Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thoughts from A Bronx Friend on Puerto Rican Identity, Cultural Appropriation and Bruno Mars

My husband was born and raised a few blocks from Fordham University. His parents are both Puerto Ricans who came to New York City from the island in the 1960s. His father, a retired vet who fought in the Korean War, is an Afro-Puertorican. His mother and her family have more European features. Nonetheless, both sides of his family identify simply as "Puerto Ricans" and they all listen to the same music, eat the same food, etc.
Having been raised in the Bronx, my husband, a true "Nuyorican", went to public school with other children of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants as well as African Americans. It was in school that he was exposed to music from Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Juelz Santana, Puff Daddy, Mase, etc. All of the children in his school, no matter their ethnic background, grew up listening to Hip Hop and R&B. His parents discouraged him from listening to Hip Hop at home because they considered this to be "gang music". On the weekends his mother would play songs from Hector Lavoe, La Fabia, La Lupe, La India, Marc Anthony, etc. so he also grew up singing along to all of the songs that are considered Puerto Rican anthems such as "la murga" by Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon. During his teenage years he was exposed to "reggaeton" with the rise of Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Tego Calderon. This genre quickly became a favorite among the Spanish-speaking young people and my husbandwas not an exception. His favorite among them all became Tego Calderon who openly spoke about his African roots and his pride as an Afro-Puertorican. Up until that point, my husband had never identified himself as an "Afro-Puertorican", but Tego made it okay to do so.
It is this complex intersectionality that has created an identity crisis for many Puerto Ricans living in the states. With the many racial incidents in the recent years, such as the Trayvon Martin case, many Latinos living in the U.S. have been forced to reevaluate their identities as people of color. There are many Puerto Rican young people that could've easily been mistaken for a Trayvon Martin or a Philando Castile. They are not immune to being stopped by the police, harassed, or being discriminated against.
As far as Bruno Mars, he is obviously a person of color. It could become very murky when we start making distinctions on who is "black enough" because this is pretty much open to interpretation. If we say Bruno Mars is not "black enough" then we need to address Drake's identity, as well as Mariah Carey's identity, and maybe even Alicia Keys and Cardi B.
If the intention is to call out the "culture vultures" then perhaps the focus should be placed on Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Justin Timberlake.

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