Tag Archives: Puerto Ricans

LATINO AMERICANS — A new PBS documentary series in three parts

1949: Four years after the end of World War II. My parents had only recently met. Through dances and other socials like the Annual Armistice Ball, war veterans were finding their future wives and husbands and reintegrating into civilian life. People were celebrating all across the American Empire, from the Caribbean to the Pacific, Puerto Ricans among them. Having served in the American armed forces, they were returning to their families in Puerto Rico or New York, where they became part of the Great Migration.

My mother had established a foothold in New York after working to bring her own mother and most of her siblings stateside from Puerto Rico. In 1949 the first democratically elected Puerto Rican governor took office. Operation Bootstrap, aimed at industrializing the island, was only beginning. My mother Maria Antonia Torres was ready for a new life.

My father Mariano Virgilio Escalona had journeyed from the East after his father, an officer in the Philippine Army, was beheaded during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. He sought new opportunities to help support his mother and siblings from afar. Filipinos have a term for those compatriots who go abroad and provide for their families — balikbayan. My father was a balikbayan when he met my mother.

The history of these times is written on the faces of my Puerto Rican family. Eight of us look Eurasian. My mother’s sisters, Titi Celia and Titi Julia (“titi” means “auntie”), also married Filipinos. People imagine we are related through our Asian side because of the way we look.

My mother and her two sisters jointly purchased a three-story row house on Bryant Avenue in the Bronx, each occupying a floor with her husband and children. We spent the first ten years of our lives together in what might be considered an early co-op. Our households exemplified Puerto Rican matriarchal rule, with our Filipino fathers usually away at sea. Uncles Sammy and Andy were lifers in the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard; my dad was in the U.S. Merchant Marines.

The Escalonas occupied the first floor with ready access to the porch and backyard. My brother and I spent a great deal of time playing outdoors. My mother was a strong believer in the health achieved by basking in the sun and breathing fresh air.

The Evangelistas lived on the second-floor. When not in church, my two cousins passed the time on their fire escape and on religious outings. Titi Celia had converted to the Pentecostal faith in the late fifties. My grandmother Uquita, our great matriarch, lived with them.

The Julatons moved into the third floor where the previous owner left an old upright piano. Titi Julia had been married before and brought her four Puerto Rican children to live with her and her four half-Filipino girls. Uncle Andy did not seem to mind. These older cousins sang Doowop and R&B. They played conga, guitar and piano. They taught their younger sisters to sing and dance to the latest Salsa, Soul, and Rock. I still remember the great fiestas Titi Julia threw during the holidays. The entire Torres clan would turn up.

Puerto Ricans thrived in New York. Many moved to the suburbs, others bought homes in Puerto Rico. Six of my aunts and uncles relocated to the island after retiring or saving enough to start a small business. My Uncles Gallardo and Eduardo owned barber shops in the Bronx and returned to Puerto Rico to open shops there.

The Julatons were the first to leave our co-op, returning to Puerto Rico in the late sixties as part of the reverse migration. I was too young to remember their sorrowful farewell, but old enough a decade later to suffer the departure of the Evangelistas. My mother bought her sisters’ shares and eventually lost the property to urban blight. We lived in what came to be known as Fort Apache. It almost cost my parents their lives.

Our neighborhood had been a mix of Jews, Italians, West Indians, African Americans, and ever-increasing Puerto Ricans. My best friend Fishy, Raymond Alvarez, was Puerto Rican and Cuban. He lived across the street from us. Fishy’s father emigrated from Cuba because of growing political unrest there. Most of the homes on our block were privately owned and our street was paved with red brick. Our family doctor made house calls and had his office in a beautifully appointed apartment building at the corner. This was our world before the city’s economic crisis devastated the Bronx.

How different we may have seemed to our neighbors is unclear because the neighborhood was diverse and our family formed its own little society or enclave. We seemed more Puerto Rican than Filipino though we looked Asian. We seemed more American than Puerto Rican because our education and most of our cultural references were American. We enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs, and French fries. We savored meals with platanos maduros, bistec encebollado and arroz con habichuelas. We relished pork adobo, pansit, and ginger chicken soup. When our fathers were home, we feasted on foods from both sides of the empire and some American dishes too. Like New York cut steak, medium rare, with a dash of ketchup, accompanied by slices of buttered French bread, and washed down with ice-cold Seven-Up. A favorite dish of my dad’s and mine too—though today I rarely eat steak or drink soda.

Some of us still live in the Bronx, but all the Puerto Rican-Filipinos are gone. My parents eventually moved to Long Island. I wound up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, going to college. My brother joined the service.

Many who first arrived from Puerto Rico have passed away but not before seeing an increasingly diverse generation of Puerto Rican-Filipinos. My niece and five nephews are Puerto Rican-Filipino and Polish. Most are married and have their own children, adding Mexican and Chinese to the Puerto Rican mix. The history of these times is written on their faces too.

CHECK OUT THE BLOG AND KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THE SERIES: http://www.pbs.org/latino-americans/en/blog/2013/08/29/History-Written-Faces/

Puerto Ricans Stampede to the U.S.

Puerto Ricans Stampede to the U.S., according to the Census Population of the island decreases by 2.2% in the last decade
By José A. Delgado | jdelgado@elnuevodia.com
El Nueva Día (December 22, 2010)
translated from Spanish by NiLP

WASHINGTON – Massive emigration to the United States and the reduction in birth rate have caused a drop of 2.2% in the population of Puerto Rico during the last decade, according to the new 2010 federal Census.

