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On Being a White Person of Color: Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
This article uses autoethnography to make larger conceptual/theoretical points about racial/ethnic identity categories for Puerto Ricans in the United States. I utilize Puerto Rican-ness to illustrate the limitations of U.S. “race” and ethnic constructs by furthering racialization analyses with seemingly contradictory categories such as “white” and “people of color.” I contrast personal experiences to those of racial/ethnic classiﬁcatory systems, the American imagery of Puerto Ricans, and simplistic, political identiﬁcations. Travel, colonial relations, intraethnic coalitional possibilities, and second-class citizenship are all aspects that expand on the notion of racialization as classically utilized in sociology and the social sciences. Although this is not a comparative study, I present differences between racial formation systems in Puerto Rico and the U.S. in order to make these points.
KEY WORDS: autoethnography; racialization; race/ethnicity; Puerto Ricans; people of color.
INTRODUCTION Latino populations in the United States are at a crossroads of race discussions and race making (Almaguer 2003), as the experience of racialization is one that combines elements of both ethnic identiﬁcation and racial difference. Puerto Ricans face a particular relationship to U.S. racial and ethnic categories. Their experience of mass migration for over a century, combined with compulsory U.S. citizenship (Berman Santana 1999), frames Puerto Ricans’ participation in U.S. political, social and economic systems. In this article, I explore the tension between racial
Correspondence should be directed to Salvador Vidal-Ortiz, Sociology Department, Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York, 365 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10016; e-mail: svidal-ortiz @gc.cuny.edu. 179
2004 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
formation systems from the U.S. and abroad, with a focus on Puerto Rican- (and, to a lesser degree, Latino-) identiﬁed people’s experiences as racialized selves while living in the U.S. By arguing an alternative racialization process in which U.S. racial formations and other countries’ racial formations inform each other, I hope to complicate U.S. discussions on “race,” ethnicity and nationality.1 Thus this article is concerned not with comparing racialization models, but with studying the effect of more than one racialization system operating simultaneously in the context of U.S. ethno-racial politics and in the lives of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos.2
During the fall of 1999, immediately after my move to NYC, I’m talking with a local community organizer who is very involved in social and racial justice movements—a Chicano man. In our conversations, this activist has always marked me as white—all my judgments or thinking emanate from my own skin privilege, the argument goes. In this instance, we are alone, and as I listen to him ramble about his attempts to conduct youth organizing, and link that to “race,” he says to me: “The irony of it all is that I probably have as much Spaniard blood in me as you do . . . I guess the Mexican/Indigenous blood made me look
1 Using the term “race” in quotation marks reﬂects the problems with its multiple interpretations; others
have considered a similar use (Ferrante and Brown, Jr. 1998; Guillaumin 1999; Rodr´guez-Morazzani ı 1996; Torres, Mir´ n and Inda 1999). (If a phrase containing the word race is not a quote, and it o reﬂects some common use in ethnic studies, such as “race, ethnic, and area studies,” “race relations” or “race making,” the term is not bracketed. Also, if the sentence is suspending the meaning of race, or discussing it as a marked term, I do not write it in quotes.) Continuous criticism of the biological bases for “race”—the three major, now obsolete, terms often utilized to name “races”: Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid—inform this posture. “Race” is always evolving; for instance, Arabs, Middle Easterners and South Asians were marked as nonwhites after September 11, 2001. The term “ethnicity” is a social construction as well. It is not bracketed because ethnicity is most often spoken of as situational and historical. It is worth clarifying that ethnicity is to “race” what gender tends to be to sex: Ethnicity (gender) is erroneously imposed over “race” (as in “race is biological, and ethnicity is cultural”), often leaving “race” (and sex) untouched. I focus on “race” because it ﬁgures heavily as a category of discussion in the U.S. Yet I am not attempting to solidify the term “race” as the deﬁning category of a person, nor am I engaging in a debate on whether “race” or “class” is the central issue in the lives of individuals in the U.S. today. (I am not eliminating class from the biographical: For instance, my experience as a Ph.D. candidate, a trainer and researcher, and a person with much access to networks that facilitate my development as a scholar affects my social location and needs to be underscored as well.) Moreover, even though I aim at suspending the terms commonly used to refer to “race,” at times I depend on them as necessary to my argument. Thus, while the terms “white” and “people of color” are actively contested, I use, for purposes of this analysis, seemingly homogeneous categories: “Puerto Ricans,” “United Staters” and “Westerners,” and do not destabilize them as they should be. (A particular problematic slippage is my use of “white” and “light-skinned” interchangeably—which I address throughout the article.) Similarly, my combined use of the terms “Latino” and “Puerto Rican” at times responds to data limitations—for instance, of reporting some signiﬁcant theoretical arguments on “race” based on Latino ethnic identity, or U.S. Census responses reported by “race” or ethnicity, not nationality or country of origin. 2 Racial systems in the U.S. focus on a black/white, one-drop rule framework; in Latin America, other elements are involved, including a stronger indigenous background, socioeconomic status, familial social position and citizenship, as well as racial classiﬁcations between black and white (Montalvo and Codina 2001; Rodr´guez 2000). For the interested reader, some references that address Latin American ı race and racialization can be found in Wade (1997) and Graham (1990). A signiﬁcant review of four moments of racial discourse in Puerto Rico is offered by Rodr´guez -Morazzani (1996). Work focusing ı on Puerto Rican experiences of “race” can be found in that of Rodr´guez, most notably her recent ı (2000) book; for historical discussions on racialization, refer to Grosfoguel and Georas (1996) and Santiago-Valles (1996).
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization completely different from you.” I laugh at him, given that he assures me he’ll never discuss this in public. Somehow, I am supposed to carry the burden of “having so much European blood,” while he doesn’t. Yet I know that my skin color triggers his fears of ﬁguring out his own experiences with his potential privilege.
This article uses autoethnography to make larger conceptual and theoretical points about racial/ethnic identity categories for Puerto Ricans in the U.S. My use of autoethnography places biography in context, highlighting my sexual orientation, class and skin color based experiences without assuming generalization of such experiences to a whole group of people. While the title draws attention to the experiences of light-skinned Puerto Ricans, I am not implying that all Puerto Ricans think of themselves as white or “are” white. (The term “white person of color” does not privilege “white” over “people of color”: In English the noun “person of color” is described/qualiﬁed by the adjective “white.”) In fact, thinking of oneself as white, and actually achieving whiteness, once one’s Puerto Rican-ness is recognized, is practically impossible, given the U.S. population’s imagery of Puerto Ricans.3 As I will illustrate, racialization is a process that uniﬁes Puerto Ricans’ racial experiences in the U.S., while skin color still operates as a distinct marker of access and treatment. Moreover, by focusing on all Puerto Ricans’ racialization in the U.S., I am not negating the long history of racism and discrimination towards dark-skinned Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico: While racism is experienced by darkskinned individuals in many parts of the world, I am discussing the difference in racial formation systems and how their presence on U.S. soil challenges current U.S. racial analyses. Autoethnography, as you will read in the next section, claims authority through that very personal account, just as “objectivity” does in many empiricists’ minds. Autoethnography, I argue, is an untapped way of exploring the complexity of issues when studying “race” and ethnicity for Puerto Ricans (and other Latinos).4 The excerpted vignettes illustrate some of my experiences with “race” in the U.S.; some of these moments will only implicitly link to the arguments at hand, while others will directly open a discussion. While I emphasize challenging instances of my own experience and identiﬁcation with racial and
light-skinned Puerto Ricans may choose to see themselves and attempt to participate in the world as white, but this is threatened when Puerto Rican-ness is announced. Thus, thinking of oneself as white and actually being rewarded with both the structural and symbolic privileges attached to whiteness are separate matters. A variety of sources for the origin of this U.S. imagery of Puerto Ricans have been pointed; notably, the movie West Side Story has been exposed (Grosfoguel and Georas 1996) and discussed (Negr´ n-Muntaner 2000) as pivotal in its shaping. For a recent, drastic o illustration of this marking of the Puerto Rican as Other, refer to Oboler (2000). She discusses the case of a Puerto Rican Congressman, Jos´ Guti´ rrez, who in 1998 was singled out as a foreigner, and e e was told about his Congress ID: “It must be fake,” “Why don’t you and your people just go back to the country you came from?” at the entrance of the Federal Building where he works, while carrying a Puerto Rican ﬂag. 4 Autobiographical work has already been utilized in describing Puerto Ricans’ racial and racialized experiences in the past. For instance, academic writings, such as those of Grosfoguel and Georas (1996), Flores (2000) and Almaguer (2003) all cite the autobiographic work of Caribbean and other Latinos that identify their own racial experiences in relation to U.S. racialization. Another pertinent racial autobiographical writing can be found in Cherr´e Moraga’s “La G¨ era” (1983a). ı u
ethnic categories, these illustrations are mostly a selection from a larger pool of experiences, and are presented in no particular order. I have chosen vignettes of my experience as a racialized other while living in the U.S., because these offer more information about interplay among racial discrimination, sustainment of racial orders, and perceived instances of privilege. I cannot present accounts of my experiences growing up in Puerto Rico (the ﬁrst twenty-ﬁve years of my life), because my most recent experiences with U.S. racialization taint any possibility of a just representation of racial systems on the Island—a crucial issue discussed here. Yet I hope critical race studies work addressing how “race” operates in Puerto Rico continues to be supported and published.
