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What Does the Music of Puerto Rico Teach Us About Racism?


The Sound of Racism

In Puerto Rico, when racism rears its ugly head in social interactions, it is often dismissed with the question:

Y tu abuela, donde esta?

Translated, the question is: "And your grandmother, where is she?" The phrase comes from a poem by noted author, Fortunato Vizcarrondo, of Carolina, Puerto Rico, and later adapted to a song of made famous by the legendary Puerto Rican songstress, Ruth Fernández:  Y Tu Abuela Donde Esta? (complete lyrics)

The song chides a racist by reminding him that his black grandmother was hidden in the kitchen, away from view.

Y Tu Abuela Donde Esta? (partial lyrics)

si es tu orgullo de blanco
Y tu abuela ¿aonde etá...?

eres blanquito enchapao
que dentra en sociedad

temiendo que se conozca
la mamá de tu mamá.

La probe se está muriendo
al verse tan maltratá

que hasta tu perro le ladra
cuando ella etá lavá.

Muy bien que yo la conozco
se ñama Siña Tatá

tú la econde en la cocina
porque es prieta de verdad.

if it is your pride to be white
then where is your grandmother?

you are plated white
so you enter society

afraid it will be known
the mother of your mother

the poor woman is dying
from being so mistreated

that even your dog barks
when she is washed

I know her very well
she's called Señora Tatá

and you hide her in the kitchen
because she is really black

Lyrics translated by Jaime Serrat

Historically, there has not been the same stigma attached to being white or black, or Indian or racially mixed, that one would likely encounter in other countries.

However, maintaining the pretense that one is "pure" white is most certainly frowned on. Even to Puerto Ricans who appear to be "pure" white, the issue of their own racial identity in the eyes of others, most likely does not matter.

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