On April 1, 2010 Puerto Rico’s population was 3,725,789, or 82,821 less than in April 2000. This is the first time since the Federal Census has been conducted in Puerto Rico that the Puerto Rican population decreased from one decade to another.

Just one another federal jurisdiction, the state of Michigan, which has one of the three highest unemployment rates in the U.S. (12.4%), had a decline in their population during the last decade. The unemployment rate in Puerto Rico was in more than 16% in 2010.

“There is no doubt that in the case of Puerto Rico there has been a major migration pattern,” said Raul Cisneros, spokesman for the Federal Census, after announcing yesterday the first results from Census 2010.

According to the Census, 489.509 people moved from Puerto Rico to the United States between 2000 and 2008. “This does not include the number of people who returned to Puerto Rico during the same period,” said Professor Jorge Duany, an expert at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).

In terms of the birth rate, statistics from the Department of Health of Puerto Rico in 2000 indicate that 15.6 children were born per 1,000 people. But in 2009, Duany stressed, the rate was 11.6 per 1,000 persons.

“The mortality rate, however, remained stable, around 7.4 deaths per 1,000 people,” said Duany.

The economic hardships of the past five years, the high rate in crime, low wages in comparison with the United States and low entry of foreign immigrants are other factors that may have caused the reduction in the population of the island

For example, data from the Planning Board indicate that between October 2000 and October 2010 Puerto Rico had 46,000 fewer employees (1.094 million), said Sergio Marxuach, an economic researcher for the Center of a New Economy (CNE).

In no other decade has there been as many murders as in the most recent. Since 2000, the total exceeds 8,600.

Foreign migration appears to have declined. Duany said Interior Department data indicate that between 2000 and 2009, 35.063 foreigners were admitted as immigrants in Puerto Rico, almost half of the total between 1990 and 1999.

Over Estimate

The first Federal Census estimates made between 2005 and 2009 overestimated the total number of residents of the Island.

Last week, preliminary calculations of the Puerto Rico Community Service placed the population of Puerto Rico at 3.94 million, about 200,000 more than the more accurate analysis presented yesterday from the 2010 Census.

The most recent estimate of the total of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. by the American Community Survey Federal Census was 4.16 million. The count of this population will be announced officially in February 2011, when announcing the next data release from the 2010 Census.

9.7% Increase in the U.S.

In the U.S., the population had an increase of 9.7%. Of the 281.4 million it had in 2000, now the total is estimated at 308.7 million (308,745, 538). In this release of the population count, the Federal Census does not include residents of Puerto Rico.

According to Cisneros, 53% of the residents of Puerto Rico completed and returned the federal census by mail, a 2% increase compared to 2000. Census officials competed the collection of this information through house to house visits. In the U.S., the mail delivery rate was 74%, virtually the same percentage of a decade ago.

The 2010 Census data determine redistricting in the United States and the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives.

Having had an increase of almost three million people, Florida, home to about 725,000 people of Puerto Rican origin, will gain two seats before the 2012 election. This will also represent an increase of votes in the U.S. Electoral College, through which the U.S. President is elected.

New York, home to more than a million Puerto Ricans, will lose two seats in the Federal lower house and two U.S. Electoral College votes.

Most of the states that gained seats and representation in the Electoral College voted in 2008 for Republican John McCain.

New York State Senator Bill Perkins honors Judith Escalona, Executive Director of PRdream.com

March 26, 2010 – New York State Senator Bill Perkins and the Caribbean Cultural Center recognized Judith Escalona, filmmaker, writer, critic, curator, producer and executive director of PRdream.com as one of New York’s accomplished women in the arts.

For her work in new media and film, Escalona has received grants from New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affaris, New York Foundation, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, North Star Fund and Chase/SMART. Escalona is a El Diario/La Prensa Destacada Latina (Distinguished Latina (2000) and a Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College Awardee (2003). She is currently in postproduction on a new film entitled Bx3M which she wrote and directed.

PRdream.com which Escalona founded in 1998 changed the cultural landscape of Northern Manhattan with its new media gallery MediaNoche, Uptown’s only art and technology gallery presenting a roster of local and international new media artists. PRdream.com has been recognized by AOL, About.com, and DMOZ Open Directory Project.

Her work has been featured in WCBS-TV, WNBC-TV, CUNY-TV, the NY Times, Daily News, NY Post, and the Village Voice. Escalona also produces television segments for Independent Sources, a magazine show presenting the views of ethnic and alternative media on CUNY-TV. She is the original creator and curator of Nuyorican Cinema and the Handball Court Summer Film Festival (now known as PRdream Summer Film Fest). Escalona teaches filmmaking at The City College of the City University of New York.

The award ceremony took place on March 26, 2010.

Donate Now to PRdream.com

Get your signed copy of New York Ricans in the Hip Hop Zone and/or a DVD of Big Pun: Still Not A Player.

Donate Now to PRdream.com

Any donation is appreciated and contributes to our lasting legacy on and offline. You know PRdream.com or don’t you?

We were one of the first Puerto Rican/Latino web sites on the internet in 1998, featuring oral histories, a gallery, a film section, historical timelines, and a forum for discussions.

We are a 501(C) (3) cultural enterprise located in Spanish Harlem, New York City. Visit us at: http://www.prdream.com.

For your donation of $175, you’ll receive a signed copy of Raquel Rivera’s New York Ricans in the Hip Hop Zone and a DVD of Marcos Miranda’s Big Pun: Still Not a Player.