I am handed a survey assessing the needs of Latino gay men by a large New York AIDS service organization while at a Queens, NY gay pride event in 2002. This agency has taken the U.S. 2000 Census questions on “race” and ethnicity and, without any critical challenges to the meaning of these questions, used them on the survey. Me and another Puerto Rican man explain to the agency’s project coordinator that this is a non-critical way of seeing “race,” that many Latinos don’t necessarily identify by “race” and ethnicity the way it is suggested in the survey, that there are other ways of managing this information if they really want to learn about Latinos’ (racial) experiences. We have a signiﬁcant, although brief, exchange of ideas. At some point, the project coordinator asks: “Did you identify as Latino in Puerto Rico, or as Puerto Rican? I didn’t, I identiﬁed as [name of his country of origin] when I lived in my country. It was when I moved here that I adopted a Latino identity.” I realized at that point how much my illustration of “Latino” needed to be bracketed as much as the racial categories this survey was suggesting. By naming national identity, he noted a racialization process for many immigrants—their experiences with broader racial formation systems in their countries of origin, which often contrast U.S. skin color ones. This experience reinforced how “race” categorizations continue to be a trap for me.
My argument here emerges out of the explicit tension between structural forces and group responses in forming, maintaining and reshaping identities. Group identiﬁcation, when imposed by institutions as structures of domination, can be contested by its members—the U.S. Census is a pertinent example (U.S. Census Bureau 2001a) because it does not simply document, but creates, racial categories (Lee 1993; Nobles 2000; Rodr´guez 2000).5 In U.S. Census 2000, 48 percent of the ı
Latinos continue to confound racial classiﬁcations with their mere presence in the U.S., newer ways of absorbing Latino identity into a black/white system emerge. As Allen (1999) has argued: “The [U.S.] government has decreed that for the ﬁrst time in its history, this country is to have an ofﬁcially established distinct population category that is neither ‘white’ nor not ‘white.”’ He asks, “If Hispanics can be of any race, then why not everyone else?” The U.S. Census is also administered in Puerto Rico, along with all ﬁfty states of the U.S. and the District of Columbia. Census 2000 was the ﬁrst to ask a separate question on Hispanic origin in Puerto Rico, already a practice in the U.S. Both in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the question of whether Hispanic/Latinos identiﬁed with one or more of the races was incorporated as well. Of the population surveyed in Puerto Rico, 84 percent described themselves as white, 11 percent described themselves as black, and a little over 8 percent labeled themselves a race other than black or white. I offer these results to show a discrepancy between race identiﬁcations in the Island and on the mainland and, through that difference, point out different racial formation systems in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. “Race” as a U.S. construct is often not discussed critically when speaking of Islander Puerto Rican identities (and Latin American identities for that matter). Utilizing U.S. racial constructs “abroad” may produce simplistic analyses that vilify these (white) racial responses in Puerto Rico, mainly
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
“Latino” respondents identiﬁed as white, but almost as many respondents (42 percent) noted they were of “some other race” (U.S. Census Bureau 2001b). For those “unable to identify with any of these ﬁve race categories, the OMB approved including a sixth category—‘some other race’ . . . ” (ibid., p. 3; emphasis added). In fact, most of the Census respondents who said they were of “some other race” were Hispanics. Given the impositions of the Census, it is remarkable that two out of ﬁve Latinos challenged U.S. racial and ethnic categories that classiﬁed them as, for example, “white, of Hispanic origin.” By choosing to see themselves as “some other race,” Latinos marked their experience in the U.S. differently from that imposed by Census mechanisms. (This experience, as illustrated in the previous vignette, may be deﬁned by country of origin or region’s national identity—which may be constructed as raza in a Latin American context, differing in meaning from U.S. “race” classiﬁcations.) Even before Census 2000, Latinos have contested the very premise of their ethnic label and have self-categorized as a racial group (Almaguer 2003). My goal is to demonstrate the need for better tools to explain how racial and ethnic identity boundaries are able to accommodate groups not typically associated with each other. In this case, the term “people of color” has become an umbrella for all groups that identify as racial/ethnic minorities. I, however, want to argue that the label “people of color” warrants a more systematic understanding of “race” and ethnic identity for Latinos in general, and for Puerto Ricans in particular.6 For Puerto Ricans and other Latinos who choose to identify as people of color, the term might signify resistance to institutional categories within the system they are trying to subvert. On a phenotypical level, I argue that color cannot be a simple marker for separating light-skinned Puerto Ricans or other Latinos from their darker-skinned counterparts. While light-skinned Puerto Ricans/Latinos may experience what is known as skin privilege, they also experience discrimination as Puerto Ricans/Latinos. Thus, I hope to further not only the meanings of “race” and
because “race” is made operational within an oppressor/oppressed, white/black context in the U.S. (see Bourdieu and Wacquant 1999). 6 This article does not focus on the etiology of the term “people of color,” but I offer some notes on my understanding and use of it. The term “people of color” encompasses experiences of discrimination at an individual, institutional and structural level; it also allows for discussion of global matters as they relate to territoriality and militarization as colonial/post-colonial strategies of dominance. Therefore, “people of color” is useful in that it steps outside the U.S. territorial/Census boundaries, yet refers to the relationship the U.S. carries to its territories, the rest of the world, and on the mainland. The term refers to African Americans (often including blacks and Caribbeans), Latinos, Asian/Paciﬁc Islanders and Native Americans—and only sometimes including Arabs (see, for example, The Audre Lorde Project: http:www.alp.org). Not simply meaning “nonwhite,” the term has key uses ranging from political mobilization to coalition building, with much possibility of adding complexity to race/ethnic discussions. For a critical engagement of the concept “women of color,” refer to the volume This Bridge Called My Back: Radical Writings by Women of Color (Anzald´ a and Moraga 1983). For a u discussion of Bridge’s impact and its limitations, refer to the work by Alarc´ n (1990) and Moraga o (1983b). For a different exploration of the people of color possibilities through the idea of latinidad, affective excess, and a continuation of the work of radical women of color by gay men of color (a project Moraga herself [1983b] commented on, and seemed encouraged by), refer to Mu˜ oz’s (2000) n “Feeling Brown” article.
ethnicity for Latinos but, more generally, to question the limited understandings of “race” and ethnicity that are prevalent in U.S. academic and popular settings. This article is divided into ﬁve sections. First, I discuss how autoethnography is an ideal method for exploring my propositions. In the next section I discuss U.S. and Latin American racialization models in relation to the leading sociological literature—and I explore the exchange between U.S. racial formation systems and Latin American ones, as well as outline racialization for Puerto Ricans—particularly light-skinned Puerto Ricans. The next discussion illustrates the paradox of citizenship and colonialism for Puerto Ricans; I provide some historical background on Puerto Rico’s relationship to the U.S., and connect Puerto Rican experiences to that of another citizenship holding, underserved group— African Americans. In the section preceding the conclusion I go on to illustrate intra-ethnic similarities and alliance possibilities under the people of color identiﬁcation. Finally, I conclude by discussing how my suggested paradigm adds to race, ethnic and area studies, and how racialization occurs for all racial groups. Taken together, this article utilizes Puerto Rican-ness to illustrate the limitations of U.S. “race” and ethnic constructs. Moreover, I argue that people of color as a political category furthers analyses on racialization.
