Museo del Barrio’s controversial “Spic” project

The Museo del Barrio is in a bit of hot water after it announced the title of its new poetry series — “Spic Up/Speak Out.”  Here are some excerpts from the New York Times take on the controversy over the use of the pejorative term used to mock Puerto Rican pronunciation. You can access the entire article through the link below:

  Organizers say that the provocative title is intended as a postmodern take, inviting dialogue and debate over issues of identity. Some of the participating poets have embraced the title as a symbolic inversion of the word, that neutralizes its sting. But others are not so sure.

. . .

Julian Zugazagoitia, the museum’s director and chief executive, said in an e-mail message that the spoken-word series was aimed at a young, urban audience interested in social issues and political concerns. The museum, he added, was “proud and excited to act as a platform for all of these issues to be discussed.”

The word is no stranger to creative uses. In his poem, “Beloved Spic,” Martin Espada chronicled how he heard it more often than his name when he moved to Long Island around 1970. The word was the title of an acclaimed collection of short stories by Pedro Juan Soto. A young John Leguizamo was praised for his one-man show “Spic-O-Rama.” Emanuel Xavier, the poet presiding over the spoken-word event on Saturday, said that the title pushed boundaries in a safe setting. A booklet of featured poems will also include an e-mail exchange among various poets and their feelings about the word.

“For me, it’s about empowerment,” Mr. Xavier said. “Look at everything we have done and accomplished. And it is a play on the word. We are speaking out our truths and identities in very perfect English.”

. . .

Indeed, its Latino equivalent never had a similar slang life, said Ana Celia Zentella, a linguist who is a visiting professor at Swarthmore College.If anything, she said, it diminishes the experiences of older Puerto Rican migrants, on whom the word was used like a bludgeon.

“It never had any good meanings to it,” she said. “They may be trying to be cutesy, but it really is a jab at the immigrant who spoke Spanish-infused English. That is what makes it a little harder to take.”

Sandra María Estevez still recalls the word from her youth, when it accompanied jabs about pointy-toed shoes and cockroaches. And although she is participating in El Museo’s poetry series, the title upsets her.

“None of the artists, writers and creative thinkers that I know feel anything wholesome or praiseworthy about this choice,” she said. “On the contrary, it reinforces ideas we’ve worked fiercely at challenging and moving beyond from. The choice is unfortunate, not creative, not artistic.”

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2 thoughts on “Museo del Barrio’s controversial “Spic” project

  1. Really??? if you move to a country and want to be a part of it then you learn their language that they speak! don’t expect the people that already reside there to learn yours! This goes straight to all the lazy bums that come and live off every government assistance program they can get their hands on and refuse to learn how to speak English. Wtf is happening to America!!!

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