Why I Study Reggaeton

By Guest Contributor Marisol LeBron, originally published at post pomo nuyorican homo


As I was getting myself ready to head down to the Puerto Rican Day Parade (or more accurately, its aftermath) I found myself dumbstruck by the profundity of what I was hearing and seeing.

Always the multi-tasker I was getting ready with the TV switched on to the Parade and Las Guanabanas’ new mixtape, “Regreso Al Underground” (Return to the Underground), blasting from the speakers in my bathroom. I stopped scurrying around my apartment long enough to watch the parade for a moment and paso una cosa rara (a queer thing happened). As Fox 5’s cameras cut from (post)reggaetonero Residente of Calle 13 to shots of flag waving boricuas watching the parade, the last song from “Regreso Al Underground” came on and announced to the world: “Yo soy bellaco, pa’ que tu lo sepas!” (I’m horny, just so you know!).

With the same cadence and enthusiasm that the crowds at the Puerto Rican Day Parade shout “Yo so Boricua, pa’ que tu lo sepa,” reggaetoneros Tommy Viera and Chantelly, announced and celebrated their hornyness. The theme of bellaqueo in reggaeton is not particularly surprising, however, this moment caught me completely off guard. Overlaid as they were, it seemed as if the two forces had synced and the crowd on the TV rather than announcing its Puertorriquenidad was announcing its desire to fuck. Right then and there, by pure happenstance, I had witnessed what Puerto Rican cultural nationalist must conjure in their worst fears about reggaeton – the excesses of the body and of sexuality and desire that resist the disciplining technologies of the nationalist project – and on this day of all days!

The management of sexuality – queer sexualities, racialized sexualities, and non-procreative sexualities – has always been at the center of any nationalist project. Yet, this accidental intrusion of bellaqueo into the quintessential spectacle of Puerto Rican cultural nationalism provides an interesting moment of disruption and illuminates the simultaneous absence and ubiquity of sexuality in nationalist discourse and imagery.

So I ask: what would it mean to put bellaqueo at the center of our studies of the Puerto Rican nation?

Of course, not in the way that it is already figured as core in the racist imaginary that sees Puerto Ricans as hot-blooded and always available Latin Lovers, rather I mean central in that it pulls back the curtains on nationalist projects of containment and disavowal that attempt to create knowable and manageable subjects. The moral outrage incited by the repetitious themes of bellaqueo, fumaera, and perreo that appear in many reggaeton songs are by now familiar, but what is important to note is how these moments of outrage expose the various disciplinary technologies that the corporeal and sonic excesses of reggaeton actively resist and challenge.

The accounts of reggaeton’s death have been greatly exaggerated as people eagerly await the demise of the genre. They want to do away with the porquería that reggaeton makes visible, as Frances Negrón-Muntaner argues in her piece “Poetry of Filth.” The thing is, the porquería and mierda and bellaqueo and brutalidad and …well… queerness in the form of cosas raras, that reggaeton regularly serves up to is audiences is, in my very humble estimation, one of the most valuable critiques of the failures and unevenness of the Puerto Rican nationalist project in contemporary Puerto Rican political history. Although reggaeton is increasingly being folded into Puerto Rican nationalist and Latino/a pan-nationalist efforts, spaces of resistance and ambivalence are still available within and through reggaeton.

That’s why I study reggaeton, because on the track the sound you’re hearing is reggaetoneros throwing up all the porquería that’s been shoved down Puerto Rican’s throats since E.L.A (Estado Libre Associado, or the incorporation of Puerto Rico into the U.S. as a commonwealth) and even before that.

Sometimes it’s the quotidian things, like being horny, that make all the difference in the world.

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