A Question of Identity in "West Side Story"

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Stephan Weir
Period 7 Criticism
Ms. Kellert
Essay- a question of Identity
In her critique of the 1961 film West Side Story, Frances Negron-Muntaner expresses her dislike of the film, arguing that the film portrays Puerto Rican men as criminals and gang members, and portraying the women of Puerto Rico as “sassy and virginal”. Though the film was not the first or last film to marginalize Puerto Ricans, Muntaner states that “There is no single American cultural product that haunts Puerto Rican identity discourses in the United States more intensely than the 1961 film, West Side Story.

While Muntaner continues on to examine the stereotypes mentioned in her essay, there are other marginalizations of Puerto Ricans present in the film. Many stereotypes of women from Puerto Rico are present in the song “America”. One stereotype present in the song is that Puerto Rican women are very loud and obnoxious in addition to being “sassy and virginal”. In one of the pauses between the verses “If you’re all white in America” and “Here you are free and you have pride”, the women can be heard yelping and clapping their hands, as well as screaming when they pretend to kick the Puerto Rican men. Another assumption in this song is that women love America when compared to their past lives in Puerto Rico. Anita and all the other women clearly show their love for life in the United States with lines from the song such as “I like to be in America, okay by me in America, everything free in America…”, and their hate for Puerto Rico with lines such as “Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion-- let it sink back in the ocean”. It is assumed that Puerto Ricans love life in America because here in the States they are able to exercise more rights and freedoms than in Puerto Rico, where the men are the dominant sex.

Stereotypes in the song “America” are not only about females, but Puerto Rican male stereotypes are also present. Bernardo and the rest of the...
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