For your donation of $100, you can choose either a signed copy of New York Ricans in the Hip Hop Zone or a DVD of Big Pun: Still Not a Player.

For a $50 donation, you’ll receive a ringside seat and advance notice of our events including: A Tribute to Rosario Ferre with a marathon reading of Eccentric Neighborhoods scheduled for June, and the PRdream Summer Film Fest featuring films from Puerto Rico, old and new, scheduled for July and August. (Back by popular demand, screenings of La Venganza de Correa Cotto, La Palomilla, and the long lost Toño Bicicleta).

The bonus of course is the tax write-off. Make a donation NOW! Supplies are limited!

Please go to: https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=1202 or send a check or money order made payable to “PR Project Inc.” and mail it to PRdream/MediaNoche, 1355 Park Avenue, Corner Store, New York, NY 10029. Thank you.

Latinos and President Obama’s State of the Union Address

By Angelo Falcón

It’s official. Latinos no longer exist.

Well, that’s the case if you go by President Obama’s very first State of the Union address last night.

The President made no reference to the Latino community, nor did he say anything about Latin America or the political status of Puerto Rico. Most Latinos live in cities, but the President made only one reference to the “inner-city” and said nothing about urban policy (whatever happened to Obama’s urban policy guru appointee Adolfo Carrion?). But to be fair, indirectly, when he chastised the Supreme Court majority about their Citizens United ruling and how it opens the doors for unfettered corporate (and foreign) intervention in American politics, he was probably thinking of Hugo Chavez (and it was nice to see Justice Sotomayor sitting next to a grimacing Justice Alito). Hell, the President didn’t even mention Guantanamo or the 2010 Census!

This, of course, is a totally unfair way to look at the State of the Union speech, because there is some evidence that Latinos do, in fact, exist. And, as the first Black President, he’s got to be careful not to bring too much attention to suspect populations like ours, especially with all the criticisms that have been heaped on him lately. As he triangulated and checked off boxes in his State of the Union, the President was, I am sure, factoring Latinos into everything he spoke about last night.

For those looking for a strong statement in support of comprehensive immigration reform, the speech was a big disappointment. The President explained that, “we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system, to secure our borders, and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations. In the end, it’s our ideals, our values that built America, values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe, values that drive our citizens still.” That was it.

On civil rights, the President pointed out that, “We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution, the notion that we’re all created equal, that no matter who you are or what you look like, if you abide by the law, you should be protected by it, if you adhere to our common values, you should be treated no different than anyone else . . . We must continually renew this promise. My administration has a Civil Rights Division that is once again prosecuting civil rights violations and employment discrimination . . . We finally strengthened our laws to protect against crimes driven by hate.” That was it.

But on the big picture issues, the questions are how do they impact on the Latino community and how will the Obama Administration engage our community in addressing them. His big theme was job creation and getting across the message that he is listening to the American people on jobs as the priority issue. He outlined a number of tax breaks, investments in education and use of the stimulus monies to create new jobs, recognizing that “these steps won’t make up for the 7 million jobs that we’ve lost over the last two years.” Latinos, by the way, are disproportionately represented among those 7 million.

One of the President’s main messages was to demonstrate how he would be distancing himself from Wall Street and connecting more with Main Street. His call for fees for the biggest banks to recover the federal bailout funding received a standing ovation, as did his plan to use $30 million that the Wall Street banks have repaid to get community banks to make more loans to small businesses and his call for serious financial reform.

But there was a contradictory quality to the various initiatives the President outlined. He proposed new programs that would require new spending, while at the same time saying that he is “prepared to freeze government spending for three years.” The President also threw in a number of initiatives that looked like caving in to his opposition. Tax cuts, “pay as you go” legislation, building nuclear power plants, investing in clean coal, and so on. He announced the ending of the Iraq War by August, one the one hand, and the ramping up of the Afghan War, on the other.

The State of the Union also spoke to efforts to thwart terrorism, comprehensive climate and energy legislation, plans to double exports, the recommendations of his middle class task force, transparency of Congressional earmarks, and even mentioned his continued support for passage of the health insurance reform legislation.

In terms of the politics, the President used this speech to reposition himself differently with the Republicans. He, in the mold of Bill Clinton, sought to co-opt some Republican programs, as well as trying to push Republicans into a corner on issues such as taxing the banks, financial reform, and on the most popular aspects of health care reform. The political paralysis engendered by the filibuster was also highlighted by the President in an attempt to put additional pressure on the Republicans to cooperate.

On both the policy and political aspects of the State of the Union, the Latino community faces many challenges. By being treated publicly like a mistress by the President, Latinos remain almost invisible in these policy debates. This means relying on indirect routes to participation with the Obama Administration and the Congress, and being in the unenviable position of having to trust the President and Congressional leaders when there has been so little to show for doing so in the past. This also means continuing to rely on an “insider” approach to politics in the beltway, while all the Latino base in the barrios and communities throughout the country (and Puerto Rico) see are political stalemates, corruption and secrecy (can you see secrecy?).

This President has appointed the greatest number of Latinos to senior positions in the White House and the rest of the federal government of any President. On the policy issues raised by the President, how will these Latinos within the Administration be working and organizing themselves to assure that the needs of our community are being seriously addressed? At 8 percent, Latinos are probably the most underrepresented community in federal government employment, and so our presence in day to day policy making and implementation in Washington, DC is severely limited. Can the Latino political appointees find ways to compensate for this lack of presence?

