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DIALOGO URBANO: PERCEPTIONS OF LIFE, LANGUAGE AND
IDENTITY IN METROPOLITAN PUERTO RICO
A PROJECT IN LIEU OF THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To my mother, Sandra Ester Ruiz Jimenez, for showing me what the word sacrifice truly means.
I would like to take a brief moment to thank several individuals that helped me through
this process. First and foremost, I want to thank God for giving me the strength and ability to
create such a meaningful project. He truly is omnipresent and omnipotent. Secondly, I want to
thank a woman who recognized my ability since my young age and gave everything in her power
to demonstrate her unconditional love for me and for what she believed in, my mother. Your
presence will always be with me and your departure will always sadden me. Mom, there is no
form or shape to really envelop what your life means to me and what your death demonstrates.
You are a hero to anyone that loves me because through me, they know you and because I want
to believe that I am just like you. I want you to know that I would have died for you as well.
Thank you for teaching me the value of a home, place, roots, education, self evaluation, family,
and God. I thank you for all the hard work and pain you went through in order for me to be
where I am today. I know this was not the way you wanted things to end but I know you
acknowledge that your mission was accomplished. I know you would be here if you thought I
was not ready to be the man that I am today. I wish I can continue writing to thank you for every
second you gave your children. I know you always came second to us and I am thankful now for
that because I know why you did it. This paper was your last dream before you died and I am
proud to say that I did this for you. In this way, I show you that like you did to me, I put you first
and myself second in order to reciprocate in some way or another the same devotion you showed
me. I know you are proud and not surprised by it. I know you want me to continue and I will do
so, eventually. I thank you and love you.
My academic progress and development is attributed to more than just gut, intuition, and
hard work; many thanks to all my professors who were patient with me in finding my voice in a
field that I was struggling because I was trying to be what I was not. To Brian Slawson, thank
you for recognizing what I truly loved and showing me the door to such a wonderful material of
knowledge and exploration. Your optimism and enthusiasm will always resonate with your
name. Maria Rogal, thank you for being tough and crude with me. I mean well by both terms.
You know that I appreciate tough love because I truly got better by it. I will always remember
your desire to better understand cultures and your passion for making me understand myself
better though my project. I know I am better because I met you and I also feel I write better
because you pushed me to articulate my work better. I wish we could have talked more, we could
have learned a lot from each other. Fiona Mclaughlin, you quietly entered my life but
aggressively shook it with your perspiration of love for what you do, which is really how you
live. Thank you for showing me how much I could learn about life through the study of language
and the city. It was you who truly sparked my project. I wish I had met you earlier but know I
hope to continue a relationship with you. I hope to learn much more from you. You told me it
was possible, you told me is was good enough, my sincere gratitude. I also want to thank Efrain
Barradas for being such an influence in my work. I measured my work by keeping in mind that it
had to please your mind and perhaps touch your heart. I hope longevity is the word that
describes my friendship with you. A special thank you to Hector Puig who allowed me to exhibit
in his gallery and through this process nurtured a friendship and mentorship. I admire you more
than you can imagine. Thank you to all the staff members who were supportive and responsive in
my graduate career.
To my classmates, thank you for being there when I lost everything. Special thanks to
Cameron Thomas. I really do not know what would be of me if you were not there. Honestly, I
love you like my brother and admire you like no other individual in my life. You are my friend
today and always. I will always hold you close to my heart. You saw the most emotions out of
me and that is special to me. I will truly miss having you around "gringo". To the rest of my
classmates, thank you for your voice and critique, it was integral to my work.
A very sincere and warm gratitude goes to the core network of people whom I call
family. You all know that family to me is more than just blood. I do not have to mention names
because you all know who you are. Thank you for being everything I needed in order for me to
be writing this at this moment. Your support was and still is crucial in my life. I love you all very
much. I want to specifically thank my brother, Roy and my sister, Raissa. I love you both very
much and that is also a gift from you to our mother. Your voices your lives, your pains and your
heart is in my work. I know how hard was for you both to go through this process alone and
collectively. I hope this was of your liking and I hope one day you will look back and see how
much of you guys is in my work. You guys kept me going and inspired me to search deeper
because I did this for all of us.
Last but not least, I would like to thank a woman that was there every minute of the
project, Jennifer Alier. My accomplishment is truly an attribute of your time, disposition and
support to my work and myself. You were and still are my best critic. You learned to evaluate
my work and myself better than anyone else. There is no way I can repay you for all that you
have done for me and my family, but I will surely try and die trying to. I love you more than any
words could articulate and your place in my life is perpetual. I thank you for everything. Thank
you for loving me the way you do. Your love maintains me strong. Your presence in my life
inspires me to reach for higher goals and bigger risks. Thank you and I love you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A CK N O W LED G M EN T S .................................................................. ........... .............. .....
