Puerto Rican Culture in I Like It Like That
By Orlando H. Brenes
"Through a history dating back to the pre-Hispanic Indian migrations, the arrival of Spanish power in the fifteenth century, and the early African presence in the growing colony, Puerto Rico was settled with human beings whose roots became entwined in a rich cultural pattern" (Carrion p.319). Puerto Rico has been through a continuous cultural evolution sine the 1400's. Many domestic and foreign influences affected this evolution; therefore, there are several factors that have contributed to the gradual development of Puerto Rico's culture. First of all, Puerto Rico lived under the influence of Spain for four centuries, but even when it was later occupied by the United States still carrying the "imprint of Spanish literary and artistic trends" (Carrion p.320) of Spain. Furthermore, during the years of the Puerto Rican conquest and colonization, there was a mixture of Black, Spanish, and Indian elements "enriching the ethnic and spiritual structure of the population" (Carrion p.320). Finally, Puerto Rico, being a possession of the United States, has been and still is influenced by the American culture or the American "way of life." Although Puerto Rico's native tongue is Spanish, the United States has introduced the English language in many educational institutions. Through the constant promotion of the English language and a policy of bilingual education, Puerto Ricans' cultural beliefs about language and education are slowly being altered. All these factors play an important role in the development of Puerto Ricans' culture, but the fact still remains that Puerto Rico possesses a unique culture with a rich blending of many ideas. This unique culture is stunningly portrayed in Darnell Martin's story about a young woman and the struggles she faces living in the South Bronx. Martin successfully presents this culture in three basic categories of music, fashion, and sexuality.
Every country has a rhythm that it moves to and forms the soul of the countryís spirit. Puerto Rico is filled with many rich blends of rhythms ranging from the continuous hum of the "Coqui" to the up-beat sounds of merengue. However, Puerto Ricoís soul is fueled by the harmonious and beautiful Afro-Caribbean sounds of Salsa. Since the early 1800ís, Puerto Rico has borrowed classical musical styles from Cuba while creating some of its own "dynamic folk and contemporary popular music." Today, Puerto Rico has a rich mixture of Cuban sounds, including danzon, son, guaracha, rumba, and bolero as well as some of its own musical genres like the seis, bomba, and plena.
Salsa has been part of Nuyorican culture as far back as 1920 when Puerto Ricanís began to migrate to New York City and remained ever since. In the 1940ís, many Nuyorican artists such as Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe, and Willie Colon stepped up to claim the Salsero title. In 1964, a Dominican salsero initiated the rise of Salsa. Johnny Pacheco, a very well--known Salsa artist who has sung with other stars, such as Oscar de Leon, Andy Montana, and Celia Cruz, started a "fledging independent label" called Fania. Distributing records from the trunk of his car to area stores, Pacheco paved the path for artists who were struggling to find a home for their music. He also set a starting point for future salseros who would soon begin modernizing Salsa as it was at the time. Then, starting from 1967, Jerry Masucci, an Italian-American lawyer, took over Fania records and began recording and promoting records that were popular among the Latino population. Fania recorded and promoted albums for many of Salsaís greatest veterans such as Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, and Ruben Blades. These artists performed in an era where their Salsa was known as Salsa Caliente. However, by the late 1970ís, Salsa Caliente was no longer in popular demand as it once was when in first began in the 60's. A new generation of listeners and artists started to emerge and salsa "abandoned its portrayals of barrio reality in favor of sentimental love lyrics" (p.1). This new sub-genre of salsa is known as Salsa Romantica. Salseros such as Eddie Santiago, Luis Enrique, and Lalo Rodriguez were one of the first artists to begin this transition from musica caliente to musica romantica. Today, Salsa Romantica maintains its popularity with its new wave of stars such as Marc Anthony, La India, Jerry Rivera, and Victor Manuelle attracting old as well as young salsa fans around the world.
Although Puerto Rico has been through a significant musical evolution within the past 30 years, Salsa has kept the title as the country's "ritmo latino." In the 1920's, Puerto Rican migration was on the rise and along with them followed the music. They came to New York attempting to settle down and many of them ended up in The South Bronx. Their latin rhythms because Salsa became a symbolic language of the real life environments, feelings, and beliefs that existed in the Puerto Rican culture within the South Bronx soon influenced its neighborhoods.