On the politics, will the President give some priority to including the Latino leadership in the development of strategies at the highest level, or continue to dole out generalities through a series of teleconferences and “briefings”? What role will the Democratic Party be playing to assure the Latino community that it is no longer taking it for granted? But, most importantly, what will the Latino political and civic leadership be doing to make sure that our community’s voices are heard loud and clear by President Obama and Congressional leadership?

If the level of the discussion on these questions at the recent highly regarded 2010 Latino State of the Union forum by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is any indication, we may not be quite ready for primetime yet. If that’s the case, then we could be blowing a historic opportunity for change big time.

Angelo Falcón is president of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). He can be contacted at afalcon@latinopolicy.org.

The Puerto Rican Community Speaks Out: The word “spic” is out!

Note: The recent controversy over the naming by El Museo del Barrio of a spoken word series using the word “spic” hit a nerve among many in the Puerto Rican’Latino literary community and others. The Museo issued a statement on this issue on the website, which generated a response from some leading Puerto Rican cultural workers. We thought you would find this exchange interesting and thought-provoking, understanding, after all, that words can be like bricks.

To express your views on this issue to the Museo’s Director, Julian Zugazagoitia, you can write to him at director@elmuseo.org.

—Angelo Falcón

You Spoke Out/We Listened!
El Museo del Barrio (December 9, 2009)

El Museo del Barrio, out of respect for those members of our community who have expressed strong feelings against the use of the word ‘spic’ in the title of our spoken word program, has renamed this series. The new title is “Speak Up!/Speak Out!”

El Museo is proud that many of its programs and exhibitions are at the cutting edge of Latino artistic expression. We are emboldened by the strength we draw from our roots and culture, which allows us to respect the past while helping to chart the future place of the Latino voice in the general culture.

Our program is a platform for addressing contemporary social issues and political concerns-especially in terms of the Latino experience-through the creative use of language. The artists participating in the program over the past two years typically have long professional trajectories, and are deeply passionate about language and its social/political/historical weight and significance. Their aesthetic vision and dynamic engagement have generated lively discussion, debate, and creativity, and has made spoken word programming at El Museo an indispensable forum for ideas. As a result, the program has built a significant and loyal following.

We deeply regret that some of the artists that generated this platform by participating in the series have become targets of hate mail. We strongly believe that as artists they have the right to use words within the context of their art as a means of expression as they see fit. No artist should be censored or ostracized for being evocative or provocative.

We appreciate hearing the range of thoughts and feelings that have arisen in relation to the use of the word ‘spic’ in the title of our spoken word program. While the title was conceived as a re-appropriation of the term as a means of empowerment-an approach that already has a history in our own community, see context information below-the word still evokes strong and hurtful connotations. Therefore out of sensitivity to those who have expressed concerns with the use of the term and with profound respect for those for whom this term is offensive, we have renamed the series “Speak Up!/Speak Out!”

We take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to spoken word as a programming area. We continue to be proud that El Museo is a public platform where discussions like this happen for the advancement and understanding of our communities. We strongly believe that the respectful, insightful and articulated expressions of support and concern help us move forward and grow as a vocal, dynamic, and engaged community.
We are grateful for all the passionate feedback we have received for this series and invite you all to continue participating and joining us for our next installments of “Speak Up!/Speak Out!”

Context of Reference for How the Term “Spic” Was Used in the Initial Naming of the Program

El Museo did not intend to be hurtful when using the word ‘spic’ in the initial naming of the spoken word series. We hoped that by re-appropriating a word with a painful history for Latinos one could transform the word into a tool of empowerment.

This kind of re-appropriation and transformation has been successful in other contexts. For example, gay activists now use the old insult ‘queer’ in a positive manner (as in the slogan “We’re here, we’re queer,” among other uses). A group of Jewish journalists now publish a positive, edgy magazine called Heeb (also once a slur). Chicanos on the West Coast who once resented being called ‘pochos’ by other Mexicans now use the phrase with pride and humor in the hilarious satiric magazine Pocho, and comedy troupe of the same name. Each of these groups has been victorious in reclaiming an old slur, thus rendering moot the once painful effect of the word.

Within our own Latino community, the effort to reclaim the term ‘spic’ also has a long history, both in comedic plays and serious literature. The famed late Boricua poet Pedro Pietri used ‘spic’ in his acclaimed “Puerto Rican Obituary”-a poem first read in 1969 at a Young Lords rally-to call attention to racism against Puerto Rican immigrants. John Leguizamo’s Spic-O-Rama is a comedic play about a Latino family, based on his own childhood. This show has been publicly acclaimed since it launched in 1993. It enjoyed a sold-out run in Chicago before relocating to New York’s Westside Theater, where it drew large Latino audiences and won Leguizamo a Drama Desk Award.

Poet Urayoán Noel used the word in his 2000 piece, “Spic Tracts,” to attack present-day racism. And in 2005, Nuyorican performance artist Chaluisan opened a one-person show, entitled Spic Chic, at the Ibiza nightclub in the Bronx, which later enjoyed a successful run at the Wings Theater in New York City’s West Village. Also, acclaimed Mexican-American intellectual Ilan Stavans’ recent book, Mr. Spic Goes To Washington, employs humor to make salient points about Latino political engagement and one fictional character’s rise from the barrio to the halls of power.

