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Imagining NuYoRico: Cultural Agency, Commodification and Gendered Identities During the 1970s New York Salsa “Boom”

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Abstract:

Since the 1970s, salsa has remained at the core of the recurring "Latin booms" in the U.S. music and cultural markets and is eagerly consumed in countries across Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Yet salsa originally developed as a cultural marker for urban, working-class Puerto Ricans in New York. My recuperation of the material conditions and the significance of the salsa "boom" within that context privileges the experiences of the predominantly Puerto Rican communities in which salsa developed. Hence, my presentation will examine those material conditions and the libratory possibilities afforded by the centrality of New York as the “aquí” of salsa, even as artists invoked Puerto Rico in their music. I will pay particular attention to how salsa articulated, reflected, and reinforced a diasporic Nuyorican subjectivity – one that emphasized the role of Puerto Ricans as racialized minorities within the United States; incorporated Puerto Rico and a Puerto Rican identity while displacing the island as the locus amoenus of a Nuyorican subjectivity; and undermined dominant discourses of Nuyorican criminality and moral degradation that emerged both in the United States and on the island. I will also demonstrate, however, how the music simultaneously reified dominant notions of gender. Specifically, I will show how the emphasis on public space as salsa’s site of enunciation informed the ways in which women were inserted into song lyrics as metaphors for commodification, screens for (male) homosocial relations, and objects of male violence, all of which serve to reinforce what I argue is the heteronormative and hypermasculine (ideal) subject of salsa. Accordingly, I illuminate how questions of space and place, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and national identity form essential axes of difference that helped shape the material context of salsa and its development as a cultural product.

By placing salsa in its temporal and spatial context, I situate the communities from which salsa emerged at the center of my scholarly work and thereby begin to recuperate the experiences from which the music initially drew. In so doing, I gained critical insight into how racialized and colonized communities negotiate their cultural, political, and economic identities, as well as the role of music as a privileged site for the expression of cultural citizenship.

This presentation will demonstrate how the migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States resulted in the growth of a generation of musicians that exploded during the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. These artists provided a crucial language with which to express a Nuyorican imaginary that combined their lived experiences within the United States with the collective memory of Puerto Ricans. It was through this process that salsa became a cultural expression that articulated, represented, and reinforced a Nuyorican subjectivity for which El Barrio, located in New York’s East Harlem, became the “imagined” home of the diaspora. Finally, my presentation encourages discussion of how local identities influence(d) the formation of subjectivities within the United States and abroad, particularly in countries such as Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Japan.
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MLA Citation:

Negrón, Marisol. "Imagining NuYoRico: Cultural Agency, Commodification and Gendered Identities During the 1970s New York Salsa “Boom”" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA, Oct 11, 2007 <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186546_index.html>

APA Citation:

Negrón, M. , 2007-10-11 "Imagining NuYoRico: Cultural Agency, Commodification and Gendered Identities During the 1970s New York Salsa “Boom”" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The American Studies Association, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p186546_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Since the 1970s, salsa has remained at the core of the recurring "Latin booms" in the U.S. music and cultural markets and is eagerly consumed in countries across Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Yet salsa originally developed as a cultural marker for urban, working-class Puerto Ricans in New York. My recuperation of the material conditions and the significance of the salsa "boom" within that context privileges the experiences of the predominantly Puerto Rican communities in which salsa developed. Hence, my presentation will examine those material conditions and the libratory possibilities afforded by the centrality of New York as the “aquí” of salsa, even as artists invoked Puerto Rico in their music. I will pay particular attention to how salsa articulated, reflected, and reinforced a diasporic Nuyorican subjectivity – one that emphasized the role of Puerto Ricans as racialized minorities within the United States; incorporated Puerto Rico and a Puerto Rican identity while displacing the island as the locus amoenus of a Nuyorican subjectivity; and undermined dominant discourses of Nuyorican criminality and moral degradation that emerged both in the United States and on the island. I will also demonstrate, however, how the music simultaneously reified dominant notions of gender. Specifically, I will show how the emphasis on public space as salsa’s site of enunciation informed the ways in which women were inserted into song lyrics as metaphors for commodification, screens for (male) homosocial relations, and objects of male violence, all of which serve to reinforce what I argue is the heteronormative and hypermasculine (ideal) subject of salsa. Accordingly, I illuminate how questions of space and place, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and national identity form essential axes of difference that helped shape the material context of salsa and its development as a cultural product.

By placing salsa in its temporal and spatial context, I situate the communities from which salsa emerged at the center of my scholarly work and thereby begin to recuperate the experiences from which the music initially drew. In so doing, I gained critical insight into how racialized and colonized communities negotiate their cultural, political, and economic identities, as well as the role of music as a privileged site for the expression of cultural citizenship.

This presentation will demonstrate how the migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States resulted in the growth of a generation of musicians that exploded during the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s. These artists provided a crucial language with which to express a Nuyorican imaginary that combined their lived experiences within the United States with the collective memory of Puerto Ricans. It was through this process that salsa became a cultural expression that articulated, represented, and reinforced a Nuyorican subjectivity for which El Barrio, located in New York’s East Harlem, became the “imagined” home of the diaspora. Finally, my presentation encourages discussion of how local identities influence(d) the formation of subjectivities within the United States and abroad, particularly in countries such as Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, and Japan.

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