WILKINS - Wilkins / & SOCIETY / February 2004 GENDERPUERTO...

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10.1 7 /0891243203259505 Wilkins / PUERTO RICAN WAN ABES PUERTO RICAN WANNABES Sexual Spectacle and the Marking of Race, Class, and Gender Boundaries AMY C. WILKINS University of Massachusetts–Amherst The “Puerto Rican wannabe” is one contemporary, local expression of contested racial identities— identities that are also inflected with class and gender meanings. This study uses interviews with local youth and young adults to explore their use of the caricature of the wannabe to create and contest race, class, and gender boundaries. The wannabe’s challenge to racially designated categories provides a symbol onto which nonwannabe kids project their own stereotypes, anxieties, and desires. The stories told about the wannabe in this study reveal both the persistence and the fragility of race, class, and gen- der identities and underline the centrality of sexuality in bolstering and undermining them. Boundary negotiations in one category rely on and affect other categories: In this study, the contestation of racial boundaries reestablishes heteronormative and hierarchical gender relations. Keywords: gender; race; class; sexuality; youth culture T he “Puerto Rican wannabe” is a caricature of racial, class, and gender inauthen- ticity drawn by “authentic” white, Puerto Rican, and Black kids. In this study, I interviewed both wannabes and nonwannabes to explore the symbol of the wannabe in the ongoing construction of race, class, and gender categories. By chal- lenging the boundaries of racially designated, but also classed and gendered, cate- gories, the wannabe provides a symbol onto which other young people project their own stereotypes, anxieties, and desires. While wannabes have their own stories to tell, these stories should not be read as the truth but instead as another version of the negotiation of ethnic, class, and gender meanings. Together, these stories unveil the persistence and the fragility of ethnic, class, and gender identities and underline the centrality of sexuality in both bolstering and undermining them. “Puerto Rican wannabe” is a label applied to a particular kind of white girl in a particular geographical context and a particular historical moment. While her label might be local, her iconography is not. She is seen across the United States in ado- lescent and now young adult cultural lore, popping up frequently as a “wigger”—a 103 REPRINT REQUESTS: Amy C. Wilkins, Department of Sociology, Thompson Hall, University of Mas- sachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003. DOI: 10.1177/0891243203259505 © 2004 Sociologists for Women in Society
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“white nigger.” Like the wigger, the stereotypical Puerto Rican wannabe rejects white middle-class cultural style, adopting an urban presentation of self associated with people of color. She wears hip-hop clothes and Puerto Rican hairstyles, drinks malt liquor, and smokes Newports. She adopts an attitude, acting tough and engag-
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This note was uploaded on 09/14/2009 for the course SOC 302 taught by Professor Langenkamp during the Fall '08 term at University of Texas.

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WILKINS - Wilkins / & SOCIETY / February 2004 GENDERPUERTO...

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