Hybrid Identity in Immigrant America

Posted by maijagarcia - December 3, 2014 - Blog - No Comments

Let’s talk about mixed-race America. Let’s explore hybrid identity, and deconstruct the construct of race that has a choke hold on our cultural evolution as citizens of the world. Let’s cultivate more honest conversations about who we are as continental Americans. This is what @IAmNewYorkJR is about.
One of the striking lessons I have learned in propelling the story of Juan Rodriguez forward is how difficult it is to get people to stand behind an historical figure that does not glorify one race, nation or cultural association. In spite of the fact that it was a Dominican council member who moved the agenda to get Broadway named after what he, and many Dominican Americans claim to be the first Dominican in New York, my co-writer Armando Batista (born in NYC of Dominican heritage) and I are clear – this is not a Dominican story. 
Juan Rodriguez arrived in Algonquin Mannahatta centuries before the Dominican Republic was established, and considering he was doing business with the Dutch, it’s probable that he was working out of the western side of the island, which is now Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, so he’s at least as many parts Haitian as Dominican by historical accounts. 
The sobering truth is that Juan Rodriguez is the first recorded non-native settler in the area we now call New York City! To say he is the first Dominican in NY is to undermine his significance – he defended his freedom, demanded goods from the Dutch & chose to stay- he is a revelation! Rodriguez’ story turns the pilgrim theory on it’s head. Juan is a mixed-race American freedom loving hero who preceded European colonial presence along the Hudson River- or the River that runs both ways as the Lenape- the first people called it. Why we have yet to locate a champion for this project, or an institution who will get behind Juan Rodriguez is no longer baffling to me- it’s obvious. 
He doesn’t belong to anyone. 
He serves no political or demographic agenda. He is not a trophy any nationalist movement can claim. 
The story we have created inspires necessary conversations about race relations at the root of American culture. When we engage in these conversations we cultivate tolerance. We build solidarity among those who stand between the racial divide, those who live between worlds- ie. most of immigrant America.
Juan Rodriguez was likely a mix of African, Spanish & Taino (100 years after Columbus there were numerous classifications of race in the Caribbean islands)
So far, it seems, he’s not black enough for African Americans to rally behind. Not Latino enough to band Caribbean factions together (or high art enough for the new director of El Museo del Barrio to know what kind of gold mine he was sitting on during our residency.) Perhaps the Indigenous community could be empowered to claim their son, especially as his legacy is a bridge that dissolves the artificial, European border between first peoples in the Americas. Or will it be hybrid, mixed-race America that steps up to the plate and celebrates Juan Rodriguez as an American hero? It remains to be seen.  
For now, we intend to expand the medium of storytelling beyond the theater- including curriculum development and a graphic novel to accompany interactive readings, workshops and performances. Stay Tuned…

photo: Bob Krasner

 
photo: Bob Krasner

photos: Bob Krasner