These self portraits form a diptych and were inspired by a 1942 poem by Fortunato Vizcarrondo a Puerto Rican poet. Much like the poem, the self-portraits are meant to address not only Puerto Rican’s own racial biases but also my own discomfort with politically and socially constructed ethnic and racial labels.

Y tu agüela, a’onde ejtá? is the title of the Vizcarrondo poem in which he uses the family’s abuela or grandmother as a metaphor for being ashamed of one’s skin color and race. Two of the most poignant verses go like this:

 

Ayé me dijite negro     

(Yesterday, you called me negro)

Y hoy te boy a contejtá

(Today I would reply)

Mi mai se sienta en la sala                 

(My mom sits in the living room)

Y tu agüela, a’onde ejtá?        

(And your grandmother, where is she?)

 

Ayé me dijite negro     

(Yesterday, you called me negro) 

Queriéndome bochoná           

(Wanting to embarrass me)

Mi agüela sale a la sala   

(My grandmother comes out to the living room)

 Y la tuya, occulta ejtá                         

(Yours is hidden away)

 

The implication here is that the racist antagonist is hiding his/her African ancestry.

Those of you who speak, read or understand Spanish may notice that the poem is not written in standard Spanish but uses “Puerto Rican speak”. More specifically, it uses the way of speech of Puerto Rican blacks in pre-commonwealth Puerto Rico.  This is because the poem is part of the Afro-Antillean (afro-antillano) poetry tradition, along the lines of Pales Matos, who like Vizcarrondo used a poetic cacophony similar to the rhythms of the Afro-Caribbean musical tradition.

Y Tu abuela a’onde ehtá/ What Color is Your Grandmother?, 1991, pastel on paper

In my  Y tu abuela a’onde ehtá? I drew myself as if I were a “mestiza” or mixed-raced person and played with the ambiguity of my appearance by recalling different stereotypes -the head wrap can be seen as like that of Aunt Jemima or a Mammy figure or it is “alla santera”, a priestess of the afro-Antillean religion of Santeria; the skin tone is not-so-quite-dark enough, but not-quite-light-enough skin, and moreover there is the question of those green eyes. In La Blanquita/The White One, 1992, pastel on paper I drew myself more or less as I looked at the time but exaggerated my “whiteness”, in a sense asking the question, what color is white?

 

 

 

 

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