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January 24, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix: Famous Puerto Rican?

Time For Kids Almanac 2010My father gave my daughter a copy of the Time For Kids Almanac 2010 because she's just so incredibly awesome and smart (hey, I'm her mom, I'm supposed to say shit like that... although it is true). It contains info on current events, art, science, literature, government, sports, movies and so much more. She's been on kind of a trivia kick lately so I thought it was a great gift.

So we're flipping through it and get to the section on the United States. It has the usual stuff for each state - the capital, the biggest city, the state flower and tree, etc. - and also a famous person from that state. For example...
Famous Californian: Sally Ride, First American woman in space

Famous Idahoan (we really think this should say famous "Ida-hoe" but that's just us): Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore sculptor

Famous New Yorker: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and women's rights advocate (go New York!)

Famous Utahn (yes, "Utahn"): Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television
You get the idea. Then we got the end of the states and noticed that they also had information on U.S. territories and possessions, like Puerto Rico and Guam... and this is what we found:
Famous Puerto Rican: Joaquin Phoenix, actor
Um... what? Joaquin Phoenix is the famous Puerto Rican? Really? That selection just really rubbed me the wrong way.

He is Puerto Rican - he was born in Río Piedras, San Juan - but that was primarily because his parents moved around like crazy. He only lived there until he was four and was raised mainly in the states. He is the only Puerto Rican in his family (River was born in Oregon, Summer in Florida, and Rain in Texas; his mother is of Hungarian/Russian descent and his father is of Irish/Spanish descent). Out of all the famous Puerto Ricans to choose from, they basically found the least "Puerto Rican" Puerto Rican to use as an example.

Now I hope no one takes this the wrong way and gets offended... I'm not trying to say that he isn't a "real" Puerto Rican or anything like that. There's absolutely nothing wrong with him identifying as Puerto Rican or being called Puerto Rican. It just strikes me as odd (and almost racist) that they overlooked so many other other notable Puerto Ricans for the light-skinned, light-eyed (and originally light-haired) Phoenix. It's kind of like calling Charlize Theron "African-American"... yes, she is... but at the same time, she isn't.

So since Time left them out, here are a few other famous Puerto Ricans that are a little more important and influential (and a little more Puerto Rican) than Joaquin Phoenix:

  • Hiram Bithorn (born in Santurce, San Juan) - pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and the first baseball player from Puerto Rico to play Major League Ball
  • Roberto Clemente (born in Carolina) - right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the first Puerto Rican member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • María Bibiana Benítez (born in Aguadilla) - Puerto Rico's first known female poet and one of its first playwrights
  • Jesús Colón (born in Cayey) - writer, known as the Father of the Nuyorican Movement
  • Dr. Maria Cadilla (born in Arecibo) - writer, educator, women rights activist and one the first women in Puerto Rico to earn a doctorate degree
  • Ricky Martin (born in San Juan) - award-winning pop singer who has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide
  • José Rivera (born in Santurce, San Juan) - playwright and the first Puerto Rican screenwriter to be nominated for an Oscar
  • Roman Baldorioty de Castro (born in Guaynabo) - abolitionist and spokesperson for the islands right to self-determination, known as "The Father of Puerto Rico's Autonomy"
  • Herman Badillo (born in Caguas) - the first Puerto Rican to be elected to Congress (New York)
  • Nydia Velázquez (born in Yabucoa)- the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to Congress (New York)
For more: Famous Puerto Ricans

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why are professional athletes and a pop singer more important and influential than Joaquin Phoenix? Maybe they belong on the list because they're "more Puerto Rican" than he is - and I understand what you mean by that, those quotes aren't meant to be snarky. But he's an award-winning actor - an artist that is highly accomplished in his field.

Sure, our culture idolizes actors to a degree that is ridiculous. But by that logic, Ricky Martin and a couple of overpaid pro athletes don't belong on this list of accomplished activists and politicians either.

Lilith said...

You know it's funny you mention Ricky Martin, because I debated whether or not to include him on the list... I did because he is possibly one of the most famous Puerto Ricans in pop culture today.

