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Final Paper

Samuel A. Batista Jr.

Professor Steven Alvarez

English 255-6476

24 May 2012

 

Racialization and Discrimination Outside Our Borders: Drawing Connections from Maritza Quiñones Rivera’s “From Trigueñita to Afro–Puerto Rican: Intersections of the Racialized, Gendered, and Sexualized Body in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Mainland” and Jorge Duany’s “Nation on the Move: The Construction of Cultural Identities in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora” to  Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary” and Miguel Piñero’s “This is Not the Place where I was Born”

Introduction

Immigrants from all over the world come to the U.S. for a variety of reasons from setting a goal to achieve the “American Dream” to escaping religious persecution and racialization/discrimination. The unfortunate part of this is that discrimination/racialization still exists within these walls and therefore shows there is no difference in the “Land of the Free” than the country they used to call home. The land of opportunity advertises overseas that it is the place to be especially if one wants to pursue social and economic mobility. However, this remains untrue because discrimination plays a big role in trying to climb both the social and economic latter because there needs to be a certain message shown to keep a certain image up. Rivera pursues this in her article, “From Trigueñita to Afro–Puerto Rican: Intersections of the Racialized, Gendered, and Sexualized Body in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Mainland”. Puerto Rico, a country full of Latinos of various skin tones, but an American territory, contains the same discrimination from that of the mainland, a country that is a transition for immigrants if they cannot make it to the U.S. in on their first attempt. Rivera discusses the social dynamic of discrimination in Puerto Rico, she writes,

“To publicly acknowledge racial differences is a threat to the island’s class- and

colorblindness, where individuals—regardless of their social, economic, and

racial/ethnic background—are ostensibly able to realize their potential and

achieve economic and social mobility.” (163)

Rivera says that the racial differences are a key part to the island’s social dynamic and to disrupt the publicly make note that there are racial differences to those who are ignorant to what is going around them makes declares a threat.  “Colorblindness” as Rivera puts it, is how the society views the racial issues, there are no colors in a sense but rather everyone is treated a certain way because of their skin tone. Based on her quote, since it is based solely on skin color alone, one’s social standing/economic status doesn’t matter, it boils down to what one looks like. With these factors taken out and the reduction to skin color alone, no one truly can ascend the social/economic latter to achieve a better life. Rivera puts it plainly that the social dynamic is what truly slows down the ascension of any latter, because of skin color, there will always be racialization/discrimination.

In Jorge Duany’s article the subjects of racialization and discrimination are not the core of the matter but rather with these two subjects there is a divide among the island to those who look Puerto Rican and those who do not. Duany discusses that it is not about the color of the skin that makes the race what it is, or to breed with a lighter partner, but rather these two ideas exist in an effort to have the nation find itself, claim its own identity, finally stand its ground and be proud to be called Puerto Rico. The essence of the country is trying to find the identity of the people, the more proper fit to which now it becomes the question of survival. The identity must be established to a certain point in order to be able to continue to live; otherwise the country is doomed to fail if they continue to remain divided.

In this article, I aim to bring connections of racialization and discrimination both outside and inside our borders using Rivera’s “From Trigueñita to Afro–Puerto Rican: Intersections of the Racialized, Gendered, and Sexualized Body in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Mainland” and Jorge Duany’s  “Nation on the Move: The Construction of Cultural Identities in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora” to bring a more clear connection to Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary” and Miguel Piñero’s “This Is Not The Place Where I Was Born”. The connections I will establish are that the discrimination issues are not matters that are taken lightly but rather matters that have cause local people from their own islands to become divided in an effort to keep their own identity. To separate themselves there is a form of assimilation to create an identity, but it is for the good of the country and that is what is most important according to the discussions by both Rivera and Duany. Both articles help to draw further connections to the Shades of the Border short film. Shades of the Border focuses on the racialization aspect side of things by interviewing various people from both Haiti and Dominican Republic. The goal was to see what the reason was for Dominicans to have such bad hatred for the Haitians, people who are allegedly their friends yet they still hate them all the same because of the color of their skin.