When the Puerto Ricans migrated to New York, particularly the South Bronx, they were introduced to a new way of living. They quickly became introduced with the ghettos and the struggles that many faced living there. Puerto Ricans immediately responded to this way of living through their language and rhythm of Salsa. When Salsa Caliente was still popular, many salsa artists, who came from El Barrio, expressed the conditions they were living in through their aggressive Afro-Caribbean sounds of salsa. Artists like Willie Colon, who was raised in the Bronx, and singer/actor Ruben Blades, turned their lyrics into a story about the struggles in the life of an average Puerto Rican citizen. While these artists expressed their thoughts about the environment they were living in through salsa, other salsa artists expressed more emotional feelings about their aspirations for the future, the patriotism towards their country, and romance. This new style of Salsa was an escape from the realities of the Puerto Rican communities. A very prominent artist has been able to powerfully convey his feelings on what he wishes to aspire in the future. Victor Manuelle vocally conveys to his listeners his desire to someday become one of the best of the best such as Hector Lavoe, Ismael Miranda, and Cheo Feliciano. Gloria Estefan expresses her sentimental feelings towards her country in Mi Tierra and Marc Anthony performs various songs about a love gone sour in his album Otra Nota. These are issues that many Puerto Rican listeners can relate can identify with. So far, Salsa has been a symbolic language of the real life environments that exist in the Bronx as well as a symbolic language that expresses the peoples feeling on various issues. Salsa is also a symbolic language expressing any beliefs that the people may have. New wave salsa artist Jerry Rivera expresses his belief in Christ in his song Gracias. Rivera sings about a very close friend that he admires very much and it is not until the end of the song that we find out that he is referring to Christ.
In Puerto Rico, Salsa was and still is part of the Latino heritage and culture. Once migration took place, Salsa began to take on many new symbolic meanings. It was no longer just part of Puerto Rico's artistic culture, but a symbolic language used by the people to express their thoughts about where they came from, where they are now, and where they are headed.
Salsa's cultural influence has been studied by all types of artists with the intent to depict this influence through paintings, novels, television shows, film, etc. Although many have tried, no other artist has been able to capture, so accurately, the cultural influence that Salsa has had the way, writer/director, Darnell Martin has. In her Columbia pictures release, "I Like It Like That," Darnell Martin makes references to various salsa artists and songs in order to show salsa as a symbolic language in the lives of Lissete and her Findlay Avenue neighborhood. One scene where Martin successfully captures concept, is the scene where Lisette locks herself in the bathroom to get away from her role as a mother, the reality that her husband is in jail, and the many other outside pressures that the society she lives in creates.
After Lisette goes to see Chino in jail, she returns to a home with two spoiled children and an annoying mother-in-law. Only being able to put up with so much, she explodes with anger and locks herself in the bathroom. Being tortured by the annoying voice of her mother-in-law, the selfish screams of her kids, and the furious banging of the downstairs neighbor, Lisette turns to salsa as her way of escape and expression. She quickly turns to the worn-out radio hanging on the wall and turns the volume up yelling out the words to the song Si Tu No Te Fueras. This song sang by, Salsa Romantica star, Marc Anthony, is Lisette's escape from the real world. She loses herself in the romantic rhythms, blocking out the frustrating sounds of her harsh reality. Si Tu No Te Fueras serves as an escape for Lisette, but it also serves as a way of expression. Marc Anthony's lyrics ponder upon how would it be like if a loved one did not leave you. Lisette can relate to what is being expressed in the song because her husband is in jail and she is left alone struggling to handle her responsibilities on her own. Darnell cleverly places this song in this scene because it looks almost as if Lisette were expressing her thoughts about her husband's confinement with the music playing in the background in order to set the mood for the audience. It is as if she were talking out loud expressing how much easier things would be if Chino was with her and was not forced to leave.
Salsa plays a very important role in the lives of many Puerto Ricans all over the world. This is successfully illustrated in Darnell Martin's film through her characters. Salsa has been influencing generation after generation and it will continue to do so as long as Puerto Rico is still alive and well in the hearts of its people.
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Anonymous. "Strictly Salsa... Puerto Rican Origins." Online. Webcrawler. April
Carrion, M. Arturo. Puerto Rico. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.,