Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Puerto Rican Flame

The general misconceptions and unwarranted stereotypes towards Latino/as holds true for Puerto Ricans as well. When I was in grade school I had a few classmates that came from a Puerto Rican family and to this day I can still remember some of the racist jokes that floated around amongst ignorant groups. These jokes (I won’t repeat) poked fun at their brown skin, their sneaky nature, the clothes they wore, and I can even remember one instance of a fellow classmate accusing one of our Puerto Rican peers of stealing his wallet. The wallet never actually left the owner’s pocket, but I think it is obvious what stereotype was being assumed in this instance. The kids all laughed with little regard to the damage towards self identity they were causing. What is so mind-boggling is that I am almost certain that the vast majority of the students in my class had no clue that he was Puerto Rican. The physical characteristics were there, the Latino label was slapped on him, and he was no more to them than a walking stereotype. I hope that through maturation those students will grow out of their ignorance, but so is the nature of Latino/a stereotypical labeling. However, there is one particular stereotype that separates Puerto Ricans collectively from all other Latino/a groups and that is homosexuality.

Before I sat down to write this blog I asked all five of my roommates which ethnic group they thought had the highest percentage of homosexuals. Four out of five of them responded Puerto Ricans and I think one of them wasn’t paying attention. I don’t hold it against my roommates for responding this way, the cues are everywhere. Puerto Ricans are represented in this light in the media everywhere you turn. The 1994 film "Go Fish" directed by Rose Troche is an independent-drama film depicting the lives of a small group of lesbian friends living in Chicago. Rose Troche herself is a Puerto Rican lesbian and though if asked, 9 times out 10 those who have seen the film are no familiar with this fact. The film’s only Puerto Rican character Evy, was the last to be cast in the movie due to Troche's "significant amount of prerequisites for the person who would play this part." (1) While the majority of the film focuses on the relationship between the two white women, there are a few scenes where the audience gets a glimpse of Evy's character (for example the emotional scene where her mother kicks her out of the house for being a lesbian, or her code-switching while on the phone with her mother.) "Furthermore, Troche's desire for the actor to not only be Puerto Rican but also speak Spanish implicitly suggests the director's awareness that not all Puerto Ricans know that language; in fact, that speaking Spanish is not a definitive trait of Puerto Ricaness; and this, that Puerto Rican identity has to do with something else. At the same time, it suggests her belief that one is perceived as 'more' Puerto Rican if in fact one does speak the language." (2)

The book Queer Ricans by Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes is an example of Puerto Rican’s association with homosexuality in the media. In his book, La Fountain seeks to celebrate the artistic and cultural expressions of Puerto Rican gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender migrants. Queer Ricans illustrates how sexuality has influenced the lives of Puerto Ricans in the United States. La Fountain depicts his arguments through artistic expressions and theatrical performances of queer Puerto Rican migrants.

What many people are ignorant about is that those born in Puerto Rico are U.S citizens since 1917! Yet the typecasting of Puerto Ricans as immigrants and un-American is ridiculous. There is a tendency to lump Puerto Ricans in with Dominicans, Cubans, etc., even though their citizenship statuses could not be more different.

1-2. La Fountain-Stokes, Lawrence. "Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora", University of Minnesota Press, 2009. p. 111-112

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