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El Nuevo Círculo Dramatico, founded in 1953, staged when translated into English, tells of a family of rural peasants from Puerto Rico who migrate to the US to find better employment opportunities. This story calls to the life stories of many Puerto Rican migrants living in New York City at the time and many Latinx immigrants or migrants in the US today.Puerto Rican artists Marqués, Colón, and Rodríguez are responsible for a moment in which a marginalized group of people took to the stage with their own voice and platform.
The Puerto Rican voice of the 1950s was stolen and rewritten for appropriated consumption.
may seem, on the surface, like inclusivity in storytelling and characters, which was great and relatively true for the 1950s.
Maria is Puerto Rican and shares a romance story with Tony, a member of the “Jets” gang that is as described in the libretto, “an anthology of what is called ‘American.’”Let’s actually get into that first.
The gangs are divided initially and ultimately by their race.
The culprit: the popular Shakespearean inspired musical, White male creators Jerome Robbins (conceived idea/Broadway director and choreographer), Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics), Arthur Laurents (book) were, unsurprisingly, unable to truly represent the Puerto Rican US American story that is the migration to New York City from rural areas in Puerto Rico.
Instead, the Puerto Rican story these creators presented was that of gang violence and whitewashed casting.Puerto Rico’s status as an unincorporated territory of the United States also aided in the encouragement to migrate.It is important to make the distinction between “migrants” and “immigrants” because Puerto Rico was, and still is, an unincorporated territory of the United States.Marqués, Colón, and Rodríguez were three working Puerto Rican theatre artists in 1950s New York City.In this essay, I seek to compare these two plays and look at the history of Puerto Ricans migrating to New York in order to better understand an example of cultural appropriation in the arts, its effects, its telltale signs, and some lessons for the future.Months later, as this essay makes its way to Howl Round in this time of visibly heightened white supremacy and based on a topic during a time period that occurred more than half a century ago, its message is still extremely relevant in thinking about how we can counter white supremacy in our arts, on our stages, and in our legacies.In 1950s New York City, the Puerto Rican community experienced an arts and culture appropriation that has continued to shape the way many people view Puerto Rican migrants and descendants in the United States.Furthermore, taking a closer look at this important migration moment in the history of the United States reveals an overlooked story of Puerto Ricans from the mid-twentieth century that also resonates with many immigrants or migrants of today.The New York City Puerto Rican community grew and flourished through a mass migration often associated as the result of “Operation Bootstrap,” a strategy intended to industrialize Puerto Rico in order to improve its economy.Chita Rivera, a Puerto Rican actor, originated the role of Anita, Maria’s best friend on Broadway.Finally, a POC co-star character with significant stage time and solo pieces, a revolutionary occurrence in the 1950s Broadway scene.