Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Following Their Footsteps: Tracing Puerto Ricans' Sociopolitical Activism in New York City from an Afro-Centric Perspective*

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Following Their Footsteps: Tracing Puerto Ricans' Sociopolitical Activism in New York City from an Afro-Centric Perspective*

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many studies stress that Puerto Ricans do not fit into the American racial binary of "black or white," and that because of this "uniqueness" the Puerto Rican racial experience should be measured differently. This work evaluates the activities of the black Puerto Ricans who arrived and settled in New York City. Although they confronted issues of adaptation, racism, and persistent poverty, they forged an identity in ways that resonate with the experience and perspective of Arturo Schomburg, a black Puerto Rican and a pioneer of the Africa-centered tradition. As a historian, I review the life and work of Schomburg and examine his perspective on the central role of Africa and its descendants in the history of the world, giving voice to Afrodescendants' quest to preserve their culture wherever they are. I also review the philosophy of C. Tsehloane Keto, who posited the centrality of African history in interpreting the experience of people of African descent in the U.S. and around the world. Against the background of Schomburg's and Keto's work, I trace the emergence of Puerto Rican nationalist cultural identity in the city of New York, specifically the extent of black "Nuyoricans'" articulation of an Afrocentric identity or black consciousness.

Introduction

In early December of 2010, I attended a town-hall style meeting at City College-CUNY, where a group consisting of academics, politicians, and grassroots leaders, among others, responded to the call of creating a task force to address issues of the African Diaspora. This group reports to the African Union (AU). Known as the African Union Diaspora Task Team, it outlined its specific objectives to include the appointment of an Afro-Latino representative, who is a black Puerto Rican woman. This group proposes that despite the challenges confronting Africana and African Diaspora Studies departments/programs in the United States higher education system, these departments should remain in dialogue with institutions promoting a better Africa. As stated by the AU ambassador to the United States, "the African diaspora is an important component in the building of the African Union" (AU press release 11/1/2010). For this purpose, a better understanding of Africa's dispersed children must be documented, and the mechanism for accomplishing this task should be focused on renovating and reinforcing those "ties that bind" them to the motherland. The mother-child relationship is not simply a way of describing those who migrated or their descendants; instead, it must be a repatriation mechanism that many people follow as they try to recover what was left behind. When individuals rescue a relationship with their roots, we call it rediscovering one's "heritage." If it is a "country" that seeks to close such a historical gap, we can call it "home welcoming."

When the first generation of Puerto Ricans reached New York City (NYC) in the late 19th century, they found themselves in the midst of a biracial discourse. They found that New York was unlike Puerto Rico. They had no choice but to articulate race within their historical and cultural background and to denounce racism in many instances, including during the interwar period and the era of the Civil Rights movement. I use their example to examine aspects of Africana and African Diaspora Studies. However, first of all, as a historian I revisit the life of Arturo Schomburg and review his perspective on the central role of Africa and its descendants in the history of the world giving voice to Afro-descendants' quest to preserve their culture wherever they are located. Second, against this review, I trace the emergence of a cultural nationalist identity among the black Puerto Ricans of New York, specifically as that articulates with an Afro-centric identity or black consciousness, in accordance with the conceptualization of history propounded by C. Tsehloane Keto (1989). In so doing, I follow the steps of those Puerto Ricans who arrived to NYC. …

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