Are puerto ricans black: Most Puerto Ricans Check ‘White’ On The Census. But Why? : Code Switch : NPR
Surprised by census results, many in Puerto Rico reconsider views on race
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The number of people in Puerto Rico who identified as “white” in the most recent census plummeted almost 80 percent, sparking a conversation about identity on an island breaking away from a past where race was not tracked and seldom debated in public.
The drastic drop surprised many, and theories abound as the U.S. territory’s 3.3 million people begin to reckon with racial identity.
“Puerto Ricans themselves are understanding their whiteness comes with an asterisk,” said Yarimar Bonilla, a political anthropologist and director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York. “They know they’re not white by U.S. standards, but they’re not Black by Puerto Rico standards.”
Nearly 50 percent of those represented in the 2020 census — 1.6 million of 3.29 million — identified with “two races or more,” a jump from 3 percent — or some 122,200 of 3.72 million — who chose that option in the 2010 census. Most of them selected “white and some other race.”
Meanwhile, more than 838,000 people identified as “some other race alone,” a nearly 190 percent jump compared with some 289,900 people a decade ago, although Bonilla said Census Bureau officials have yet to release what races they chose. Experts believe people likely wrote “Puerto Rican,” “Hispanic” or “Latino,” even though federal policy defines those categories as ethnicity, not race.
Among those who changed their response to race was 45-year-old Tamara Texidor, who selected “other” in 2010 and this time opted to identify herself as “Afrodescendent.” She said she made the decision after talking to her brother, who was a census worker and told her how people he encountered when he went house to house often had trouble with the question about race.
Texidor began reflecting about her ancestry and wanted to honor it since she descended from slaves on her father’s side.
“I’m not going to select ‘other,’” she recalled thinking when filling out the census. “I feel I am something.”
Experts are still debating what sparked the significant changes in the 2020 census. Some believe several factors are at play, including tweaks in wording and a change in how the Census Bureau processes and codes responses.
Bonilla also thinks a growing awareness of racial identity in Puerto Rico played a part, saying that “extra intense racialization” in the past decade might have contributed. She and other anthropologists argue that change stemmed from anger over what many consider a botched federal response to a U.S. territory struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and a crippling economic crisis.
“They’ve finally understood that they’re treated like second-class citizens,” Bárbara Abadía-Rexach, a sociocultural anthropologist, said of Puerto Ricans.
Another critical change in the 2020 census was that only a little over 228,700 identified solely as Black or African American, a nearly 50 percent drop compared with more than 461,000 who did so a decade ago. The decline occurred even as grass-roots organizations in Puerto Rico launched campaigns to urge people to embrace their African heritage and raised awareness about racial disparities, although they said they were encouraged by the increase in the “two or more races” category.
Bonilla noted Puerto Rico currently has no reliable data to determine whether such disparities have occurred during the pandemic, noting that there is no racial data on coronavirus testing, hospitalizations or fatalities.
The island’s government also does not collect racial data on populations, including those who are homeless or incarcerated, Abadía-Rexach added.
“The denial of the existence of racism renders invisible, criminalizes and dehumanizes many Black people in Puerto Rico,” she said.
The lack of such data could be rooted in Puerto Rico’s history. From 1960 to 2000, the island conducted its own census and never asked about race.
“We were supposed to be all mixed and all equal, and race was supposed to be an American thing,” Bonilla said.
Some argued at the time that Puerto Rico should be tracking racial data while others viewed it as a divisive move that would impose or harden racial differences, a view largely embraced in France, which does not collect official data on race or ethnicity.
For Isar Godreau, an anthropologist and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, that type of data is crucial.
“Skin color is an important marker that makes people vulnerable to more or less racial discrimination,” she said.
The data helps people fight for racial justice and determines the allocation of resources, Godreau said.
The major shift in the 2020 census — especially how only 560,592 people identified as white versus more than 2.8 million in 2010 — comes amid a growing interest in racial identity in Puerto Rico, where even recent surveys about race prompted responses ranging from “members of the human race” to “normal” to “I get along with everyone.” Informally, people on the island use a wide range of words to describe someone’s skin color, including “coffee with milk. ”
That interest is fueled largely by a younger generation: They have signed up for classes of bomba and plena — centuries-old, percussion-powered musical traditions — as well as workshops on how to make or wear headwraps.
More hair salons are specializing in curly hair, eschewing the blow-dried results that long dominated professional settings in the island. Some legislators have submitted a bill that cites the results of the 2020 census and that if approved would make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their hair style. Several U.S. states already have similar laws.
As debate continues on what sparked so many changes in the 2020 census, Bonilla said an important question is what the 2030 census results will look like. “Will we see an intensification of this pattern, or will 2020 have been kind of a blip moment?”
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Blackness in Puerto Rico — Medill Reports Chicago
By Grace Asiegbu
Driving down the winding roads of Piñones, cars are greeted with green leaves and bold flowers. Between barrios, roads are marked with bright, lively signs informing drivers of their current location. Soon the view shifts from natural vegetation to sights and smells of restaurants lining the strip.
People are buzzing in and out of the markets, visiting friends or buying groceries. Our vans turn into a lot, and we walk into a space lined all over with chestnut wood. The colonial Puerto Rican flag hangs next to the red, green and yellow flag of Loíza. The gaze of a vejigante mask follows us around the room, and a portrait of Puerto Rican laureate Arturo Schomberg frozen in perpetuity is framed on the wall.
Maricruz Clemente Rivera greets us with a wide smile as we walk into her space, a space that’s colorful and breezy. We are there to learn the art of bomba.
