This link provides a presentation on the street art of Santurce, a town outside of San Juan as compared to the street part of El Barrio in NYC. “Los Murals Hablan” or “The Murals Speak is an analysis of the murals, some of their symbolic meaning, and the culture and collective identity of the puerto Ricans which they represent.
Here is a piece written by our friend paul, a sort of “ode to plantains” that is both witty and a social commentary on Western Gaze and post-colonial struggles.
Adoration of the Plantain
By Paul McAdory
Part One: The Question
I proposed a plantain project, a projection of plantains into academia’s uncollected collective consciousness. Plantains on tables, plantains situated suggestively in open chairs, begging to be grasped, disrobed, chewed and swallowed: this is my great grand vision. Ordinary nanas needn’t apply; immovable plantain or die, say I. A small budget could secure the necessary quantity of fat crescent ‘tains. And then? ’Tain juice shall spring from e’ry fount, its potassium-rich squish peal from e’ry mouth. Question 1: Is the imported plantain, so distant from its tree, a part still of its parent? Question 2: Where’s the seed? These questions (1 and 2) and others (unasked) will not be unanswered via: sociological observation of student eating habits with regards to ’tains; genetics-based philosophical arguments re: the fruit and its dangler; invasive phrenological studies of ’tains, etc. Conclusions will be drawn with regards to the absolute substance of plantains. Judgments will fall from on high, probably in the form of plantains upon plates. Something something plantain.
Part 2: Taingential Thoughts
He maintained the tain train till his brain’s inane refrain became the swain raining greenyellow praise upon uncomplaining plantaint. The tain’s plangent-pealing for its peel’s repellant peeling feeling culls juice from the husky tough exterior masking a husky tough interior and belies the husky tough truth of dry entrapment made moist, juiced by abstracted problematics circumscribing the polarized authenticated othered ethnographied experience. A new western gaze ain’t unattained: it’s a circlejerk, to use a western phrase. My taste buds western wired, my tain grip the right western tipgrip, my acknowledgement of my transient and limited knowledge of plantain preparation itself appropriately broadly western in the ill-defined academic manner that is a custom of a nonparticular epistemology erected upon a pile of plaything words; to consider seriously the serious consideration of tainthings playplace in wordsworthwhile is the contingent political paradox of presupposed postcolonial coloniality, that façade of modernity muttered in the country’s unguent press opposed to pairs of dock’s co-lone reality. Taingential and tain-genital thoughts impossible to ascertain: other self-related and other-created other bother mother bout the bottled brother floating in the fridge next to thwat bot tre tains pert unplied shafts holding fast in the frigid air, consuming the cold air its colonized Ptolemized brutalatized
A daydreaming glaze in a daygleam nation:
Falling out of trees they hit the floor;
There’s bum trash in my hall and my tain is ripped
I’ve totaled another phrase I’m calling in stripped
One piece of art at the Museo del Arte de Puerto Rico that exemplifies the status of the plantain in the Puerto Rican society was a painting by Carlos Dávila Rinaldi, “Esa mancha é plátano no la quita nadie: La Gringomatic” (1998). In English, the title literally translates to “That Stain is from a Plantain and Nobody takes it out: The ‘Gringomatic.’” The colorful artwork, with bold and unblended brushstrokes, depicts a machine, dubbed the “gringomatic,” and a two-dimensional man folded over hanging from a clothes line and held by two red clips. The painting itself is also canvas but without a frame, giving natural creases of fabric complementing the man draped over the clothes line. One more intriguing aspect of the painting is that the man has a price-tag wrapped around his right ring finger—perhaps giving Dávila Rinaldi’s critique of the United States viewing Puerto Rico as solely a means to gain capital. Dávila Rinaldi depicts the “gringomatic” as the machine, like a washing machine, through which Puerto Ricans must pass in order to become part of the United States and integrate into American culture—becoming a “gringo,” or an American.