To better understand this re-conceptualization, we must think about the history of the word. ‘Spic’ is widely believed to have originated in the phrases “no spic English,” or “I spic Spanish,” as uttered by a recent immigrant. Back when the term was coined, Latinos were often made to feel ashamed of speaking Spanish, or of not speaking English well. Many older Latinos remember teachers punishing them for speaking Spanish in class, or their parents being ashamed to have their children “spic Spanish.” Today when we use that word, we invoke a new meaning; a new pride. We are saying we are no longer ashamed to “spic Spanish.” Latinos across the country now advocate for dual language schools so our children can continue to speak our ancestors’ language (and some schools even teach Nahuatl and Taíno words). We are now proudly bilingual, in our music, movies, and art. Thus, creating this title in a sense celebrates the fact that we have now reached a point where we are proud to ‘spic up,’ in English or Spanish, with and without accents.

El Museo recognizes the charge that words can have and thus has renamed the series as “Speak Up!/Speak Out!” Our commitment to the spoken word is reflected by our listening to the words that were spoken and the feelings those words elicited. Speak Up!/Speak Out! reflects our commitment to having all words spoken with passion, creativity, and respect. Please join us for our upcoming programs and continue speaking up and speaking out for the betterment of our communities.

Open Letter on the Renaming of El Museo del Barrio’s Spoken Word Series “Speak Up/Speak Out”
By Richard Villar Sam Vargas Jr., Carmen Pietri-Diaz, Sam Diaz, Jesus “Papoleto” Melendez, and Fernando Salicrup (December 9, 2009)

El Museo Del Barrio has responded to the controversy surrounding their spoken word series, formerly titled “Spic Up/Speak Out.” The full text of this response, entitled “You Spoke Out/We Listened,” can be read at their website: http://www.elmuseo.org/en/explore-online.

A publicly-funded, community-founded arts institution should know better than to market to audiences, poets, or anyone else using the word “spic.”

In the last two weeks, this simple principle has led several diverse communities of artists, writers, teachers, and community members to gather, discuss, organize, and express their disappointment toward this unfortunate word choice. In recognition of this fact, and in response to the community’s postings, letters, and emails to museum staff (including its executive director), El Museo has chosen the correct path and changed the name of the show to “Speak Up/Speak Out.”

Unfortunately, El Museo has also chosen to continue concealing its poor artistic custodianship and community engagement behind the false fig leaves of free artistic expression and an ex post facto linguistic “context” of reappropriation (i.e. the act of reclaiming the word “spic”) for the original naming of the series.
Among the items unaddressed in El Museo’s three-page statement is that from the spring of 2008 until the summer of 2009, El Museo never claimed this context in its advertising, mailings, show flyers, or show descriptions. In fact, the first noted dispute over the title came from some of the very artists they sought to showcase, who in the summer of 2009 engaged in an email debate about the word choice in question. Then, and only then, did El Museo and its defenders attempt to supply a context of reappropriation to the series title. And only until an article appeared in the New York Times did the institution seem interested in entertaining a change in the name.

This alleged context for the naming of their series perpetuates the false parallel between individual acts of expression and the programming choices of a community-founded, publicly-funded institution.

To be perfectly clear, we believe that no artist should be censored or ostracized for their word choices, even those deemed offensive. We have never called for this series’ cancellation, nor have we pressured individual artists to back out of the series. We reject any such calls. Instead, we encourage all artists contracted to perform in this newly-renamed series to use their considerable artistic talents to voice their agreement or their displeasure with the Museo’s word choice as part of their performances.

We agree that the use of the word “spic” has a history in Latino literature. However, contrary to El Museo’s statement, the history is not an altogether positive one. Not every creative use of a slur implies a reclaiming or reappropriation of that slur.

We take particular issue with the interpretation of Pedro Pietri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary.” Neither of the two instances of the word’s use within the poem can be construed as reappropriation. Ironically, the one true instance of reappropriation in the poem is found in the Spanish word “negrito,” a word used by some Caribbean Latinos as an expression of love and a backhanded slap at the racist traditions our cultures have historically engendered. Notice, however, that Mr. Pietri’s line reads, “Aquí to be called negrito means to be called LOVE.” It does not read, “Aquí to be called spic means to be called LOVE.”

Regardless of the poetic interpretations offered or refuted, we reject out of hand the notion that individual uses of an epithet by themselves constitute an excuse for an institution to use an epithet as a program name. Our intent here is to remind El Museo Del Barrio of the difference between artistic expression and curatorial responsibility, a responsibility that has clearly been abdicated by means of El Museo’s latest statement. We read it as neither a true acknowledgment of the community’s outrage, nor as an apology. The fact is, nowhere in its missive does El Museo accept responsibility or explicitly apologize for offending people to whom they refer as “those for whom this term is offensive.” They have instead attempted to define a serious curatorial miscue, the use of an epithet by an arts institution, as an act of free speech and artistic license. To say El Museo misses the point is a gross understatement.

To date, we have yet to receive full disclosure as to how this series name was conceived in the first place. We still do not know which curator, intern, administrator, or committee was responsible to putting the title to paper. No staff member, senior manager, or board member of El Museo was willing to put his or her name on the statement. El Museo’s executive director, Julian Zugazagoitia, has not responded to a single email sent to him.

We continue to be hopeful for a fruitful community dialogue with El Museo and its management, given the activist history and community roots of the institution itself. To that end, we would suggest a community roundtable, one attended by the public and the Museo’s Board of Trustees and management, to give a public, face-to-face airing of all points of view on this particular matter.