AUTOETHNOGRAPHY AND “RACIAL”/ETHNIC ANALYSES
My partner and I lay in bed one morning, at his house; I can hear the river right outside the bedroom window. His and my skin contrast each other—his, a dark brown tone that at times I know I envy; mine, a pale one that shines next to his body. We talk about a trip we are about to make together—in fact, to the (now defunct) National Task Force on AIDS Prevention Conference for Gay and Bisexual Men of Color, later on this year (it is the summer of 1997). I bring up the paleness of my skin, since it is almost inevitable to notice my skin color pressed at his. This skin color has often materialized for me body image issues, because at times it renders how I see myself in the world, invisible. Yet that is a struggle for me: to peacefully live within my skin. I wonder if he knows this. In a tone especially orchestrated, and in a playful manner, he says to me: “Why do you think I like you so much?” I am afraid to ask . . . “Because . . . you are very light-skinned, yet you are a person of color. I get my way both ways.” I still remember my reaction to his statement—it has little to do with me, my insecurities and self-image; at the same time, he has just shared with me a complicated desire. Then, a pause . . . and I just let myself run, once again, with the sound of the river . . .
This autoethnographic based article, like other autoethnographies, locates individual experience as an important part of social relations, or “as a form of selfnarrative that places the self within a social context” (Reed-Danahay 1997, p. 9). Autoethnographies “turn the eye of the sociological imagination back on the ethnographer” (Clough 2000, p. 179) as they critique the social sciences’ sole focus on “subjects” other than ourselves. At its very core, autoethnography is antithetical to the “tenets of empirical science.” But as feminists have demonstrated, autoethnography is creative because it “transform[s] the conditions of knowledge production” (Clough 2000, pp. 172–173, 174). Still, this kind of ethnography/autobiography
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
also claims an authoritative position instead of disrupting power altogether (Clough 2000; Seale 1999). Dramatic description, native/outsider structures, and a critique of realism and representation practices all are characteristics of autoethnographic work (Clough 2000; Holt 2003; Reed-Danahay 1997). Research techniques like authoethnography require writing “about what we really prefer not to write about” (Tenni, Smyth and Boucher 2003). I write about a variety of experiences and emotions, providing a diversity of tone and reﬂexivity, in hopes that my work builds on that emergent body of literature.7 Speciﬁcally, I am using autoethnography to reconceptualize structurally imposed ethnic and racial categorizations (through illustrating everyday interaction practices where the structural permeates)—activating different types of identities, where a mixture of dominant and subordinate ideas coexist. Thus, the “white person of color” term stands to ﬁt a double-identity discussion: methodologically, where the autoethnographer is a boundary-crosser—with a “dual identity” emerging (Reed-Danahay 1997, p. 3)—and conceptually, where “white” and “of color” are both bracketed and, as in current U.S. “race”/ethnic systems, opposite and (in and through that opposition) mutually constitutive. By using autoethnography, my claim of a distinctive identiﬁcation—one that contests state and control apparatuses—is a claim for authenticity, for “naming” that complex identity. The end point of this task is to question current identities, to dislocate their foundations. My purpose is not to add another political category,8 but to bring up inequality
is a growing amount of excellent work on autoethnography that merits more recognition than I can mention in a footnote. For inﬂuencial autoethnographies/autoethnographers, refer to Carolyn Ellis (1995, 1999) and Ellis and Bochner (1996), as well as the work by Norman K. Denzin, Laurel Richardson, and Mary Louise Pratt. See Gait´ n (2000) for a review of Ellis and Bochner (1996); a for a development of Ellis (1995), see Clough (1997). For the relationship between autobiography, ethnography and autoethnography, refer to Reed-Danahay (1997). For a discussion on the relationship between autoethnography and qualitative methods, refer to Holt (2003). In addition to these autoethnographic citations rooted in the social sciences, literature work focusing on racial minorities (speciﬁcally challenging the always dramatic and political stand in autoethnography) by Deck (1990) and on “girls” (and, more precisely, gender restrictions) by Watson (1997) is also an important inﬂuence of autoethnography. Lastly, although not self-titled authoethnographic, the work of Lˆ m (1994)—especially her use of stories to generate a reﬂexive analysis of a her relationship to (and her position within) feminism—highly inﬂuenced some of my writing. Note a similarity between Anzald´ a and Moraga’s (1983) framework and Lˆ m’s critiques of feminism as u a either an Anglo project or “Western”—and thus problematic in terms of the authority of a feminist project of liberation contrasting with priorities and situations faced by immigrants of color. 8 In the past ten years, multiracial people and organizations have challenged the idea of simplistic racial categorizations—and more importantly, the notion of a single obligatory choice from an array of racial identiﬁcations that apply to people (Root 1992). This challenge has taken many forms—among them, a proposal to add a “multiracial” category to the U.S. census was suggested, well received and incorporated in the early 1990s. Although the addition of biracial/multiracial options on the census responds to individual identity choice and, by its mere existence, complicates U.S. racial discourses, we have yet to see the damages in utilizing these multiple options in census categorization (its operationalization and economic redistribution) in the political and economic terrain. This point was well illustrated in a recent talk—the 2003 Lillie and Nathan Ackerman lecture on Justice and Equality in America—held by Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs on April 30, 2003, where the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, spoke. Dr. Prewitt discussed the
and stratiﬁcation outside these rigid identity parameters. By using various layers of identiﬁcation—national (Puerto Rican), pan-ethnic (Latino),9 and a broader coalition term (people of color), as well as phenotypical (white)—I attempt to complicate racial binary systems and racialization processes, and to recognize how oppressor/oppressed and native/outsider can indeed be false dichotomies. I begin by discussing how racialization affects Latinos in general, and light-skinned Puerto Ricans in particular.
LATINOS, PUERTO RICANS, AND RACIALIZATION
It is the summer of 1999. I am at a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) training as a consultant. A CDC staff person—an African American woman—pulls me aside after I have made a presentation on the importance for HIV prevention programmatic goals speciﬁcally designed for “Latino gay and bisexual men.” She tells me that she has been to Puerto Rico, and seen the work against HIV infection on the Island. She pauses and then adds: “I just don’t see why black folks there aren’t organized separately.” I try to explain to her that “race” as black and white is very “American” and that folks there have a different racial formation and perhaps racial identiﬁcation. There is a short silence on both sides. She has a blank look on her face, as she greets me and walks away. She is looking at my fair skin, but she is hearing these words with a strong Spanish accent. I wonder whether she simply understood my comments as a refusal to talk about “race.” This experience leaves me with a sour taste: Am I biased in stating that not everyone sees “race” the way United Staters do? Was my interpretation of the understandings of “race” in Puerto Rico an unrealistic one? Was that an act of dismissal of the powerful effects of racial discrimination on dark-skinned people on the Island? On the other hand, could she hear this position, a different kind of racial order articulation, as one way in which racialization takes place—and differs—elsewhere?