Although all Puerto Rican citizens hold U.S. passports, the commonwealth itself holds a liminal status between independent nation and state. The man in the painting—frail, thin, and white— after being processed through the machine presumably multiple times beseeches: “Sir, we’ve tried everything for the last 100 years but that damn plantain stain won’t come out!” signifying that although Puerto Rico might be a quasi-part of the United States, it is by no means seamlessly integrated. The culprit for this? The plantain. The plantain cannot and will not go away: it is permanently stained, permanently ingrained, in what it means to be Puerto Rican. Does the plantain really represent everything? Are we what we eat? As Massimo Montanari, a noted food historian, states, “man is what he eats…but the opposite is no less true, man eats what he is: his own values, choices, and culture” (Flandrin & Montanari, 24-25). Claude Fischler, a social scientist, says that taste is “a sense strongly marked by affectivity, colored by emotion,” which, although the psychological formation of taste is debatable, describes the plantain excellently (89). The plantain holds not only nutritional value, but also emotional and cultural value for Puerto Ricans.
Dávila Rinaldi, Carlos. Esa mancha é plátano no la quita nadie: La Gringomatic. 1998. El Museo del
Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Painting.
Fischler, Claude. El homnivoro. Mexico City, Mexico: Anagrama, 1995.
Flandrin, Jean-Louis & Massimo Montanari. Historia de la alimentación. Gijón, Spain: Trea, 2004. Print.
Since the fall of 2013, I lived in a predominantly Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood in the Bronx, where frozen yucca and massive aloe leaves were easier to find than arugula, and a woman wheeled a Dominican-style flavored ice truck around the neighborhood until ice itself coated the ground. Grocery shops and bodegas sold plantains 12-for-$2, and from one restaurant at the intersection of East Tremont and Carter Avenue, I learned the many forms plantains can take: mofongo, mangu, maduros, amarillos, tostones, pasteles (plantain dough)… all from the same base vegetable (or fruit, or starch…depending who you ask).
I had lived in the Bronx for just over four months when we, Gallatin’s Americas Scholars, went to Puerto Rico. Plantains captured the majority of my diet, and they took, as learned in the Bronx, multiple forms. After all, in 2010 Puerto Ricans consumed an average of 55.8 pounds of plantains per capita according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Agriculture (Ortiz Cuadra 176). Plantains are not just a basic nutritional staple in Puerto Rico (and multiple other Caribbean nations)—they are a cultural staple, part of Puerto Rican identity.
As immigrants settled in Puerto Rico, the plantain emerged as the ideal malleable food. Like the plantain’s ability to grow quickly under a variety of climate conditions, the plantain has created genuine roots in all sectors of Puerto Rican society—including those now not in Puerto Rico. Indeed, plantains “have become the vehicle for expressing a new sense of identity about the island as homeland” (178). The plantains on each corner of Tremont keep Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic alive, as immigrants feed themselves the lifeblood of their dear island. Although not physically grown in Tremont, plantains have found another “natural” home there as well as in the Caribbean. Food “reveals and measures how people, groups, and societies interact among themselves [and] relate to the world,” and plantains certainly are a key marker of what it means to be Puerto Rican (20). Although eating plantains does not literally bring Puerto Ricans back to Puerto Rico or Dominicans back to the Dominican Republic, you are what you eat, and you eat what you are.
Ortiz Cuadra, Cruz Miguel. Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity. Durham, North
Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Print.
We met Tashon Hopkins at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (see Q&A post below). Megan and I were delighted that he allowed us to record and publish his original work. Here are some videos of his original spoken word:
We had the pleasure of meeting Tashon during our first visit to the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, where he performed two original poems. Tashon was generous enough to answer some of our questions, and also allow us to record his dynamic performance, which you can check out here.
1. Tell us how you came to the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and how it has served as a creative outlet for you.
I found out about Nuyorican from a hometown friend of mine from Bridgeport, CT named Ahlaam. I shared a piece with here and she suggested I reach out to her friend Nisha who is the curator and host at the Monday night open mic at Nuyorican. It’s exhilarating to stand on stage and share intimate thoughts with people who are open to hearing them. It’s a beautiful place and experience for people who want to express themselves.
2. How long have you been writing poetry?
I have been writing poetry since I got back from my trip to India in late January 2014. (So about 3 Months or so.)
3. What kinds of themes do you explore in your work?
So far, I explore the themes of the human experience that we can all relate to, situations/scenarios I’ve observed, metaphysics and how we are all connect and effect each other at some juncture.
