William Garcia: Blackness Contextualized in Puerto Rico

In the following excerpt from AfrolatinTalks hosted by The Afrolatin@ Project (a series of scholarly, relaxed conversations held at Cubana Social during the second day of Afrolatino Festival NYC 2015), William Garcia responds to the question: How is blackness contextualized in Puerto Rico?

Reflection: Afrolatino Festival NYC 2015

First watch the video. Then read the transcription while listening to the excerpt. Later reflect on these questions.

William Garcia: Blackness Contextualized in Puerto Rico

So, the way that blackness is represented is that we’re all mixed, there’s no black people, it’s a myth of racial trilogy. The official story is that, we know what happened, that the Native Americans, the Taíno people there and they all died and there were slaves there. Because there were no slave plantations, everybody mixed and because the Spaniards were more benevolent than the British and the Dutch, that through Catholicism, the slavery was mild and benevolent and that people mixed up even more. And then, being all mixed and ergo, now there is a myth of racial trilogy. So, I’m thinking that we’re all mixed. There’s no black, there’s no white, we’re all just brown something.

I believed it my whole life and then when I went to Puerto Rico, that’s not how the cookie was crumbling over there. I noticed that there was a lot of socioeconomic disparities of the black community.

When I would talk about racism, they would be like, “Oh, my grandma’s black. That’s it. So I can’t be racist because my grandma’s black.” And I would was like, “I’m not interested if your grandma’s black. I’m interested if you’re black now.” “I can’t be racist. We’re all black. It’s in my blood.” I’m like, “You have red blood cells in your blood.” So, people would call me divisive. When I got there, I would tell them, it’s like Cornel West says, I don’t care if I’m divisive as long as I’m telling the truth.

So, in all the years I was there, I noticed there was a racial hierarchy. It may not be black and white, but there’s a lot of, supposedly there’s a lot of racial hierarchies or division of race. But then again, it was the white criollos who created those racializations in the first place.

So, at the time I was there, I’ve been trying to do a lot of advocating for black rights in Puerto Rico.

And culturally, it’s great that we all can enjoy being Afro Caribbean. We can all dance salsa, all dance guaguancó, but when it comes to black bodies, I say it’s a whole different story. Black people, black socioeconomic mobility. We’ve never had a black governor in the history of Puerto Rico. It was horrible.

And it’s funny when I get to the US, a lot of African Americans don’t get that either. They don’t understand the legacy of slavery. They don’t understand that we had a hundred years before it got to the US. A lot of African Americans are like “That’s not racism. That’s just prejudice.” I’m like, man, you have to understand we had slavery, we had systemic forms of oppression, we had laws against black people in the 1860s and those systemic forms of oppression that continue today.

The myth of mestizaje is a myth.

Additional Resources

To learn more about William Garcia, visit his official profile: William Garcia. Come back each day throughout August to see new interviews carried out during the Afrolatino Festival NYC 2015.

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