Episode 16: West Side Story (1961)
The history of Puerto Rican migration to New York City, the tradition of the Hollywood musical, and how West Side Story broke the mold. We also discuss brownface, compulsory heterosexuality, and the role of discrimination in (white) cultural assimilation.
- Becoming “Nuyorican”: The History of Puerto Rican Migration to NYC by Gemma Solomons
- Operation Bootstrap from Lehman College
- Puerto Rican Emigration: Why the 1950s? From Lehman College
- Puerto Rico’s Operation Bootstrap by Juan Ruiz Toro
- Inside West Side Story by David La Fontaine
- The Singing Box (Audio) by NPR’s Radiolab (starts at 56:30)
- West Side Story: Homosexual Space Opera at Its Finest by Edmund Yeo
- How Italians Became ‘White’ by Brent Staples
In an effort to explore a more accurate portrayal of the Puerto Rican culture than West Side Story, we reached out to PR artist Ronnie Garcia (@coquiwi on Twitter) for recommendations on further reading/study outside of the film. (Aside from In The Heights, which we mention on the episode, and you should absolutely seek out.) Here are Ronnie’s recommendation:
- You can watch a documentary on Puerto Rican rapper Residente on Netflix, which explores the island and his ancestry. https://www.netflix.com/title/80184547
- For a quick view into the Puerto Rican culture and modern-day struggles that the island still experiences, check out the Anthony Bourdain “Parts Unknown” episode: https://www.netflix.com/watch/81027422
- PBS’s “Black in Latin America” series explores the history of racism and colorism in Latin America: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/black-in-latin-america/
- “Black and Latino Youtube” posted by Waleska Batista interviews AfroLatinx celebrities and their experience with living on that intersection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww8rLp2i90s
We hope you’ll listen to the episode, and then do more watching/reading/learning to understand what a vast, beautiful galaxy of Puerto Rican culture exists outside of the musical – go forth and learn!