Race and Reggaetón
Section Synopsis: Puerto Rican racial politics share much more with Latin American countries than the United States. In general, Puerto Rico claims to be a “raceless” society in which everyone is racially mixed and systemic racism does not exist. However, Black Puerto Ricans face systemic anti-Black racism in Puerto Rico. Reggaetón artists like Tego Calderón have used their music to expose the realities of systemic racism on the island.
In this piece, the Puerto Rican reggaetonero Tego Calderón talks about the racism that he faces as a Black Puerto Rican. Calderón emphasizes the need for a larger awareness and education about racism in Latin American and Latine communities to celebrate and recognize blackness among Latines.
Rivera-Rideau argues that reggaeton critiques dominant definitions of Puerto Rico as a “racial democracy” - or a society where racism does not exist - by embracing a Black diasporic identity. Significantly, this expression of blackness ties Puerto Rican communities to other sites of the African diaspora through their shared experiences with systemic racism. Rivera-Rideau traces the racial and gender politics of reggaeton from its beginnings as underground in Puerto Rico through the genre’s entrance into the Latin music industry with “Gasolina” in the mid-2000s.
In this piece, Petra Rivera-Rideau uses Tego Calderón’s “Robin Hood” music video as a way to discuss the antiblack sentiment often expressed by Puerto Ricans towards Dominican immigrants. Through the music video, Rivera-Rideau argues that a diasporic blackness that links both Puerto Ricans and Dominicans together which commonizes the racial struggle of both groups and goes against this whitening of Puerto Rico.
Marisol LeBrón’s “They Don’t Care if We Die” looks at how punitive policing during Governor Pedro Rosselló’s Mano Dura contra el Crimen initiative, or “Iron Fist Against Crime” widened the race and class disparities in Puerto Rico. LeBrón argues that the Puerto Rican government used low income and racialized communities as a scapegoat for increased crime, unemployment, and other social problems. She shows how Mano Dura ultimately reinforced systemic racism and classism that marginalized urban Puerto Rican residents, in particular.
In “Ghettocentricity, Blackness, and Pan-Latinidad,” Raquel Rivera looks at the relationship between Latinos and African Americans in hip hop. Rivera notes that this commonality between both groups is explained by a shared experience of segregation, urban poverty, and racism within the United States. She also highlights the shared black diasporic identities between Puerto Ricans and African Americans.
In this chapter, Raquel Z. Rivera critiques hegemonic cultural nationalism in Puerto Rico that marginalizes blackness despite claiming to be raceless. Specifically, Rivera considers various forms of transnational Black Puerto Rican cultural expression such as reggaetón on the island, and bomba in the diaspora, to demonstrate how people have countered cultural nationalism.
Hilda Lloréns’s article provides an analysis of Mayra Santos-Febres Nuestra Señora de La Noche (2006), Calle 13's "Atrévete te te!" (2005) and "Tango del pecado" (2007) to critique the politics of respectability in Puerto Rican culture. In her analysis of Calle 13, Lloréns discusses how the group challenges the cultural norms of the Puerto Rican elite that center respectability and modesty. However, she also points out that Calle 13’s own positionality as middle-class white Puerto Ricans enables them to make critiques of the elite that others, particularly working class and Afro-Puerto Ricans, cannot.
Popular Media Articles
Raisa Bruner, "Bad Bunny Speaks Out on Black Lives Matter Protests: 'Living in a World Like This, None of Us can Breathe," Time. June 12, 2020.
Bethonie Butler, "Reggaeton's racial reckoning: Afro-Latinos are leading it," The Washington Post; Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]. Nov 28, 2020.
Bethonie Butler, "Ivy Queen's podcast sets the record straight on reggaeton," The Washington Post; Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]. Aug 26, 2021.
"Stepping on the Gas," LOUD, 2021.
3. Alt.Latino, "Black, Puerto Rican, and Proud: Guest DJ Tego Calderón", May 2013.