Academic journal article Hispanic Review

VIRTUAL ISLANDS: The Reterritorialization of Puerto Rican Spatiality in Cyberspace1

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

VIRTUAL ISLANDS: The Reterritorialization of Puerto Rican Spatiality in Cyberspace1

Article excerpt

Estamos en otra isla. New York es otra isla. He querido evadir el determinismo geográfico, pero estamos en otra isla: ustedes y nosotros.

-Manuel Ramos Otero, "La otra isla de Puerto Rico"

The Coquí Controversy: A Case Study in Globalized Reterritorialization

As almost anyone who has ever visited or lived in Puerto Rico can readily affirm, the coquí is a prevalent inhabitant of the island. This small native frog makes its presence known through the distinctive nocturnal calls that have become closely associated with the landscape in Puerto Rico. Even when they remain concealed-either by foliage and natural camouflage or within the interstices of urban density-their daily ritual of vocalizing at dusk makes their ubiquitous presence undeniable. The coquí is not merely a natural phenomenon; the frog is also a symbol of Puerto Rican identity. The close link between the coquí and the Puerto Rican habitat has afforded it a privileged status as a cultural icon. Hence, not only is the coquí avowedly Puerto Rican, but it also is evocative of the specific locality of the island.

The coquí's iconic status is manifested by a wide array of representations of the frog on the island. Shops in Old San Juan and near other tourist attractions usually offer a variety of anthropomorphized renditions of the coqui engaging in activities such as playing traditional local instruments, dancing, or simply reclining in a hammock. Although certain representations faithfully imitate the appearance of the frog, many of the reproductions bear little resemble to the biological referent. In fact, a particular iconography of the coquí has developed: it is most commonly depicted as a bright, green frog with a relatively small head and seemingly uncharacteristic features such as directly forward-facing eyes and small ears. The marketing of both the more realistic and the primarily cartoon-like figures appeals to a foreign desire for transportable souvenirs of the purportedly exotic destination that visitors tend to seek: they codify a rarified local specificity through a representation that is both charming and readily comprehensible (Lury).2

Interestingly, the consumers of these figures are not only foreign tourists. The coquís also appeal to Puerto Rican consumers.3 Local consumption of the imagery occurs because the coqui offers a particular representation of puertorriqueñidad.4 The coquí is a symbol traditionally associated with Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican identity. Moreover, this symbolism is directly connected to the putative biological and/or mythological autochthony of the frog. Certainly, the pervasive presence of the animal throughout the island reinforces its association with the Puerto Rican landscape. More importantly, traditional cultural folklore asserts that the species is utterly incapable of surviving in any other environment. According to popular lore, the coquí will simply die if transported to a different ecological environment such asfor example-New York. But Puerto Ricans also insist that the tiny frog is equally unable to withstand a shift to neighboring islands such as St. Thomas or Hispaniola, which offer an ostensibly equivalent biological setting. In other words, although no clear scientific evidence has been offered to support such claims or explain why the animal would be affected by biologically irrelevant political borders, many local residents assert that the coqui will undoubtedly perish if removed from the territory of Puerto Rico. Hence, according to these claims, the coquí is Puerto Rican to an extreme: it thrives in Puerto Rico and perishes anywhere else. According to this mythology, therefore, the production of locality takes precedence over ecological habitat and ultimately constitutes the true basis for (symbolic) cultural survival.

Recently, this myth has been empirically refuted by an unexpected population explosion of coquís in Hawai'i.5 Although it is unclear precisely how or why the original progenitors were transported to this other insular environment, the coquí-rather than perishing-has thrived in its new location. …

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