Utilizing the terms “race” or “race relations” often sidesteps racism discussions, or reiﬁes these relations as black/white (Torres, Mir´ n and Inda 1999; o Steinberg 1995). For example, Almaguer (2003, p. 215) illustrates the ﬁne line between deliberately abandoning “race” discussions and the challenge for social
political charges behind the changes in the “race” categories. His arguments can be accessed in a forthcoming publication. 9 Because of space limitations, a discussion of pan-ethnicity is limited to this note. The concept of pan-ethnicity has been discussed at length (Espiritu 1992; Flores 2000; Lopez and Espiritu 1990), and its emergence has been noted as a consequence of the civil rights struggle (Omi 1996). Deﬁned as the generalization of solidarity among ethnic subgroups, pan-ethnicity and ethnicity are different constructs (Espiritu 1992). The main criticism of pan-ethnicity is the homogenization of peoples from diverse religious, ethnic and language communities. For instance, Espiritu illustrates how panethnicity incorporates colonized people, refugees, documented and undocumented immigrants, and second-, third- and fourth-generation U.S. citizens. Pan-ethnicity also ignores language differences, class statuses and cultures. While Omi asserts that pan-ethnicity is “driven by a dynamic relationship between the speciﬁc group being racialized and the state” (1996, p. 180), labels such as “pan-Asian” and “pan-Latino” are created in part because of the political necessity of forming such coalitions. (“Pan-Latino” is a not-so-new term indicating cohesiveness among various culture- or languagesharing communities [Flores 2000]; we also know that the term did not originate in the North [Alcoff 2000]). Pan-ethnicity can, on the other hand, create turf between the four recognized minority groups in the United States (African American, Asian, Latino and Native American), as the necessity to retain and police boundaries beneﬁts both the leading groups within those factions and the state.
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
scientists not to reify its use.10 Following his lead, I propose the use of racialization as a central category of analysis. Racialization has at its core the process of race-making—and, henceforth, “race”—but it departs from the phenotypical or somatic explanations by focusing on other “racial” markers (markers that might be socioeconomic or class based). The term “racialization” better reﬂects discussions of social inequalities. It also locates such experiences as having originated in the perception of otherness imposed by the hierarchical/racial/social order in the U.S., where given “races” locate themselves in positions of superiority and/or opposition to others. Racialization is deﬁned by Miles as “the process of categorization, a representational process of deﬁning an Other (usually, but not exclusively) somatically” (1989, p. 75). Omi and Winant’s classic Racial Formation in the United States deﬁne racialization as “the extension of racial meaning to a previously racially unclassiﬁed relationship or group” (1986, p. 64). They see it as a “fundamental axis of social organization in the United States” (p. 13). Racialization refers to the process by which Latinos’ treatment is that of a racial group, in spite of their assignment as an ethnic one (Darder and Torres 1998; Gracia and De Grieff 2000). Tom´ s Almaguer pointed out that racialization discussions are at the center a of Latino studies. In so doing, he says, “I want to argue that race and race-making are absolutely central to our understanding of the Latino/a condition and that our multiraciality is the single most unique feature of the Latino experience in the United States today” (2003, p. 206). Almaguer also clariﬁes that he is not negating other thematic issues; rather, Latino studies today needs to reexamine racialization as a central force in sustaining hierarchies in relation to “cultural and material conditions of individual life chances” (p. 207). Almaguer takes on Omi and Winant’s deﬁnition of racialization and argues that the “extension of racial meaning” is more than just “a unilateral process that simply imposes racial categories onto preracial peoples” (ibid.). A clash takes place between the racialization processes of the U.S. as they are confronted by those of immigrants, who themselves bring their own racial formation ideas to the U.S. (see also Lowe ). Thus the emergence of new syntheses on “race” is a possibility. He establishes that such a meeting of ideologies is not equally distributed in terms of power. An interplay between these ideologies will not always result in the victory of the dominant culture’s ideas. “In this regard, racialization is not simply
organizations for the ﬁelds of sociology and anthropology have contested each other’s use of the term, all while perhaps forgetting to address racial disparities. In 1998, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) issued a statement dismissing the use of “race” (http://aaanet.org/stmts/racepp.htm). The American Sociological Association in turn afﬁrmed “race” as a necessary category (http://www.asanet.org/media/asa race statement.pdf). For debates on the AAA’s decision, refer to Zack (2001) and Baker (2001). For comments on the ASA’s decision, refer to the January 2003 issue of Footnotes (http://www.asanet.org/footnotes/jan03/fn10.html) as well as others during that year.
a unilateral process imposed by the state but also reﬂects the Latino population’s active engagement with its own cultural determined understandings of race” (ibid., p. 214). Almaguer warns us that Latinos have some active agency in this process of racial categorizing, but it is severely circumscribed by the historical legacies of race making in various national contexts. Almaguer’s remark on the multiraciality of Latinos represents the crossroads at which Latinos ﬁnd themselves in the U.S. Even though Latinos are identiﬁed as an ethnic group, their experiences are highly racialized. By placing Latinos in a context where both “race” and ethnicity are experienced, Almaguer helps us reconsider the use of race. By redeﬁning the ways in which Latinos participate in the understanding of the U.S. racial system, work like Almaguer’s complicates the relationships among nation/citizenship, ethnicity and race studies. The following section builds on this discussion, focusing on Puerto Ricans’ racialization as a shared experience of these migrants. Puerto Ricans’ Racialization: On Being a Person of Color in Relationship to the United States
August 1994: I moved to Washington, DC, and during my ﬁrst week after moving permanently to the U.S., I receive a last check from work while a student in Puerto Rico. I come to a cashing place to redeem it. While trying to explain to the teller that I just moved to the U.S.—that being the reason for not having a local ID other than a Puerto Rican drivers’ license (and the U.S. passport!)—she struggles with my English. With a straight face, she tells me: “Speak English!” That’s what I’ve been doing all along. I revisit this feeling constantly—while in grad school, at work, when meeting a stranger—how my accent is measured, establishing some level of knowledge or capacities. Sometimes a word does not come up—and I swim in my mind, searching for the right way of saying it in English. This is what people in my life-world have learned to recognize as ESL (English as a second language) moments. I still freeze, just like that ﬁrst week, when a professor, or an employer, or a stranger does not understand what I am saying. I still think twice when speaking publicly—at times lowering my tone, or speaking fast, so that my mistakes are not easily caught.
