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Pragmatic Embodiment: Race, Class, Gender and Religious Experience in the Puerto Rican Imaginary

Coleman, Ashley Erin (2016)
Dissertation (197 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Snarey, John R
Committee Members: Stewart, Dianne M ; Seeman, Don
Research Fields: Religion; Black studies; Gender studies
Keywords: Puerto Rican Studies; Religious Experience; Black Embodiment
Program: Laney Graduate School, Religion (Person, Community and Religious Practices)
Permanent url: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/rs98c

Abstract

Pragmatic Embodiment: Race, Class, Gender, and Religious Experience in the Puerto Rican Imaginary, demonstrates how Black women in a predominately black town and an Afro-Puerto Rican dance/drumming community create their own ideas of blackness, womanhood, African ancestry, and black female embodiment against a backdrop of racism, sexism, and classism within the larger, dominant Puerto Rican narrative. Drawing upon a diversity of ethnographic methods, I argue that black women on the island occupy a positionality incoherent with what is commonly accepted as "truly" Puerto Rican and they remain the "other" in a nation whose identity is built upon the ideology of a mixed racial utopia.

Methodologically, Pragmatic Embodiment uses participant observation, individual semi-structured interviews, and open-ended interviews in order to gather narrative data about the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, religiosity, class, and ethnicity. My research with Puerto Rican women of the African Diaspora illuminated two significant findings. First, blackness and Africanness are two separate yet related conceptualizations. The Puerto Ricans in my study express a scripted understanding of their ancestry--after speaking to people on the island about race, it is not hard to notice a common refrain of "Puerto Ricans are a mixture of Spanish, Taino, and African," which erroneously depicts a racial utopia with an absence of racism. The African element remains part of distant, historical folklore while blackness exists today, yet only relegated to certain parts of the island like the predominately black town of Loiza. My second finding demonstrates that blackness and the stereotypes associated with blackness are localized not only in Loiza, but also localized in the body of the black woman. Unlike Africanness, which is in one's bloodline and therefore inseparable from Puerto Ricanness, blackness is distanced, and relegated to certain sites. My work redresses the intersectional oppressive realities of black women within Puerto Rican culture.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION 9

CHAPTER I.
PRAGMATIC EMBODIMENT AND METHODOLOGY 31

CHAPTER II.
MEJORAR LA RAZA: A HISTORY OF RACE AND
RELIGION IN PUERTO RICO 51

CHAPTER III.
RACIALIZED PROPERTY IN PUERTO RICO 86

CHAPTER IV.

BLACK FEMINIST PRAGMATISM AND THE STUDY OF AFRICAN DIASPORA RELIGIONS 122

CHAPTER V.

TANGIBILITY AND HEALING IN BOMBA 152

CONCLUSION 185

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