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

Rivera’s pursuit of the racialization issues are further discussed with the idea of racist ideologies slowly becoming a reality in the minds of many powerful individuals in the island of Puerto Rico. Citizens of Puerto Rico insist in a more teasing fashion but almost seem to want the idea of bringing up their race to higher status. In order to do this, skin tones must change and they would have to have relations with lighter partners. Rivera writes,

“[…] ‘Hay que mejorar la raza.’ In other words, Black individuals are enjoined to

improve the race by marrying and reproducing with lighter-skinned partners.” (164)

To translate the above, it states that “We have to better our race”, to better the race, individual of darker skin tones are joining forces in order to bring up their status in the world. To improve the race’s status in society and economic mobility, marrying a lighter skin tone and also reproducing with a lighter skin begins the cycle of slowly increasing one’s status. Rivera fully pursues the measures people are willing to take in order to bring up their status, almost in such a way that it seems these people are assimilating. At first it deems to be in part as “passing”, but then if they are to be respected and expect to move up in the social and economic latter, one must throw out the cultural identity and assimilate to become a more unified “American”. To be a more unified American, there must be a line drawn to show what kind of identity is acceptable so as the nation can be able to move as a whole and claim its rightful status so that people will no longer have to struggle to survive. To better the race is to try and wipe clean the dark skinned characteristic because it is seen as something that shouldn’t be touched. The message stated is that Puerto Ricans are trying to identify themselves as “White” and that the dark skinned tone is a step backwards in trying to obtain that identity. Rivera writes,

[…] dark-skinned body is defective, unattractive, undesirable but sexually

enticing  and therefore, a social embarrassment.” (164)

The local people of Puerto Rico actually find that to be dark-skinned is to be an embarrassment and therefore it is preventing the whole island from moving up the social and economic latter. The island must move as whole in order to establish its status in the world, to be dark skinned only means that the island of people is only acceptable sexually but as a society they are not worthy to even have an identity.

Analyzing Jorge Duany’s “Nation on the Move: The Construction of Cultural Identities in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora”

            The core idea that Duany pursues is that just like Rivera, there is a divide among the local people of Puerto Rico to establish identity. Duany defines part of it having to do with assimilation but also included is that there is a more internal conflict that involves asserting Puerto Rican nationality and defending their U.S. citizenship. Duany writes,

“Most Puerto Ricans, however, see no contradiction between asserting their

Puerto Rican nationality at the same time that they defend their U.S.

citizenship.”(6)

            Most locals have really no opinion on the matters of being able to live out both the identity of a U.S. citizen while asserting their nationality but there is still an opposing party that forces the skew to occur. The core of the divide had begun as the “pro independence” leader Juan Mari Bras completely resigned his U.S. citizenship because he felt that asserting his nationality was more important than trying to establish a false identity.

 

Applying Racialization/Discrimination in “This Is Not The Place Where I Was Born”

Rivera’s discussion of racialization in Puerto Rico has an important connection to Miguel Piñero’s poem “This Is Not The Place Where I Was Born” along the same lines with an addition of assimilation for the people of Puerto Rico. In Piñero’s poem, Puerto Rico over the span of a few decades changed drastically. When first discussed in the beginning, it was a place of peace, relaxation, the Spanish language dominated all others on the island and it was a very friendly and neighborly kind of place where everyone knew someone and trusted one another. However, going on, that eventually the Spanish people eventually become a minority on their own native island, the dominated language is now English, neighbors no longer trust one another and there was a flip from the foreigners such as Americas coming in to visit now became the locals and the native born Puerto Ricans are considered foreigners on the very lands their ancestors had helped to flourish and create. Piñero writes,

“& foreigners scream that puertoriqueños are foreigners

& have no right to claim any benefit on the birthport” (39-40, 1395)

The reversal of who was actually a foreigner and the local now has become a racial issue because Puerto Rico is now considered a U.S. territory. Locals now seem to have taken on the role to assimilate with the U.S. culture in order to be able to survive and even seem to turn on their own cultural brothers and sisters. This escalates further  with even the police force, who were just as kind and trusting as all the neighborly people now walk with the mentality of the Ku-Klux-Klan and other mentalities based on films with heavy racial actions with a brutal police force. Piñero writes,

“police in stocking caps cover carry out john wayne

television cowboy law road models of new york city detective

french connection/death wish instigation ku-klux-klan mind” (48-50, 1395)