Puerto Ricans’ racialization is evident through their imposed racial categorization. When a Puerto Rican is seen as part of a U.S. racial extreme— light-skinned or dark-skinned—he/she tends to fall into the racial dichotomy of the U.S., although as many as 40 percent of Puerto Ricans identify instead with a “browning” of their identities in the U.S., and not with white or black (Montalvo and Codina 2001; Rodr´guez 2000). The ongoing development of a ı U.S. racialized social order (with its impact on Puerto Rico in the nineteenth century), the occupation of Puerto Rico, and subsequent implementation of “Americanization” during the ﬁrst half of the twentieth century have contributed to this racialization (Bigler 1999). Furthermore, attempts to impose English education in Puerto Rico early in the twentieth century, and their subsequent failure (Allen 1999), have signiﬁcantly established a distinct cultural identity from that of the U.S. But Puerto Ricans, like other immigrants, experience a
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
challenge in identiﬁcation when living in the U.S.—even those who are light-skinned. Frances Negr´ n-Muntaner is a ﬁlmmaker/writer whose 1994 movie Brino cando el charco (Jumping the Puddle) reveals some of the complexity Puerto Rican migrants face in the United States. For Puerto Ricans like Claudia—the main character of the movie—racialization becomes evident upon arrival to the U.S.; the relatively short trip by air has signiﬁcant inﬂuence in symbolically transforming Puerto Ricans’ “skins.” In retrospect, she says this about travel and racialization: “Becoming aware of race as a structuring category, and being routinely identiﬁed with ‘people of color,’ breaks the spell cast by the discourse of racial democracy in Puerto Rico. Once you are ‘raced’ . . . you will never be white again—at least not to yourself” (Negr´ n-Muntaner 1999, pp. 518–519; see also Alcoff 2000). o Negr´ n-Muntaner speaks of a racial experience not evident to her while living o in Puerto Rico. Abandoning an “invisible” racial system in Puerto Rico ironically creates the opportunity to see racialization in the U.S. It is her transition from being a seemingly unmarked racial being to becoming a “person of color” that “scars” her. Her skin pigmentation has not changed. However, the transparency of the colonial imposition on Puerto Ricans—which exacerbates inequality by establishing second-class citizenship—has become evident to her and her understanding of herself for the rest of her life. She can now “see” or “form” ideas about racial injustice (a situation many dark-skinned counterparts view differently, from their racialization in Puerto Rico). Even when—and especially when—returning to Puerto Rico, she will see things in the way she learned to see them in the U.S. Thus travel is, paradoxically, a way of illustrating the absence of individual racialization, the learning of racial formations (in this case, from the U.S.), and the importation of these to the Island. In turn, this acquired lens blurs the possibility of understanding racialization in Puerto Rico—without the inﬂuence of black/white, one-drop rule systems. What’s more, these “local” understandings are forever affected by those of the U.S., and it becomes harder to explore racial formation systems locally without an immediate imposition of U.S. systems. At the same time, racialization attempts to unify Claudia with all other Puerto Ricans on the mainland. She “is also mediated by the bodies of dark-skinned Puerto Ricans and other people of color, for they signify Puerto Rican visibility and colonized identity in the only terms recognized by the metropolitan culture” (Negr´ n-Muntaner 1999, p. 514). In o the U.S., the darkness associated with Puerto Ricans is the very same marker that is used to signify light-skinned Puerto Ricans’ exception—“But you don’t seem, you don’t look Puerto Rican to me.”
It is the spring of 1998. I am at a sex club in Portland, Oregon. I’m hanging out with an “attractive,” tall “white man.” While talking at the club, I ask about some of the labor issues going on in the Northwest, and mention—in passing—the unionizing of Latino workers. (He catches my intent to distance myself from him as a Latino man.) A moment later, he says to me, “I don’t care what you identify like, who you identify with, I think you are white, like me.” My look offers a sign of anger and desperation. He then proceeds to tell me, “It is those Mexican, Indian looking-like, non-English-speaking short guys,” the ones
Vidal-Ortiz he considers Hispanics, not me. I take it he thinks by saying this—that I am an “exception” to the rule, that I don’t seem to be Latino enough or dark or indigenous enough—that I will be ﬂattered (!). I think, “Only white folks can feel so free to redeﬁne others”—but then think of the ways in which that applies to me. Using white as a category helps me contrast my experience with that of light-skinned United Staters. It makes me much more aware of how I view and categorize others, and the need to problematize that action.
Thus, dark-skinned Puerto Ricans and other Latinos offer an initial entry to a process of racialization. Light-skinned Puerto Ricans often experience a racial marking through those who are dark-skinned—they are misunderstood or unrecognized more often in the U.S. than those who are dark-skinned or indigenous. But color is not the only element at play; it is the imposition of a negative value to one’s identity, or the reaction to one’s choice of self-identiﬁcation as Puerto Rican/Latino, that connects Puerto Ricans/Latinos of all skin colors:
As with other racisms, racialization and othering of Hispanic/Latinos often entail identifying the bodies of these people and the spaces they occupy as contaminated or dangerous. Hispanics who are dark-skinned, who appear to be of African or Native descent, are most liable to racist stereotyping and discrimination; indeed, they may even suffer this from other Hispanics/Latinos. But most people who identify or are identiﬁed as Hispanic/Latino are liable to be on the receiving end of racism some of the time (Young 2000, p. 161; see also Allen 1999).
The reader must be wondering how do Puerto Ricans—especially lightskinned ones—become people of color? The process of racializing and marking is initiated at various stages: If it is not skin color, or experiences with disempowerment, then it is the contradiction of privileged status as U.S. citizens. And there is always the accent, pronunciation, writing or comprehension (Lippi-Green 1997; Urciuoli 1996; Zentella 1997). The sense of otherness is always there, regardless of how much Spanish or European blood one possesses, because it is based on how Americans in the U.S. see Puerto Ricans. Light-skinned Puerto Ricans become “people of color” in the U.S. because the term means more than “race”; it now incorporates racialization and displacement as Puerto Ricans. Racial inequality and discrimination are still key elements of the people of color identity, but markers have opened up to include inequality in the context of globalization, colonial nexus and citizenship contradictions. The latter aspect is the focus of the next section. CITIZENSHIP AND COLONIALISM: LAS DOS CARAS DE LA MONEDA
It is the year 2000. The Treasury ofﬁce has released the new one-dollar coin. On it, a Native American woman—remembered mostly because of her assistance to the colonizers—is celebrated.11 I cannot understand, or move beyond the irony, that she is there, on that coin.
inscription on the coin reads: “This is the Sacagawea dollar, commemorating the Shoshone Indian woman who served from 1804 to 1806 as guide and translator to the Lewis and Clark expedition as it trekked across the high Rockies and continental divide to the Paciﬁc coast.”
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization While touching its curved borders for the ﬁrst time, I think of Puerto Rico’s coasts and beaches, affected by the military bases and daily practices of war—the foundation on which the U.S. stands. I look at her again, and in a similar way I think of the Native American reservations I have visited; the borders can be beautiful (as in mountains) and very imaginary (as borders often are). They are also strong; I see how the curved coin imprisons some in for the beneﬁt of the rest—often demarcating borders is only useful for the one splitting the land . . .
For Puerto Ricans, there is a connection of migration and labor that binds the people in Puerto Rico with the people outside the Island. In addition, there is also the history and current experiences of colonization, ﬁrst by Spain and, during a hundred-plus years, the U.S. (Allen 1999). Puerto Rico’s sudden citizenship in 1917 with the Jones Law was a perfect venue for cheap labor and the supply of large numbers of “nonwhite” soldiers for World War I (Allen 1999; Berman Santana 1999). “Operation Bootstrap” was the United States’ attempt to economically develop the Island. It drew many people to the U.S., after the failure of previous attempts to transform the plantation economic system to an industrial one and, later on, from manufacturing to services. Conferring U.S. citizenship does not compensate for the trade-off of Puerto Rico’s exploitation, colonization and invisibility. The role of citizenship imposition is to mask colonial relations, inverting the coin to make it seem as if Puerto Ricans choose their status. The imposition of military practices in Vieques is probably the most prominent example.12 Colonization and citizenship are for Puerto Ricans las dos caras de la moneda (two sides of the same coin). A subordinate population experiences the process of colonization to its very core. Ironically, economic dependency furthers the colonization, migration and settlement experiences. Citizenship is indeed not a blessing (Flores 2000). Many people (or those who know of Puerto Ricans’ citizenship status) in the U.S. consider Puerto Ricans to be privileged for being born U.S. citizens. Yet, even though this status eases travel back and forth, it also enables much more complex territorial relations and affects the stability and economic development of the Island. At the same time, their colonial status leaves Puerto Ricans, both on the Island and the mainland, little power over decisions on the Island’s future. Discussing the “Free, Associated State’ of Puerto Rico,” Flores and Benmayor establish some of the contradictions inherent in being Puerto Rican. Puerto Rico
(Visit http://www.ﬁndarticles.com/cf dls/m1061/3 108/56744989/p1/article.jhtml for the article discussing the history of the U.S. government’s use of American Indians on its currency.) a signiﬁcant analysis of this masking of colonial status through the law—and in this case the death penalty imposition—see Bernabe (2001). Another signiﬁcant discussion emergent in 2003 may be the repeal of sodomy laws in Puerto Rico. In the spring of 2003, the Puerto Rican senate voted to repeal the laws criminalizing same-sex consensual activities. In June 2003, a federal decision based on a Texas case revoked the power of sodomy laws in all U.S. states and jurisdictions. Because of its federal rulings over Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans have been robbed of seeing the possibilities of their government’s repeal of the law. Given that Puerto Rican and Latino communities tend to be labeled homophobic, and white-Anglo societies tend to be viewed as progressive, we won’t know for sure if years of educational and political procedures (like those supported by queer activists in Puerto Rico prior to the federal decision) would have had an impact in Puerto Rico’s government ruling.