LIST OF FIGURES .................................. .. .... ... ...............8
A B S T R A C T ............................................ ...................................................... 10
1 IN TR O D U C TIO N ................. ............................ ............ ............... ........ 11
2 IN FLU EN TIAL BA CK GR OU N D ..................................... ............................... ..................... 13
3 TRAGEDY .........................................15
4 L O C A TIO N O F R E SEA R CH ......................................................................... .................. 17
5 URBAN COLONY .................. .................................... ........................... 22
P atrim onial F ou n dation ................................................................................ ......................22
C olony of M modernization .................................................................... ...............................23
6 FO R M O F A C ITY ......................................................... ................... .......... 26
7 M E A N IN G O F A C IT Y ............................................................................... .....................30
8 PARAM ETER S OF PR O JECT ............................................ ................... ............... 32
9 RESEARCH PROCESS AND METHODOLOGY............................................................39
R e se a rc h T o o ls ................................................................................................................... 4 1
T y p o g rap h y ................... ...................4...................2..........
A uthorship ...............................................................................44
U rban Creative A analysis (U CA ).................................................... ............................... 47
C re ativ e P ie c e s ................................................................................................................... 4 9
10 IM PO R TA N C E O F W O R K .......................................................................... ....................70
11 EQUIPMENT AND DOCUMENTATION......................................... ......................... 74
12 C O N C L U SIO N ........................................................................ ................... .. .............. .. 7 5
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ...................................................................................... ....................77
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ............................................................................... .....................79
LIST OF FIGURES
3-1. Fam ily grave. Photograph, 2004 ...................................... .................... ................ 16
4-1. Metropolitan Area. Photograph manipulated to show area boundaries..........................20
4-2. City scene, Bayam6n. Photograph taken in July 2004................... ........................... 21
5-1. Street in Old San Juan. Photograph, 2004. ............................................ ............... 24
5-2. History of urban Puerto Rico. Artist Book, 2006. ................................. .................25
6-1. Group of young adults establishing a sense of identity. Photograph, 2004, Toa Alta......28
6-2. Fortified wall in Old San Juan. Photograph, 2003...........................................................29
8-1. Cockfighting in Las Palmas, Bayam6n. Photograph, 2003 ....................................34
8-2. Cockfighting in Las Palmas, Bayam6n. Photograph, 2003 ....................................35
8-3. Llorando y Sangrando (2006, 18" x 40") ...........................................................................36
8-4. Palm era pattern (2006, 12" x 18") ..................................................................... 37
8-5. A guacate pattern (2006, 12"x 12").............................................. ............................ 38
9-1. Blackletter, Goudy Text Regular, 2006.................................... ........................... ......... 55
9 -2 F ilo so fi a 2 0 0 6 ............................................................................................................. 5 5
9-3. U rban poem 1 (2006, 4" x 12")................................................. .............................. 55
9-4. U rban poem 2 (2006, 4" x 12") ................................................................................... 55
9-5. U rban poem 3 (2006, 4" x 12") ................................................................................... 56
9-6. U rban poem 4 (2006, 4" x 12") ................................................ .............................. 56
9-7. U rban poem 5 (2006, 4" x 12")................................................. .............................. 57
9-8. U rban poem 6 (2006, 4" x 12")................................................. .............................. 57
9-9. U rban poem 7 (2006, 4" x 12")................................................. .............................. 58
9-10. Bayam 6n 1 and 2 (2006, 20" x 30") ...................................................... ............... 58
9-11. Aguacate pattern (2006, 12" x 12") ...................................................... ..................59
9-12. Aguacate detail, 2006.................... ...................... .......... 60
9-13. Patterns of urban culture (2006, 12" x 12" each) .................................... ............... 61
9-14. C andelabro detail, 2006. .......................................................................... .....................62
9-15. Pattern details, 2006...................... ...................................63
9-16. E l sabio (2006, 20" x 30") ............................................................................ ............. 64
9-17. El sabio (detail), 2006. ..................................................... ............ 65
9-18. Ciudad de Carolina, detail (2006, 20" x 30") ........................................ ............... 66
9-19. R esidente (2006, 20" x 30")........................................................................ ..................67
9-20. R esidente (detail), 2006. .......................................................................... .....................68
9-2 1. C arolina (2006, 20" x 30") ........................................................................ ...................69
10-1. Exhibition piece, 2006 ........................................ .... .. ..... .............. .. 72
10-2. Exhibition opening, close-up view (April 17, 2006)............................... ............... 72
10-3. Exhibition opening (April 17, 2006) .................................. ............... ............... 73
Summary of Project Option in Lieu of Thesis
Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Master of Fine Arts
DIALOGO URBANO: PERCEPTIONS OF LIFE, LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY IN
METROPOLITAN PUERTO RICO
Chair: Brian Slawson
Major Department: Art and Art History
This creative project explores my perception of the urban landscape of the metropolitan
area in Puerto Rico. Since its discovery by the Spanish, San Juan has always been primarily
urban and it is this density that has defined the way we are today. This urbanity has affected our
language, cuisine, music, architecture, and entire way of life. It has also molded me as an
individual, artist, student, and citizen. My objective in this research project is to expose the
urban, and other, realities that live within me through writing and visual memories. It also
attempts to depict several urban conditions in which exist in the metropolitan area today.