The police force once described as neighborly and knew everyone as friends rather than ID numbers and regular citizens who have the potential to be criminals show that a lot of the island has done what it needed to do in order to survive and become a better “American” as Rivera stated in the above. Piñero’s poem goes back to Rivera’s statement of trying to move up the economic and social latter because the original locals who haven’t assimilated are now considered foreigners and vice versa with local adapting to the new culture in order to survive and to improve their race. In Duany’s case, Puerto Ricans, in terms with the quote above have already in a sense assimilated in order to establish the identity to help the nation progress. The nations progression means to assimilate in an effort to try and survive because in a sense the nation is the only piece the islanders have that help to keep their identity regardless of assimilation because some locals do not see it that way. To some of the locals there is no contradiction but rather a common hybrid, a new beginning to starting a better life and what better way to start that life that to begin accepting a lot of the American Culture and welcome it to the place of one’s origin.

In Shades of the Border, there is a scene towards the end, at the nine minute and forty third second marks to the ten minute and eight second mark which shows two police or military officials begin to actually harass one of the Haitians. One grabs the Haitian by the shirt the other actually smacks him and then two more officials show and continue to try and restrain him. This applies to this because it shows how so much has changed since the time one can leave their home to come back and see mistreatment of people by those they used to call friends and neighbors. These officials have now been trained under these new forms of corruption by government officials to keep people in line at the price of being given a place to sleep and eat, a position of higher power that now allows them to move up the social and economic latter one generation at a time at the cost of their former identities.

 

Applying Racialization/Discrimination in Shades of the Border

Another example of racialization in foreign countries is the short film directed by Patrick Smith called Shades of the Border. In the short film, it takes place both in Dominican Republic and the country of Haiti. In this case, the Haitians are immigrating to the Dominican Republic in an attempt to find jobs and utilize more options available in order to survive. In Haiti, the economy is “dead and dried up” that no one really wants to even give the country a fighting to chance so people slowly move on as best as possible. In the Dominican Republic side of things, they are a lot better off than Haiti but the locals are very upset with the Haitians for going into their country and “stealing” jobs from the locals. The Haitians are actually willing to work for cheaper however they are in most cases exploited and sometimes go unpaid for their labor. The racism aspect comes into play from the children asked if they hate Haitians and if so, their friend is Haitian which implies they hate him also; to which they agree without hesitation. The Haitian people actually are as desperate in a sense to improve their social status as the Puerto Ricans in Rivera’s discussions.

In Rivera’s article, she discusses the desperation measures the Puerto Ricans will go to just improve their own status both economically and socially. The subject of breeding with lighter skinned partners falls along the same lines the Haitians use in order to survive in the Dominican Republic because in Haiti there isn’t much of anything because the country is cursed with poverty and hunger. The Haitians look to Dominican Republic as an alternative of survival and they pursue their own vision of living in a foreign land even if it costs them to lose their own cultural identity. However, the Dominicans do not take kindly to this because the usual excuse is that they are stealing jobs from the naturally born locals. What seems to fail them however is that, don’t those same locals immigrate to the U.S. in pursuit of the same dream? With the overcrowding of Haiti, people are actually desperate enough that they cross border lines and will even “better their race” as Rivera quoted from some local people, by becoming part of the Dominican Republic and even reproducing with lighter counterparts. It helps to benefit them in the social and economic latter even though it may not be much it helps anyway that it can. Noted in Shades of the Border, at the five minute and fourteen second mark, the questioning of the children about liking Haitians takes place. From the five minute and thirty nine second mark to the five minute and forty fifth mark the question of if they know any Haitians to which they point and say that he is also their friend. The conflict here is that although the Haitian is their friend and they may speak to him regularly, they will still hate him because of his dark skinned and the reputation that follows him. However, what doesn’t add up and leads back to Rivera’s point is that even though these two children don’t like their Haitian friend because of what he looks like shouldn’t they also dislike one another because they are just as dark as he is with the exception of the little boy in the white shirt who is a bit lighter in skin complexion? This schism between the two races doesn’t necessarily come with time but it starts at an early age as seen in the video. In the eight minute and the thirty six second mark to the eight minute and forty two second mark, the young man states “I don’t know because I am black and the Dominican is white, you know for that, the Dominican doesn’t like the color black, only that, I don’t know.” The young man already denotes that usually the first reaction when Dominicans see him, they refuse him work because of his skin color, which brings Rivera and Duany back to full circle. With Rivera discussion, the Haitian man is deemed unattractive, something that is bad for the country or race or business, to be a lighter skin tone will bring up the standing of how he is treated everyday and how fast he can climb the economic latter. In Duany’s discussion, the Dominicans don’t want Haitians because they seem to follow Rivera’s perspective of social mobility, their standing is low as it is and to allow Haitians to freely come in and try to get work, reproduce with other lighter skinned Dominicans will now bring the standing of the country back down rather than moving up. The Dominicans also seem to be trying to follow what Duany discusses as a whole, they are trying as a country to move up in the world but they can’t because there is a divide that holds the country back.

