Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Will the Real Blanquitos Please Stand Up?: Class, Race and Reggaeton

El blanquito guillao de caco, I have heard many call Residente Calle
13. The Eminem of reggaeton, I heard a MUN2 video show host quip.

Blanquito is a Puerto Rican term that combines class and
race, with the emphasis (or so the story goes) on class. So while
there are plenty of reggaeton artists whose phenotypes are closer to
the white end of the spectrum, they do not get labeled blanquitos.
Why? The easy answer is class.

Residente Calle 13 has been singled out as reggaeton's Resident
Blanquito. While the other reggaeton artists are presumed to be "del
barrio," Residente Calle 13 is supposedly the affluent (dizque
"suburban") exception. But is he really the exception? How is he the

He certainly is not the only reggaeton artist with professional
parents, or who hails from an urbanización, or who is

Tego's parents are a teacher and a government employee. His family
at one point lived in the urbanización Loíza Valley growing up, and for a long time near el Viejo Comandante (still there? anyone know exactly where?). Oh wait, but he did not go to college and went to jail. Plus he is much too black and much too proud of it to be labeled a blanquito.

Unlike Tego, Glory is university-educated, yet she doesn't get called
blanquita either. She has her bachelors, is working on her masters
thesis and has plans to complete her Ph.D. Oh wait, she's too
dark-skinned to be easily pegged a blanquita.

So how about Tito el Bambino: the quintessential pretty, white Rican
boy? He grew up in the urbanización Parque Ecuestre, where Voltio and Hector El Father also grew up.

Isn't Parque Ecuestre (see above) an urbanización, not a barrio? And how different, really, is Parque Ecuestre from the urbanización El
Conquistador where Calle 13 grew up?

I conducted a very unscientific quick little cyber-quest and looked up
property values of houses in both urbanizaciones. It turns out the
property values I found for Parque Ecuestre and El Conquistador placed El Conquistador a bit higher on the price scale. But not by much:

Parque Ecuestre, $115,000
El Conquistador, 3 rooms, 2 bathrooms, $140,000
El Conquistador, 3 rooms, 2 bathrooms, $160,000
Parque Ecuestre, 6 rooms, 2 bathrooms $165,000
El Conquistador, 4 rooms, 2 bathrooms, $175,000
Parque Ecuestre, $185,000

How about urbanizaciones other artists live or have lived in? Where
did Nicky Jam grow up, aside from the time he lived in Barrio Obrero?
(And why does he get called "el riquitillo"?) Rakim and Ken-Y? Alex
and Fido? Wisín and Yandel? (sure, Cayey but where?) Ivy Queen?
(Añasco, but where?)

As I mentioned before, Tego at one point lived in Loíza Valley.

Example of house prices there:
Loíza Valley, 4 rooms, 2 bathrooms, $135,000

Now lets go back to some folks that were very hot in the genre mid to
late-90s. Mansion Crew from Mansiones de Carolina.

Example of house prices:
Mansiones de Carolina, $185,000

Joelito from Las Guanábanas used to live in Villas de Loíza a decade
ago when I interviewed him for the San Juan Star.

Examples of house prices:
Villas de Loíza, 3 rooms, 1 bathroom, $118,000
Villas de Loíza, 4 rooms, 2 bathrooms $135,000

Hhhhmmmm so it seems property values in all these neighborhoods are not always substantially different. There seems to be quite a bit of overlap between the places Tito, Hector, Voltio, Calle 13, Tego, Mansion Crew and Joelito lived while growing up.

Now compare that to the scores of artists who grew up in public
housing projects where, of course, the residents don't own the
property. (For example, Vico C and Lisa M grew up in the now-demolished Las Acacias, and Daddy Yankee in Villa Kennedy.)

I tried finding images to no avail of Las Acacias, Villa Kennedy, Llorens, Canales, Torres Sabana and other well-known public housing complexes. All I found was a picture of an abandoned caserío in Mayagüez, then set to be demolished.

I also found a picture of the Residencial Público San Agustín in
Puerta de Tierra. Freshly painted and deceptively quaint, its certainly
not a typical public housing development image.

Then there are the neighborhoods thought of as the quintessential
slums, like La Perla, recently featured in the MTV special My Block: Puerto Rico. There are also working-class barrios like Canteras, Villa Palmeras and Barrio Obrero where residential property values are at the low end. (Don Omar grew up in Villa Palmeras; Nicky Jam at some point lived in Barrio Obrero.) But, again, notice the overlap with some of the above-mentioned urbanizaciones.

Examples of house prices:
Cantera, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $58,000
Barrio Obrero, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms $95,000
Villa Palmeras 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms $135,000

These two images are from Villa Palmeras in Santurce.