In order to begin my explorations, I, collected from imagery that belonged to my family for
generations and as well as that which I collected during my visits and life in Puerto Rico. This
auto-ethnographic technique accentuates my perception of life in the city (this being the
metropolitan area of Puerto Rico). Through a process of collection, analysis, and evolution, I
emphasized poetry and cockfighting- the latter a metaphor for being a man in the city. Through
these I filtered then transformed the content and visual product of my creative work. It became
the threshold between my past, my present and my future. The connections between my imagery
and poetry are an attempt to better understand not only myself but the complexity of Puerto
Rican identity in an urban setting.
As a young child I vividly remember the streets, establishments, intersections, and
neighborhoods that composed my landscape. My mother never told me this was my home but I
subconsciously felt it was due to my vast knowledge of it. It was recently when I realized that
what I called home was not necessarily those elements that shape the landscape. Home was truly
the fusion of people, food, music, language, experiences and education I received while living in
the Metropolitan Area of Puerto Rico. It was such things that afforded me to be comfortable in
the landscape, therefore calling it home.
Through my eyes, I absorbed body expressions, architectonic language, violence,
compassion, love, hate, fashion, consumerism, and language; generally everything that which
constitutes culture. At that point in my life, I absorbed culture but did not necessarily understand
how it was affecting me. I do not think my mother knew either. Nevertheless, life in the city was
a challenge everyday. As I got older, my knowledge grew with the city and its inevitable
changes. This is how culture grew in me. Today, I look back at my life in my homeland and
analyze every path I took and every new path I take. I look at the construction of my culture as a
dweller, visitor, academic and designer. In order to define what today's complexity of urban
identity constitutes, an analysis and description of the history of urban Puerto Rico must be
established. It is through this depiction that one can truly begin to understand the place that today
defines Puerto Rican urban culture and the complexity of its identity.
It took a tragedy in my life in order for me to question and self reflect what I have been
through. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and an appointment was made with her
death, I decided that if anyone knew more about me was she and I needed to seek for answers. I
did not expect her to answer all the questions but I knew she understood where I was coming
from. My desire to look for meaning was crucial since the weight of the family now rested upon
my weak shoulders. Through countless conversations and many tears, I began realizing that as
Socrates says, "the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." If I lived there for so
long and I continuously visited, why did I feel I knew less now than yesterday? It seemed that
there was a problem with translation. My mother decoded the experiences differently and as I
child, I decoded things according to how my mother molded those experiences. Therefore, my
mother directly influenced the language I knew. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but in
order for me to find or at least attempt to find the meaning of my culture, I needed to experience
the place for myself and understand those experiences I lived through my mother. This
experience developed a new language that I was unaware of and a language my mother would be
proud of. It is the voice of a dweller, historian, visitor, academic, designer and most importantly,
of a citizen of the Puerto Rican urban culture that wants to help his community in some unique
way even if it is through the exposure of my work as a designer or writer.
The desire to venture into the exploration of urban and cultural identity arises from a
disciplined past. I am the son of a teacher- Sandra Ruiz. My mother worked at the Interamerican
University of Puerto Rico; this is the biggest private university in the island. Ever since I can
remember, she used to take us to her office and we would play around chemistry labs,
mathematic classrooms and computer laboratories. We were always surrounded by adults and in
this case, academics and students. While most kids were playing outside in their neighborhoods,
we spent a great deal of time inside classrooms listening and doing academic assignments. We
didn't seem to mind. As my mother taught class, I would be sitting down with math professors
doing homework in order to be ahead of my class. The university was my domain and everyone
knew us around campus. The desire to be in school and learn was instilled by my mother since
early age. Furthermore, if being in a university doing homework and extra academic work was
not enough, my mother enrolled my siblings and I into military school, Lincoln Military
Academy in Guaynabo. Ever since I was 5 years old, I attended this school. It was a very
demanding and highly disciplined institution. We were observed at all times to make sure that
not only behavior but also appearance was met since we used military uniforms. As you can see,
discipline was a big part of my childhood. I spent my days studying and going to church since
my family was heavily into church attendance. This was pretty much my life for about sixteen
years. When I turned 16, my mother decided to move to the US in order for us to pursue a better
education. This decision came very abruptly and really impacted our lives. Not only did I had to
move from the only place I had ever known but I had to do it in a blink of an eye. My mother had
planned to move but decided not to tell us until the last moment. I left my home, my lifetime
friends, and everything else I knew to that point for a new life where I had no opinion in the
decision process. I was upset but I knew my mother was always a smart woman and that her
decision in our lives had a positive purpose to them.
