commodity bearing the sign of boricuaness: the Puerto Rican Barbie. Mattel seemed genuinely surprised at...
9 Jennifer’s Butt: Valorizing the Puerto Rican Racialized Female Body
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I went to see the Hollywood-financed film Selena (1997) in a half-empty suburban theater with about a dozen other solemn, mostly Puerto Rican families dressed up in their Sunday best, parents scolding los ni�os in a low voice, telling them to eat their popcorn, sit down, and shut up. The sight was unusual, even extraordinary, since one rarely sees Philadelphia-bred...
10 Ricky’s Hips: The Queerness of Puerto Rican “White” Culture
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Hungrily pursued by marketing executives for his golden touch, appreciated by Latinos for giving “good” face, and hounded by the tabloids for his alleged homosexuality, the carefully crafted hologram named “Ricky Martin” put in considerable sweat equity in a cultural workout after his 1999 Grammy Awards appearance. If Jennifer López (chapter 9) afforded me—and...
Postscript: Words from the Grave
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The second half of 2001 spectacularly demonstrated how fleeting spectacles of pride could be in offsetting the shame of national identity. Beauty queen Denise Quiñones’s reign is over, Félix “Tito” Trinidad, the Island’s boxing joy, lost his crown to Philly bad boy Bernard Hopkins, and 9/11 temporarily knocked the subject of Vieques off the front pages. The Island economy further...
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About the Author
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Frances Negr�n-Muntaner is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, journalist, and cultural critic. Her films include Brincando el Charco: Portrait of a Puerto Rican. She is also the author of several books, including Anatomy of a Smile, and the co-editor of Puerto Rican Jam: Rethinking Colonialism and...
Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2004