. . . an Island where the people are Spanish-speaking and yet are U.S. citizens. For Puerto Ricans, holding U.S. citizenship is not insurance against racism. As U.S. citizens, their presence in this country may not face the open legal attacks and harassment of other Latino immigrant populations. However, Puerto Ricans are still treated as second-class citizens. Viewed as “foreigners,” they receive the same harsh anti-immigrant treatment as other Latinos. Moreover, the strength and continuance of Spanish in Puerto Rican communities, and cyclical and circular labor migration patterns back and forth between the Island and the United States, are issues commonly invoked by assimilationists and conservatives as explanations for persistent poverty and as justiﬁcation for persistent “othering” and exclusion (1997, p. 3).
Puerto Ricans participate daily in politics of exclusion—the very same ones that other minority groups experience in the U.S. In addition to the experience of racialization shared with other Latin Americans, Puerto Ricans experience invisibility through structural forces. Puerto Ricans do not determine their status in their relationship with the U.S. (Allen —plebiscites are not the ultimate measure to decide the Island’s status), do not vote on matters that concern the “mainland,” and are often not recognized internationally as a country nor as a part of the U.S. For example, neither the United Nations nor U.S. Consulates are options for Puerto Rico due to its colonial status. Puerto Ricans experience a sense of uneasiness due to their citizenship contradiction, which spills over into virtually all aspects of their daily lives on the Island and on the mainland. In addition to what other immigrants face, Puerto Ricans “are organically inserted into the racial divide and the cultural and class dynamic of the metropolitan society” (Flores 1993, p. 163). Yet Puerto Ricans are not, by any means, the only group of people that experience such contradictions.
In November of 2001, I had the opportunity to attend a Princeton University conference on Puerto Ricans’ citizenship, called “Puerto Ricans: Second-Class Citizens in ‘Our’ Democracy,” and listen to their keynote speaker, Reverend Jesse Jackson. Mr. Jackson’s comments on the struggle for the liberation of Vieques and his experiences while visiting Puerto Rico were inspirational. He speciﬁcally shared his disbelief in local judicial procedures regarding his wife’s arrest as protest to the bombing—in particular, he was appalled at the use of English in all the legal proceedings when, often, all parties involved were native Spanish speakers. This imposition of language was a signiﬁcant marker for him of Puerto Rico’s colonial situation. Once he offered this observation, the motives for the conference were rightfully contextualized.
Bigler (1999) has argued that Puerto Ricans have more in common with Chicanos, Native Americans and African Americans than with other Latinos because of their experiences of colonization. Flores (2000) also denotes how some Puerto Ricans can ﬁnd afﬁnity with African Americans due to their dual experience of citizenship and economic displacement. Grosfoguel and Georas (1996) illustrate the economic disparities that both African Americans and Puerto Ricans experienced, as forced migrations that offered cheaper labor affected the economic ladder in places like New York. And, while sociological discussions on the “immigrant analogy” and “colonized minorities” (Blauner 1972; Glazer and Moynihan
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
1963) permeated much of racial theorizing in the aftermath of the civil rights movement, African Americans and Puerto Ricans continued to be compared to white immigrants in hopes that the former would emulate the newcomers’ attempts to achieve economic and social mobility. Such work has been rightfully critiqued on the grounds of not recognizing a distinctive cultural identity; moreover, by focusing on these groups’ citizenship, this work obscures the relationship among structural forces, economic conditions, citizenship as limitation and racial discrimination (Steinberg 1995, pp. 83–86; Grosfoguel and Georas 1996, pp. 193–195). While African Americans and Puerto Ricans share the history of colonial relations and a second-class citizenship experience within the U.S., there are other groups whose interaction with this country are mediated in a similar fashion to that of Puerto Ricans. The following section illustrates this with a case study of two different “racial” groups, under the U.S. ethno-racial system, yet politically bound to the U.S. in similar ways. PEOPLE OF COLOR: CROSS-ETHNIC IDENTIFICATION AND COALITION BUILDING “OUTSIDE THE BOX”
I am back in Puerto Rico in March of 2002 as part of a political mobilization meeting, visiting Vieques, and meeting with the Comit´ Pro-Rescate de Vieques, a watchdog and e advocacy group against the U.S. military practices on the Island. I have seen the power of the military before—having been a U.S. Army Reserves member at the age of 17, and, like many people of color in the U.S., joining the army in order to have the means to go to college. I did not notice this phenomenon while living in Puerto Rico; at that point, joining the army only meant economic achievement and perhaps some travel opportunities. Yet now, given the practices of the military in Vieques, and 16 years later, I am on the other side of the fence, noticing not just economic and social patterns, but also global solidarity. I am alarmed by the hostility of the military, and understand the community’s response to the presence of the armed forces here. On the side of the fence that divides the U.S. military land and the “community” land, I see several banners from the Paciﬁc—Okinawa, Guam and the Philippines stand out—other countries that like Puerto Rico, have been extremely militarized and have found means to resist the military imposition.13
Michael Perez (2002) offers a similar picture of another site where the relationship to the U.S. is also full of contradictions. Speciﬁcally talking about the Chamorros—the name designating people from Guam—Perez describes the ambiguity that Chamorros experience in the U.S., as their association with the category
13 I was visiting Vieques with the Funding Exchange, a foundation for social change, where I volunteer
as part of the activist grant-making panels (http://www.fex.org). The grant-making panels were a place to explore the relationship among racial groups, militarization and deterritorialization, and inspired me to research the relationship of Puerto Rico and other territories. The foundation has just published a report on militarization entitled Colonies in Question: Supporting Indigenous Movements in the US Jurisdictions (http://www.fex.org/coloniesinquestion.html). Unfortunately, the statistics that describe “race” in Puerto Rico present the majority of habitants as Latinos, and about 8 percent as black—thus assigning an ethnic label to the majority and a racial label to the minority. My reading of the implicit judgment is that the Latinos are nonblack, meaning white (where ethnic is posed opposite “racial” and black is the only code read as “race”), which illustrates racial formations outside Puerto Rico, or a reporting tainted with U.S. racial systems.
“Asian” makes them virtually invisible; this, as mainstream stereotypes of Asian people are far from associative to Chamorros. Moreover, in many instances, Chamorros are confused with Chicanos in California, the state with the highest concentration of Chamorros. Perez also describes the ambiguities experienced by the people who reside in Guam, as their relationship with the Chamorros in the U.S. and their experiences with militarization position them in direct contact with the U.S. without leaving their border. Chamorros were given congressional U.S. citizenship as residents of Guam in 1950. Due in part to this, they currently make up the third-largest group of Paciﬁc Islanders in the U.S. With about half of the Island’s land being utilized for U.S. military forces, Guam’s population is entrenched in massive migration patterns with the U.S., including military enrollment. Perez’s argument is one of signiﬁcation, as when, for example, he positions Chamorros as unlocalized within U.S. racial discourse and formation.