Once I arrived in Florida, I found myself immersed in a new culture that constituted new
language, different ethnic cultures, new architectonic expressions, basically everything new. It
was a rough transition. I found myself displaced since I did not find a common denominator with
other peers. I truly could not find meaning to my mother's decision. It was not until I went to
college at the University of Florida that I found out what that purpose was. At the university, I
found my passion for space and language. I studied Interior Design as an undergraduate and was
fascinated with space and place. I manifested my passion through academic assignments but it
wasn't until a visit I had to Puerto Rico that I noticed that I was seeing my old home differently.
This visit took place in 2001, 5 years after I moved. I started analyzing space, language, place,
objects and so on. This was why my mother made that decision. She knew I was going to acute
my senses once being away from what I used to know for so long. This desire grew into my
decision of studying in Graduate School.
My interest in graphic design graduate school began late junior year of college. At that
point, I found myself manifesting spaces very differently from other classmates. I found myself
interested in typography, color, imagery and presentation as much as the space itself. Once I
began studying in graduate school, I saw the threshold between the two in my life. What one
field did for me in a macro scale, the other one did it in a micro scale. I was able to explore a vast
field of landscape and translate it into meaning. I fell in love with that communication between
space and individual. Nevertheless, I still had not found what I really wanted to do for my
creative project. It took a tragedy for me to realize what the purpose truly was.
In November of 2003, during my first year of Graduate School, my mother was diagnosed
with brain cancer. At that moment, I had no idea on what to do next now that my mother was
facing a terminal disease. It was shocking. My mother never had a cold, never felt any physical
pain. She was truly strong. She worked three jobs to keep us afloat and still had time to spend
with us and joke around the house while doing typical Puerto Rican dishes. On the other hand, I
felt lost, powerless, and looking for answers I knew I was not going to get. My entire life flashed
across my eyes. The disease did not stop my mother from telling me to stay in school and go
through it while staying in track to graduate. It was a painful experience and one that I do not
wish on anyone. How to decide whether to leave or stay knowing the only person who cared for
me needed me to care for her.
A lot of changes occurred through this situation but the pivotal time in my life came when
my mother passed away with brain cancer (Figure 3-1). Even though it took nearly a year for her
to pass away since she was diagnosed, the reality was harder than the process. When she passed,
I truly immersed myself into writing and photography. I wanted to capture anything that caught
my eye or came across my mind; this became my therapy in some way or another. I wanted to
encapsulate things, people, places, etc. anything that had a tie between my mother and I. I felt as
if this process would allow me to find not only myself, but my mother as well. I guess that
having my mother gone, I figured that I needed to learn and know about myself since I had
nobody else to assist me in the process. It was truly an amazing process, which I will unveil
further in later chapters. But there was one thing that truly I was not prepared for and this was the
role change that occurred in my life. After my mother was unable to care for herself, I found
myself taking on the roles of a father, a mother, a brother, a friend, to a 14-year-old girl in a
sensitive time in her life. My sister's question of identity started not only because of her age as
an adolescent, but also because the mother that molded her life was not there anymore. It was
now my turn to help her find out what her roots are and how she can identify herself not only to
her family but also to herself. It was important to return to Puerto Rico in order for her to see it
from her own eyes and my eyes as well; this how the process of documentation began.
Figure 3-1. Family grave. Photograph, 2004.
LOCATION OF RESEARCH
My investigative work takes place in the Metropolitan Area of Puerto Rico. This area is
composed of the municipalities of San Juan, Bayam6n, Guaynabo, Catafio, Can6vanas, Caguas,
Toa Alta, Toa Baja, Trujillo Alto and Carolina (Figure 4-1). Nearly 3 million inhabitants
commute or dwell in this area everyday. The importance of this area in today's contemporary
landscape is vital not only to the local community of Puerto Rico but the global fabric as well.
The impact of this metropolitan area is evident through our economy, tourism, leisure activities,
scholarly institutions and vernacular networks. The area seems to be an organism that grows and
changes without any predetermined plan even though governmental institutions would say
otherwise. While occupying the landscape, one feels the disorder, the chaos and multiplicity of
living, people and culture. Now that I am away from its physical space but so close to it through
my research, I understand what Richard Sennett calls "learning from chaos."