4. What does performing your poetry mean to you, as opposed to simply writing it?
Personally I think my work takes on a whole different dynamic when I perform it. Listeners get a chance to hear my poetry exactly the way it sounds to me in my head as opposed to them reading it and interpreting the phrasing themselves. Performing also gives me the chance to evoke more emotion and allows me to become more and more comfortable expressing myself in front of people I don’t know. I think the choice to even share my work at all is a test to see if the things I’ve experience will resonate with other people.
The collection of photos here is a brief sampling of a Puerto Rican photographer named Frank Espada– a man born in Utuado but raised in East Harlem after the age of nine. He was deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, the Puerto Rican Community Development Project (PRCDC), and served on the US Airforce. He finishes his artists bio on his website with this statement:
“Initially, when asked about the single worst thing that has ever happened to me, I cite the fact that I was brought to this country, where I found I was not good enough to be what I was. Then I quickly add: But the best thing that has ever happened to me is finding my wife of 60 years, whom I never would have met had I not left the island.”
If you are interested in seeing more of his work, we encourage you to look at his book THE BOOK: THE PUERTO RICAN DIASPORA DOCUMENTARY PROJECT
Arguably America’s most influential and prolific poet (and one of my personal favorites), William Carlos Williams, was a product of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Williams’ mother was born in Mayagüez, a city on the western coast of Puerto Rico. She met Williams’ father, who was raised in the Dominican Republic, and together the couple moved to Rutherford, New Jersey. Spanish was the primary language spoken in the Williams’ household, an amazing fact considering Williams’ grasp of the English language is second to none. Williams’ book, Yes, Mrs. Williams, is somewhat of a biography of his mother which touches upon his experience as a bilingual, bicultural American.
Williams’ Caribbean heritage has largely been overlooked by the literary community. Much of American history, literary or otherwise, has been whitewashed, giving the impression that all great literary figures have been Anglo-American men, which could not be further from the truth. Williams’ poetic philosophy of “no ideas but in things” single-handedly inverted the high literary tradition of transcendentalism and finding meaning in lofty, heightened prose. Williams re-grounded the American idiom, finding meaning instead in the ordinary, and in vernacular language.
Williams founded a poetic tradition that was materialist and attuned to the voices of everyday people–a poetic tradition from which you can draw a straight line to the spoken-word poetry found today in Nuyorican culture.
But letting the master speak for himself:
from Paterson, Book I
The Delineaments of the Giants
Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls
its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He
lies on his right side, head near the thunder
of the waters filling his dreams! Eternally asleep,
his dreams walk about the city where he persists
incognito. Butterflies settle on his stone ear.
Immortal he neither moves nor rouses and is seldom
seen, though he breathes and the subtleties of his
drawing their substance from the noise of the pouring
animate a thousand automatons. Who because they
neither know their sources nor the sills of their
disappointments walk outside their bodies aimlessly
for the most part,
locked and forgot in their desires–unroused.
–Say it, no ideas but in things–
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident–
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained–
secret–into the body of the light!
We si and talk,
quietly, with long lapses of silence
and I am aware of the stream
that has no language, coursing
beneath the quiet heaven of
which has no speech; to
go to bed with you, to pass beyond
the moment of meeting, while the
currents float still in mid-air, to
with you from the brink, before
to seize the moment.
We sit and talk, sensing a little
the rushing impact of the giants’
violent torrent rolling over us, a
There is now a lot of evidence indicating that there are more Puerto Ricans living stateside than there are on the Island. How are they fairing in the US? What are the political, economic, and social conditions for Puerto Ricans who have settled in places such as New York and Miami? The honest answer is that many Puerto Ricans in the US are living without access to quality education, adequate healthcare, and are subject to discrimination. However, to say this without providing facts would be a great disservice. Below I have included a selection of statistics from a 2013 article. To see the full article at Caribbean Business, click here.
Poverty status: The share of Puerto Ricans who live in poverty, 28%, is higher than the rate both for the general U.S. population (16%) and for Hispanics overall (26%).
Language: An estimated 82% of Puerto Ricans, ages 5 and older, speak English proficiently. The other 18% of Puerto Ricans report speaking English less than very well, compared with 34% of all Hispanics.