Perhaps the most striking experience for Chamorros being off the Island for the ﬁrst time is their initial confrontations with U.S. racism, which when combined with their social ambiguity, presents paradoxically unique experiences. A Paciﬁc Islander on the mainland is non-Asian, non-Hispanic, and non-Native American, yet is simultaneously all of that at any given moment. And when Paciﬁc Islanders are recognized as Paciﬁc Islanders, notions of exotic people and preindustrial throwbacks permeate (Perez 2002, p. 70).
Perez argues that an emergent scholarship focusing on Paciﬁc Islanders is needed. Much of the experience of Paciﬁc Islanders is lost if they are located within an Asian category. He also promotes studies focusing on location and invisibility, as “the cultural dimension of marginality among mainland Chamorros involves the state of simultaneously being at the edge of both Chamorro and American culture” (ibid., p. 471). His work undoubtedly reveals layers of the impact of U.S. dominance on Chamorros. But more importantly, it documents the myriad ways Chamorros resist and negotiate these experiences with U.S. dominance. I suggest that Puerto Ricans share a similar experience of colonization, territorialization and militarization with the people of much of the occupied Paciﬁc jurisdictions, more so than with most Latin Americans. Take the case of Puerto Rico and Guam. Both experienced U.S. colonization in the late 1800s; both have had great areas of land occupied by the military; and both are U.S. territories— although with no permanent ties. Guam’s government even explored, but was not granted, the same political designation of commonwealth that Puerto Rico has had for over ﬁfty years (Perez 2002). Both are economically dependent on the U.S., although that was not always the case; both their residents travel as U.S. citizens and experience rates of Americanization that are signiﬁcantly higher than those of other immigrants. Similar relations have been documented between Puerto Rico and the Philippines, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and/or Hawai’i (Berman Santana 1999; Boughton and Leary 1994; Mor´n ı 2000; see also Rivera Ortiz and Ramos 2001). I suggest that the trend of similarities
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
with other Paciﬁc Islands needs to be further investigated, so as to better argue a transnational, colonial relation among groups otherwise seen as separate, discrete categories, at least through the U.S. black and white racial lens. Thus, the “people of color” label, which is dependent on, but has the capability of transcending, pan-ethnic ideologies, offers us a malleable opportunity for renegotiation and rearticulation of racial/colonial relations. These malleable categories (African American, Latino, Asian/Paciﬁc Islander and Native American) within the “people of color” umbrella term, however problematic in representing the realities of its members, offer possibilities for alliances based on similarities other than culture or language. Moreover, these potential alliances give rise to a newer conceptualization of people of color, one that recognizes alliances within as well as between categories. I conclude with some remarks addressing these possibilities. CONCLUSION: RE-WRITING RACIAL SYSTEMS AND EXPLORING COALITION POSSIBILITIES I have argued in this article that racialization processes need to be central to “race” discussions in the U.S. (Given the constant change in racialized dynamics, racialization offers multiple venues to connect issues of discrimination based on ethnic, racial, national or religious afﬁliation or identity.) Much of the basis of my arguments has been the racialization of “people of color.” Yet whites are also a racialized group in the current U.S. racial order (Martinot 2003), although whiteness is not “racialized as subordinate” (Ahmad 2002). To close in a similar fashion as I began, I return to the U.S. Census, where Middle Easterners are identiﬁed as “white,” and are not covered under a minority status as are African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans. The last twenty or so years have inﬂuenced the American imagery of Middle Easterners. The terrorist events of September 11, 2001 solidiﬁed the continuous marking of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians as others—and with it, discrimination moved away from color as a main factor and toward issues like nationalism and religious beliefs. The backlash attacks on people of Middle Eastern descent concretized this sentiment. While the imagery had already settled, a large process taking place as a result of the 9/11 events reordered racial positions in the U.S. (Ahmad 2002). Muneer Ahmad illustrates—through an analysis of electronic and print media—how African Americans and Latinos seemed to have supported the proﬁling of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians immediately after 9/11. In the last few years, African Americans and Latinos were less targeted and, through the subordination of Middle Easterners, were reifying the white idea that racial proﬁling was now appropriate. Ironically, in cities like New York this proﬁling took place a few years after South Asian and Arab taxi drivers started refusing to pick up African Americans hailing cabs. And yet, immediately after 9/11 there was a large pool of
attacks toward individuals perceived to be Arabs, Muslims or South Asians. These non-Arabs, non-South Asians and (sometimes) non-Muslims who were attacked or harassed were, for the most part, African American or Latino. Labeling racial minority folks as “Spics” immediately after 9/11 was not accidental, but a clear way of marking immigrants as a threat and highly racialized, unworthy aliens (Grosfoguel and Georas 1996). I am not arguing for the use of “people of color” as yet another multicultural attempt to simplify “race relations” in the U.S. I am also not using “people of color” as an inefﬁcient umbrella term that equalizes national and regional differences (as I feel “pan-ethnicity” does). I am, however, arguing for an operationalization of the “people of color” term, where connections beyond the usual lens are noticed and coalition work can be formed through such efforts. In what follows, I offer some theoretical arguments as suggestions. 1. Against Divide and Conquer Strategies: A More Complex Meaning of “People of Color”
There have been multiple instances in academic circles where the “race” I have experienced has been through phenotype and distancing. I recall that otherwise welcoming African American professor who needed to point out to me that he saw me as white, or that student of Caribbean descent who managed to insert several times the phrase “as a woman of color” in one of our ﬁrst conversations ever. A simple, black/white racial system beneﬁts from these accounts of what a “real” “race” is. Our implicit acceptance of “race” as biological reiﬁes these sentiments. Meanwhile, potential coalitions for people of color are reduced to old ﬁghts based on skin color differences.
Like people of color’s relationship to citizenship—most often incomplete and racially subordinated—the use of light skin as a marker of individual privilege is another “divide and conquer” white supremacy strategy. (This is one of the ways in which white racialization is accomplished—by its attempts to equalize unequal social relations, leaving whiteness invisible.) Light skin is only one of the markers associated with whiteness. I have not intended to ignore the possibility of light skin experiences as a door to status, or access, or beneﬁts and, inversely, the lack of such beneﬁts, access or status to dark-skinned people. Recent research has demonstrated that lighter skin tends to beneﬁt Latina and African-American women (Hunter 2002); and that dark-skinned Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean people have merged in neighborhoods with African American communities (Montalvo and Codina 2001), due in part to discrimination from within. But the singling out of light skin tone over other exclusionary practices is in and of itself a limiting practice that in turn creates further division within people of color organizing. The use of individualized white privilege models, and the requirement that white people abandon their “skin privilege” as the foremost aspect of antiracist politics (Martinot 2003, p. 194), reduces a structural issue to psychological levels. The result of that individualizing practice is that “[w]hite skin privilege appears as a system of absences” (ibid., p. 196), abandoning the opportunity of any structural analysis of racial discrimination. Therefore, whiteness masks itself once more,
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
this time reconﬁguring social and racial inequalities as merely economic ones. In applying this discussion of whiteness to light-skinned Puerto Ricans, moving away from models of privilege and approaching models that recognize structural components of discrimination will be essential in order to form and sustain coalitions. Looking at other exclusionary practices broadens our understanding of how racialization operates. Just as importantly, it challenges the assumptions behind identity politics’ organization that operates against a set of people, instead of a complex stratiﬁcation system that solidiﬁes its presence through inequality. Meanwhile, internal discussions about skin color discrimination need to continue. While in the past these conversations within Puerto Ricans circles in the U.S. have not been central (Early 1998; James 1996), recognizing the links among values imposed on cultural attributes, housing, employment and “race” as variables for the social conditions of dark-skinned Puerto Ricans (Grosfoguel and Georas 1996) is paramount. I have identiﬁed some of the ways in which global populations face structural discrimination through a lens other than skin color. As we uncover the relationships of regions, islands and countries challenged by militarization and colonization, and their organized acts of resistance, and we link these to past struggles against injustice, we start to see the multiple possibilities for the term “people of color.” The term also has political potential. By moving from deﬁciency models (e.g., minority, nonwhite), the term can someday be reconstituted not as the opposite of white, but as a rich coalitional term in and of itself. 2. An Analysis of Local Racial Formations that Recognizes Discrimination by “People of Color”
Several years ago, as part of the grant-making panels of the Funding Exchange, I was speaking to the director of an applicant, a social, economic and environmental organization in Puerto Rico. As I routinely ask all applicants in my pile of applications about their work with “people of color,” this person says to me: “Well, we are, as Puerto Ricans, all people of color under the rubric of your institution and in the eyes of Americans.” I ask about dark skin mobilization, yet there is none taking place within the movements this organization is building. I go back to the question of discrimination—if all Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico are now considered people of color—in U.S. terms—and all Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are linked to the same mobilization, then what happens to dark-skinned Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico or El Barrio? If dark-skinned Puerto Ricans serve as a bridge to lighter-skinned ones, then where do we leave the analysis of their probable negative treatment—both in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Ricans seem to be in a dilemma when it comes to racialization in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico. For a moment, allow me to suspend U.S. racialization and focus on Puerto Rico’s racial formation and discrimination. What happens with the discrimination faced by dark-skinned Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, if all Puerto Ricans see themselves as people of color? While it is an imposition of U.S. racial formation systems to tag a white identity on light-skinned Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, it is necessary to attack racism, however it is experienced by Puerto Ricans—and presumably dark-skinned Puerto Ricans as well as Dominicans (the
largest migrant population)—on the Island. But this discrimination also happens in the U.S.