Ok, so to recap. We have the no-real-estate-owning public housing
population. Then we have the lower end of the urban property spectrum fluctuating roughly around $58,000-$135,000. Then we have a whole bunch of urbanizaciones where quite a few reggaeton artists grew up in, with prices fluctuating between $118,000-$200,000. Now compare that to high-end urbanizaciones like Encantada where houses start around $345,000 and can reach $2 million.

Examples of house prices:
Encantada, 4 rooms, 2.5 bathrooms, $345,000
Pacifica, Encantada, 4 rooms, 3 bathrooms, $565,000
La Cima, Encantada, 6 rooms, 5 bathrooms, $2,000,000!!!

So if Residente Calle 13's relative affluence (judging by the
neighborhood he grew up in) falls somewhere in the middle right along with a whole bunch of other artists', we go back to the question: Why single him out as Reggaeton's Resident Blanquito?

I am not suggesting Residente Calle 13 is not different from most
reggaeton artists in terms of his upbringing. He went to private
schools and is university-educated (even has a masters) and grew up
in a gated urbanización (which may be a sign that his neighborhood is
relatively more upscale than other urbanizaciones with no controlled
access). (Does anyone know if any of the other urbanizaciones
mentioned above have controlled access?) Residente Calle 13 is also
considered white according to Island standards and never went to jail. As far as I know, no other popular reggaeton artist fulfills all qualifications mentioned above.

But shouldn't we be complicating the mythical "reggaeton as barrio
phenomenon" party line? How do so many urbanización-bred artists get to be portrayed as barrio and caserío-down, in a way Calle 13 is not? Perhaps the answer is that the former come from lower-middle class urbanizaciones one step away from the barrio. Is that why? Then lets talk about it.

What makes Llorens Torres and Canales housing projects different from La Perla different from Barrio Obrero different from Puerto Nuevo different from Parque Ecuestre different from Mansiones de Carolina different from El Conquistador different from Encantada and Los Paseos? What are the boundaries between caseríos, barrios and urbanizaciones? Should we be making distinctions between working, lower-middle, middle and upper-class urbanizaciones?

Who is a blanquito? How much racial and class privilege puts you in
the blanquito definition? If you are light-skinned and upwardly
mobile, but grew up in a caserío: Can you be considered a blanquito?
Does it make a difference if your upward mobility is propelled by the
sales from your reggaeton album vs. by becoming a succesful architect? How about if you are black, upwardly mobile and grew up in a caserío? Can you be considered a blanquito? Can your children?

Is blanquito about how much money you presently make? How much money your parents made when you were growing up? Is it about where you grew up? About where you live now? About the education you did or did not get?

And then throw that pesky factor called phenotype to the mix.

Would Tego be a blanquito if he had a Ph.D.? Would Calle 13 not be a
blanquito if he was black? If he did not have a masters degree?
Would Glory be a blanquita given her education, if it wasn't for her
phenotype? What if she was light-skinned and was writing quirky,
flower-power lyrics like Calle 13?

How much do personal style and musical aesthetics have to do with who gets defined as a blanquito? If Residente Calle 13 was not doing the experimental lyrics and videos, if he stuck to the prototypical
so-called barrio reggaeton aesthetic, would he be as likely to be
labeled a blanquito?

How much does behavior, dress, speech and attitude have to do with
being or not being a blanquito?

On the one hand, I think the class and race boundaries that separate
blanquitos from non-blanquitos are much blurrier than we make them out to be. On the other hand, it boggles my mind that while romanticized caserío and barrio imagery produce juicy earnings for a few, class and race-based divisions and injustice are as rampant as ever in the Island of Enchantment.

What do you think?


Dr Vikas said...


Anonymous said...

i lived in parque equestre during the mid 90s same time hector y tito lievd there karel y voltio lived there also.I got to witness first hand what is like living in parque equestre,you cant judge and but in categories these places by property value check out tthe crime rate in mansiones compared to parque equestre two neighberhood that are very close but residents are very different.Me im not one that likes to label i like calle 13 as much as voltio or tego they make different music and i think its great for reggaeton.By the way thanks for the great read it brought me back to the time i lived on the island as a tennager wich i loved.To try an answer your question living in an "urbanizacion" is nothing like living in a caserio.

raquelzrivera said...

Thank you for that great comment. That's the kind of response I was hoping to get when I wrote the blog... particularly from folks that have actually lived in these places. I want to know more about what you mean. How are the folks from Mansiones and Parque Ecuestre different? How is living in urbanizaciones like Mansiones and Parque Ecuestre different from living in a caserío? Is Parque Ecuestre and its residents closer to a caserio or to Mansiones?

