What and who is half-Puerto Rican?
The question has a pretty clear answer in the U.S., but not in Puerto Rico and many other parts of Latin America. While in the U.S. it is common for people to be half this, a quarter this and a quarter that, the same is not true in other places.
I grew up the child of a Puerto Rican father and a Cuban mother in Puerto Rico. It never occurred to anyone to tell me that I was half Cuban. I was Puerto Rican, just like my Puerto Rican-born neighbors whose parents were Haitian immigrants, and like my friend Vilina whose mom was Dominican, and just like Trina the bully with Virgin Island parentage who tortured me all through evangelical grade school. We were all Puerto Rican. It was our parents who were something else.
The only Puerto Rican-born kids who I ever heard referred to as something else were the extremely wealthy Cuban friends of a friend who went to an elite private school.
It was once I moved to New York at twenty-two that, to my surprise, someone described me as half-Cuban. Half-Cuban? I thought that was real funny. How could I possibly be half-Cuban when I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and knew nothing about Cuba? Whatever, I thought. If that is how heritage was measured in the U.S., then o.k..
But then I thought: my Cuban Mom is the child of my Cuban-born Grandmother whose both parents were Puerto Rican immigrants to Cuba in the early 1900s. Ha! That means, according to U.S.-standards, my Grandmother is Puerto Rican and my Mother half-Cuban. So technically, that makes me only one-quarter Cuban, according to U.S. standards, of course.
Those U.S. standards (though influencing the way ethnicity is increasingly perceived in Puerto Rico) are still different from ethnicity standards in the island.
I have been thinking about these differences a lot lately, since my friend and mentor Deborah Pacini-Hernandez has been writing about Dominicans in reggaeton. She is faced by a curious challenge: how to properly explore the Dominican dimension of Puerto Rican reggaeton and/or hip hop? How to address the Dominican ancestry of the many artists born and/or raised in Puerto Rico without imposing U.S. identity standards on the analysis?
How should we think of the following artists?
Lisa M., a pioneering rap artist born and raised in PR, about to drop a new album. One of her parents is Dominican, the other is Puerto Rican.
Nicky Jam, a reggaeton artist born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican parent and a Puerto Rican one, who moved as a child to Puerto Rico.
Sietenueve, a hip hop artist born and raised in Puerto Rico.
Both Sietenueve's parents are Dominican. His song Jibaro Jop (with E.A. Flow) from his album El progreso blew my mind, not only because the track is excellent lyrically and musically, but also because of how he identifies on the national/ethnic tip. In it, Sietenueve highlights his commitment to Puerto Rican national liberation by boasting he is a cibaeño aguzao (a sharp-witted man from El Cibao, Dominican Republic). He is proudly celebrating that he is Puerto Rican and Dominican. Not any less of one, because he is also the other. 100 percent jibaro real. 100 percent cibaeño aguzao. If we were to define him solely by his parents' ethnicity, where would that leave his Puerto Ricanness?
There are many more examples, but this is my last one: Welmo, a hip hop artist born and raised in Puerto Rico. One of his parents is Haitian and the other Dominican.
If we applied the half-this and half-that U.S. standards, Welmo would be half Dominican and half Haitian. Again, where would that leave his Puerto Ricanness?