Mainland Passage: The Cultural Anomaly of Puerto Rico by Ramón E. Soto-Crespo, University of Minnesota Press, 2009, 193 pp., $22.50 (paperback)
In the 1950s a typical question among Puerto Ricans traveling between San Juan and New York was “Which town in Puerto Rico do you come from?” The surprisingly more and more commonplace answer was “New York,” as if it were a Puerto Rican city. According to Ramón E. Soto-Crespo, this subtle shift in conversation illustrates the seismic change in Puerto Rico’s socio-political identity after one third of its population migrated to the United States in the 1940s. This Great Migration, as it is known to historians of Puerto Rico, together with the island’s 1952 commonwealth constitution, has resulted in an anomalous political formation: a Puerto Rican a cultural and political borderland state.
Examining the work of artists, writers, novelists, poets, and political thinkers, Mainland Passage argues that the Puerto Rican borderland state challenges the idea of a Puerto Rican nation-state or U.S. statehood as the only possible means of establishing a collective political entity for Puerto Ricans. Not only is this a vital new way of understanding Puerto Rican culture and history, Soto-Crespo maintains, but “in a globalized world increasingly ruled by regimes of the normal, cultural anomaly generates a remarkable space for defiance.”
The Diaspora Strikes Back: Caribeño Tales of Learning and Turning by Juan Flores, Routledge, 2009, 237 pp., $35.95 (paperback)
What happens when Nuyoricans bring their slice of inner-city culture back to the island? The Diaspora Strikes Back (part of which began as an article in the NACLA Report’s November/December 2005 edition) stresses the importance of “cultural remittances” and their consequences among transnational migrants. The book examines these processes as they unfold through several generations of social history and play out in a highly charged political and cultural context. Focusing on Puerto Rico but providing useful points of comparison—for example, to the Japanese community in São Paulo, Indians in London, and Mexicans in Los Angeles—Flores documents migrants’ life stories and the “ensemble of ideas, values, and expressive forms introduced into societies of origins by remigrants and their families as they return home.”
Flores also turns his attention to interpreting the new cultural forms, including salsa, slam poetry, and hip-hop, that the “counter stream” of migration has produced. In these forms he discerns the emerging identities of an “enlightened” diaspora, one whose values sometimes collide with those of both sending and receiving communities. “It is,” Flores writes, “a kind of double-whammy on the outworn ideas of the periphery and center [of empire].”
Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora by Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, University of Minnesota Press, 2009, 270 pp., $22.50 (paperback)
In Queer Ricans Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes aims to remedy “the longstanding, historical refusal to acknowledge the centrality of sexuality” in Puerto Rican migration. While not ignoring political-economic factors, this study looks at the role that homophobia in Puerto Rico has played in motivating many people to migrate—despite the United States’ own history of persecuting non-normative sexualities—and in shaping the experiences and cultures of Puerto Ricans born stateside.
Looking at Puerto Rican migration from the 1960s to the present, La Fountain-Stokes investigates the intersection of migration and sexuality in the works of a handful of Puerto Rican writers and artists, including both first- and second-generation perspectives, which gives the author’s study a wide breadth of experiences in which to examine the development of “Queer Rican culture,” as he calls it. These are themes, the author maintains, that link the Puerto Rican migration experience to those of other migrant peoples in the hemisphere, and beyond. “Puerto Rican queer studies are a crucial component for understanding U.S., Latin American, and Caribbean realities,” says the author, “and by their paradigmatic role is useful to understand many other colonial-metropolitan, migratory, and diasporic situations.”