Anonymous said...

i don't think it has to do at all with were you live or did/do not live. much like hip hop, in this particular genre of music, it comes down to simple term: street credibility. i'm not arguing that to live in a caserio is the same as to live in an urbanizacion. clearly they're two different worlds. there's a lot of real suffering involved in a puerto rican housing project. and it's a subject that requires a different kind of attention. however, the term blanquito is usually used as a derogatory term to define someone that does not have street credibility. as it happens, white puerto ricans from non-low-income neighborhoods usually fit this category. thus, the term blanquito (white boy/ girl). a person can have street credibility and have gone to a university, be educated, etc. it's the people that do not have this sort of upbringing yet insist on dressing and acting as if they did that the term blanquitos applies to.

i'm not much of a reggaeton head. but i support and appreciate anything that comes from puerto rico. that said, i would in no way classify calle 13 as reggaeton. i think the music that calle 13 creates has it's own unique style very different from that of reggaeton.

Kahlil said...

Nice article!
I believe that, ultimately, Blanquito is a State of Mind...
Obviously, Residente is speaking for the media-neglected Communidad of Puerto Rican Affluence...Too often, our society focuses STRICLY on the problemos of the poor [as if the Rich have it ALL figured out!]...Think of Courtney Love & other Alternative Rock artistas whom come from affluence...Residente Calle 13 needs to be HEARD!!!

Steven said...

First off, reggaetonica is one of my favorite pages on the internet, period. Palante mi hermana!

I am a Nuyorican who taught middle school English in Llorens Torres. The caserio is tremendously better maintained than any projects I have ever seen in NY, NJ, PA, or anywhere else for that matter. That does not change the fact that there is alot of gun violence and drug trafficking. I am intrigued by your research on property values, but the fact is that the majority of "maleantes" in PR are en la calle more due to the allure of street life than to economic necessity. The suburban vs. urban thing in the U.S. doesn't apply the same way in PR, remember there is a colonial situation that creates a severe lack of faith in "the system" for many youths, both from urbas and resis. Also, the economy is structured so that both severe poverty and good economic opportunities are cut off, which leaves alot of idleness, which combined with everything else, feeds the violence and drugs. I'm generalizing of course, but that's my observation.

La Perla is controlled by bichotes, but the violence level is very low and it has become very ghetto chic. Go there any given evening and you will see mostly tourists and rich kids buying weed.

The worst projects I ever saw was Vista Hermosa in Rio Piedras. You can't even be on the phone or you WILL get checked out by the bichotes.

My biased view of PR, though, is that unlike hoods in the industrial north, if you mind your own business and don't look for trouble, you generally won't find it. Everybody says que en la calle ultimamente no hay respeto, but bring those same people to the projects in Brownsville and the opinions will change quickly.

Miguel said...

Las Acacias implosion:

Miguel said...

Foto del residencial Llorens Torres

raquelzrivera said...

Well, it's been a long time since I first wrote this post, but I still haven't been able to devote myself to researching and writing on the topic like I hope to. I'll get to it. Soon.

In the meantime, I'm researching bomba and issues of national/racial/class identities. So I'm reading a great article by Arlene Torres called "La Gran Familia Puertorriqueña 'Ej Prieta de Beldá" (The Great Puerto Rican Family is Really Really Black)" and she writes about how someone's perceived class status and even perceived race will be different depending if that person is from a poor neighborhood (arrabal, caserío) or an urbanización. She writes:

"In fact, the working poor in the urbanizaciones are not always economically better off than those living in caseríos. However, their social status is higher precisely because they are located in a particular sociogeographical space, that of the urbanización as opposed specifically to the arrabal or caserío."

So, more food for thought for when I come back to this issue of race and class in reggaetón.

Gierbo said...

I am not black or close to it. Both my parents were born in Coamo. To be truthful most Puertoricans are not black or close to it. Come down Raquel and walk around San Juan or if you wish, Adjuntas.

Gierbo said...

I was looking at Steven's comment and I don't know what it means. public housing projects here are better maintained and less dangerous? I don't think so. I am commenting because I disdain anecdotal evidence portrayed as certainty.

Gierbo said...

Finally, then shut me up. Raquel the difference between mansiones and public housing projects is the difference between poor and middle high or high class. The difference between professionals and unemployed. Between crime and less crime. Between living close together and having a backyard, between going or pretending to go to a public school and going to a private school, between paying taxes and not paying taxes, between being afraid to go there and not being allowed to enter due to access control. I live and work here and appreciate the good peoplpe in caserios and recognize the injustices of the fortunate ones. I think, maybe, that the premise of your query, encourages stereotypes. I hope I am wrong.