Applying Racialization/Discrimination from Shades of the Border and Rivera’s Discrimination in Puerto Rico in Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary”

Shades of the Border shares a connection with not only Rivera’s article but with Duany’s social mobility and identity discussion for the country. In Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary”, in poetic form, it breaks the news of fellow immigrants gathering up what little money they had in order to try and make it to get jobs and begin to slowly move up the economic latter so as to provide themselves and future generations a better life. However, it doesn’t turn out this way as they all pass away in an accident to which the author blames the likes of the “white supremacy” for its influence and giving people this false hope. Pietri writes,

“If only they

had turned off the television

and tune into their own imaginations

If only they

had used the white supremacy bibles

for toilet paper purpose” (274-9, 1363)

Pietri states that these people should have actually opened their eyes to their own imaginations rather than those that the television constructed of a better life out on the mainland. A place where everything is better and the struggle to survive is very minimal and everyone could have a job. In terms of Shades of the Border, this poem coincides with the film because it is one of the many reasons the Haitians leave their country because there is nothing there and move on to another country such as Dominican Republic to find a better life because of the message that has been passed by word of mouth, media and even as Pietri puts it, the “whie supremacy bibles”.

In Rivera’s discussion of racialization and discrimination, the five victims followed suit to better themselves and their race. They followed the images of a better life, a promising future and economic stability because it is exactly what they wanted to hear. Instead of actually keeping to their home, moving on with their lives and trying to remain happy, the incentive to be able to move up both the economic and social latter in a new country where anything was possible is very appealing but at the cost of a very high price. The price being that they had to go under the cover of night, scrounge up their only savings backfired as they perished in that accident. Rivera’s discussion of social and economic mobility fits to this poem because these victims could’ve also been able to “better their race” had they been given the chance to and secure themselves a more stable future. In Duany’s case, it seemed like the five victims actually left their country because their country didn’t want to move up or it was taking too long. The message here is that they went to the new country to find a better life for themselves and by better themselves they also in a sense better their own country over time as they get together with other individuals of the land with a higher economic and social position.

Conclusion

In this article I have shown connections from the discussion of Rivera’s social and economic mobility incentive based on racialization and discrimination, to Duany’s discussion of mobility for the better of the country because of the schism of discrimination amongst the Puerto Rican locals, the racialization and discrimination of the Haitians in Shades of the Border to both Pietri and Piñero’s poems. In both poems there was this constant need that the society was trying hard to be able to bring themselves up on both the social and economic latters because of their different types of skin. Their different types of skin force desperation to resort to embracing and assimilating to bring themselves up for a matter of survival. Survival became the goal to the people in these works and discussions at the cost of their own identity, their friends, their families and even their lives. With this constant struggle to go up the social latter always being an incentive, the question becomes when will people be satisfied and realize they seem to only be chasing a false reality with no guarantee?

 

 

Works Cited

Duany, Jorge. “Nation on the Move: The Construction of Cultural Identities in Puerto Rico and the Diaspora.” American Ethnologist 27.1 (2000): 5-30. Print.

Pietri, Pedro. “Puerto Rican Obituary.” The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Ed. Stavans, Ilan, et al. New York: Norton & Company, 2011. 1357-1364. Print.

Piñero, Miguel. “This is Not the Place where I was Born.” The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Ed. Stavans, Ilan, et al. New York: Norton & Company, 2011. 1394-6. Print.

Shades of the Border. Dir. Patrick Smith. Media that Matters. Short Film.

Quiñones Rivera, Maritza. “From Trigueñita to Afro–Puerto Rican: Intersections of the Racialized, Gendered, and Sexualized Body in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Mainland.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 7 (2006): 163-64. Project MUSE. Web. 1 May 2012.

 

 

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