The real issue I had with the Almanac was not that Joaquin Phoenix is unimportant, but that there are so many other Puerto Rican people they could have chosen instead. If they really wanted to go with someone that was an entertainer/celebrity that the kids would know, Ricky Martin would've been a more logical choice.

I don't think he's necessarily more important than Joaquin Phoenix (you could make the argument that he is, but I'm not going to make that argument) but he's definitely more "Puerto Rican" which was the main point of the blog.

However I think Bithorn and Clemente do belong on that list, because they aren't just a couple of pro-athletes. They are, respectively, the first Puerto Rican to play Major League Ball and the first Puerto Rican in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Obviously the actual list of famous Puerto Ricans is miles longer than the names I listed, but I just wanted to give a little sampling of some interesting people.

ceirdwenfc said...

I really like your analogy to Charlize Theron. That's perfect.

And here's my question: Does Joaquin himself identify as a Puerto Rican?

I also learned something new: I thought Roberto Clemente was Cuban.

And finally, can I just toss out five words for you?

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Lilith said...

I didn't include Sotomayor because while she is of Puerto Rican descent she wasn't born in Puerto Rico - she was born in New York. (Phoenix on the other hand, was born in Puerto Rico but is not of Puerto Rican descent.)

Anonymous said...

Hey this is the same "anonymous" from the first comment.

Thanks Lilith for the clarification on what you meant, and I wholeheartedly agree. If they were going to go with an entertainer/artist, they could have at least called up a more "legitimately" Puerto Rican name.

Also, ditto on Charlize Theron being a great comparison.

ceirdwenfc said...

Sorry about that.

I actually knew that she wasn't born in Puerto Rico, but I was thinking descent.

Anonymous said...

I think that your point is very valid. I am a Puerto Rican and I had no clue that Joaquin Phoenix was from Puerto Rico. It's not strange though, that american magazines have no clue what to publish about us. Im in awe that they even mention us! I'm not suggesting that ALL americans are ignorants towards Puerto Rico but, if you compare our case to the rest of the US states, you'll have to agree that there's not that much info available about us. Then again, I'm more inclined to think that they would have related us more with Ricky Martin and his "Living la Vida Loca". At least he DOES consider himself a proud Puerto Rican.

Anonymous said...

Sally Ride - American? She was born in the US but comes from a Norweigan background. She's not American enough for me so I don't consider her the first American woman in space.

Gutzon Borglum - Just look at that name! His parents are from Denmark. He's not really an "Idahoan" even more so since his family moved to Nebraska from Idaho when he was only seven years old.

You want to rank people by how American or how Puerto Rican or how African-American they are? Joaquin Phoenix is less Puerto Rican than Ricky Martin? Is Obama more or less African-American than Charlize Theron? Am I less Mexican-American because I am white?

Lilith said...

Point taken, but you're missing the point. It's not that Joaquin Phoenix isn't Puerto Rican enough to be called so. It's just the tiniest bit racist that they chose him over so many other famous Puerto Ricans as the only example. Charlize Theron may be from Africa, but if a children's book used her as the only example of a famous African, it would be pretty offensive. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone, but you wouldn't expect to see him in a children's almanac under Panama.

Yes, Joaquin Phoenix was born in Puerto Rico but is he the best person to hold up as a representative of Puerto Rico? Of course not. (Not that Ricky Martin necessarily is, but he has done commercials for PR.) Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. but it's more than just one of the states so it's silly to make selections based solely on birth place alone.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a complicated issue. On one hand, the almanac is picking one person from a whole state (or territory) so maybe people expect a certain image of someone from Puerto Rico but on the other hand, this also just reinforces a certain stereotype if the person becomes a representative for the whole state or territory. Not all Puerto Ricans looks or sound or can sing or dance or have the money of Ricky Martin.

Similarly, if Charlize Theron was listed as a famous African-American I actually think it would open a wonderful discussion if there was a white African-American. Africa is a huge continent with vast range of people and cultures. Someone reading about Charlize Theron could learn about how white people came to inhabit South Africa and what the consequences were for black Africans. I don't think anyone should represent a whole state, country and certainly not a whole continent. But if they're going to do it, I think breaking stereotypes is a good first step to understanding how diverse the world actually is.

