Puerto Rican Music in the United States

1712 Words4 Pages

Puerto Rican Music in the United States

Music has always been a pervasive symbol of identity. It is a mode of expression that crosses gender, ethnicity and age. One need not understand the lyrics to identify with a musical genre; identification can be found through rhythm, tone of music, as well as other techniques in the music, unrelated to words. For example, most operas are in Italian and obviously everyone that attends an opera, does not speak or understand Italian. However, the audience is moved by the emotion conveyed through tone, facial expressions, and beat of the music. I believe this is relevant to the situation of Puerto Rican forms of music, and its success when Puerto Rican musicians migrated to the United States. Original forms had to be adopted to become popular in the United States, often assuming a heavier dance beat, but when the songs and musicians did become popular, it was not because a majority of Americans understood the lyrics in Spanish. For Americans, it was because the music provided lively background entertainment. However, for the Puerto Ricans, it meant much more. The music symbolized their background and struggles, what it means to be Puerto Rican.

In New York, Puerto Rican musical traditions evolved in accordance with societal change. This was necessary in a society, as Glasser describes “where Puerto Ricans lived among a constellation of constantly changing ethnic groups within a protean social environment”(Glasser, 7). In Puerto Rico there are diverse groups, with different traditions of politics, economics, and music. When Puerto Ricans migrate to the United States, they unite under an identity as “Puerto Ricans” but there is still diversity within. Furthermore, I believe it is the Ameri...

... middle of paper ...

... difficult as Americans commercialized the entire profession and employment became near obsolete for those trained musicians. In the U.S. music serves as a representation of the identity of the Puerto Rican, just as it does for other cultures. Puerto Ricans became disillusioned at the prospect of remaining in Puerto Rico as Rafael Hernández sang- “Piensa remediar la situación/del hogar, que es toda una ilusión.” (Glasser, 165) Music provides a socially acceptable way to express disgust and disillusionment with the status quo and communicate one's identity.


Glasser, Ruth, My Music is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians in New York and their Communities, 1917-1940. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

Oct. 29: Puerto Rican Music Between Rafael Hernandez and Rafael Cortijo. Guest Lecture by Prof. Lise Waxer, Music Dept., Trinity College

More about Puerto Rican Music in the United States

Open Document