Regional dispersion: Puerto Ricans are concentrated in the Northeast (53%), mostly in New York (23%); and in the South (30%), mostly in Florida (18%). Florida has replaced New York as the primary destination for Puerto Ricans moving stateside, with the biggest infl ux centered along the Interstate 4 corridor around Orlando. The spiking Puerto Rican population is reshaping the political map in the key battleground state.
Health insurance: Fully 15% of Puerto Ricans don’t have health insurance compared with 30% of all Hispanics and 15% of the general U.S. population. Moreover, about 5% of Puerto Ricans younger than 18 are uninsured.
CB STAFF. “Five Million Puerto Ricans Now Living in the Mainland U.S.” Carribean Business 41.24 (2013): n. pag. Web. 12 Apr. 2014. <http://www.caribbeanbusinesspr.com/prnt_ed/five-million-puerto-ricans-now-living-in-the-mainland-u.s.-8675.html>.
The experience of emigration to the United States is unique to each individual, and is a fundamental part of what it means to be American. Part of the nation’s mythology is the story of the immigrant seeking the American Dream, as the Statue of Liberty asks the world to “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. For any wave of immigrants, there is a scramble to preserve culture of their homeland, assimilate into American life, while accommodating for personal identity, religious beliefs, generational difference, and barriers of race and language and economic status. Here is a small sampling of poetry written by Puerto Rican Immigrants to the United States.
Judith Ortiz Cofer
A sloe-eyed dark woman shadows me.
In the morning she sings
Spanish love songs in a high
falsetto, filling my shower stall
She is by my side
in front of the mirror as I slip
into my tailored skirt and she
into her red cotton dress.
she shakes out her black mane as I
run a comb through my closely cropped cap.
Her mouth is like a red bull’s eye
Everywhere I go I must
make room for her; she crowds me
in elevators where others wonder
at all the space I need.
At night her weight tips my bed, and
it is her wild dreams that run rampant
through my head exhausting me. Her heartbeats,
like dozens of spiders carrying the poison
of her restlessness,
drag their countless legs
over my bare flesh.
From Here is My Kingdom, edited by Charles Sullivan. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.
Public School 190, Brooklyn 1963
The inkwells had no ink.
The flag had 48 stars, four years
after Alaska and Hawaii.
There were vandalized blackboards
and chairs with three legs,
taped windows, retarded boys penned
in the basement.
Some of us stared in Spanish.
We windmilled punches
or hid in the closet to steal from coats
as the teacher drowsed, head bobbing.
We had the Dick and Jane books,
but someone filled in their faces
with a brown crayon.
From Imagine the Angels of Bread. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. (Only part of the poem is reprinted here)
We Live by What We See At Night
When the mountains of Puerto Rico
flickered in your sleep
with a moist green light
when you saw green bamboo hillsides
before waking to East Harlem rooftops
or Texas barracks
when you crossed the bridge
built by your grandfather
over a river glimpsed
only in interrupted dreaming,
your craving for the island birthplace
as thirty years’ exile,
constant as your pulse
From Here is My Kingdom, edited by Charles Sullivan. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.
Sandra Maria Esteves
Being Puertorriqueña Dominicana
Born in the Bronx, not really jibara
Not really hablando bien
But yet, not Gringa either
Pero ni portorra, pero si portorra too
Pero ni que what am I?
Y que soy, pero con what voice do my lips move?
Rhythms of Rosa wood feet dancing Bomba
Not even here, but here, y Conga
Yet not being, pero soy, and not really
Y somos, y cómo somos?
Bueno, eso si es algo lindo
Algo muy lindo
We defy translation
Ni tengo nombre
nameless, we are a whole culture once removed
Lolita alive for twenty-five years
Ni soy, pero soy Puertorriquñea commo ella
Giving blood to the independent star
Daily transfusions into the river of La Sangre Viva.
From Stone on Stone/Piedra Sobre Piedra, edited by Zoe Anglesey. Seattle: Open Hand, 1994.
As one can see, the puerto rican poetry explores issues of personal and cultural identity, the effects of poverty, language barriers, and geography. These poems tell a personal story, but speak to social justice and activism for a whole group of American people. I shared these poems (there were many to chose from) because I felt that their words should be heard, and their messages not lost.