I was a respondent at the John's Hopkins University's History and Africana Studies Department Bound/Unbound: Contemporary Black Marriage in Research, Policy, and Practice two-day Symposium. I spoke about AfrxBoricuas: Black Puerto Ricans. Here's what I shared, my references, and my suggested citation for attributing this work. View my presentation and the keynote and first panel below. My presentation begins at 2 hour mark / where -44.32.
Laureano, Bianca. (2018, March 8). Bound By Colonization: The AfrxBoricua Kinship and Courtship Practices. [Blog Post] Retrieved from: http://latinosexuality.blogspot.com/2018/03/bound-by-colonization-afrxboricua.html.
Tera W. Hunter shares the various ways that intimate relationships were seen on a continuum. The various ways that enslaved Black loves built kinship, family, and marriage included terms such as:
- “sweethearting,” a romantic relationship w some of the benefits of marriage and being single combined
- “Taking up,” a longer term relationship where the partners lived together and were monogamous
- “Cohabitation” couples shared financial resources and responsibilities, surnames, and were monogamous
- “Acting married” a term used by whites to target Black people and identify their relationships as a sign of disrespect, incapacity, failure to assimilate
Many of these forms of loverships remain today. They also were present in colonies where other empires who engaged in exploration and conquest; brought enslaved Africans for their labor and bodies to exploit. One of these colonies has remained Puerto Rico: a colony of Spain and now the United States. Puerto Rico is an archipelago. Similar forms of kinship were explored and remain for the Puerto Rican today. Now that Hurricanes Irma and Maria have hit, what are we prepared to do to support and honor the displaced Puerto Rican families, kinship, and lovers? What are the ways we can build and preserve new archives that are waterproof? What rituals of partnership do AfrxBoricuas still practice and why are their testimonios important for inclusion today? These questions I would like us to ask each other and ourselves.
How many of these forms of family, lovership, and flexible ideas of marriage, which are practiced by the Boricua, become forms of resistance today? What is the AfraBoricua / Puerto Rican resisting today? I believe that Puerto Ricans are resisting the continued exploitation, colonization, forced migration, forced displacement, assimilation, white supremacy, catholicism, and sterilization they have been birthed into. Hunter shares that generational differences led to a shift with younger ex-slaves moving toward legal marriage whereas elders supported more loose forms of coupling. That same elder and ancestor wisdom is what remains practiced in Puerto Rico.
Classic assimilation patterns are rooted in being absorbed into the dominant culture. It has been an area of research interest and focus for scholars in all fields of study. When looking at the marriage and courtship practices of ex-slaves, immigrants in the US, and colonial subjects, there is a pattern of resistance that the Puerto Rican consistently maintains. Cohabitation in research literature in the US has noted that cohabitating couples are unstable, harm children’s overall educational outcomes, and are not ideal in the US. Puerto Rican children living in a family structure that is different from the married heterosexual biological-parent family structure do not necessarily fare worse according to the Youth Boricua Study, a project of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry that examines the experiences of Puerto Rican youth in the US and in the mainland of Puerto Rico.
Examining the psychiatric disorders among Puerto Rican children, researchers Olga Santesteban-Echarri, et.al, examined responses from the Boricua Youth Study and published findings in 2016 that demonstrated Puerto Rican children in cohabiting families have access to community and resources; two things that are believed to not be stable for cohabiting families. Because Puerto Ricans embrace and practice cohabitation differently than other Latinx immigrants who value marriage, there is no finding that shifting from a cohabiting family to a marriage or a step-family / blended family situation results in negative psychological experiences for Puerto Rican children. Community as resource is what Puerto Rican’s still value.
The pathway to citizenship also differs in comparison to other Latinx, Caribbean, or Black immigrants. Puerto Ricans were forced citizenship in 1917 so the pathway to citizenship via marriage is not important for the Puerto Rican. As Hunter writes “the ultimate test of how individuals define their relationship may have been how they acted within a community of friends, neighbors, and kin.” Puerto Ricans on the isla, which to us is the mainland, still practice and embrace these communal and collective forms of coupling and family formation.
Yet citizenship for the queer AfraBoricua is not what it seems. Between 2008-2014 Gilbert Gonzales examined the health insurance coverage of Puerto Ricans in same gender coupling and found that they are not able to access full forms of employee benefits such as health insurance as cohabiting or common law couples because of homophobia and discrimination. Puerto Rican Maternal and Infant Health Study of 2001 demonstrated that cohabiting Puerto Rican couples who pool financial resources have been found to be just as equitable in nature as formal marriages.
My mother Ivette Laureano Nieves De Jesus, who died in Puerto Rico March 1, 2016, it’s been 105 motherless weeks, shared with my sister and I often that we “did not ever have to get married” and that we should “first live with someone to get to know them.” She and my Papi would share the same testimony and remind us that they left Puerto Rico together to dream bigger, explore more, and find new paths. They seperated when I was 16 years old and divorced when I was 33 because my mother had health insurance and wanted my father to not be uninsured. They remained family even as they shifted our family structure. When my father remarried his agreement with his current wife Linda, a Puerto Rican-German woman, was that my mother is his family and anything Ivette needs he will help her get it, even if it means moving her into their home as her Alzheimer's progresses. Linda agreed to have my father’s first wife, my mother, move into her home with my father if my mother needed care. She agreed for her husbands ex-wife to be cared for in her home. Let that sink in. That's my machismo That’s what community restitution is for the Puerto Rican.
As the bodies and bones and remains of our dead Puerto Rican ancestors emerge from their graves with the water and are unearth and resisting their erasure, what are the ways we today can create new paths for Puerto Rican family formation to be honored and nurtured? Hunter offers a variety of ways to preserve and reimagine codes of courtship, love, citizenship, home, and place all within a framework that begins and ends within the African diaspora.
How are we preparing to preserve a waterproof archive that humanizes the agency within constraints, as Iris Lopez writes, of the AfraBoricua body in ecstasy, survival, here. I’m no longer dreaming in Puerto Rican, I’ve been displaced from Puerto Rico for 24 years. It’s a constant nightmare where there is no decolonization - giving the land back to the people. I need to dream through the rest of you because my family is actively becoming extinct as we speak. I ask each of you today: What are your dreams for Puerto Rico and for the preservation of family formation that our enslaved elders cherished?
Brown, Susan L., Van Hook, Jennifer, Glick, Jennifer E. (2008). Generational Differences in Cohabitation and Marriage in the US. Popul Res Policy Rev. Oct; 27(5): 531–550.
Hunter, Tera W. (2017). Bound In Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage In the Nineteenth Century. Belknap Press.
Gonzales, Gilbert. (2017). Health Insurance Coverage among Puerto Rican Adults in Same-Sex Relationships. J of Healthcare for the Poor and Underserved. 28(3). pp. 915-930.
Santesteban-Echarri, O., Eisenberg, E. Ruth, Bird, Hector R., Canino, Glorisa J.. Duarte, Cristiane S. (2016). Family Structure, Transitions and Psychiatric Disorders Among Puerto Rican Children. J Child Fam Stud. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2017 November 1.