We also renew our call for Mr. Zugazagoitia, in his capacity as executive director, to engage this community positively and take steps to ensure that this incident and incidents like it do not recur. And we call upon Mr. Zugazagoitia, the Board, and the public and private funders of El Museo to examine their own statement of purpose and ask themselves if the original choice of the word “spic” in its public programming truly
serves “to enhance the sense of identity, self-esteem and self-knowledge of the Caribbean and Latin American peoples by educating them in their artistic heritage and bringing art and artists into their communities.”

Richard Villar
Sam Vargas Jr., The Acentos Foundation
Carmen Pietri-Diaz
Sam Diaz
Jesus “Papoleto” Melendez, El Puerto Rican Embassy
Fernando Salicrup, Taller Boricua

Previous articles for context:

“Poetry Series Spurs Debate on the Use of an Old Slur Against Latinos,” by David Gonzalez. New York Times, November 20, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/21/nyregion/21poets.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

“Leaping The Barricades,” by Rich Villar. “El Literati Boricua” (weblog), November 25, 2009. http://literatiboricua.blogspot.com/2009/11/leaping-barricades-reaction-and-call¬to.html

“El Museo Changes Word That Got in the Way of the Meaning,” by David Gonzalez. New York Times, December 4, 2009. http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/04/at-el-museo-a-word-got-in-the-way¬of-the-meaning/

“Museo Del Barrio Changes Spic Up/Speak Out Poetry Series,” Village Voice New York News Blog. December 5, 2009. http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/archives/2009/12/museo_del_barri.php

Pathologizing Puerto Ricans? Here we go again…


Puerto Ricans in New York Struggling…Still
By Marianne McCune

November 20, 2009

Puerto Ricans are some of the most prominent figures in New York politics and culture, so some people are surprised when they hear that, overall, Puerto Ricans are among the poorest and least educated New Yorkers. Almost a third in New York are living in poverty. Here are some of the figures.

In New York City, 31.2 percent of Puerto Ricans live in poverty, compared with 27.8 percent of Latinos more broadly and 18.9 percent of the New York City population overall. Nationally, 22 percent of Puerto Ricans are in poverty, versus 19 percent of Latinos overall (from the American Community Survey via the Pew Hispanic Center).

Of course, when you look closely at the numbers you can see that other Latino groups are struggling as well — more Dominican and Mexican families in New York, for example, are living below the poverty line than Puerto Rican families.

But note that the margin of error for these stats from the 2005-2007 American Community Survey is big enough to put these groups basically on a par with each other. So what’s most surprising is that these groups are so close, given the supposed advantages Puerto Ricans have: They’re all citizens (because Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States), they’ve been in New York longer (most Dominicans and Mexicans immigrated to New York more recently), and a higher percentage speak English.

As for education: only 31% of Puerto Ricans have completed beyond a high school education as compared to 77% of Whites, 71% of Blacks (including African immigrants) and 42% of all Latinos. (From the American Community Survey via the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College)

Among Puerto Ricans between the ages of 24 and 32, only 16 percent have completed college, even though almost a quarter have at least one college-educated parent. And almost one in five Puerto Ricans that age with at least one college-educated parent dropped out of high school. (From the book “Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age”).

I decided to do this story after going to see Phillip Kasinitz of the CUNY Graduate Center to talk about his book “Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age.” As part of his comprehensive study, Kasinitz compared the children of Latino immigrants to the children of native born Puerto Ricans and he says he too was surprised to find that Puerto Ricans were experiencing less success educationally and professionally than many Latino immigrant groups.

Of course, when I went to speak with some of the leading thinkers on Puerto Rican issues, they said, “Duh!” But many said people don’t want to talk about this issue. Angelo Falcon of the National Institute for Latino Policy said the issues of Puerto Ricans have become invisible, especially as immigration issues dominate the political and academic dialogue around Latinos.

That’s how this story was born. Please contribute to this conversation by posting your comments below — there’s much to debate.

Tags: American Community Survey, CUNY, Dominican, immigration, Latino, Mexican, Mexico, National Institute for Latino Policy, Pew Hispanic Center, Puerto Rican, Puerto Rico | 17 comments | Posted in Economy, Education, Metro

Comment from Cynthia Ceilan
Date: November 20, 2009, 10:14 am

What these sorts of studies often fail to mention is the enormous numbers of Puerto Ricans who not only went to college, but enjoyed a significant measure of success in their chosen professions — and then left the city.

Puerto Ricans, native-born as well as their mainland-born children, have been thriving for decades in great numbers, though not necessarily in NYC.

To say that Puerto Ricans in New York are “still struggling” paints a rather skewed picture of this population. It also fails to recognize that 68.8% of us are educated and living well in this great city.

Comment from Victoria
Date: November 20, 2009, 11:11 am

Thank you for doing this story! I’m disappointed that Puerto Rican leading thinkers do not want to talk about this disparity that still exists. Why ignore the conversation if it can possibly catalyze positive change? If some of us can pull ourselves up then I think it is important to help others and not ignore the problems. (I write this as the daughter of a line of Puerto Ricans who have always worked hard and strived for a better life here – whether running their own businesses or working for community nonprofits.) We all need to help each other…

Comment from Juan A. Baea
Date: November 20, 2009, 11:51 am

The reason for the lack of achievement is because Puerto Ricans were benefited by the social programs of the 60’s, such as welfare, housing benefits and housing projects. This resulted in a mentality of dependence, not self reliance. Another casualty of the great society programs, much like African Americans.

