Fugitive blackness: Representations of race, art, and memory in Arroyo, Puerto Rico

Date of Completion

January 2005


Black Studies|Anthropology, Cultural




This dissertation examines how race, blackness, gender and memory are enacted in Arroyo's cultural performances. Arroyo is a town located in the Southeastern coast of Puerto Rico, a town with rich Afro-Caribbean history and traditions. I focus on a carnival celebration, a historical commemoration and the subaltern stories that emerge in imaginative literature which inscribe the national body in the body of Afro-Puerto Ricans. I weave these narratives with accounts of my own family's history, beginning with my grandparents who were cane workers in Arroyo's sugar industry and continuing with my mother's eventual departure from the island along with other poor people in the 1980s and my return as ethnographer “home.” Close reading of the text and layers of Arroyo's 2001 Carnival celebration reveals that race and gender are not only central to the imaginings of who constitute the nation, but are turned on their head in the Carnivalesque performance. I compare this cultural enactment to a yearly historical commemoration, which celebrates the “subversive” actions of a group of black Arroyanos. In 1895, they plotted to overthrow the Spanish regime, part of a larger group of pan-Caribbeanists who sought independence from their colonizers. Finally, I examine imaginative literature, particularly the play Vejigantes and the short stories in Falsas Crónicas del Sur to uncover alternative histories of the Puerto Rican nation. These narratives place women at the center, particularly the black woman as the embodiment of the hybridity, which characterizes the Caribbean. ^