BRINCANDO EL CHARCO - PORTRAIT OF A PUERTO RICAN

Frances Negrón Muntaner
USA 1994 | 55 Min. | 16 mm, OF

An exper­i­men­tal fea­ture film on con­tem­po­rary Puerto Rican iden­ti­ties. In a mix of fic­tion, archival footage, inter­views and soap opera drama, the film tells the story of Clau­dia Marin, a middle-class, light-skinned Puerto Rican, les­bian and pho­tog­ra­ph­er who is attempt­ing to con­struct a sense of com­mu­ni­ty in the U.S. Depict­ing the con­trast and con­tra­dic­tion of both her priv­i­lege and oppres­sion, BRINCANDO EL CHARCO becomes a med­i­ta­tion on class, race and sex­u­al­i­ty. The voices of Afro-Puerto Rican women, third-gen­er­a­tion Puerto Rican young men, middle-class Island-born intel­lec­tu­als, and gay men pro­duce a mosaic pic­ture that cannot be reduced to only one ele­ment – be it nation­al, demo­graph­ic or ide­o­log­i­cal.

»What we don’t see is as sig­nif­i­cant as what we do see. What is miss­ing, is a public forum of dis­cus­sion of the full range of Puerto Rican social, cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal prac­tices. What does it mean to be Puerto Rican in its diver­si­ty? In the barrio, out­side the barrio, light-skinned, dark-skinned, middle class, work­ing class, straight, queer. In a way, the whole iden­ti­ty dis­course com­plete­ly swal­lows up all those dif­fer­ences, making all Puerto Ricans a blur of stereo­types and predi­gest­ed assump­tions (…)« When I arrived in the United States, my self-image as a 19-year-old, middle-classed stu­dent was shat­tered. I real­ized that I was per­ceived by most Amer­i­cans as only one thing – a Puerto Rican, and Puerto Rican for them meant a shady , dis­ease-car­ry­ing, alwas preg­nant, des­ti­tute, reck­less, killer spic – what they saw in the movies… In the train of these words, I com­plete­ly lost who I was but gained a new des­tiny. I turned the TV off in search of an image I’d never seen but knew exist­ed.

Iden­ti­ty dis­course is so rigid in many ways: what your iden­ti­ty is and what it isn’t; what you are and what you are not. It’s so linear. It’s very dif­fi­cult to encom­pass simul­tane­ity of even oppo­site feel­ings in a dis­course of iden­ti­ty. For exam­ple, while I polit­i­cal­ly tend to iden­ti­fy as a les­bian, saying I’m a les­bian doesn’t tell you any­thing about any­thing. It doesn’t speak to ways of rela­tion in a spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al con­text. It doesn’t tell you about my sex­u­al­i­ty which is more com­plex than »les­bian« seems to imply. What I’m trying to say is the expe­ri­ence will exceed the label.

In BRINCANDO EL CHARCO the nar­ra­tive form was a way of deal­ing with non-homo­gene­ity of expe­ri­ence. You have soap opera con­ven­tions for cer­tain scenes, such as the scene with the father when he con­fronts his daughter’s sex­u­al­i­ty and there’s a fight. Then you have a kind of a lit­er­ary voiceover that’s poetic and plays with image that comes from a dif­fer­ent doc­u­men­tary tra­di­tion. You have all this archival footage that’s used pretty tra­di­tion­al­ly except the story being told is very dif­fer­ent. Then there is the con­tem­po­rary gay and les­bian demon­stra­tion footage. Part of the reason I put it there was you never see that. In Puerto Rico, gay and straight, most people are not aware that there are Puerto Ricans who go in the street and demon­strate around these issues. In that sense, to a post Act Up Anglo film cul­ture these kinds of demon­stra­tions may seem passé. But in a con­text where they have never been seen to begin with it’s some­thing else.« (Frances Negrón Muntan­er)