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Caribbean Negritos: Ramón Rivero, Blackface, and ‘Black’ Voice in Puerto Rico
Unformatted Document Text:  9 the first decades of the 20 th century Puerto Ricans began to migrate from the rural parts of the island to the cities and then to the U.S., the post-World War II economic boom precipitated a dramatic increase in migratory influxes to the mainland (Duany, 2002; Morris, 1995; SĂĄnchez- Korrol, 1994). Closely interconnected to this massive migration was the ‘modernization’ process officially designated as “Operation Bootstrap,” a social and economic development plan aimed at changing Puerto Rico’s economy from an agricultural to an industrial base. The final drastic ‘reconstruction’ in Puerto Rico occurred during the late 1940s. After experiencing years of U.S. military and civil governors, in 1948 Puerto Ricans elected their first governor, Luis Muñoz MarĂ­n, founder and head of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, pro- commonwealth ideology). 10 In 1952 the constitution of Puerto Rico was approved, establishing the Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth). All the aforementioned social, political, and economic conditions and transformations from the 1930s through the 1950s directly and indirectly informed RamĂłn Rivero and his vernacular theatre group’s plays, his radio shows, and more importantly, his construction of blackface ‘blackness.’ Rivero began performing in theatre in 1933 while working as a physical education teacher in Cayey (a small town in the eastern part of the island). With the assistance of two high school students (JosĂ© Luis Torregrosa and Gillermo BauzĂĄ), they created La FarĂĄndula Bohemia, which they characterized as a politico-burlesque theatre troupe. In the beginning La FarĂĄndula Bohemia mostly performed in Cayey. However, over time they traveled around the island presenting their plays in various theatres immediately preceding the movie screenings. In 1935 Rivero decided to don blackface after seeing the Cuban comedian Leopoldo FernĂĄndez and his Bufo theatre company in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Rivero performed his first blackface character in the Bufo style play El chico mambĂ­ where he played a negrito who stole

Authors: Rivero, Yeidy.
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9
the first decades of the 20
th
century Puerto Ricans began to migrate from the rural parts of the
island to the cities and then to the U.S., the post-World War II economic boom precipitated a
dramatic increase in migratory influxes to the mainland (Duany, 2002; Morris, 1995; SĂĄnchez-
Korrol, 1994). Closely interconnected to this massive migration was the ‘modernization’ process
officially designated as “Operation Bootstrap,” a social and economic development plan aimed at
changing Puerto Rico’s economy from an agricultural to an industrial base.
The final drastic ‘reconstruction’ in Puerto Rico occurred during the late 1940s. After
experiencing years of U.S. military and civil governors, in 1948 Puerto Ricans elected their first
governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, founder and head of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, pro-
commonwealth ideology).
10
In 1952 the constitution of Puerto Rico was approved, establishing
the Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth). All the aforementioned social, political, and
economic conditions and transformations from the 1930s through the 1950s directly and
indirectly informed Ramón Rivero and his vernacular theatre group’s plays, his radio shows, and
more importantly, his construction of blackface ‘blackness.’
Rivero began performing in theatre in 1933 while working as a physical education
teacher in Cayey (a small town in the eastern part of the island). With the assistance of two high
school students (José Luis Torregrosa and Gillermo Bauzå), they created La Faråndula Bohemia,
which they characterized as a politico-burlesque theatre troupe. In the beginning La FarĂĄndula
Bohemia mostly performed in Cayey. However, over time they traveled around the island
presenting their plays in various theatres immediately preceding the movie screenings.
In 1935 Rivero decided to don blackface after seeing the Cuban comedian Leopoldo
FernĂĄndez and his Bufo theatre company in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Rivero performed his first
blackface character in the Bufo style play El chico mambĂ­ where he played a negrito who stole


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