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U.S. Supreme Colonial Justice: "Island Ironies" or "Reggaeton (un)Ruliness" (original post: Hip Hop Lives)

Originally published at Hip Hop Lives: Traditions of Filipino Performance.

Dear Mr. Obama,

I swear I saw you dancing perreo to "Gasolina" during your inauguration ball, despite Daddy Yankee supporting McCain for president. Does that mean you support energy independence through off-shore drilling?

On another note, thank you for nominating Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the next U.S. Supreme Court Justice. We all hope she gets confirmed by the Senate, even while we all know Republicans will try to do everything to block her confirmation--from criticizing her judicial opinions regarding the sanctity of life to scrutinizing her American citizenship.

Wait, what is that? Judge Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent? Does that mean she is assumed U.S. citizenship, even though she is subsumed under the homogeneous legion of Latin hoards crossing the boarders to invade America?

Nice one, B-HO, a Brown woman who is quintessentially Americana. What is that? Critics are still going to scrutinize her because she is Latina, and not "one of us"? But hasn't Puerto Rico (along with the Philippines) been a part of the United States longer than Hawai'i, your own home state, and Alaska, the home state of America's beauty queen Sarah Palin? So what is it! Is Judge Sotomayor going to be accepted as a loyal American, or not?! Is she "Sonia from the block" or "Sonia extranjera"?

The Hispanic causing panic is a default U.S. citizen due to Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. colony. This can't get any more interesting. Cruz Bustamante must be squirming with angst and Lou Dobbs must be scratching his nasty little head.

You must have been spending your free time watching re-runs of America's Best Dance Crew, especially watching these guys:

I know the G.O.P. moniker makes you flinch, but these San Juan, Puerto Rico bad boys really made an impression for ABDC fans, especially since they battled foos from Alabama, Brooklyn, and other unmistakably "American" locales. When you finished watching this episode, did you immediately whisper, "Sotomayor..." and the rest is Supreme Court history? Will the public vote her as America's Best Justice?

Your nomination reminds me of a book I am reading called Reggaeton. El hip hop has made a lasting impression globally, as you know, and this book gives a glimpse into its form, pleasures, racial/gender politics, and multiple/contested origins. Hate it or love it, reggaeton, I am reading, is going global and experiencing the same backlash as hip hop because of racial, sexual, and class issues. But one thing is distinct with reggaeton: it uses Spanish.

Now we haven't heard Judge Sotomayor bust out in Boricua vernacular, but I know que l@s herman@s de la isla are just waiting for her to curse uno gringo out in Spanish. Are you waiting for that too, B-HO?

So maybe we are getting closer not to the reality of "energy independence," but independence from a hegemonic, homogenizing discourse that constantly defines who is "American" (read: White) and the language an American speaks (read: English-only). Puerto Rican people are usually quite Brown and often Black, and, like Reggaeton, usually signify in Spanish. Your Sotomayor nomination (along with Ricky Martin...SIKE!) could be part of a series of changes to the U.S. public imaginary on debates surrounding citizenship and membership. Maybe the U.S. can one day be a nation that recognizes its coerced colonial acquisitions, whether from the Caribbean, Pacific, or continent?

Or maybe not. And isn't that the Great American Irony?

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

eddie from NYC (not verified) on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 09:16

Your comment about puerto ricans being mostly brown and and often black is very innaccurate and assinine...check your facts and take a trip down to the island...

white (mostly Spanish origin) 76.2%, black 6.9%, Asian 0.3%, Amerindian 0.2%, mixed 4.4%, other 12% (2007)

keep it correct (not verified) on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 10:23

i didn't say mostly brown..i said usually.  and who is white anyway? who is brown? who gets do define that? oh, yeah, ok you eddie with the numbers.  Let's all really hope Sotomayor is white, then maybe she'll be a shoo in (i'm being serious).

allan on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 19:24

Hmmm I just had to verify eddie from NYC's comments. Actually, here is what the geneticists have to say about a random genetic sample of 800 Puerto Ricans :

Of the 800 participants, 489 (61.1%) had mtDNA of indigenous origin, 211 (26.4%) had mtDNA of African origin south of the Sahara, and exactly 100 (12.5%) had mtDNA of Caucasian origin.

The discrepancy in the numbers between the genetics and the population statistics that eddie from NYC cited is probably due to laws that limited the immigration of blacks from Puerto Rico to the United States. Apparently, it was more advantageous to claim white ancestry over black and indeed, people of "mixed" ancestry could claim white status if any of their grandparents were white

This is a classic discussion about the idea of "race" over that of "color" over that of "genetics". I prefer discussing genetics over discussions of race or color since both race and color are so easily influenced by past legislation and social practices. Genetics -- well, you can't really escape from that can ya?

So in the end, eddie from nyc, your statistics may be "correct" in a legal and social sense but spamfriedrice is probably more accurate than you are in the sense that Puerto Ricans are not primarily Western European.