I'm not saying Time chose Joaquin Phoenix to break stereotypes. I just don't think it make sense to quibble about him not being a good enough representative for PR. I like breaking stereotypes and this is just an opportunity for that.

Lilith said...

I'm all for breaking stereotypes, but I just think that we're getting into touchy territory when "breaking stereotypes" basically translates to replacing people of color with white celebrities.

Anonymous said...

He was born in Puerto Rico because his parents were friggin missionaries!!!!! If he wants to call himself Puerto Rican that's fine, but I think there's reason enough not to hold him up as an example of a famous Puerto Rican. geeeeeez

wanda said...

Wow! I was doing research for a documentary I'm doing about Puerto Rican pride and identity, and I came across this blog that touches on topics I'm discussing.
I interviewed a couple of Puerto Rican historians who says that to be Puerto Rican is not whether or not you are born on the island, it's what's in your heart.
Of course, it doesn't hurt if it flows through your veins, too!
I would like to include this blog in my BFA presentation as an example of how the topic is debated.
May I have the originators permission to do so?
Here's a link to the teaser of the documentary: http://www.vimeo.com/wandasantosbray
The teaser is entitled "I Want Some Rice and Beans...NOT frijoles!"

Lilith said...

Yes, you have permission to reference this blog entry in your work. (Please give credit to Evil Slutopia and/or ESC Forever Media). Thank you! Best of luck on your documentary.

De León said...

I cannot believe someone thought Roberto Clemente was Cuban, and you call yourself Puerto Rican, I bet you spell Boricua with a Q...next thing your going to tell me is that you thought Miguel Cotto was a figure skater and Puerto Rico is a communist country,lol

Lilith said...

De León, I'm not completely sure who your comment is for.

The person who thought Clemente was Cuban didn't say they were Puerto Rican (and as far as we know, they aren't). A few commenters did mention being Puerto Rican, but they didn't say anything to make you think they were ignorant about the things you mentioned.

And I don't think knowing who Miguel Cotto is is a necessarily a requirement of calling oneself Puerto Rican. (Maybe it's a requirement of calling oneself a Puerto Rican boxing fan.)

Anonymous said...

I understand you feel there are alot of notable Puerto Ricans than Joaquin Pheonix. I believe their are too, but you are suggesting that because he is light skinned it is ridiculous to list him as a Puerto Rican. Puerto Ricans come in many races. White, Black and Indian. Those are the races that make up the country, just like in this great nation of the United States. Not recognizing him as a true Puerto Rican is like saying all people whose parents are from other countries but were born here are not real Americans. That would be false. If we were to go with your assessment, there would be no Americans but the American Indians. All of us who were born here should consider ourselves members of the country our parents came from. Let me tell you something, those countries would not consider us true citizens of their countries. Joaquin Phoenix has more right to call Puerto Rico his homeland and himself Puerto Rican than those of us born in the grea U.S.A. That is his homeland. Maybe more Puerto Ricans should start considering themselves Americans and take pride in their homeland of U.S.A, if they were born here. Because America is their nationality. Look it up, nationality.

Lilith said...

We know that Puerto Ricans (and Latinos in general) come in a variety of colors and races. And we also know that one's nationality is different than their ethnicity, race, or background.

However, you're missing the point... It's not that Joaquin Phoenix isn't Puerto Rican enough to be called so.

While he certainly has the right to identify as Puerto Rican, as someone else has mentioned, he was only born in Puerto Rico because his parents were there briefly as missionaries.

So it's just a little odd that they chose him over all the other alternatives.

mariel said...

Funny thing... Out of curiosity and admiration, I googled Joaquin Phoenix + Puerto Rico, just to check if he (or any interview) ever actually talked about his nationality or childhood, and this blog came out... I totally get what you mean, Lilith... Ricky Martin should have been one of their top choices, or at least Benicio del Toro, or Clemente.

What the heck, even JLO or Marc Anthony! now I'm kidding...

PS: You could add Joseph Acaba, Rita Moreno, Jose Ferrer, and Cheo Feliciano to your personal list.

mariel said...