Let it be clear that I do not believe that Puerto Rican culture is only what happens within
the metropolitan area but it does have an impact on how Puerto Rican culture is perceived due to
its magnitude of dwellers. My investigative work looks at the complexity of Puerto Rican urban
identity; its constituents within the main land and the impact away from it. There are other urban
agglomerates in Puerto Rico, the most recognized being in Ponce, Mayaguez and Arecibo but the
intensity of the island's urban population is in the metro area. What Sennett calls chaos is the
area of interest in my investigative and creative work. Due to this vast urban proximity, we
cannot overlook the effect it has in shaping the island's culture and cultural perception. Puerto
Rico is 74 percent urban and 71 percent of that urban population lives in the metro area. What
the world is now shifting to, urban majority has been the mode of living in Puerto Rico for quite
a while. The ratio of dwellers in the landscape places Puerto Rico in the Latin American urban
primacy model, even though Puerto Rico is at times not considered part of Latin America.
Nevertheless, the ratio and the island's history determines how closely connected it is to other
Latin American cities. The population numbers are reflected in the latest US census.
Urban primacy is the empirical distribution of city populations in a territory. In Latin
America, this model is reflected through the biggest city (the capital) being bigger in population
than the next three cities combined. In this model, we are looking at San Juan and Bayam6n as
one unit. The model is a direct reflection of its history. It reflects the power the Spanish colonial
municipalities had over their hinterlands as proposed by Fernando H. Cardoso in his book, the
city and politics. The effects of this model are highly complex and it encompasses the economy,
social and cultural stability of Latin American communities not only to themselves but also as
part of a global community. Through this, I merely wanted to establish a foundation to my
investigative work and its effect in the premises beyond a personal decision and more in an
If one looks at some of the largest metro areas in the Americas, Mexico is #2 and Chicago
is #7, whereas San Juan-Bayam6n is #59. By looking closer into these areas, one will notice that
San Juan-Bayam6n has the least land per square kilometer and it has the most density per square
kilometer. What this means is that even though Mexico City is one of the biggest Megalopolis of
the world, the San Juan-Bayam6n area is denser than Mexico City. It is an impressive fact and
one that I really wanted to explore. Cities are usually looked at through their volume, being the
numerical value given to describe its population in number but they are rarely looked at in its
density model. This involves looking at the city through its mass, being the usable space and its
volume being its dwellers. This means that water must be omitted since it is not a usable mode of
living at this moment. This is the reason why the San Juan- Bayam6n area is considerably the
densest area in the Americas. Even though I did not develop my thesis with extensive statistical
charts and mathematical models, the area is magnificent in human interaction and cultural value.
The population of the metropolitan area and the proximity of its dwellers contain an immense
impact on its identity and it cannot be overlooked. The metropolitan area's edge seems to
continue growing due to advances in roads and transportation engineering. It is empirical to
observe and document the value of what at times is overlooked because it is not a monument
made of marble or stone or considered a major tourist attraction. Our innate culture is what we
live not merely what establishes a sense of pride with the culture that lived before us. The city is
our contemporary monument to the other generations that will follow us (Figure 4-2). The more
we understand, study and value it; the generations after us will be able to care for it.
Figure 4-1. Metropolitan Area. Photograph manipulated to show area boundaries.
Figure 4-2. City scene, Bayamon. Photograph taken in July 2004.
The colonial city of San Juan was a confrontation of an urban vision that disregarded
topography and local culture. The condition of today's San Juan and its outskirt cities contain a
blueprint of what was done by the Crown over five hundred years ago. This blueprint is more
than just spatial; it has shaped the culture of today's contemporary landscape. In order to begin
understanding today's urban environment in the San Juan metro area, we must first be aware of
how it was founded and shaped in its colonial times (Figure5-1).
A Patrimonial Foundation
Puerto Rico's documented urban history began in the early 1500's as the Spanish arrived
to the New World. An abundance of this information is in the form of writings of oral accounts
done by the Spaniards when they arrived and oral accounts that have traveled through
generations through coplas. Coplas are simply oral accounts told by the local community and
carried through generations. This method of history telling was developed due to the constraints
the early urban dwellers had because some were illiterate and the rest were not allowed to read.
Either way, the Spanish felt that through education came power, so its was forbidden. Another
factor to Puerto Rico's poor urban history was due to the Dutch attacks in the late 1500's. Puerto
Rico's first discovery resulted in an exploratory trip with no intention of occupying the land. In
the second voyage though, the Spanish occupied Puerto Rico with the intention of staying there
and establishing power. Entering land, they encountered an indigenous population, Tainos, who
belonged to Arawak group. It is believed that the Tainos received Juan Ponce de Leon well. It is
believed that this positive welcoming had to do with the perception the Tainos had of these
visitors being sent from their gods. This was also true of other indigenous populations in Latin
America and North America. They might have felt that instead of conquistadores, they were gifts
or messengers from theirs gods. It is here that urban composition begins to appear in the Puerto
Rican landscape. In order to gain control of the land and the Tainos, they had to urbanize. By
delineating the land, they started defining their power onto the landscape. This would assist them
in gaining control over the Tainos and ultimately decimating them. At this time, the process of
urbanization began with full force and their cultural behaviors began to transform the identity of
the city. The city was fortified, the streets were narrow, the roads were paved in stone and the
scale began to move upwards. The city was a place to parade the street in order to be seen and
look for a spouse. It was a place, of what the Spanish would call, gentiles, noble men and noble
women (Figure 5-2).
