The night after the Gov. of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, announced he was stepping down from office, Boricuas and Nuyoricans eager to celebrate the island’s victory after weeks of protests came together at Friends and Lovers to watch Puerto Rican DJs Woof and Bembona spin.
People streamed into the Crown Heights venue and sipped $12 cocktails, and as the party stretched into the night, Brooklyn native Bembona riled up the crowds. “¡Los quiero mi gente!” (I love you, my people!) she shouted into the mic as Woof wrapped himself in a large Puerto Rican flag he had brought with him.
The day before, Bembona had expressed pride in the island and of the diaspora that had come together and pressured Rosselló into resigning. “We made this happen,” Bembona said in an IG video promoting the party. “We are not over yet, so please continue to fight. But right now, vamos a perrear, vamos a sandunguear, hanguear, vacilar and I don’t know, I wanna see all my Boricuas tomorrow so please look at the details below.”
To skeptics, these calls might seem like trendy hashtags tacked onto summer parties that had already been planned. But the politicization of the Nuyorican party scene isn’t new. The rap, trap and reggaeton sounds coming out of the island stem from an underground subculture that has for decades been at odds with the island’s conservative circles. In the past, Puerto Rico’s ruling classes have policed the Afro Caribbean rhythms for being too lascivious and obscene. In the nineties, the administration of Pedro Rosselló (yes, the father of the currently dethroned Ricardo Rosselló) censored reggaeton, raiding record stores that sold mixtapes.
It should come as no surprise, then, that protesters both on the island as well as in New York turned rallies into block parties and flipped reggaeton verses into political slogans, as they did with Daddy Yankee’s 2001 hit song, “En la Cama.” In a piece published in the Washington Post, Marisol LeBrón and Verónica Dávila say that when a “protester shouted, ‘Yo quiero la combi completa’ (I want the whole combination), which in the original makes reference to the various parts of a woman’s body, the crowd chanted in response ‘Qué? Ricky renuncia, puñeta!’ (What? Ricky, resign, damnit!).”
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) July 25, 2019
Additionally, when the political crisis hit, famous trap, pop and rap performers became the de facto faces of the resistance. Bad Bunny, the trap singer with 18 million followers, temporarily stopped his tour to travel home from Ibiza and join in on the protests. Residente, from the iconic Calle 13, teamed up with his younger sister iLe and Bad Bunny to write and record the protest song “Afilando Los Cuchillos” (“Sharpening Knives”) in just one day.
A meme making the rounds during those days put two images side by side: Eugène Delacroix’s painting depicting the French Revolution, “Liberty Leading the People,” was paired with a shot of Bad Bunny waving the Puerto Rican flag while his fellow pop stars clustered on a platform (“Reggaeton Leading the People,” it was titled by one Twitter user).
All of the above flowed over into the mainland and New York, home to more than a million Boricuas. By July 24, DJ Woof was spinning disco, soul, salsa, and funk alongside Joey Carvello from Mobile Mondays to hundreds of people at the Uptown Bounce summer block party.
Last Friday, DJ Bembona teamed up— this time with Superlovety, Sunnaay and Diegohauz— to perform at Project Reach in Chinatown. The aim was to raise funds to launch a network of organizations throughout the diaspora committed to educating, organizing, and mobilizing in support of the struggles “both here and on the island.” During the event, the organizers gave out pages with their perreo combativo (or combative perreo) manifesto. Its last lines read as follows:
“Perreo combativo belongs to the working class, poor, afro-descendent, and native people of Latin America. From Borikén to Panama, from Mexico to Venezuela, from Dominican Republic to Colombia, perreo combativo exists to smash the oppressive capitalist and colonialist systems of the 21st century.”
Many of the rallies and events happening in the city are being coordinated by the collective New York Boricua Resistance. One of its members, John Bravo, told Bedford + Bowery that many of the members are artists who are discussing how to bring more culture into the protests in New York City. “We are trying to keep up with the island. They’re going so hard that we’re trying to follow their lead,” he said, specifying that they weren’t trying to do “the old Americans thing of coming down” and telling the people in the US territory what to do. “We are following suit and taking inspiration from them.”
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Perreo is an afrodiasporic dance with roots in resistance. It’s origins can be traced back to some of Puerto Rico y Panamá’s most oppressed populations and like many afrodiasporic rhythms, it is a tool of self liberation. We move our bodies in celebration and protest, as a method of expression and release, as a way of fostering community. HAY FUERZA EN PERREO!!! Come sweat with us and support Bori makers and creators this Friday, August 2nd, from 7-11PM at Project Reach as we continue in the fight against colonization. Address is 39 Eldridge St on the corner of Canal in Chinatown. We are raising funds for our national launching of Boricua Resistance, a network of organizations throughout the diaspora committed to educating, organizing, and mobilizing in support of our struggles both here and on the island. We’ll have djs spinning, snacks on deck, and artists selling clothing, pins, posters etc. TODO BORICUA! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ABAJO LA COLONIA!!! (CON MUCHO PERREO!!!) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Tunes by: @superlovety @sunnaay @diegohauz @djbembona Food by: @chefgabrielaalvarez @natachasempanadas @pansypao Art by: @cuirkitchenbrigade @girasoles.creativestudio @piritees @danielledejesus1 @christianmartir
That inspiration has come in the form of reggaetón dance style perreo. What had been a fringe movement back in the nineties exploded onto the airwaves after Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featured Justin Bieber in the “Despacito” remix. Before that, experts like LeBrón and Dávila remind us, Puerto Ricans had long used reggaeton as a creative way to express political criticism, resist state censorship and criminalization, and defy racism and misogyny.
In the words of the New York Boricua Resistance, the perreo is an “afrodiasporic” dance whose origins can be traced back to some of Puerto Rico and Panama’s most oppressed populations. As such, it is a “tool of self liberation. We move our bodies in celebration and protest, as a method of expression and release, as a way of fostering community,” they wrote alongside a poster where they invite people to “tear down the colony” by doing “a lot of perreo.”
Nothing explains the aforementioned as well as this satirical tweet:
“The government, 1995: ‘Underground [reggaeton] is subversive, immoral, and a threat to the way we do things.
“The government, 2019: ‘fuck.’”
Bravo told B+B that the collective was created earlier this year, but the past weeks had grown its visibility and numbers. They were involved in the #RickyRenuncia street demonstrations at Union Square on July 17, as well as the solidarity rally that began at Columbus Circle with a few hundred people chanting under the pouring rain and, a few hours later, ended up inside of Grand Central Terminal. There, hundreds more danced, banged on kitchen pots and demanded the resignation of Rosselló and the eight members of “la Junta” (the Fiscal Oversight Management Board that President Obama appointed in 2016 to restructure the island’s bankruptcy crisis).
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We know a lot of people are saying thanks to us for this march, but the truth is this was ALL the people. We just put out the call, but it was all of our collective rage, courage and love for our people that made this happen. From the person who responded to our request for a speaker on instagram, to the various organizations that helped to lead chants and coordinate community safety, to the boldness of the people to say “Fuck the pigs, the streets are ours!” To the way that folks looked out for one another in the traffic. To the way that folks danced together in the station. That was the power of the people.
With Puerto Rico cycling through its third governor in less than a week after Rosselló stepped down last Friday, it’ll be interesting to see where these forms of creative resistance end up.
“Look, Puerto Ricans love Puerto Rico and we want to see them be okay,” Bravo told B+B.