Luis said...

I think that you're having trouble understanding what is a "blanquito" because you're failing to identify the prototype case: the child of an "old guard" Puerto Rican upper class family. The cusp of blanquitismo is families who have inherited wealth and power through a few generations (often going back to the 19th century), and intermarry heavily between themselves. Think Fonalleda, Carrión, Ferré, etc. They're all white, and they're stereotyped as racist.

Now, when you see somebody call another a "blanquito" who's not from one of these families, then what you have is the first guy accusing the second of being ideologically aligned with the Puerto Rican upper class. This is why Calle 13 gets called "blanquito"—it's not the income, it's the perception/accusation that they make music to please the upper class.

Oh, and they're white, and you can't call somebody a blanquito if they're not white.

Another thing that your post reminds me of: Penelope Eckert's work on "jocks" vs. "burnouts" in American high schools, where the class discourse is polarized between two categories of students: the "jocks," who eagerly adhere to the rules and values of the institution), and the "burnouts" (who reject those values and rebel). The really interesting thing here is that even though the social categorization of the school is dominated by this opposition, in fact most of the students don't belong to either group: they are "in-betweens." It might be fruitful to apply a similar analysis to the blanquito/caserío opposition: a lot of people don't belong in either category in the strictest sense, but the opposition between the categories and the attitude people adopt towards each becomes a major force in reproducing the class structure.

Anonymous said...

I was born and raised in PR. Grew up in Caparra Heights Mid-upper class urbanizacion. In PR there's no racism but there is like Vico C (who we call rap philosopher) said, clasism. Taht will really be assigned depending on where you are from. Not grew up. So, I grew up in one of the best middle class urbanozaciones, however, life brought me at some point to live in Las Gladiolas public housing or caserio in spanish. When I moved there I was no longer a high class girl. "Blankito" refers to kids who had influent money wise parents. And as someone says, you can't enclose your understanding to how it is in the States. PR is a totally different culture. It has a street knowledge one most understand and the matter of your research has to do with that. You would need to live there for at least 5 years to understand. Now, I was never a blanquita and about limitations that society places un caseio people I could tell you many high school classmates had to use my address in order to obtain a job since they where living in caserios. Calle 13 is called a blanquito due to him been raised in private school (colegio) and been light skin. But also for not being street knowledgeable and looking at poor people situations as high class people look to it. Time and been close to those poor people of caserios and barrios have given him some street knowledge. However, he will never know the burden of being 3 or 4 years old and having family members or people you know killed in your face and having to learn, at such a young age, to stay quiet or be killed. Other stuff that happens in those places while you are growing up are not in how he was raised and by the time he is learning about them, is too late for he's already prejudiced. He's social knowledge had been taught and in his eyes those are "stuff that happens to the poor" to use some term to describe it.
In reality, his voice is heard in PR for he is always exposing the peoples burdens, and doing so poetically. He does knows he can't mention names of "bichotes". A few rap singers lost their lives for doing so. He knows one can't hurt a woman, an elderly or a kid. Street laws in my loved island will allow street punishment for doing so. What he doesn't know is that burden of seen things one shouldn't see at such a tender age. The burden of growing up so young due to the criminal world under the caserios and barrios hoods. I did grew up in an urbanisacion, however, my moms used to tke me at least 3 times per week to the caserio. I've seen it, I've tasted it and I felt it. Trust me, this kind of stuff is not something whomever has not experienced it will understand. No matter how much investigation you or a college professor in PR does, there's too much to it. But in your blanquito theme. Again, as Vico C said in 2004, in PR there's no racism but there sure is clacism.

raquelzrivera said...

Thanks so much for your comment. It's a great example on how there is no consensus on this issue of racism.

Tego, Eddie Dee, La Sista, Abrante and many other urban music artists will disagree with you. (As do I.) They are all artists who have been very vocal in combating the myth that there is no racism in Puerto Rico. Check Tego's piece in the book I co-edited titled Reggaeton.

There is a huge body of songs (of all genres), art, literature and scholarship that beautifully illustrate how classism and racism work together in Puerto Rico and the rest of Latin America.

Not all urban music artists agree on this point. Not all folks from caseríos and barrios have the same opinion on this point either. Not all middle- or upper-class people have the same opinion. Not all folks who grew up in Puerto Rico are of the same opinion.

It's very important to keep in mind that a person's background does not determine their opinion. It is also important not to make assumptions about a person's background to then explain away her or his opinions.

karinablacktie said...

I've always thought of "blanquito" as a term of endearment.