Colony of Modernization
Today, Puerto Rico's metropolitan area is a rich landscape of culture, architectonic
manifestations and rich historic monuments. Even though the metropolitan area has continually
grown, the government has made the effort to maintain its Spanish built monuments intact by
protecting them and preserving them. By doing such, the Puerto Rican community is able to see
and feel their pride through these monuments. This has also helped immensely in tourism. The
metropolitan area is truly an aggressive mixture of patrimony and modernization. Even though
our physical tie to the Crown was over in 1898 through the Spanish-American War, we still feel
like a colony being a commonwealth of the United States. This political position will maintain
Puerto Rico being a colony through modernization. This creates a fragile state in the
community's understanding of identity and culture.
Figure 5-1. Street in Old San Juan. Photograph, 2004.
Figure 5-2. History of urban Puerto Rico. Artist Book, 2006.
FORM OF A CITY
Old San Juan, like many other Latin American cities, contains straight streets that intersect
each other in right angles. This composition delineates an orthogonal grid called squares. The
square, appropriated from the Greeks was then mastered by the Romans and began to spread
throughout Europe. This form is very practical and easy to construct. This method was widely
used throughout Latin America and Europe. The empty space of one of these squares is the
plaza, and its relationship to the streets and the squares is clearly determined by itself (Teran,
2002.) This architectural void becomes the space for social congregation, thus becoming the
most active communal space. This simple composition is repeated continuously and it becomes a
signature of the Latin American city. Like discussed before, it has similarities to other cities in
Europe but the rigidity of San Juan is only similar to other Latin American cities such as Baeza,
Puerto Real and Santa Fe. This spatial manifestation is still part of the Old San Juan.
Just as in Europe, the occupation of Puerto Rico was a conscious effort of expressing
power and domination over the existing culture and landscape (Quiles 2003). This remark is
clearly established in the Law XXIV ofFelipe II in the 137th Ordinance:
"... que cuando los indios los vean les cause admiracion y entiendan que los espafioles
pueblan alli de asiento y os teman y respeten, para desear su amistad y no los ofendan"
Through this ordinance, the Spanish Crown incites the admiration of the tainos. They want
to demonstrate that they were occupying the space and that it was theirs, therefore, inciting fear
in the tainos so they would respect and submit to their rules. Due to this aggressive occupation
technique, the Crown overlooks all the mistakes they were making in the process. They were not
the best planners but they surely were great intimidators. It was not until the Law of the Indies
that a process develops to control the growth of cities. Nevertheless, by the time the Law of the
Indies comes in the year 1573 and establishes the criteria to these parcels, San Juan is already
taking form and the mistakes are already in place. Amongst all forms in the city, the Spanish
inculcate the importance of two elements, the street and the plaza as part of the quotidian life.
Spaniards use the outdoor spaces to flaunt their riches and be seen by others. This is how men
met women and men discussed business. This could be a direct determinant of the Latin
American and Caribbean fascination with the outdoor landscape.
A brief depiction of the colonial city establishes a sense of origin to what today's urban
landscape is. A tie to the colonial city still remains and even though some of it has been damaged
through modernization, the core of the city still remains. The footprint of the colonial city allows
us to depict that we come from somewhere and someone, whether that has positive or negative
implications to our history, its existence permits our mortality (Figure 6-1). This demonstrates
how the metropolitan area truly depicts a binary urban landscape, the colonial and contemporary.
I include this portion of the history in my creative project due to the importance the Puerto Rican
population places onto these monuments of the initial colonial city. The attachment to these
monuments comes to no surprise and it should not surprise you either (Figure 6-2). We all yearn
the belonging of something and someone else; it is part of our nature.
Figure 6-1. Group of young adults establishing a sense of identity. Photograph, 2004, Toa Alta.
Figure 6-2. Fortified wall in Old San Juan. Photograph, 2003.
MEANING OF A CITY
The rich meaning of the city lies not only in the diversity of people who occupy it but also
in form--where the knowledge of possibilities that the centrality and simultaneity-in form of
Lefebvre- offers (Almandoz, 2000). What this passage refers to is the dialogue that occurs in the
city between the dwellers and the city's built environment. Together, it creates a core of
interaction that enriches its existence. One cannot exist without the other so the form is truly the
simultaneity of both. It is the stories of those who inhabit the city that gives color to the culture.
