Academic journal article Chasqui

Racial Alchemy and Alejandro Tapia Y Rivera's la Cuarterona

Academic journal article Chasqui

Racial Alchemy and Alejandro Tapia Y Rivera's la Cuarterona

Article excerpt

In Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, Matthew Frye Jacobson outlines how the centrality of "black-white" relations in the U.S. from the 1920s to the 1960s "altered the nation's racial alchemy and redrew the dominant racial configuration along the strict, binary line of white and black, creating Caucasians where before had been so many Celts, Hebrews, Teutons, Mediterraneans, and Slavs" (14). I seek to demonstrate that a similar alchemical process took place in Puerto Rico, albeit with one significant difference: it was at the expense of Jewish exclusion that certain nonwhites--but significantly not all--were made into Puerto Ricans.

The ideological and political deployment of Jewishness that was useful toward consolidating a notion of Puerto Rican-ness inclusive of light-skinned mulattos is illustrated in Alejandro Tapia y Rivera's La cuarterona, one of the most widely-read Puerto Rican dramas of the nineteenth century. Tapia is often catalogued as the "Father of Puerto Rican Literature," and La cuarterona as one of his most important works (Cortes and Barrea-Marlys 443). The play, whose title refers to the heroine, Julia, and her mixed-race ancestry, was completed and published in Madrid in 1867, and debuted August 17, 1878 at the Moratin Theater in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In the 1940s the Tapia Theater in San Juan was inaugurated with the play, which evidences its relevance to Tapia's oeuvre and to Puerto Rican readers and audience members more broadly.

Critical inconsistency over La cuarterona's political and racial vision invites a closer examination of the play, one that takes into account the complex and competing ideas of labor, empire, and race that are the backdrop to its composition. (1) Specifically, and contrary to prevailing critical interpretations, 1 suggest that La cuarterona does not promote the abolition of slavery, nor does it envision universal racial inclusion. (2) Alternatively, Tapia's play is a project designed to bring about colonial reform by mollifying Negrophobia, which is accomplished in part by displacing it with Judeophobia. Before moving forward, it must be stressed that the aim of lessening racial panic must not be conflated with abolitionism; Tapia's play is just one of many programs that demonstrate the compatibility of pro-slavery thought with the goal of easing the fears of black peril experienced by criollos, convinced as they were that the events of the Haitian Revolution were soon to repeat themselves throughout the Caribbean. (3)

Tapia demonizes the villain of La cuarterona, Don Crispulo, by making him into a Jew, a category which, in the nineteenth century, came to be seen and conceived of in terms of race. (4) In addition to what Ruth Hill would term the character's implicit racial embodiment (288)--his biography, physiognomy, and morality, to be analyzed below--Carlos, the play's hero, explicitly identifies Crispulo as another "Judas" (130). Though it may appear that the dramatist simply transposes to the Caribbean an admixture of the Shylock and Judas figures so prevalent in nineteenth-century European literature and culture, the factors motivating the stock images' rehabilitation, as well as the response to and interpretation of the icons, vary with the sociohistorical conjuncture. (5) To modify David Theo Goldberg's formulation, one could say that "there is no generic [anti-Semitism], only historically specific [anti-Semitisms] each with their own sociotemporally specific causes" (90). (6) Before turning to the causes of anti-Semitism in the nineteenth-century Spanish Caribbean, it must be noted that actual Jewish non-participation in Hispano-Antillean moneylending and slave trading, the two activities condemned in La cuarterona, is irrelevant to the vitality of the discursive trope. La cuarterona, therefore, confirms Slavoj Zizek's point that "the anti-Semitic idea of Jew has nothing to do with Jews" (48). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.