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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Rosie Perez Unleashes 'Boricua' Culture, Pride on IFC

I usually do not have to go down to Fifth Avenue for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade because eventually–for whatever reason–the parade comes right to the stoop of The Reeler’s Upper East Side headquarters. The only problem with this year’s 87th Street celebrants (besides the garbage they left scattered around the sidewalk) was that they did not bring grand marshals Mark Anthony and Jennifer Lopez with them; I have been wanting to ask J. Lo about Bordertown for, like, ever.
Missing actress/producer Rosie Perez was not as heartbreaking, however, because she and I had already chatted last week about Yo Soy Boriqua, Pa’que Tu Lo Sepas (I’m Boricua, Just So You Know), her new documentary that premiered at Tribeca and makes its TV debut on IFC tonight at 9. Co-directed by Perez and doc veteran Liz Garbus, Boricua intercuts the history of Puerto Ricans in America with the sources of Perez’s own ebullient ethnic pride: awareness crusades, protests and a succession of geneological revelations that take her from Brooklyn to Miami to Puerto Rico itself. There, Perez touches on controversies including decades of forced sterilzation of Puerto Rican women and bombing in Vieques. In New York, she recounts her first arrest as a protestor and supplies background on the radical Puerto Rican political group of the ’60s, the Young Lords.
But even with such old hands as Garbus and Rory Kennedy on board, Boricua struggles to find the right balance of giddiness and gravity. She admits that tracing her lineage–however informally–was not a part of her original plan. “Hell, no,” Perez said to her partners, both of whom were expecting children early on during production and who encouraged Perez to be a character in her film. “Y’all are hormonal and pregnant.”
Obviously, Perez came around.
“Liz was very, very respectful, because I told her I’m not ready to tell my whole story, and I only want to tell the part of my story that’s specific to the documentary,” she told The Reeler. “And I said if anybody pushes me further, than I think we’re really going to have a problem. And she was like, ‘Got it.’ Then she goes, ‘I’m not here to do an expose on you,’ and she goes, ‘and quite honestly, Rosie, those are not the films I make.’ OK! So it was great to have her there because she totally respected that. And even when one of the co-producers was pushing too much, she fired him. That was great, great company to be in: Rory and Liz. They were very protective.”
Ultimately, Perez said, the trickle of family background into her narrative accelerated into a wider stream. “I was discovering people I never met before,” she said. “And I thought I was going to tell my family about something they didn’t know. But the other family was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we know that story. Yeah, yeah, we know about it. Our great-great-grandfather was all over the island in regards to the women. You probably have more half-brothers and sisters or half-cousins than you know about.’ I was like, ‘My God.’ And then when I told my family that I was doing the documentary, and I was coming down to Miami to interview them, they were like, ‘Well, cousin So-and-So wants to be in it.’ I go, ‘Who is that?’ And then it started. And even after the documentary, I’m discovering family members now.”
But the doctors, novelists, women’s-rights crusaders and others do not pack near as much punch as her indignance about Puerto Rico’s status as a US commonwealth, in which its residents pay taxes and go to war but have no voting rights. Then there are the portrayals of Puerto Ricans in cinema: “Saving Private Ryan–where are all the Puerto Ricans?” Her father and uncle served in World War II.) Or how about Gone With the Wind? “It drives me crazy,” she said. “Puerto Ricans were all over the South. Where the hell do you think yams came from?”
I knew there was an explanation. At any rate, if you, too, missed yesterday’s parade, Boricua offers a glimpse that should hold you over until next year–or at least until the Reeler HQ afterparty kicks off some time in the afternoon. As Perez herself would cheerfully tell you, everyone is always invited.

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11 Responses to “Rosie Perez Unleashes 'Boricua' Culture, Pride on IFC”

  1. Dawn/Damaris says:

    hated the way Ms. Perez portrayed Puerto Ricans! We are not all ghetto – and we do speak Spanish- not Puerto Rican! The slang and regionalism is common to EVERY language – I can not speak for the uneducated persons you have run into. But our language, español is intact, our island and culture is our pride.
    Puerto Rico is better off economically than any other Caribbean island! I’m glad we are not like Cuba, Dominican Republic or Haiti, free from American influence. Free for what? To live in Cuban or Domincan poverty not the American meaning of poverty, the third world meaning of poverty. We are not victims we are resilient, humble,honest and intelligent people.
    Our ancestry does include strong African roots, but not “black” roots- I have nothing in common with Black Americans not the culture, food, music, values, etc…. (do the research). Besides black can be anyone from the Peruvian indigenous people to the aberigines of Australia, to Pakistan and India.
    The analogy between Pedro Albizu, Che Guevarra and Martin L. King could not be more off the mark.
    MLK was a great hero a true revolutionary- an honest man who saw a day when we would all be free.
    Che Guevarra helped Castro create the Cuba that is today, is that why boat fulls of Cubans risk their lives to come to America and even Puerto Rico- because Che made such a better place for them?
    Rosie Perez had an awesome, bright idea but she politicized it too much. We have so many things to be proud of as a people – don’t bring shame to our people by victimizing us. I am not a Nuyorican and perhaps that is why I can’t share your views. I am Puerto Rican, I speak Spanish, I am not a victim and I have been able to accomplish many of my goals in America. If there is a part 2 in the future – less politics more history more stories of triumph- there are many.
    In all honesty the film left me feeling like a second class citizen- in need of pity. Let’s not bite the victim bait- it does not help anyone. We can recognize that there were wrongs but we can not dwell in the past- we have what many other races were stripped of and even gave up willingly- our culture, our roots let’s grow from it, teach our children our true history.
    Asi lo veo yo!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was very disappointed with Ms. Perez documentary. I was actually looking forward to see it but quickly realized that the information that she was sharing was inaccurate.
    From Albizu Campos to the origin of the word “barbecue” which by the way it comes from the Arawakan Indians not the tainos, the documentary continues to be a bunch of lies.
    The way that she representated Puerto Ricans was by far the worst ever. New York descendants from Puerto Ricans can not and will not be able to tell our story unless you have born and lived at least more than 20 years in the island.
    Yes, we have been through a lot, yes US took advantage of us but if were for them, we would have been a republic and a very poor country just like the ones next to us.
    And to top it all, at the end when she showed photos of “new yoricans”, Johnny Leguizamo was included. News flash for you my dear, he was born in Colombia in 1964.
    Again, very disappointed!