Comment from Monica Rodriguez
Date: November 20, 2009, 12:06 pm

You came close to perhaps finding an answer to your questions when you mentioned that sometimes our (Puerto Rican’s) problems can mirror African Americans’s problems better than other Latinos’ issues. Puerto Ricans have a different experience, historically and today, than that of other Latinos. This is not often recognized, even among Latinos.
I’m thrilled to hear this piece highlighting the issue of the status of Puerto Ricans. Thank you for spending your time on this. The questions you ask have stumped me as well. I hope that they are answered soon.

Comment from Pablo Alto
Date: November 20, 2009, 12:40 pm

That fact that Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth (read: COLONY)has had a devastating effect on the spirit and psyche of Puerto Ricans here and on the island. This “neither state nor country” status means that the people do not view themselves as being truly a part of the United States nor fully independent.

Comment from J Rivera
Date: November 20, 2009, 4:40 pm

I feel and have always felt that there is a lack of a real desire for success among the Puerto Rican community.

Just as was stated in this piece, none of my friends made it, and I too felt shame as I became successful. To this day in the projects where I was born and raised, no respect is shown for those who are educated.

Just as Juan commented, I beleive that we were destroyed by a history of dependence on social programs. Again, even to this day I can’t find anyone with whom I grew up with that doesn’t think that the government is somehow responsible for their future. There seems to be a real lack of initiative to lift themselves up out of poverty.

There are real problems, we must not allow ourselves to be forgotten.

Comment from Lorenzo Canizares
Date: November 20, 2009, 5:18 pm

What is the class basis of this assessment? I am a Cuban-American, and amongst Cuban-American there is a marked difference in education between well-off Cubans and lower class Cubans.
What are we going to do for the lower class members of our Latino community so there is some hope in their future? The discussion needs to address the real life of people, not the panacea we would all like to see.

Comment from L Martinez
Date: November 20, 2009, 5:55 pm

My personal experience, having had been of Puerto Rican parents and having had grown up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, is that education, achievement, ambition, and hard work are generally not encouraged by the culture. As a child I could see first hand the socioeconomic degradedness as a lot of inner city Puerto Ricans easily just avoided school, hung out in the streets, had illigitimate children, and made for an urban climate of domestic violence, ignorance, drunkenness, drug addiction and dependency on welfare (etc). My father said that Puerto Ricans do not have to fear being deported like Cubans and other Latinos do, so they don’t worry about calling attention to themselves by behaving wildly. The Hell’s Kitchen of the 1960s and 1970s eventually became a more upwardly mobile neighborhood because Arabs, and Hindus took over a lot of the stores and other businesses.

Comment from AusTexMex
Date: November 20, 2009, 8:08 pm

I was born in Texas in 1946 and now live in Los Angeles. Look, let’s be honest Latinos share many of the same problems. We also need to understand that Cubans, Mexicans, Dominicanos & Puerto Ricans have some unique issues that they would like addressed. I think it is incumbent for the majority group in a particular region to embrace the the other Latinos. These four goups makeup 90% of the Latinos in America. Some recent positive major milestones we’ve accomplished together: Defend The Honor (WWII)documentary by Ken Burns, 10,000,000 plus voters in the general election. President Obama! Thanks in part to Rosario Dawson and Voto Latino and of course Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. That’s Power. Do we have serious problems? Of course we do, however, we will address them and continue to move forward.

Comment from Marianne McCune
Date: November 20, 2009, 8:12 pm

I am the reporter of this story and I wanted to say just two quick things. One, I am so glad people are posting their comments here. There are many ways to look at these issues and I couldn’t fit every interpretation of the statistics into the radio story or the blog post. So I’m thrilled to see you all making the conversation more comprehensive. Two, for anyone who didn’t hear the story — it does cover some issues the blog post does not. For example, the reality that many of the more successful Puerto Ricans in New York move out (as mentioned in the first comment above) is, indeed, included in the audio version. If you haven’t heard it and want to, it’s here ay http://www.wnyc.org/news/articles/144777

Meanwhile, thank you for your candid and engaged responses. Please continue!

Comment from Felix Velazquez
Date: November 20, 2009, 9:22 pm

These discussions always remind me of the elephant in the living room. We are born comparing ourselves and we are told over and over again we never quite measure up; It drives and pushes us to succeed and quite too often to failure. I am 62 Y/O Puerto Rican who was brought to New York City when I was 13 years old. It was not talked about it by my father and my grandfather when I was i growing up in Puerto Rico, it is not talked about it here in New York, and it is not talked about it as I travel back and forth to the Island nation. It is a sickness that debilitates our souls and warps our psychic. It is called COLONIZATION. You do not have to go to far to find an example of its warped mirroring, just read carefully between the lines to some of the comments above.
My life experiences and my daly observations, tell me that these stats are not inaccurate, and that as long as the problem is defined by comparing and not by nation building we are doomed to loose the comparison game.

Comment from Angel Falcon
Date: November 20, 2009, 9:39 pm

I think the scapegoating of social programs and the idea that Puerto Rican colonial status has some marring effect on Puerto Ricans in diaspora is problematic at its face. Most Puerto Ricans in diaspora don’t concern themselves with political status per se. Status is a great concern for those on the island. And it is a stretch to indicate that colonial status has any effect on those in diaspora who are for the most 3 or even 4 generations in diaspora. However, there is a colonial mentality of a different sort where, as one poster mentioned, we look to the government as somehow being responsible for our failings and, in turn, as a possible solution to our problems. That creates a different kind of colonial mentality that only breeds false hope. You can’t expect things to get better without agency on your own part. One of the best ways to get out from our situation is to empower our children with the proverbial “knowledge of self” and know who it is they are historically and NOT rely on the school system to do it. We need grassroots Puerto Rican historical and cultural education, be it in bomba/plena or in political history in libraries, casitas, dondequiera…when people stop looking to athletes, musicians and the government for hope and look INTERNALLY for inspiration, THEN there can be change.