Bomba is a traditional Puerto Rican style of music and dance that stretches back centuries. It’s rumored bomba was created in 1501, but the first documentation of the dance was in 1787. Like many things in Latin American countries, it emerged as a means of survival for enslaved Africans during the transatlantic slave trade. Bomba originated in Loíza, the Capital of Tradition in Puerto Rico. Bomba is a percussive style of dance largely marked by the dancer and drummer having a conversation through the steps. It is a challenge between the drummer and the dancer, in which the drummer has to follow the dancer’s steps and anticipate their next step.
Clemente teaches bomba as a means of reconnecting to Puerto Ricans’ African heritage.
Maricruz Clemente gives historical context and racial analysis of bomba music and dance before the lesson begins. (Alison Saldanha/MEDILL)
“People don’t want to talk about slavery. We started with the music because it’s not as…scary,” Clemente said.
For Clemente, bomba is a symbol of African Puerto Rican history and it’s a way to celebrate a heritage some do not acknowledge. Loíza has Puerto Rico’s largest population of Black people, a number that sat around 6% in the 2010 Census. Yet according to Clemente, too many Loízans deny their Blackness.
“We found out the people here didn’t feel they are Black,” she said. “Black is other people. Like other people from Haiti or Dominican Republic but we are not Black.”
Clemente is the founder of Corporación Piñones Se Integra (COPI), a community-based, non-profit center that provides and develops services in the community.
“That’s why we [at COPI] started talking about identity. We started—through the bomba—taking back our power, as a way to get others to start thinking about their identity with pride.”
Denying Black or African ancestry is not unique to Loíza. According to U.S. Census data, about three-fourths of Puerto Ricans identify as white alone and just 12% identify as Black, even though history and culture would indicate that many more Puerto Ricans might be considered Black.
The “little bit of everything” some Puerto Ricans may use to describe their racial heritage includes Taíno, African and Spanish. Despite this, Black Puerto Ricans seem to suffer most from the effects of structural racism on the island. Black populations are concentrated in areas with serious environmental pollution, like Vieques and Guayama, that pose serious health risks to residents. They also disproportionately live in areas with fewer resources that are especially vulnerable to gentrification and the impacts of climate change, like Loíza. Structural and institutional racism is a serious problem in specific regions, but if people aren’t even identifying as Black, how can these issues be rectified or reconciled?
The Taíno were precolonial inhabitants of Puerto Rico, dating back to the 1400s. The Taíno were not exclusive to Puerto Rico—they lived in other Caribbean islands like Cuba, Haiti and Dominican Republic. They also inhabited parts of what is now Florida. However, through enslavement and colonization, the Taíno disappeared as a distinct ethnic group by the end of the 20th century. When conquistador Juan Ponce de León arrived on the shores of the island then known as Borikén in 1508, the Taínos and Spaniards initially had a peaceful coexistence until the Spanish took advantage of their partnership and enslaved the Taínos.
The Spanish forced the Taínos into physical labor, like working the gold mines or sugar plantations. Many Taínos died from smallpox, killed themselves or left the island after the failed Taíno revolt of 1511. After conquistador Bartololemé de las Casas successfully petitioned the Spanish court for the freedom of the Taínos in 1512, many colonizers complained about the sudden lack of free labor. In 1517, the Spanish Crown authorized the importation of enslaved Africans, which forcibly brought thousands to the island.
Slavery in Puerto Rico was not as brutal as the chattel slavery that occurred in the Southern United States. From the 1500s until the late 1800s, slavery was the primary way the island’s money was made. In 1789, El Código Negro was established. Under this law, an enslaved person could buy their freedom, in the event that their master was willing to sell and the price was right. Enslaved people were allowed to earn money during their spare time by working as shoemakers, cleaning clothes or selling the produce they grew on their own plots of land. Many of these freedmen started settlements in modern-day Santurce, Carolina, Canóvanas, Luquillo and Loíza. Nonetheless, the numbers of enslaved people continued to swell in the Caribbean and particularly in Puerto Rico.
On March 22, 1873, slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico through the Moret Law, but it was an abolition on conditional terms. Emancipation was granted to enslaved people over 60, those who served in the Spanish army, and children born to slaves after September 17, 1868. All other enslaved people who did not fit into those categories weren’t emancipated—they had to buy their own freedom at whatever price was set by their last masters. After gaining their freedom, formerly enslaved persons were still required by law to work an additional three years for their former masters. Slavery was finally abolished in Puerto Rico without conditions in 1886.
Puerto Rico is a case study in the nuances of imperialism. In the early eighth century, Spain was conquered by North African Moors, who brought Africans to Spain for the first time. Though Spain reconquered their land by the 13th century, Seville remained a Moorish stronghold with thousands of Africans living there. Most Africans became freemen once they converted to Catholicism, which explains how a free Black man like Juan Garrido could join Juan Ponce de León in his journeys to invade Caribbean islands like Puerto Rico. Catholicism also played a significant role in how slavery was constructed on the island.
Church doctrine dictates slave and master are both equal in the eyes of God, and Catholics consider cruel and unusual punishment a violation of the fifth commandment. Once the Spanish depleted Puerto Rico of its gold by 1570, the island became a Spanish garrison—meaning, Spain left their soldiers and other military personnel behind and moved onto other Caribbean countries (like Cuba or Mexico). Those who did stay behind were either Africans or mixed-race people. By the time the Spanish physically returned to the island in the early 1800s, there was a large multiracial population thanks to centuries of European influences.
Carlos Jorge Guilbe López, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Pedras, says race is difficult to construct in Puerto Rico for a few reasons, one being that Puerto Ricans don’t put themselves into census boxes for race.
“It’s a big issue. How the United States tends to classify race doesn’t apply to many Puerto Ricans,” López said. “We have a problem with the definition that is imposed by the United States Census Bureau.”
The United States Census Bureau defines race as a person’s self-identification with one or more social groups. The social groups they list are white, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian and Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, or some other race. People are allowed to select more than one race. The census has a chart to simplify which regional origins can construct the race. A white person hails from Europe, Middle East and North Africa. Black or African American people are from Africa (excluding North). American Indian or Alaska Native is the broadest in area—Central, North and South America. Asian covers East Asia, India and Southeast Asia (think Malaysia). Finally, the list is rounded off with people with regional origins in Guam, Hawaii, Pacific Islands and Samoa—they are considered Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. Nowhere on this list are Caribbean places like Puerto Rico. As the census sees it, their identity lies in “ethnicity” and not “race.”
The Census Bureau defines ethnicity strictly through Hispanic or Latino origin and notes that any person of any race can be Hispanic or Latino. This separation, López argues, is why many Puerto Ricans are quick to select “white.”
“Hispanic and Latino is a broad concept. To us, we see that as Mexican. We are not Mexicans…we’re not Chicano,” the professor said. “We feel that Puerto Rico is not present in that classification.”
With the 2020 Census underway, questions on how to define and quantify race in Puerto Rico remain complicated. The census gathers race and ethnicity information largely to give the government population information to make funding and other policy decisions that affect educational and other opportunities. This information also helps them assess equal employment practices and ensure equal access to health care. Puerto Rico’s race dilemma makes it harder to examine whether communities receive equitable shares of funding and resources. If Puerto Ricans are giving racial descriptions that don’t accurately match their social group, how can racial inequities be fully examined or reconciled?
An undated selfie of Jaideliz Moreno Ventura, who died from complications of the flu in January 2019. (Courtesy Jessica Moraima Ventura Perez, Jaideliz’s mother)
In Vieques, a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, the struggle to have access to basic healthcare has been dragged out over the last two years since Hurricane Maria destroyed the only hospital on the island. In January, 13-year-old Jaideliz Moreno Ventura died from complications of the flu, after what her family argues is negligence not just from the Puerto Rican government, but also the United States federal government.
A sign in the main plaza left after a protest reads, “Vieques demands a decent hospital. The fight continues.” (Grace Asiegbu/MEDILL)
The only hospital in Vieques was destroyed in Hurricane Maria, and only after Jaideliz’s death in January of this year did the Federal Emergency Management Agency approve $39.5 billion to rebuild the hospital—funds that still have not been disbursed. The average income of Viequenses sits around $12,000 per year, and roughly a third of the population is Black.
In Guayama, a low-income town on the southern coast of Puerto Rico with a 23% Black population, residents are fighting the AES Power Plant and the 300,000 tons of toxic coal ash it produces each year. The power plant has been a point of contention for those who live in Puerto Rico’s southern region for over 15 years. Between 2004 and 2011, the AES plant converted two million tons of ash into filler for construction of housing developments across Puerto Rico. Though AES was ordered to cover the coal ash prior to Hurricane Maria’s landfall, they did not. Maria’s strong winds and heavy rains carried tons of ash all over the island and contaminated the groundwater. Coal ash is a highly toxic byproduct of coal burning.
Tons of coal ash sit outside of the AES Power Plant in Guayama. (Anabel Mendoza/MEDILL)
The Environmental Protection Agency has found that coal ash contains—among other things—arsenic, mercury and cadmium. The ash residue can seep into groundwater and soil, and breathing the dust can cause respiratory issues. Exposure to the radioactive coal ash has been linked to bladder, stomach, skin, lung and kidney cancers, asthma, emphysema, infertility and genetic issues.
In Loíza, residents are battling with coastal erosion, a byproduct of climate change and climate disasters like Hurricane Maria. FEMA aid is slow to come, if at all. Due to federal restrictions, the Community Development Block Grant program prohibits homeowners from using aid to rebuild their homes in a flood zone (Loíza is a flood zone under updated flood maps the government released last year) unless their homes are compliant with flood-protection standards. That rule on its face closes off access to rebuilding aid for the majority of Loíza’s population since the average income is a little under $21,000 a year, and most cannot afford to make those changes in homes that have been passed down for generations.
Visible coastal erosion on a beach in Loíza. (Grace Asiegbu/MEDILL)
In Parcelas Suárez, Loíza, there’s a community center that just a few years ago was a school. In the years since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the compounding issues of debt, governmental corruption and climate-related disasters have negatively impacted the welfare of Puerto Ricans on the island. One of the biggest victims: education. The Department of Education permanently closed roughly 300 schools in June 2018. Centro Comunitario Gregorio in Parcelas Suárez is one of the casualties of that mass closure.
The damaged auditorium of a community center in Parcelas Suárez, Loíza that remains from Hurricane Maria. In an unexpected benefit, the structure helps protect nearby homes from floods the eroding coastline can cause. (Grace Asiegbu/MEDILL)
Alexis Correa Allende is the head of Centro Comunitario Gregorio, the school turned community center. In Spanish, Alexis classifies his community and himself as “mixed,” despite having a dark brown skin color and Afro-centric facial features.
“The community is mixed,” he says in Spanish. “Somos trigueños.”
Trigueño is a colloquial word that describes skin color. Saying that someone is trigueño or trigueña is to say they are darker in complexion. It can be used as an insult depending on the context, but it is usually not. This is a subjective feeling because “darker” is relative in each context, but it is generally understood in Puerto Rico as a darker-skinned person. However, there seems to be a clear distinction between being a person of darker complexion and being Black. Despite the prolonged existence of Black people in Puerto Rico, UPR professor Carlos Jorge Guilbe López says to be Puerto Rican is not to be Black.
“Black people are from the other islands—Dominican Republic or Haiti or Cuba,” he said. “We’ll tell people, ‘Oh you’re not Black, you’re trigueño.’ I know people who are my skin color in Martinique but they are Black. Not trigueño like me. That’s how Puerto Ricans see it.”
Understanding race in Puerto Rico is a tricky subject to tackle for anyone, but especially for Puerto Ricans themselves. With an ethnic heritage that has been miscegenated through centuries of imperialism, enslavement, colonialism and a cultural perspective of Blackness as the “other,” Puerto Ricans are left unsure just where they fit in and what box to check, even if they are phenotypically Black. This struggle can exist for Puerto Ricans in the mainland U.S. as well.
Aliana Roman is a Chicago born and raised Puerto Rican, and she’s thought a lot about identity in her diasporic community. Especially in the mainland U.S., some of her family members who live in Puerto Rico would likely be seen as Black, while others have blonde hair and blue eyes. While she doesn’t personally identify as white, she feels it is the only descriptor that paints a close enough portrait of her identity.
“I have a hard time when it comes to filling out paperwork. When they ask if you’re Hispanic or Latino, obviously I say yes,” she said. “I don’t consider myself white, but I don’t look Black. But it’s also something you can’t leave empty either. And I think that’s something we all kind of struggle with. I put white because logistically, it just makes the most sense.”
The struggle, according to Roman, isn’t solely rooted in a logistical way to classify race; Puerto Ricans’ difficulty in reconciling Blackness stems back to the island’s history with slavery.
“It was the basis for all of the stigmas and stereotypes we have today, so there’s a [negative] connotation with Black history. And they’re afraid to be a part of it. Identifying as white is kind of easier because it comes with more privilege,” she said.
The yearning towards privilege is what Roman says makes identity complicated and fluid for Puerto Ricans not just on the island, but in Chicago too. As a fellow Chicagoan, I know the city has a very complex and torturous relationship with race, and I have seen just how insidious and deeply embedded Chicago’s structural racism is. As in most of the mainland U.S., racial identities in Chicago are a very fixed thing, and it’s visible depending on which streets you’re standing at. The inequities are visible when examining which neighborhoods have accessible grocery stores, which schools have adequate facilities, where the violence is concentrated and who is going to jail. In Puerto Rico, identity is more fluid and flexible than, say, in Chicago. But the structural problems are the same. It’s a dissonance that followed me throughout the duration of my time on the island.
In Maricruz Clemente’s bomba class, the heavy air caused sweat to drip down our faces as we participated in the cultural exchange. The movement of the skirts in the air while Clemente’s daughter, Cruzmari, also an instructor, shouted the Spanish phrase “Wepa!” as we danced to the subidor. We danced and laughed and celebrated Blackness through the music Puerto Rico’s Black ancestors created. The question of how to identify is one that is deeply personal and can be complicated for people that hail from ethnically mixed places like Puerto Rico. What’s the right answer? There may not be one.
Clemente’s daughter, Cruzmari, leads the lesson in a group dance activity. (Alison Saldanha/MEDILL)
Photo at top: The stage at Maricruz Clemente’s community organization COPI. The vejigante mask is flanked by portraits of Puerto Rican activist Arturo Schomburg. On the left side of the photo is the colonial Puerto Rican flag. On the right side is the flag of Loíza. The three drums are the subidor (center) and the buleadors (right and left). (Grace Asiegbu/MEDILL)
Rules of life
«I may be a white crow, but my claws are golden.»
This week my righteous employer, Miss Victoria Self, sent me out seven times in three days, even though I tried to feign ailments from bronchitis to gonorrhea. And now she’s taken me on the set of a porn film («PB, honey, listen. This is a high-end production. With a script. I can beat you a couple of hundred a day»). But I don’t want to get involved in all this, not now.
Anyway, last night my blood played like that, I couldn’t find a place for myself, I couldn’t sleep; it was unbearable, I couldn’t lie awake in my cell of the divine hostel for youth, I didn’t want to listen to the midnight vigil and the wailing of my brothers in Christ provoked by nightmares.
So I decided to walk to West 42nd Street, which is not far from here, and look for a suitable movie in one of the ammonia-smelling movies there. I moved out at two o’clock, and the trajectory of the walk led me along nine blocks of Eighth Avenue. Prostitutes, blacks, Puerto Ricans, some whites, truly all strata of the street rabble society — luxurious Hispanic pimps (one was wearing a white mink hat and a diamond bracelet), heroin junkies in doorways, male sluts, the most cunning of them are gypsies, Puerto Ricans and homeless village cattle from the strength of fourteen or fifteen years old (“Mr. Ten dollars! Take me home! All night long!”) — circled the sidewalks like vultures over a slaughterhouse. Then, suddenly, a rare police car with indifferent people on board, who have seen not such views — already calluses before our eyes.
I passed the Shipping Area, C&M bar on 40th and 8th, and there on the sidewalk a shobla of neighing, hooting jackals in leather jackets and leather helmets crowded around a young man in the same outfit as them, he was unconscious, hanging from the sidewalk, and all his friends, colleagues, executioners, whatever the hell you call them, urinated on him, pouring from head to toe. Nobody noticed; that is, they noticed, but only enough to slow down a little; people kept walking — all but a bunch of indignant prostitutes, blacks, whites, at least half of whom were transvestites, who yelled at the urinators indefatigably («Stop! Stop it! Faggots! Dirty faggots!») and beat them with their handbags – until the boys in leather jackets, whinnying even louder, pointed their hoses at them, and the “girls”, in their flimsy pants and surreal wigs (blueberry, strawberry, vanilla and African gold), ran down the street on a fart steam, squealing heart-rendingly and not without pleasure: “Faggots! Homosexuals! Dirty mean fagots!”
They pulled up on a street corner to yell at the speaker, or was it a preacher who, like an exorcist exorcising demons, vigorously denounced the inert audience of sailors, whores, drug dealers and beggars, as well as white peasant boys, freshly arrived at the Portovoy bus station management.
— Yes! Yes! exclaimed the preacher, the gleaming lights of the hot dog stand greening his young, taut, hungry, hysterical face. “The devil is raging inside of you,” he yelled, his Oklahoma voice cracking like barbed wire. “The devil nested there, growing fat, feeding on your evil. Let the Lord’s light starve him. May the light of the Lord lift you up to heaven.
– Really? yelled one of the prostitutes. — Go, God, lift you up weakly — it will overstrain. Too much shit.
The preacher’s mouth twisted with the annoyance of a madman.
— Trash! Scum!
Some voice answered him: “Shut up. Don’t call them names.»
– What? — said the preacher, again turning to shouting.
— I am no better than them. And you are no better than me. We are all one and the same person.
And suddenly I realized that the voice belongs to me, and I thought: “Here is the number, God, old man, we say goodbye to the roof, your brain is dripping from your ears.”
I rushed into the first cinema I came across, forgetting to even think about looking at the poster. I bought a chocolate bar and popcorn with butter in the lobby: I haven’t eaten since breakfast. Then I found a place on the balcony, which was a mistake, because it is on the balconies of these 24-hour shopping centers that the shadows of relentless sex seekers are sewn and weave between the rows — whores who have gone the distance, women in their sixth or even seventh decade, eager to suck you for a dollar ( «Fifty cents?»), and men who offer the same services for free, and other men, sometimes of a very conservative kind, who specialize in soliciting numerous dormant drunks.
Then I saw Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor on the screen. An American Tragedy, a movie I’ve seen at least twice, and not because of its greatness. However, it was quite good, especially the final scene that was unfolding at the moment: Clift and Taylor stand alone, separated by prison bars, on death row, only a few hours separate Clift from execution. Clift, already a poetic ghost in gray death robes, and Taylor, nineteen, charming, sublimely fresh, like a lily after the rain. Sad. So sad that she could squeeze tears from Caligula. I choked on a handful of popcorn.
The picture ended and was immediately replaced by Red River, a cowboy melodrama starring John Wayne and the same Montgomery Clift. This was Clift’s first major film role and made him a star, as I have good reason to remember.
Remember Turner Boatwright, the late, not too mourned, magazine publisher, my old mentor (and nemesis), sweetie who was bludgeoned by an overdose Latino until his heart stopped and his eyes popped out of skulls?
One morning, when I was still in his favor, he called me and invited me to dinner: “There will be a small company. Man six. I collect it in honor of Monty Clift. Have you seen his latest painting «Red River»? he asked and moved on to the fact that he had known Clift for a very long time, since he was an aspiring actor, a protégé of the Lants.
«So,» Boaty said, «I asked if he would like me to invite someone in particular, and he said, ‘Yes, Dorothy Parker: I’ve always wanted to meet Dorothy Parker. ‘ Then I think: my God, because Dottie has turned into such a slut, you never know when she will lie on her face in soup. But I called Dottie, and she said she was delighted with the invitation. And she considers Monty the most beautiful young man she has ever seen in her life. “But it won’t work,” she concluded, “because I already promised to have dinner with Tallulah that evening. And you know what she is: she will drive me on the rail through the city if I try to fight back. I had to say, «Listen, Dottie, let me handle this: I’ll call Tallulah, I’ll invite her too.» This is what came out of it. Tallulah said that she would be happy to come, d-d-dear, if it were not for one circumstance — she has almost invited Estelle Winwood, can I take Estelle too?
In general, it was a desperate dash to gather in one room these three distinguished ladies: Bankhead, Dorothy Parker and Estelle Winwood. Boaty scheduled the appointment for seven-thirty, setting aside an hour for cocktails before dinner he had prepared himself—Senegalese soup, roast, salad, cheese platter, and lemon soufflé.
I came a little early to help if necessary, but Boaty, in an olive velvet jacket, was calm, everything was in order, there was nothing left to do, just light the candles.
The owner poured us both a «special» martini — a gin chilled to zero with a dash of Pernod. “No vermouth. Only «Perno» for flavor. An old trick I picked up from Virgil Thompson.»
Seven thirty changed to eight; by the time we refreshed the drinks, the other guests were more than an hour late, and Boaty’s smooth-knit composure was beginning to unravel; he began to bite his nails — a completely uncharacteristic demonstration of weakness for him. At nine, he exploded: “Lord, do you understand what I did? I don’t know what’s up with Estelle, but the other three are drunkards. I invited three alcoholics to dinner! One is already a problem.
And three. They will never come.»
The doorbell rang.
“D-d-darling…” It was Miss Bankhead, writhing inside a mink coat the color of her coarsely curled hair. — I apologize. It’s all a taxi driver. Take us to the wrong place. To some nasty block house on the West Side.
— Benjamin Katz. That was his name. Taxi driver,” said Miss Parker.
«Not so, Dottie,» Miss Winwood corrected her as the ladies disentangled themselves from their fur coats and Boaty escorted them into the dark Victorian room, where logs crackled merrily in the marble fireplace. “His name was Kevin O’Leary. Severely suffering from the Irish virus. That’s why he didn’t know where he was going.
— Irish virus? Miss Bankhead asked.
“Drink, dear,” said Miss Winwood.
“Ah, booze,” Miss Parker sighed. “This is what I need,” although, judging by the slight rolling when walking, one more portion was the last thing she needed.
Miss Bankhead ordered: Bourbon and Brunch. And don’t be stingy.»
Miss Parker, after complaining about a kind of crise de foie (liver crisis. — Rules of life ), at first denied, then said: «Well, maybe a glass of wine.»
Miss Bankhead, who looked out for me at the fireplace, rushed towards me; she was a small woman, but with her deep growling voice and unshakable vitality she seemed like an Amazon.
“And,” she said, blinking her short-sighted eyes, “this is Mr. Clift, our great new star?”
I said no, my name is PB Jones.
I am nobody. Just a friend of Mr. Boatwright.
— Is it one of his «nephews»?
— No. I am a writer, or I would like to be.
— Boati has so many nephews. I wonder where he gets them all from.
Damn, Boaty, where’s my bourbon?
As the guests settled down between Boati’s horsehair-stuffed canapés, I came to the conclusion that of the three, Estelle Winwood, at the time an actress in her seventies, made the most striking impression. Parker—she would have been instantly replaced on the subway—a vulnerable, deceptively helpless child who fell asleep one day and woke up forty years later with bags under her eyes, false teeth, and whiskey fumes. And Bankhead — her head is too big for her body, her feet are too small; at the same time, there is too much of her in the room — she needs an in-line audience. And Miss Winwood was an exotic creature—the slenderness of a snake, the posture of a headmistress, she wore a giant wide-brimmed black straw hat, which she never took off that evening; the brim of the hat set off the pearly pallor of the haughty face and concealed, if not quite successfully, the mischief that burned faintly in the lavender eyes. She smoked cigarettes, as it became clear later, tirelessly, like Miss Bankhead, and also Miss Parker.
Ms. Bankhead, lighting one from the other, announced: “I had a strange dream last night. I dreamed that I was in the London Savoy. Dancing with Jock Whitney. Finally, an attractive man. Those big red ears, those dimples.»
Miss Parker said, “And? What’s strange about that?»
“Nothing. Except that I didn’t remember Jock for twenty years. And then, in the afternoon of the same day, I saw him. He was crossing 57th Street one way and I was crossing the other. It hasn’t changed much: it sounded a little, it got a little muzzled. God, how good we were with him. He took me to ball games and horse races. In bed, however, it was always so-so. The story is as old as the world. I once went to an analyst, left fifty kopecks for an hour, trying to figure out why I can’t do anything with the men I really love, who I’m crazy about. At the same time, I’m melting with some backstage techie, who I don’t care about.”
Boati appeared with drinks; Miss Parker emptied her glass in one quick gulp, then said, «Why don’t you bring the bottle and leave it on the table?»
Boaty said: “I can’t understand what happened to Monty. He could have at least called.
“Meow! Meow, — cat trills were accompanied by scratching nails on the front door. “Meow!”
« Pardonnez-moi, senior (Excuse me, sir. — Rules of life ),» said young Mr. Clift, bursting into the room and hanging on Boati. «I’ve had a hangover.»
An improviser, and I would say that he did not manage to get over his hangover properly. When Boaty offered him a martini, I noticed how he tried to calm the shaking in his unfaithful hands.
He was wearing gray flannel slacks and a gray turtleneck under a wrinkled raincoat, as well as loafers with rhombus toe. He kicked off his shoes and squatted down at Miss Parker’s feet.
“I love your story, the one about the woman waiting for a phone call. She is waiting for a guy who intends to teach her a lesson. And he keeps coming up with reasons why he doesn’t call, and holds his hands so that he doesn’t dial himself. How familiar. I went through the same myself. And this one is «Big Blonde», where a woman swallowed pills, but did not die, but woke up and was forced to continue living. Yes, that’s what you don’t want to go through. Do you know anyone who has experienced this?”
Ms. Bankhead burst out laughing: “Of course he does. Dottie is always either popping pills or sawing her veins. I remember once visiting her in the hospital, so her wrists were tied with pink ribbons and tied with the cutest bows. Bob Benchley then said: «If she does not give up with this, she will end badly in the very near future.»
Miss Parker protested, “Benchley didn’t say that. This is what I said. Literally: “If I don’t give up on this, then one day I will end badly.”
For the next hour, Boaty wandered between the kitchen and the living room, bringing drinks and more drinks, and mourning his supper, especially the roast, which was drying up. At eleven o’clock, he finally convinced the guests to gather at the dinner table, I helped, poured the wine — the only item on the menu that seemed to really interest everyone here: Clift, dropping his cigarette into a bowl of Senegalese soup, which he had not touched, stared blankly to nowhere, as if in the form of a shell-shocked soldier. The people around pretended not to notice, while Miss Bankhead, meanwhile, incoherently recounted an anecdote. “I then had a country house, and Estelle was visiting, we were lying in the meadow, listening to the radio. It was a portable radio, one of the first. Suddenly, the transmission was interrupted by a news release, asked to listen to an important message. It turned out that it was about the kidnapping of Lindbergh. About how someone climbed into the bedroom on the ladder and stole the child. At the end of the graduation, Estelle said with a yawn: “Oh, that’s what we definitely don’t threaten, Tallulah!” While she was talking, Miss Parker alienated something that attracted everyone’s attention; even Miss Bankhead fell silent. With tears in her eyes, Miss Parker touched Clift’s hypnotized face, her stubby fingers gently stroked his eyebrows, cheekbones, lips, chin.
Ms. Bankhead said, “Damn you, Dottie. Who do you think you are? For Helen Keller?»
“He’s so handsome,” muttered Miss Parker. — Sensual. The features of such fine modeling. The most beautiful young man I have ever seen in my life. What a pity that he x *** s.
Then very sweetly, opening her eyes like a naive girl, she clarified:
“Oh God. Did I say something wrong? Well, I mean, he’s a f*ck, right, Tallulah?» “Right, d-d-darling. How m-m-should I know,” said Miss Bankhead, “it didn’t suck for me.”
My eyes were closed; it was a very boring Red River, and the scent of the disinfected latrine immersed me in chloroform. I wanted to drink; poured me a drink at the Irish Bar on 38th Street and Eighth Avenue. Time was running out, but the jukebox was on and a lone sailor was dancing. I ordered a triple gin. When I opened my wallet, a card fell out of it. A white card bearing the name, address, and phone number: Roger W. Appleton Farms, PO Box 711, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Tel: 905-537-1070. I stared at the card, wondering how it got to me. Appleton? A deep sip of gin refreshed my memory. Appleton. Well, of course.
We had a client at Self-Service, one of the few whom it is pleasant to remember. We spent an hour with him in the Yale Club room; not young, but of good endurance, strong, strongly built, with a truly crushing handshake. A good man, very open — he told me a lot about himself: after the death of his first wife, he married a woman much younger than himself, and they lived on fertile land, kept a farm with an orchard and streams running through cow pastures. He handed me a card, asked me to call and invited me to visit at any time. Overwhelmed by self-pity, which the alcohol increased, completely losing sight of the fact that it was three in the morning in the yard, I asked the bartender to change five dollars into quarters.
— I’m sorry, son. But we are closing.
Please. This is urgent. I need to make a long distance call. As he counted out the money, he said, «Whoever she is, she’s not worth it.» After the number was dialed, the operator demanded an additional four dollars. After half a dozen rings, a woman’s voice answered me, low and groggy.
– Hello. Is Mr Appleton at home? She didn’t answer right away.
— Yes. But he is sleeping. But if something is urgent…
– No. Nothing urgent.
– Excuse me, who is calling?
— Just tell… Say a friend called. His friend from that
shore of the Styx. ≠
Tagged What the most brutal and dangerous gangsters of Latin America look like: Phenomena: Values: Lenta.ru
Lenta.ru continues the cycle of materials about the aesthetics of organized crime groups and their influence on the mainstream. In the last article, we talked about the African-American gangs Bloods and Crips, who made red and blue colors, sneakers and sports jerseys fashionable. Today we will talk about Latin American gangs led by the all-powerful Mara Salvatrucha.
Hispanics became part of US life a little later than African Americans. After the vast Mexican territories became part of the United States as a result of the war of 1846-1848 with Mexico, the presence of the Hispanic population became the norm for the country. Even more Hispanics appeared in the states after the annexation of Puerto Rico and Cuba following the war with Spain in 1898.
Materials on the topic:
But a truly powerful wave of migration of the Hispanic population covered the United States after the war in 1960-70s. Hispanics are now the largest minority in the country, at 18 percent, and the total is just under 59 million. At the same time, only 10 percent of this number are the so-called Chicanos — the descendants of the colonists who settled the southwest of the modern United States during the period of Spanish rule.
The majority of Hispanics in the United States are of Mexican origin — 64 percent. Puerto Ricans are in second place with nine percent. Dominicans, Cubans and Salvadorans share third place with three percent. But it was the latter who organized the most brutal and powerful organized criminal group: MS-13 or Mara Salvatrucha (Mara Salvatrucha — “the brigade of Salvadoran wandering ants”). Like the cult Negro organized crime groups Bloods and Crips, it originated in Los Angeles. And, as in the case of African American gangs, the authorities can only blame themselves for its appearance.
Until the early 1980s, there were very few Salvadorans in the United States. Everything changed with the beginning of a bloody civil war in the country in 1979 between government forces and the armed opposition. The United States actively supported the Salvadoran government with money and weapons. The administration of Ronald Reagan proclaimed El Salvador «a battlefield against international communism», only from 1983 to 1985 the country’s authorities received about a billion dollars.
Ultimately between the authorities and the armed opposition at 19A peace treaty was signed in 1992, and the left was defeated in the first free and democratic elections. During the war, about 75 thousand people died, 12 thousand went missing, and a million people became refugees. Most of the refugees just went to the United States — to the closest ally of the ruling regime. El Salvador by that time had managed to quarrel with all its neighbors and most of the countries of Latin America, so the refugees had little choice.
Only in Los Angeles, which became the center of Salvadoran migration, by the end of 19In the 80s, about 300 thousand Salvadorans lived. Naturally, the Salvadorans who fled the war could not afford housing in more or less decent neighborhoods and settled in the Pico Union area, located in the center near Downtown Los Angeles. Alas, his best years remained in the 1960s.
From the moment that the American middle class poured into the suburbs, housing prices in the center fell, migrants and African Americans rushed into the area, which completely marginalized it. In Pico Union and other Salvadoran settlement areas, the real power on the streets was the Bloods, the Crips and the Mexican gangs of the 18th Street gang (aka La18, Barrio 18, Mara-18 or simply M-18). Considering that even police patrols in some areas of the South Los Angeles ghetto try not to call in once again, there was no one to protect the Salvadorans.
Racketeering, extortion, robbery — Salvadorans found themselves at the very bottom of the ghetto food chain. And since the state is not able to fulfill its functions of protecting citizens, this work is taken over by the anti-state in the person of organized criminal groups. Quite quickly, the streets of areas with a large percentage of Salvadorans filled their own gangs, which the Salvadorans called las clicas — cliques. The common name for the cliques was Mara Salvatrucha.
Salvadoran gangsters quickly adopted the aesthetics of Los Angeles gangsters: tattoos, fingering, bright clothes, including sportswear, rap, graffiti and other attributes of hip-hop culture. If on the streets the «cholos», as the representatives of the criminalized youth of Mexican origin called themselves, were the enemies of the Salvadorans, then in the zone the situation was changing.