It is the winter of 1999. In my work as an ethnographer for a research company, I visit certain venues and talk to informants until late hours at night. I hail a company car after a very late work shift. This is around the time when an investigation into the assassination of several Latino car service drivers is taking place. The driver is South American. We talk about his work. He says: “I avoid picking up black folks—it is not racism, no . . . They hustle with you—wanting to pay less than what is required. They want to hear the music they want [from the car’s radio], and they scream at you. They are the ones that are making those killings.” [At least in some news Latinos were considered to be responsible.]14 This is remarkable, as I have been taught that people of color cannot be racist, that racism takes on a structural force, and that only historically institutionalized people can discriminate against others—which in the past have been people of color. Yet it is so common to hear these comments—que si “c´ sate con un blanquito pa’ que mejores la raza,” “ten cuidao’ a con los morenos,” “el es negrito pero con clase” [“Marry a whitie, so you ‘better’ the race,” “be careful with the dark ones,” “he is black but with class”]—and I cannot avoid problematizing this and wondering why the possibility of expressing oppression by people of color (towards other people of color) is seldom explored.
A larger project may be to situate or to point out distinct racializations taking place in the United States and in Puerto Rico (with regards to Puerto Ricans in the U.S., regardless of their skin color), while recognizing that skin color—in addition to other attributes—serves as an element of discrimination (both in the U.S. and Puerto Rico). Racialization, as I have argued, redeﬁnes what “race” means; it opens it up to include markers other than skin color. Yet serious discrimination may be enacted by people of color, especially when confronted with a racial system in the U.S. that has depended on discrimination towards (and distancing from) African Americans as a way of achieving citizenship. Within such a system, this will always be an issue of interest. 3. Race, Ethnic, and Area Studies and the “People of Color” Category Manning Marable wrote about the uses of the category “people of color” in academic efforts to address racial inequalities:
Many advocates of diversity and the study of racialized ethnicities tend to homogenize groups into the broad political construct known as “people of color.” The concept “people of color” has tremendous utility in bringing people toward a comparative, historical awareness about the commonalities of oppression and resistance that racialized ethnic groups have experienced. Our voices and visions cannot properly be understood or interpreted in isolation from one another. But to argue that all people of color are therefore equally oppressed, and share the objective basis for a common politics, is dubious at best (2001, p. 56).
While this article has not focused on comparing racial formations in Puerto Rico and the U.S., I am suggesting that additional projects articulating relations between regions or peoples, in ways other than with the language imposed by
the following story: http://www.nydailynews.com/2000-04-30/News and Views/Crime File/ a-65079.asp. It was later alleged that these acts were conducted by other Latinos.
Using Autoethnography to Understand Puerto Ricans’ Racialization
U.S. institutions, converge and evaluate their relationships, not only within ethnic studies, but in globalization, gender, political economy and post-colonial studies, to name a few. For example, including studies of Paciﬁc Islanders as a legitimate category, as well as connections between Latin America and the Paciﬁc Rim (as the Latin American Studies Association has done), actively contests the very notion of a U.S. black and white racial system. Looking at militarization and dependency will foster a better understanding of countries from the Caribbean and the Paciﬁc Islands, or Native American nations and outside the U.S. territories—regions often thought of as very different from each other. At the heart of my argument is the need to contrast the ways in which racialization takes place (and for whom) and, furthermore, the idea that racialization takes shape in ways other than by evaluation of skin pigmentation. As Marable insists, the proposition that all people of color share similar experiences of discrimination dismisses the powerful effects of other qualiﬁers such as class, sexuality, gender and country of origin or political agenda in relationship to the U.S. Still, my argument that color should not be a single marker to establish radical differences between people of color solicits further interrogation and analysis.
IN CLOSING: AUTOETHNOGRAPHY AND THE STUDY OF “RACE” Autoethnography assists in illustrating how personal biographies are linked to larger structural and institutional constrains—and helps uncover the complexities of racialization while contextualizing regional racial formations. It has helped me to link my own experiences to theoretical ideas that only partially explore U.S. racialization, and to connect globalization and militarization to the study of “race.” Utilizing reﬂections about personal information through autoethnography helps demonstrate the complexity of all factors that come into play for white people of color. I have shared many instances where I felt powerless around identiﬁcation; yet there are other moments where I posit the challenges of recognizing that Puerto Rican-ness does not exclude the enactment of oppression while also recognizing that light-skinned Puerto Ricans are also recipients of discrimination. It is this complexity that merits attention, and autoethnographic scholarship will undoubtedly open the door for more of such discussions. Like autoethnography, this article has attempted to reverse some of the simpler power relations as outlined in the literature. With the idea of being a white person of color, I have explored both native and outsider, and oppressor and oppressed as incomplete pieces of the puzzle. Intense narrative, with challenges to representation and discomfort about uneasy topics, is one of the ways in which autoethnography achieves thought anew. Autoethnography will continue to be a tool to demistify the use of the “personal” to discuss and theorize on social relations, to teach race and ethnicity, and to address social inequalities.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This article has been an idea in the making for as long as I have lived in the U.S., and an extremely challenging endeavor. During the course of these years, many people have inﬂuenced my thinking and writing about this topic in various ways. My thanks are directed to Juan Flores (for the class forum), Anny Bakalian (for the close reading), Carmenza Gallo (for your vision), Grace Mitchell and Patricia Clough (for the inspiration), Manolo Guzm´ n (for “feeling brown” and a for the zesty eye), and Rebecca Tiger, Lauren E. McDonald, Rose Kim, Veronica Manlow, Ron Nerio and Carlton W. Parks for references, the asking of poignant questions, and their right-on critiques on earlier versions. I am thankful as well to several anonymous reviewers for their suggestions and their triggering further growth in my thought, but mostly to the editorial team of Qualitative Sociology (Robert Zussman, Sarah O’Keefe and Karen Mason) for their considerations and brilliancy in revising my latest drafts. Lastly, I must thank my friend Bill Blum (for the ﬁrst part of the title) and Ananya Mukherjea (for your sharpness and mentoring) and extend my gratitude “to the honesty of the boyfriend of that third moment” that also had an effect in my thinking this article through.
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