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?