But what happens when one leaves and a void is placed upon the landscape and the
memories that once composed one's life?
The void leaves a map of images that one yearns to return and unveil in order to bring
meaning to the urban culture that the process of modernization has transformed. It is simply a
process of filling in the blanks that once were filled but displacement has blurred them. Once one
is ready to refill the blanks, once notices the possibility of filling in with different words from
those one once had. It is inevitable, we change and the city changes. What it meant before now
contains a different meaning.
An important part of the memories are kept in the interiors, in the spaces behind the facade
(Quiles 2003). In the book, Tras lafachada (Behind the Facade), Edwin Quiles talks about the
spatial qualities of these memories. He explains them as architectonic manifestations but I see
them as emotional constructs to these memories. The same process in which modernity erases
the landscape through "renovation" or transformation, the memory erases it as well but when you
are displaced from this landscape prior to modernization, your memory is kept in the time when
you occupied it. These memories, as Quiles says, must be brought to the surface because they
represent the ways in which "others" lived the process of being in the city. This is what indeed
constructs a community. The experiences compose the city in which I lived and continuously
visit. This process is only possible through the action of living and leaving.
My creative manifestation of the city occurs through living in the city, leaving the city and
then returning to it in order to analyze what you have learned away from it. This is where
writing, photography, composing and reading become integral facets on the exploration on urban
identity. This is where the metaphor of the car, the plane and the foot transforms one's life in the
search for meaning in the urban setting. Further information on these metaphors will be
discussed in a later chapter.
PARAMETERS OF PROJECT
The creative project involves the exploration of identity and culture through auto-
ethnographic research in order to understand a complex cultural identity. Its goal is to allow
people to see the power of memory and the process of understanding cultural identity, even if the
viewer is foreign to the culture. Works on the fields of anthropology, ethnography, graphic
design, architecture, urban design, photography and linguistics, were studied in order to arrive to
this stage of completion to my creative project. All of the work in this project was written and
documented by me and it exposes the perception of my experiences in Puerto Rico's urban
landscape. It was crucial for me to understand what the culture meant to me first before assuming
how others live and experience it. Whether anyone else feels this is the appropriate way to
understand and analyze cultural identity is up to the individual. I found that this method allowed
me to understand the city beyond its governmental patrimonies.
I also paid particular attention to the event of cockfighting (Figure 8-1). The decision to
document and study it was due to the strong connection the local culture has with it.
Cockfighting is considered to be the national sport of Puerto Rico and I was interested in seeing
how this patrimonial event plays a role in how we see and understand ourselves as Puerto Ricans
(Figure 8-2). By creating a metaphor between a how a gamecock is raised and prepared to fight
in the cockpit and the process of growing into manhood in the city, I was able to create a stronger
connection to my exploration of cultural urban identity. Understanding comes with maturity and
experiences. The more you experience the city, the better you should understand it. In this
manner, the process of maturity from boyhood to manhood relates to the process a gamecock, as
it is developed to fight in the cockpit. My goal was to develop a narrative about my experiences
in the city through images, poetry, patterns, and music as I expose the city and cockfighting
(Figures 8-3, 8-4). In figure 8-3, I present a collage that depicts the intensity of the city. My
intention was to demonstrate elements of the city that annoy its dwellers but we have learned to
live with. This particular piece, comments on how the population of the metropolitan area is
perpetually bleeding and crying from the intense competition that is created by the over
populated area. In figures 8-4 and 8-5, I developed pattern extracted from elements of the city
that resonate with memories of my childhood. This collection demonstrates that even ones
memory has the power to communicate and educate others on cultural values. The development
of pieces truly became a plural tool of visual communication. It satisfied my journey to find
myself and through that, also exposing my culture to other in order for them to see what urban
culture is in the metro area of Puerto Rico. My work overarches themes of density, violence,
love, competition, and cuisine, which are global facets of urban culture but I depict it with my
local textures, language and imagery.
My overarching question is: how can one investigate and appropriately expose cultural
identity in an academic perspective while attaining a fine art product in order to place it back as a
Also, how can I revive the reality of the outside world as a dimension of visual experience?
Other questions that complemented my exploration of urban culture where:
What is urban culture?
What elements complement Puerto Rican urban culture?
What is the relationship between a gamecock and a man?
Is there one Puerto Rican urban culture?
gure 6-1. LIocKIlgnnng in Las raimas, iayamon.
Figure 8-2. Cockfighting in Las Palmas, Bayamon. Photograph, 2003.
Figure 8-3. Llorando y Sangrando. 18" x 40", 2006.
Figure 8-4. Palmera pattern. 12" x 18", 2006.
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Figure 8-5. Aguacate pattern. 12"x 12", 2006.