Mara Salvatrucha members, who had no prison authority, were integrated into the structure of La Eme, one of the oldest and most powerful Mexican gangs. Actually, the name of the gang means the letter «M» — Mexico, which is why La Eme in Russia is often called the Mexican mafia. The connection with «La Aime» gave Mara Salvatrucha and her second name MS-13. The number 13 means the thirteenth letter of the Latin alphabet — «M» or La Eme in Spanish. The number 13 is also reflected in the rite of initiation into gang members — a 13-second beating of a newcomer by its experienced members.
Since the members of MS-13 are members of the Mexican mafia in prison, they wear Nike Cortez sneakers. Recall that in American prisons, gang members wear sneakers as an identification mark. Mexicans — Nike, Bloods — Reebok, Crips — Adidas.
In the early 1990s, the US authorities finally realized the full scale of MS-13 and began mass deportations of Salvadorans involved in illegal activities. The deportations coincided with the end of the civil war in El Salvador. The war-torn country turned out to be an ideal soil for the activities of the group, which became the only real power in many villages and towns. So at 19In the 1990s Mara Salvatrucha became an international criminal gang. With the release of the international level, MS-13 began a partnership with the Mexican drug cartel Sinaloa, also known as the Pacific Cartel.
Between the Devil and God
Mara Salvatrucha is notorious as a group that worships Satan. It all started with the fact that the members of the gang began to use a gesture reminiscent of a punk «goat» as their signature fingering. The whole difference is that the index finger and little finger are more strongly spread apart. Initially, this gesture meant an inverted letter «M», but then many began to consider it an image of a goat’s head — a symbol of Satan. Then satanic symbols began to appear in the form of tattoos.
To begin with, the gang members who committed the murder began to decorate themselves with the image of a skull and bones. Then there were images of the devil with horns and a tail, a goat’s skull and other images associated with hell. Those members of MS-13 who are somehow connected with the Mexican drug cartels wear tattoos depicting Santa Muerta — the holy death.
This syncretic religious cult was born from a mixture of Catholicism, Indian beliefs and voodoo cult. It is based on the veneration of death as the main deity capable of influencing people’s lives. Members of drug cartels consider Santa Muerta their protector, helping them in a difficult life of crime. Some Salvadorans also adopted this cult from the Mexicans.
Some cliques began to consciously create an image of Satanists around themselves. There are cases when bandits left various satanic symbols on the bodies of victims, performed ritual sacrifices and filled their bodies with satanic symbols. However, more often than not, this is more of an image move aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear around the clique, an attempt to distinguish it from other Salvadoran cliques.
However, there are also tattoos traditional for all Latin American bands with Christian themes. The Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, the crucifixion, hands folded for prayer — these are the most popular subjects. However, actually Christianity in them is not so much. For example, folded hands are not at all an appeal to God, but the phrase “mother forgive me for my crazy life.” Yes, and the image of Christ is most often supplemented with the letters M and S, which is interpreted by experts interviewed by the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo as recognition of the primacy of the gang in the life of each of its members. For bandits, their clique is god.
People with picturesque faces
The main thing that distinguishes members of Mara Salvatrucha from other gangsters is not the theme of the tattoos, but their location. Unlike Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other Latin Americans, who stuffed tattoos at most on the neck and behind the ears, Salvadorans fill their entire face with them. Many members of the MS-13 clique even shave their hair to ink the back and crown of their heads. There are practically no special plots intended exclusively for application to the face.
Most often these are the letters M and S, number 13, the inscription Mara Salvatrucha, the coat of arms of El Salvador, as well as various Indian ornaments. A rare exception is the same skull that is applied between the eyes after the first murder is committed. Another popular head tattoo plot is an imitation of a skull, skinned flesh and cervical vertebrae. Moreover, Salvadoran gangsters do not just put individual tattoos on their faces, but completely clog it, leaving no free space.
At the same time, removing a tattoo is considered a deadly sin for a member of the gang, equates to betrayal and is punishable by death. Tattoos are the main sign of belonging to the gang, and tattoos on the face — to «Mara Salvatrucha». The beaten faces became so associated with the gang that during police raids, clique members were identified precisely by them. In prisons, prisoners with facial tattoos immediately fell under special control, and students with facial tattoos characteristic of MS-13 were expelled from schools.
All this led to the fact that the Council of Nine — the governing body of the group — allowed new members of the gang not to score faces in order to remain incognito. But in recent years, their administration has already demanded to refuse to wear Nike Cortez in prisons — labels are torn off sneakers, and the manufacturer’s emblem must be closed or painted over.
As for clothing, Mara Salvatrucha does not have such a strict dress code as Bloods and Crips. The traditional colors of the group are white and blue, so most of the bandits go in ordinary jeans and white T-shirts, occasionally complementing them with blue sports jackets.
In parallel with the MS-13 leaders allowing members of organized crime groups not to score their faces, the fashion for facial tattoos spread throughout the United States. Of course, it is impossible to say unequivocally that the members of the Mara Salvatrucha clique had an influence on young rappers. After all, facial tattoos are present in the culture of many peoples of the world.
For example, the famous Ta-moko tattoos among the Maori tribes, which have become an element of national identity. These were put on his face by Mike Tyson. Or harkuz — tattoos that are applied to the faces of Berber women as they grow older. They are designed to mark the onset of new stages in the life of a girl until marriage.
However, the fact remains that facial tattoos have gone beyond the Salvadoran community and have become popular among whites (non-Hispanics) and blacks alike. A big role in the popularization of facial tattoos was played by rappers, whose aesthetics are based on gangster culture interspersed with traditional African culture. And facial tattoos, with their dual origins, fit perfectly into this aesthetic.
Young Thug, Soulja Boy, Lil Wayne, Lil Peep, Lil Pump, Lil Xan, 69, The Game, 21 Savage — these are just some of the now popular rappers in the US, whose faces are decorated with tattoos.