Taino Revival: Critical Perspectives on Puerto Rican Identity and Cultural Politics

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9781558762596: Taino Revival: Critical Perspectives on Puerto Rican Identity and Cultural Politics
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"This stimulating and timely collection examines the Taino revival movement, a grassroots conglomeration of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos who promote or have adopted the culture and pedigree of the pre-Columbian Taino Indian population of Puerto Rico and the western Caribbean." "The Tainos became a symbol of Puerto Rican identity at the end of the 19th century, when local governments and nationalistic intellectuals began to appropriate the Tainos for the conception of a socially and racially balanced Puerto Rican society. Activists in the Puerto Rican diaspora revitalized this idea.".

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Professor of Political Science at City University of New York

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" Its elegant embrace of diverse approaches makes it an exciting and unique contribution to Caribbean studies more broadly." -- HISPANIC AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

The strength of an anthology often lies in its contributors' efforts to create a har-monious exchange of ideas that builds toward a singular, if complex, argument. Taino Revival takes a deliberately different tack; here, a cacophony of voices engages in contradictory and sometimes heated debates over questions of Puerto Rican identity. Contributors seek to explain the recent phenomenon of "Taino resur-gence": that is, the assumption of a precolumbian indigenous identity by a growing number of Puerto Ricans, most of whom were born and raised in the United States. Based on papers originally presented at a 1998 symposium in New York's El Museo del Barrio, the book explores a fundamental question best posed by the sympo-sium's organizer, anthropologist Arlene Davila: "[Does] the Taino resurgence rep-resent a daring oppositional blow to the canons of the [racial] blending myth of Puerto Rican nationality, or is it better seen as yet another example of Puerto Ricans' inability to deal with their long subordinate African legacy?" (p. 35). The Spanish Conquest decimated Puerto Rico's indigenous people by the mid-sixteenth century, and official records declared die Indian extinct by the late eighteenth century. Nonetheless, today's "Tainos" assert that they are both biolog-ical and cultural survivors of this process, and they have successfully negotiated for official recognition by federal agencies and international indigenous rights groups. Given the paucity of information on Puerto Rico's indigenous people, membership is largely based on "natural," rather than social, criteria (p. 104). For example, New Jersey's Taino Inter-Tribal Council requires the submission of 1 x 1 head shots to determine applicants' suitability for two different membership categories, based on approximation of the proper Indian "look": natiao ("blood brothers") or guatiao ("adoptive brothers") (p. 45). The contributors differ greatly in their perspectives, depending on the impli-cations that each believes the Taino movement holds for contesting or confirming the legitimacy of Puerto Rico's continuing colonial condition vis-a-vis the United States and mainland Puerto Ricans' experience as "colonized racial minorities" (p. 117). With the exception of Roberto Mucaro Borrero (who is a Taino leader himself), all argue that Taino resurgence reproduces the values of the European-imposed system of power based on racial purity. However, Gabriel Haslip-Viera and Peter Roberts see the movement as a reaction to marginality that offers little more than short-term, self-serving empowerment. Roberts regards Taino revival-ism as an outgrowth of the tendency among Caribbean groups to morph into new racial identities when faced with social adversity and the enduring appeal of the white ideal. Haslip-Viera equates today's Tainos with other U.S. minority move-ments that claim similarly essentialist identities, such as the Latino Israelites, Black Muslims, and Afrocentrists. In evaluating the political reach of Taino resurgence, Davila and Duany adopt polar views. Focusing on the U.S. context, Davila interprets the Tainos' quest for an alternative memory (that is admittedly based on "hunches") as a discursive inver-sion of formerly oppressive values. However, Duany views Taino resurgence as an "invented tradition" whose greatest impact may be felt on the island. There, claims of Taino heritage advance the idea that nationality exists independent of nation-hood. Despite their differences, Duany and Davila analyze the uses of Taino claims but avoid any interpretation of their content; Miriam Jimenez, however, proves that it is possible to do both. Providing the richest historical analysis of the collection, she brilliantly interprets Taino resurgence against the backdrop of Native Ameri-can movements, as well as internal struggles among island and diaspora Puerto Ricans over questions of race. On the one hand, Tainos seek to "whiten" themselves by silencing blackness as irrelevant to Puerto Ricanness, while simultaneously claim-ing a nonwhite" identity that is not only inherently resistant to the realities of con-quest but also elitist and self-serving. Rather than confront divisions among Puerto 'Ricans that obscure their common cause with other marginalized groups, claimants to Taino identity choose to adopt a Hollywood-style image whose exoticism appeals to mainstream society. Playing Indian on a U.S.-controlled stage, Jimenez con-cludes, allows Tainos to avoid the struggle and the pain of confronting the living legacies of Puerto Ricans' dual colonization, as well as those of slavery and preju-dice against blackness. Finally, Taino leader Mucaro Borrero recaps all these essays through the lens of Taino thought, reflecting in the process the very views and arguments that other contributors question and in some cases, rebuke. He points out that, with the exception of Davila, none of the contributors interviewed real-life Tainos. Although doing so may not have changed much, his remark reveals the poignancy of the problem faced by the scholar-activists whose works make up this volume. In short, this book addresses some of the hardest political and scholarly issues relevant to diaspora societies today. Its elegant embrace of diverse approaches makes it an exciting and unique contribution to Caribbean studies more broadly." -- -- HISPANIC AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

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