A proud member of Haplogroup B

spamfriedrice on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 20:27

while i'd love to take credit for this blog post, the authorship goes to the Hip Hop Lives blog.

proud to be a BROWN & BLACK Boriqua (not verified) on Fri, 05/29/2009 - 08:36

Wow, after reading the entire article all you want to take from it is ... uh no we're not Brown or Black.

I think the article is about Honorable Sotomayor and the beauty and complexity of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican experiences GLOBAL and regards to the U.S.

I would run into this quite a bit in Nueva York. Our brothers ands sisters don't want to admit our ancestry or history of slavery. I heard a Puerto Rican friend the other day get mad that someone had claimed they were Dominican because they ARE BLACK.. it is real and it is not healthy but HYPE.

Divide and conquer.. i hope not

eddie from NYC (not verified) on Fri, 05/29/2009 - 08:51

allan...are you serious?  laws that limited immigration of blacks from puerto rico to the united states?  Puerto Rico IS in the United States and there has never been ANY limits to our MIGRATION not immigration within our country as a WHOLE which is the United States.  98% of Puerto Ricans on the island know and recognize this quite clearly as does the rest of the United States.

800 out of a population of 4,000,000 does not a sample make?  this particular study has been highly criticized.  The numbers that i presented earlier are directly from the mouths of puerto ricans from the last census conducted nationwide including puerto rico and the rest of the territories in 2000.  

Genetically we predominantly european with genes mixed in from africans and native taino population.  This is very apparent especially when you travel the island and can actually see with your own eyes.  We are about as mixed as most Southern Italians and Sicilians and they are considered white as well...


eddie from NYC (not verified) on Fri, 05/29/2009 - 08:55

we are well aware of our history of slavery and never deny that.  but most of this usually comes from the small minority of independistas which represent only about 2% of a population of 4,000,000 on the island.  

The reason I bring this up is because i'm tired of the ignorant bull that people come up with.  Our culture we proudly show to the world that it is a wonderful blend of european, taino and african which has made us such a unique blend in latin america but that is the culture.  population wise we are what we are and that's it.  culturally we are what we are as a result of all 3 groups ask any puerto rican on the island and they'll tell you the same thing and it has nothing with denial just relaity and facts.

allan on Fri, 05/29/2009 - 09:42

eddie from NYC... I'm as serious as a heart attack. Please see this:


The relevant portion is:

Despite its racial restriction to "free whites," the Act was radical for the ease with which European immigrants could gain U.S. citizenship for themselves. Moreover, the U.S. extended full citizenship to Catholics 50 years before Great Britain and to Jewish immigrants before the French Revolution had done so. Nonetheless, racial barriers were put in place for certain immigrants, which were not removed until 1870 (for Africans) and until 1952 (for East and South Asians).


In short, until late in the twentieth century, only immigrants of the White "race" could hope to become naturalized citizens. This is how Puerto Rico came about being forced to become U.S citizens in 1917.

It's clear that Puerto Ricans were given pretty strong incentives to declare white status on legal forms. In fact, there's an interesting discussion at http://www.mona.uwi.edu/liteng/courses/e21h_2007/documents/santiago/Neither%20Black%20nor%20White-The%20Representation%20of%20Puerto%20Rican%20Racial%20Identity.RTF

On the island the vast majority of Puerto Ricans regard themselves as white. In the mainland most consider themselves to be neither white nor Black but members of some other race. To many Americans, Puerto Ricans occupy an ambiguous position between whites and people of color.

So the issue here is that the "racial" construction of whiteness in Puerto Rico was affected by past immigration standards that the US had. In effect, Puerto Rico was deemed "white" for the purposes of territoriality. If mtDNA tests were around back then, it would have been impossible to say that (without a straight face at least). As has been pointed out by many other people before me, race is a social construction. It doesn't actually exist (at least not in the same way geneticists think about it). Your statement that Puerto Ricans are predominantly European is also not supported by facts. I suggest you go back and check your sources. People in Puerto Rico are predominantly Taino. In fact, there are numerous DNA projects regarding the Taino heritage of people in Puerto Rico. Check it out at http://cacreview.blogspot.com/2005/02/taino-and-native-american-dna-testing.html

I know this may all be a bit of a shock for you. I suggest you read these sources and come to your own conclusion. You're more than welcome to find sources stating that Puerto Ricans are primarily European but I think you'll have a hard time finding that. 

Eleana (not verified) on Sat, 01/02/2010 - 12:18

Eddie is correct!  Go to las montanas - los campos  de Puerto Rico alli encuentrara los descendientes de la gente Espanol.  La majoria somos descendientes de Espanol... no se fijan que hay mucho Boricuas Blanquitos??? O e que you want to now act like the Americans and believe that we are all prietitos??  Si somos meclao pero la majoria tenemos sangre Espanol y yo soy orgullosa de me herecia.Cool

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