Sorry, I meant Jose Feliciano!!! (They both share the name Jose Feliciano, since Cheo is a nickname for Jose)

Although Cheo Feliciano is also a locally recognized artist, I meant to bring out Jose Feliciano, a blind Puerto Rican singer, talented guitarist and composer. He wrote the Xmas song "Feliz Navidad"... "I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart", remember?????

I'm glad you all took the time to discuss and clarify this subject... I was also surprised to find out that PR was included in the Almanac! We are usually forgotten. For example, Apple said recently they would send free cases to the new iPhone 4 owners, well they canceled free case orders from users in Puerto Rico, because they "do not ship to international, freight forwarder, APO, FPO, or P.O. Box addresses." Valid reasons? We'll see. The Consumer Affairs Department is working on that. Sorry for changing the subject, I just wanted to illustrate a typical situation we face as a territory.

Now back to the topic, Top 3: Jose Ferrer, Rita Moreno, and Ricky Martin...

Saludos desde PR!

PS: Lilith, don't forget Raul Julia! It's a really long list

Víctor Domínguez said...

This is to the "Anonymous" that mentioned that we Puerto Ricans" should start considering ourselves Americans and take pride because that is our nationality". Sorry bud. I was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. I am proud to be Puerto Rican. My nationality is Puerto Rican and my country is Puerto Rico. American citizenship was forced on us without our consent. American control was forced on us without our consent (look it up: Treaty of Paris 1898). The only thing American about me is the English language Im typing this in so that you Sir, could understand. I speak Spanish, Taino, English, Arabic and bits and pieces of a few other languages. What do you speak? Do not assume that being an American is better than being anything else. That is the "ugly American" syndrome that Americans are so well known for. Americans have managed to deculturulize many Puerto Ricans in the last 112 years through Americanization. But as long as there are others like me who learn and know the true history of the US/Puerto Rico relationship, there will always be a hope for Puerto Rico. I am NOT anti-American, I actually love and respect the US. I served 7 years in the Army as an Army Ranger and Im very proud of that. But just as the US has it's good qualities, it also has it's bad qualities. The way the US has mistreated and abused Puerto Rico is just one example of what one country with too much power can do. You want another example? Look up United States vs. The Republic of Nicaragua (United States International Court of Justice case). That case and what immediately happened afterwards shows (sadly) the pompousness of the country that you feel that we Puerto Ricans should embrace.

wanda said...

I agree with Victor's comment.
After doing a whole lot of research for my documentary, I've learned more than I had ever imagined I would about how poorly Puerto Rico was treated by the United States.
The complexity of pride to be American comes into play as Puerto Rico is part of the United States but is not a state.

Anonymous contends pride to be synonymous with where a person is actually born. Is this the case with so many other cultures whose place of origin is known for great human atrocities like that of the German who still struggles with pride because of the holocaust?
One can argue that it's not the same, but in my opinion it is.

On the topic of identifying with one's culture due to their place of birth, how can you compare one person's pride to another based on that alone? Joaquin may have been born in Puerto Rico but that doesn't mean that he should be more proud to claim that as his homeland anymore than me saying I should be proud to be a New Yorker just because I was born and raised there.

Here's an example that you can also consider; one of which is very personal: while serving as an Army soldier stationed in Germany I gave birth to my son there. He is a United States citizen born abroad.
Because he was born in Germany does that mean he has more right to claim Germany as his homeland more than a German born in the United States? No.
Why? Because he was only born there to American parents.
And to make things more complicated, one of his parents is a "Puerto Rican" from New York City, and the other is an African American from Tennessee.
Now, how should he be referred to?
For that matter, how should any of us be referred to knowing that at any given point we can be born anywhere in the world to parents who don't actually reside in that place?

I've said a mouth full and while I have more to say, I'll await your comments to continue my rant! :-)

Anonymous said...

Just because he was born in Puerto Rico does not make him Puerto Rican. His parents are not from Puerto Rica decent at all. For example, I was born in Tracy but I was raised in Puerto Rican. My parents are both in Puerto Rican. Just because I was born in Tracy does not make me American. But hey I this.k it's cool he was born in PR