  3. Blapi says:

    The way she presented herself was ghetto.She should’ve showed more triumph than tragedy.To me personally she should’ve researched deeper becuase it felted incomplete.I do think there should be a sequel to be more interesting to watch.She also needs to improve the way she acts because she showed the stereotype of what all people think of New Yoricans.

  4. Lily says:

    You act as if being called “black” in comparision to African Americans was a bad thing. Well before you spout off more of your subtle racism, please remember all the DREAMS you have been able to accomplish in America have been due to the sweat, blood and tears of the Black Americans. These kinds of foolish thoughts are the reason why White America will always dominant and blacks and latinos will be nothing but minorities continously fighting for crumbs or the #2 spot.

  5. Dawn/Damaris says:

    Actually, my DREAMS have come true becasue of my hard work, dedicattion and upbringing-it is true that this country was built by the sweat blood and tears of slaves. That is an injustice and America has never compensated them. But that has nothing to do with people being able to achieve their DREAMS- otherwise everyone would do so and there would be no poverty, inequality and racism.
    Let’s not confuse one thing with the other. Saying I’m not like someone – does not make any of us better the other. Different does not mean lesser or greater. The only thing is that IF us “minorities” knew more about ourselves, our history, our culture we would not feel like number 2 fighting for crumbs. We would be proud of ourselves and our contributions to America, or Puerto Rico even if no one else will thank us. Teach our children that the actions of the white man inPR or America or anywhere else can not continue to be an excuse for our poor decisions.
    We need to decide that despite the history of our Island and the injustice the Arawak, Taino and African slaves, we are in control of our destiny – It is up to each one us to make our dreams come true. If we continue to focus on the terrible sufferings of the past- it will be impossible to move ahead.
    Rosie Perez should refrain from speaking nonsense and uneducated rants about our people and our island. The “Nuyorican Experience” is completely different than the Puerto Rican culture/people/history/
    Living in both Puerto Rico most and the U.S. mainand I really tried to connect with this film becasue I was excited about it – I do not remember relating to one single topic she mentioned.

  6. dont worry says:

    first off i bet the people sending in comments are not even puerto rican. Anyone can live a peaceful life and earn money here in america, but it is important to know our past. History molds the future, and believe me if it werent for Rosi Perez alot of people would be like ostriches in the dirt, fake puerto ricans who only care about american help and the welfare program. They used to strerilize us for cryin out loud! and it was only about 60 years ago!

  7. just reading says:

    Ok first I will say this, I have yet to watch the movie but from what I hear from family friends and now your reviews this is may take on what we have here with this documentry. Although I agree many of her facts (where words came from, and the compariosn of leaders), are quite off. I think that many of us non island Puerto Ricans can appriciate some of the “lost” stories and sort of serves as a wake up call. We as people in general should always question our sources for information and hey props to her for making some mistakes, I now wonder how many people got interested and looked this stuff up or wnted to learn more and ran into the discrepencies. I am a pround nuyorican living in CA now and have spent maybe a total of 2 years spred out on the island and I know for me the stories we grow up hearing are personal ones of our families and what they saw or expierienced, I can’t wait to see this so I can see what othere there saw and went through…..

  8. Pagan says:

    Hi, I have not watched the documentary, but I am anxious to see it. I live in a small city where there is nothing positive to offer our Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, and Black youth. The city is divided. I teach in a school where the majority of the children are Puerto Rican. Many staff members love the culture, but there are those who have the same old racist thinking of the 60’s. They need to see the documentary because they need to know about the culture. Has anyone else done a documentary on the Puerto Rican culture? If they have please e-mail me. I really feel that the staff at this school need to learn more about the culture. Maybe then they will stop making up things about the families.

  9. apache says:

    First of all. we havent watched the rosie perez documentary but a close relative have told me all about it… and i just cant wait to see it one day…. the way they describe it … the reality and the facts about Puerto Ricans and the way of living in Puerto Rico and in New York City.

  10. Victor says:

    Miss Rosie Perez, Would like to wish you a very happy birthday (sept 6). I’m a fan, I think you’re awesome and if you’re ever in the Boston area would like very much to meet you. I also am a Rican who spent much of my life here, but my heart will always be with ‘La Isla Del Encanto’. Ahora y Siempre. Peace and Love.

  11. manuel dominguez says:

    rosie perez did something outstanding forthe puertoriqueños in ny city, to be proud of your lineage is very important, you must know where you coming from……….I agree that some of the things presented in her film are not very accurate, for instance to compare Pedro ALbizu Campos with El Che Guevara, un hombre que fusilo a media CUba, is a disgrase to Don Pedro…….no I am not puertorican, I’m a cuban nationalist who lives in texas, not miami!!!and i do not see the paralell lives of boricuas and black americans as one, they are veryyyyyyyyyyyyy diferent, I know, I am black…..and proud of who I am, as a cuban, as a black man and as a nationalist…..long live puerto rico libre!!!!!!

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon