Advertisement

Latino Studies

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 142–163 | Cite as

Putting Puerto Rico’s best (black) face forward: Ramón Rivero’s “Diplo” and racialized performances of liberation

  • Jade Power-SotomayorEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

Ramón Rivero was an immensely popular blackface performer in mid-twentieth-century Puerto Rico known for his character-turned-persona, Diplo. This laughter-inducing negrito created a vehicle for Rivero’s political critiques of US imperialism and humanitarianism. For many in Puerto Rico, this blackface persona was an enactment of Puerto Rican liberation that simultaneously “celebrated” and “included” blackness. In this essay, I draw on three recent performative citations of Diplo’s legacy to consider the lasting effects of blackface performance in Puerto Rico and the complicated racial, cultural and national politics that underlie the continued sanctioning of the racist appropriations through which Rivero gained fame and honor. I elucidate how anticolonial nationhood in Puerto Rico has historically been premised on the disembodiment—and thus dehumanization—of blackness, a practice to which performance gives continued life. Examining Diplo’s performative reappearances allows us to think collectively about the many beloved blackface personae today present in Latinx popular culture.

Keywords

Blackface Performance Puerto Rico Anti-blackness Afro-Latinidad Latinx whiteness 

Dando la mejor cara (negra) de Puerto Rico: El Diplo de Ramón Rivero y las representaciones racializadas de liberación

Resúmen

Ramón Rivero fue un actor inmensamente popular de blackface en el Puerto Rico de mediados del siglo veinte, conocido por su personaje teatral Diplo. Este “negrito” cómico creo un vehículo para las críticas políticas de Rivero respecto al imperialismo estadounidense y el humanitarismo. Para muchas personas en Puerto Rico, este personaje blackface fue una representación de liberación puertorriqueña que simultáneamente “celebraba” e “incluía” la negritud. En este ensayo utilizo tres citas teatrales recientes del legado de Diplo para considerar los efectos duraderos del espectáculo blackface en Puerto Rico y las complicadas políticas raciales, culturales y nacionales que subyacen al consentimiento continuado de las apropiaciones racistas mediante las cuales Rivero ganó fama y honor. Explico cómo la nacionalidad anticolonial en Puerto Rico históricamente se ha basado en la separación corporal—y por ende deshumanizante—de la negritud, una práctica que los espectáculos mantienen viva y continua. Examinar las reapariciones teatrales de Diplo nos permite pensar colectivamente sobre los múltiples personajes de blackface queridos y presentes hoy día en la cultura popular latina.

Palabras clave

Blackface Representación teatral Puerto Rico Anti-negritud Afro-latinidad Blancura latina 

Notes

References

  1. Abadía-Rexach, B. I. 2016. El duelo del racismo. El Nuevo Día, 7 November. https://www.elnuevodia.com/opinion/columnas/elduelodelracismo-columna-2259692/.
  2. Alamo-Pastrana, C. 2012. Dispatches from a Colonial Outpost: Puerto Rico as Schema in the Black Popular Press, 1942–1951. DuBois Review: Social Science Research on Race 9 (1): 215–216.Google Scholar
  3. Arroyo, J. 2002. "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Performing Racial and Gender Identities in Javier Cardona’s 'You Don’t Look Like…'" In The State of Latino Theater in the United States: Hybridity, Transculturation, and Identity, ed. Luis A. Ramos-García, 152–171. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Arroyo, J. 2016. Interview with Javier Cardona. In Queer Blacktino Performance, ed. E. Patrick Johnson and Ramón H. Rivera-Servera, (trans: Ramón H. Rivera-Servera), 275–281. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Baralt, G.A. 1981. Esclavos rebeldes: conspiraciones y sublevaciones de esclavos en Puerto Rico (1795–1873). Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán.Google Scholar
  6. Betancourt, M. 2015. 10 Egregious Uses of Blackface on Spanish-Language Television. Remezcla,. http://remezcla.com/lists/film/10-egregious-uses-of-blackface-on-spanish-language-television/. Accessed 2 November 2015.
  7. Billig, M. 2005. Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humor. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  8. Briggs, L. 2002. Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and US Imperialism in Puerto Rico. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  9. Butler, J. 1993. Critically Queer. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 1 (1): 17–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chianita gobernadora un estreno de MODA. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mhXf5I7Qd-s&t=206s.
  11. Clemente, R. 2013. I am Latino. And Black. Ebony Magazine, 20 October.Google Scholar
  12. Dávila, A. 1997. Sponsored Identities: Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Dávila-Santiago, R. 1985. Teatro obrero en Puerto Rico (1900–1920). Río Piedras: Editorial Edil.Google Scholar
  14. Díaz Alfaro, A. 1981. Recordando Diplo. In Por que se ríe la gente, ed. R. Rivero. San Juan: Biblioteca de Autores Puertorriqueños.Google Scholar
  15. Diplo D. n.d. http://www.diplodice.org. Accessed 10 February 2016.
  16. Diplo y su tremendo hotel. 2010. CD with radio show episodes. Fundación: Ramón Rivero.Google Scholar
  17. El Imparcial. 1956. PIP Rinde Homenaje Póstumo Actor Diplo, 28 August.Google Scholar
  18. Ferrer, D. B. 2016. “Mestizaje” Makes Room for Racism to Flourish in Puerto Rico. Blog. La Respuesta: A Magazine to (Re)Imagine the Boricua Diaspora. http://larespuestamedia.com/mestizaje-racism/. Accessed 6 February 2016.
  19. Fiet, L. 2008. Nosotros vamos a levanter el teatro por la comunidad. Claridad, July.Google Scholar
  20. Frederick, L.A. 2012. Trumpets in the Mountains. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fullana Acosta, M. 2008. A punto de caer el telón. Primera Hora, 12 May. Fundación R. R. n.d. http://www.diplo.org/. Accessed 10 February 2016.
  22. Fusté, J.I. 2014. Unsettling Citizenship/Circumventing Sovereignty: Reexamining the Quandaries of Contemporary Anticolonialism in the United States through Black Puerto Rican Antiracist Thought. American Quarterly 66 (1): 161–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. García, W. 2015. (In)Visibilities of BlackFaces in Post-Racial Latino Media. http://www.upliftt.com/media/invisibilities-of-blackfaces-in-post-racial-latino-media/. Accessed on 23 February 2015.
  24. Godreau, I. 2015. Scripts of Blackness: Race, cultural Nationalism, and US Colonialism in Puerto Rico. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Guerra, L. 1998. Popular Expression and National Identity in Puerto Rico. Gainesville: Florida University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Hernández-Reguant, A., and J. Arroyo. 2015. The Brownface of Latinidad in Cuban Miami. CubaCounterpoints. https://cubacounterpoints.com/archives/1600. Accessed on July 2015.
  27. Jiménez-Román, G. 1995. ¡Xiomara mi hejmana!: Diplo y el travestismo racial en el Puerto Rico de los años cincuenta. Bordes 2: 15–27.Google Scholar
  28. Jones, D. 2013. Black Politics but Not Black people: Rethinking the Social and Early “Racial” History of Early Minstrelsy. TDR: The Drama Review 57 (2): 21–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lane, J. 2005. Blackface Cuba. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  30. Latino Rebels. 2012. The “White Hispanic” Label: Yes People, Racism Is a Latino Thing Too. http://www.latinorebels.com/2012/03/29/the-white-hispanic-label-yes-people-racism-is-a-latino-thing-too/. Accessed on 29 March 2012.
  31. Lloréns, H. 2005. Fugitive Blackness: Representations of Race, Art, and Memory in Arroyo, Puerto Rico. PhD diss., University of Connecticut.Google Scholar
  32. Lloréns, H. 2018. Beyond blanqueamiento: Black Affirmation in Contemporary Puerto Rico. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies 13 (2): 157–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lloréns, H., C. G. García-Quijano, and I. Godreau. 2017. Racismo en Puerto Rico: ¿Problema negado? 80grados, 21 July. http://www.80grados.net/racismo-en-puerto-rico-problema-negado/.
  34. Lott, E. 1993. Love and Theft. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Marrero, R. 2008. Crítica Albizu todo o nada. IndymediaPR, 9 August.Google Scholar
  36. Mendible, M. 2007. Embodying Latinidad: An Overview. In From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Film and Popular Culture, ed. Mayra Mendible, 1–28. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  37. Montero, M. 2016. El entierro de Chianita: un complot chino. El Nuevo Día. http://www.elnuevodia.com/opinion/columnas/elentierrodechianitauncomplotchino-columna-2259286/. Accessed on 5 November 2016.
  38. Moten, F. 2003. In the Break. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  39. Negrón-Portillo, M. 1997. Surviving Colonialism and Nationalism. In Puerto Rican Jam: Rethinking Colonialism and Nationalism, ed. Frances Negrón-Muntaner and Ramón Grosfoguel, 39–56. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  40. Orbi, J. 2009. Personal interview.Google Scholar
  41. Parker, A., and E. Sedgwick. 1995. Performativity and Performance. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Primera Hora. 2014. Pirulo el Colorao revive con más sabor. http://www.primerahora.com/entretenimiento/farandula/nota/piruloelcoloraoreviveconmassabor-998101/. Accessed on 26 March 2014.
  43. Ramon R. (“Diplo”) 2014. 25 June. Fundación nacional para la cultura popular. https://prpop.org/biografias/ramon-rivero-diplo/. Accessed 28 July 2017.
  44. Ramos, E., and J. Luis. 1992. El teatro y la sociedad colonial puertorriqueña del siglo XIX: entre el desarraigo y los bufos. Revista de Estudios Hispánicos 19: 383–392.Google Scholar
  45. Raymond y sus amigos 12/16/2014—Pirulo el Colorao. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mv7yiyfZ2v4.
  46. Reyes Vargas, R., and H. Lidin. 1956. 50,000 Asisten el entierro de Diplo. El Imparcial, 27 August.Google Scholar
  47. Rivera-Rideau, P.R. 2013. From Carolina to Loíza: Race, Place and Puerto Rican Racial Democracy. Identities 20 (5): 616–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rivero, Y.M. 2005. Tuning Out Blackness: Race and Nation in the History of Puerto Rican Television. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Roach, J. 1996. Cities of the Dead. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Rodríguez, I. 2010. The Body as Nation in Solo Performance in Puerto Rico. PhD diss: Arizona State University.Google Scholar
  51. Rodríguez-Silva, I.M. 2012. Silencing Race: Disentangling Blackness, Colonialism and National Identities in Puerto Rico. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Saxton, A. 1996. Blackface Minstrelsy. In Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy, ed. Annemarie Bean, James V. Hatch, and Brooks McNamara, 67–85. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Schneider, R. 2011. Performing Remains. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Senado de Puerto Rico. 2011. R. Del S. 2149: Resolución. http://senado.pr.gov/Proyectos%20del%20Senado/rs0434.pdf.
  55. Thaggert, M. 2010. Images of Black Modernism: Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harlem Renaissance. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
  56. Whitten, N.E., and A. Torres, eds. 1998. Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean: Social Dynamics and Cultural Transformations, Vol. 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaSan DiegoUSA

Personalised recommendations