Hip Hop to Reggaeton

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Raquel Rivera, Ph.D, Research Fellow at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, delivered a lecture on Thursday, September 18th entitled From Hip Hop to Reggaeton: Gender, Blogging, and Pedagogy.

The talk, which was part of the Latino Heritage Month events, focused upon Dr. Rivera’s struggle with the representations of gender in the hip hop and reggaeton communities, as well as her use of blogging as an “outlet” to tackle these difficult issues, “It’s so difficult to talk about gender and sexuality in the classroom, that’s why I started to blog,” she explained.

Born in Puerto Rico, and a resident of New York City since 1994, Rivera is the author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone, which was published in 2003, and is currently co-editing the anthology, Reading Reggaeton: Historical, Aesthetic and Critical Perspectives. She is also an accomplished freelance writer, with essays appearing in Vibe, Urban Latino, The San Juan Star, El Nuevo Dia, and One World, to name a few. A former founding member of Yerbabuena, a Boricua roots music group, Rivera currently works with the bomba group Alma Moyo, as well as being a founding member of Yaya, a women’s collective dedicate to Dominican salves and Puerto Rican bomba.

While teaching a class on hip hop and reggaeton in 2006, Dr. Rivera realized that many students felt that they could not express their real opinions about gender relations as related to these musical styles, and instead they obligingly parroted politically correct phrases that denounced the objectification of women.

The Swarthmore students assembled for the discussion agreed, citing a “level of disengagement” on campus. It is this exact problem that troubles Rivera, that “we keep talking past each other” when discussing the portrayal of women in popular music videos and media. “The problem is not explicit sex,” she explained, “it’s sexism,” and asked the assembled students for their opinions. A topic of particular interest is the mixed feelings many female students feel as they are torn between liking a song’s beat, but not the message.

Rivera agreed and called for “a diversity in the images we consume” that can portray the many nuances of femininity. She pointed out that sexism is a “systematic problem,” and encouraged students to devote themselves to combating these issues.

The assembled crowd enjoyed Rivera’s engaging speaking style, which was informal and encouraged discussion and questions. Using an array of media examples, including music videos, documentaries, and her own blog entries, Rivera engaged her audience; Cecilia Marquez (’11) says, “I thought she was a really powerful speaker. She talked about a lot of things relevant to this community.” For more information about Rivera, visit her blog, here.

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