7th Biennial Conference
Puerto Rican Studies Association
October 5–8, 2006
Cornell University – Ithaca, New York
Speaking the Unspoken: Race and Its Intersections in Puerto Rican Experience
Dedicated to Prof. Isabelo Zenón Cruz
The 2006 7th Biennial Conference of the Puerto Rican Studies Association (PRSA) represented an important turning point in the Association’s history. First, it allowed PRSA to coordinate more closely the work done by the organizing and program committees, on the one hand, and PRSA’s Secretariat, which had just moved to Cornell University (hosted by its Latino Studies Program) after several years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Second, staging the Conference at Cornell University allowed us to benefit from very generous in-kind contributions by Cornell that helped strengthen PRSA’s financial outlook.
But from an intellectual perspective, the conference was also particularly important because it succeeded in bringing together a large number of scholars, public policy experts, and graduate students who have been contributing to reshape in almost unprecedented ways how we investigate and interpret the historical and contemporary experiences, practices and discourses of race, racialization, racism and anti-racism in the particular racial formation contexts of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Diaspora in different locales and regions in the United States.
This outpouring of paradigmatically shifting and creatively innovative research projects and (re-)interpretations remind many of us of an earlier era, running from the late 1960s through the end of the 1970s, in which artists, intellectuals and activists, working inside and outside the academy, both on the island and stateside, unleashed multiple challenges to received wisdom and ideologically conservative interpretations of race, racialization, and racism.
It was in this spirit that PRSA’s leadership chose to dedicate the conference to the work and legacies of one of the key intellectual leaders of those head-on challenges to racism: Isabelo Zenón Cruz, formerly professor of Spanish at the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, and author, among other works, of the landmark study Narciso descubre su trasero: el negro en la cultura puertorriqueña, 2 vols. (Humacao, PR: Editorial Furidi, 1975-76).
Profusely annotated and offering a remarkable amount of evidence from Puerto Rican letters produced over the span of generations, Narciso descubre su trasero represented one of the most open and extensive indictments of racist discursive practices by the island’s intelligentsia ever written. Innumerable debates ensued after the 2 volumes were published between 1975 and 1976, too often including bitter denunciations of Prof. Zenón Cruz for pointing out and reinterpreting the works of canonical intellectual and artistic figures, including veiled and not-so-veiled expressions of the kind of racism to which Narciso alerted us.
It is not an exaggeration to claim, therefore, that Zenón Cruz’s masterpiece contributed significantly, in its own way, to making the decade of the 1970s a “before and after” in the ways in which Puerto Ricans themselves –and scholars in Puerto Rican Studies– saw how racialization and racism deeply defined Puerto Rican historical and contemporary experiences.
From the new poetry bursting out of the island, Loisaida, and elsewhere; to the Salsa lyrics and notes blasting out of Santurce and the Bronx; to the prose fiction, visual arts, and scholarly works, here and there, being poured out by a new generation of writers, artists and scholars; and to the fierce activism on scores of streets from Chicago to San Antón, the 1970s decade witnessed a myriad efforts to pull off the veils of “racial democracy” and racist paternalism, and to challenge with direct actions and intellectual work deep legacies of racist self-image and subjectification among island and diasporic Boricuas.