Comment from Judith Escalona
Date: November 21, 2009, 12:36 am

This is a very personal response to McCune’s piece which I found disappointing in being consistent with how our community has been historically imagined. I am the founder of PRdream.com, a web site on the history, culture and politics of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. I was born and raised in New York City.

The goal of http://www.prdream.com was precisely to create an online resource where Puerto Ricans could learn about themselves and carry on an exchange among themselves and others worldwide. It is predominantly English, because we are New York based and indeed Nuyorican. PRdream.com has been in existence for 11 years.

My observation and, actually, firsthand experience is that among Puerto Ricans stateside there is a desire to connect with the island and to maintain that relationship – however tenuous or problematic it may be or seem to be.

While Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico wrestle with the status issue, Puerto Ricans in the U.S. struggle with the identity issue. They are counterparts to the same history, remarkably paralleling one another in relation to the U.S. Leviathan.

Developing prdream.com has been a journey of personal growth and enrichment as a second generation Puerto Rican. It made me realize that much of what I learned through mainstream media and acquired in school and through hearsay in the streets was mostly misinformation based on ignorance and bias.

What I learned through PRdream.com was that Puerto Ricans are quite the opposite of that naggingly negative image that seems unshakeable.
I learned that the tiny island–the smallest in the Greater Antilles–has been the source of an incredible amount of talent for both the English and Spanish speaking worlds.

While we have not posted much of the overwhelming content we have acquired over the years (through videotaping oral histories, interviews, conferences and other events), a fair amount of it can be seen online. It clearly belies the image of our people that is consistently drummed into our children and the general public.

McCune errs in her good intentions because she is subject to the same perceptual bias our community knows only too well. That bias which appears scrupulous and articulate, quoting studies and statistics, in order to reinforce that all too familiar image of who we are but aren’t really. If the “successful” Puerto Ricans have left the inner city then it might be a more balanced report to look at those statistics as well and ask the more important question – what made the difference?

Comment from Alberto O. Cappas
Date: November 21, 2009, 12:46 am

This is nothing new to me, a reason I’ve shy away from the Puerto Rican leadership in NYC, composed of an obsolete attachment to Puerto Rico emotionalism. Just go and check out your Puerto Rican Studies Programs at CUNY, Hunter, etc, and you will find an emotional push for independence; and that is what we are feeding our next generation, instead of passing a torch of enlightment in relation to strategies on becoming economic providers and educators with a sound vision for tomorrow. We need to kill the social-welfare mentality found in the majority of the Puerto Rican community based organizations and its leadership. As Puerto Ricans, We are too liberal oriented without a base of political balance and logic, including a complete absence of backbone to proplerly negotiate and compromise in the political arena/system.

Comment from Jeff White
Date: November 21, 2009, 6:11 am

Judith, I think you are boasting about your website which highlights “Make A Donation” on each topic’s landing page. If you listen to the audio of the story which is at the very top of this page, then you would have heard the difficulties in getting statistics from the Census Bureau because they only ask for the broader Hispanic category on the Census questionnaire. Blaiming the concept that Puerto Ricans some 3 or 4 generations are still living in as high poverty as later hispanic immigrants is a valid topic by itself. Why hasn’t the community gotten out of the projects? As Juan A. Baea pointed out, the social programs championed to help people out have now proven to be the crutch that no one wants to give up. As an aside, the Latino designation used by the politicians to gain political clout has now proven useful in forgetting the struggle of Puerto Ricans still trying to pull themselves out of poverty. I would put some blame on the opportunistic politicians who turn the blind eye to there brethren for political gains.

Comment from Jeff White
Date: November 21, 2009, 6:13 am

To add, Puerto Rican’s overwhelmingly voted to become either a state (46%) or no change (50%) in 1998 so the colonially argument is irrelevant when the majority doesn’t want a change in status. The other half can come here if they don’t like there status. I’m sure millions around the world would give up their homeland to stay 6 months in America. They have lotteries around the world to come here!

Comment from Judith Escalona
Date: November 21, 2009, 8:44 am

Hey, this is America, there is nothing wrong with having a “MAKE A DONATION” button on a web site or a t-shirt or a sneaker. I’m proud to be a Puerto Rican and an American. I took the risk that someone would cynically attach themselves to my mentioning PRdream.com and attempt to undermine my views by this very claim of self-promotion. However, the truth is that I stated my background and work with PRdream.com in order to emphasize: 1. My personal search for knowledge about my culture and community as someone born and raised in the U.S. And 2. The fact that PRdream.com has been around for a substantial period of time, documenting our community, that would give weight to what I had to say.

No one is “blaming” any concept. Why would I anthropomorphize a concept?

The point White misses is that the U.S. has a long history of pathologizing our community through studies. To drive home my point, he actually defends McCune’s report by claiming that specific statistics are not available and “blames” the Census Bureau. She’s off the hook, according to White, by simply stating that those statistics are obscured by the bureau’s nomenclature.

Most importantly, I suggest that a “balanced report” in the media would have to include not only where successful Puerto Ricans have moved to (apparently out of New York City) but also their profile. The title of the report makes a tellingly broad claim “Puerto Ricans in New York Struggling… Still” and safely redlines the extent of her coverage.