‘Las Caras Lindas’: To Be Black And Puerto Rican In 2013

‘Las Caras Lindas’: To Be Black And Puerto Rican In 2013

Code Switch: Frontiers of Race, Culture and Ethnicity
National Public Radio

Jasmine Garsd

I am a black man
Who was born café con leche
I sneaked into a party, to which I had not been invited.
And I got kicked out. They threw me out.
When I went back to have fun with the black girls
All together they said ‘Maelo, go back to your white girls’
And they kicked me out. They threw me out.”

– Ismael Rivera, “Niche

In “Niche” (“Black Man”), iconic Puerto Rican singer Ismael Rivera navigates the labyrinth of race and ethnicity in the Caribbean. A light-skinned “café con leche” black man, he wanders through his island like a ghost of a colonial Spanish past, shooed off by both blacks and whites uncomfortable with his presence and what he represents.

In another iconic and deeply melancholy song, “Las Caras Lindas” (or “The Beautiful Faces”), Rivera sets aside the discomfort and pens an ode to his people: “The beautiful faces of my black race, so much crying, pain and suffering, they are the challenges of life, but inside we carry so much love.”

I was recently in Puerto Rico reporting on the island’s troubled economy and reignited diaspora. During that time, I had the chance to visit legendary rapper Tego Calderón. In his studio in Santurce, Puerto Rico, I found the entire place wallpapered with photographs of Ismael Rivera…

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