RESEARCH PROCESS AND METHODOLOGY
The desire to further explore my initial creative proposal was the acknowledgement of a
lack of identity in my life. Regardless of one's life within a specific culture, usually there is a
disconnection to what the reality of one's purpose due to the proximity one is to that culture. At
times, it is beneficial to step backwards and see from afar the constituents of that culture in order
to better understand it. Once distance is established, whether be physical, mental, emotional or
all, one must understand what kind of design research is involved in the project. Many
individuals and schools have attempted to define what design research is, most notably, Laszl6
Moholy-Nagy from the Bauhaus, Dreyfuss, and Frayling in the early 1990's. In its most recent
definition design research is identified in three modes: research into design, research through
design, and researchfor design (Laurel 2003.) Research into design refers to the historical and
aesthetic value of the content. Research through design refers to the project, materials and its
development. Lastly, research for design refers to the purpose to create and then display the
research and prove its value. The last one is by far the most difficult to attain, but one that I feel
was attained with this creative project. Therefore, the sense of emptiness for not knowing the
"into" and the "for" of the design of what I had lived, permitted me to seek for answers or
perhaps raise other questions. The exploration of oneself in the urban landscape can lead to a
compilation of ideas, theories and discoveries of not only the individual but also the
agglomeration of people that occupy a cosmopolitan area. Design research is anything but
traditional, and in my project, I needed to practice more than one model in order to reach a level
of not only completion but also authenticity. It is the authenticity, in my opinion, what adds the
"for" of the creative project. From focus groups, participatory methods and ethnography, the
project involved many facets but there was one that was uncontrollable, the city. Due to the
city's perpetual change and its unpredictable transformation, the project contained a sense of
adaptation and organic growth that was not foreseen from its initial conception. It was that
organic quality that permitted the project's authenticity to some degree. The same organic
growth allowed me to change with the project. The process of individual and project
transformation came at the same time.
The urban culture of Puerto Rico is too plural to magnify. What this means is that every
individual will manifest and articulate its essence differently. Due to this plurality, a decision
was made to further explore my own culture within this urban context. This allows a level
intimacy and unfiltered perspective to the culture. This auto-ethnographic research required the
observation of things, people, places, language, and many other elements that subconsciously or
consciously, I have participated in or with, but not necessarily realized the role it had in shaping
my culture. Initially, memories became data but those were not substantial enough to make
project credible as a study of urban identity. In order to connect people to place, time, language,
etc. something must be more direct than just words. This tool must be visual and when combined
with words, the understanding of culture will be clearer. For this reason, photography became the
catalyst to this metropolitan culture. It is difficult to depict the complexity of the metropolitan
area in Puerto Rico due to its vast plurality in space, language, and imagery. The city crosses
itself like a hammock's fabric suspended by two trees. The metropolitan area is not clearly
ordered and it is difficult to explain and describe, that is the reason why photography became
such an integral element. Through countless photographs, an urban area was exposed with its
countless realities and the manifestation of its plurality was magnified.
The research process and methodology is worthless if the project did not contain a sense of
authenticity. That is the reason that all work (writing, photography, collage, etc) was done by me.
No footage and data was used other than my own in order to produce my creative outcome. This
was only possible through participating in the ethnographic research. This decision was made
after reading and agreeing with the practices and techniques of ethnography in and outside
academia. By understanding that ethnographic accounts are descriptive and interpretive (Laurel
2003,) only my own culture seemed to be the only thing I felt prepared to depict. Realizing that
culture is lived, my visual qualitative (photos, video, observation, artifacts, material collection)
and verbal qualitative data (oral histories, interviews) become essential to the authenticity. This
gathering of data can take years of intensive fieldwork and at times it is unsuccessful because it
is considered that the researcher needs to, as Tim Plowman mentions in his article "Ethnography
and Critical Design Practice, become accepted as a "natural" part of the culture or context under
study. This was my advantage in the exploration the urban culture. As a natural of the island and
more specifically the metropolitan area, my presence causes no negative impact in my interaction
with any of its elements therefore increasing the likelihood of the accounts being part of the
natural environment. Establishing such comfort, the experience becomes a matter of creating a
dialogue between the internal manifestation (time and memory) and external component (place).
The importance of both narratives was integral to the understanding of this complex landscape.
The purpose was not necessarily for the viewer to fully understand or become an expert in the
culture; it was merely an exploration in which I hope individuals will be able to notice the
complexity and richness of this metropolitan area. If the viewer became aware of this plurality of
time and space and began questioning his or her own identity within an urban landscape, my
project could be considered a success.
Photography was taken of certain aspects of urban life, these being: the street, intersection,
dwellers, transportation, fashion, language, architectonic forms that depict time of construction
and periods, etc. Clearly, the magnitude of photographic collection was vast. The idea behind
this was to cover multiple elements that coexist within one photograph if taken afar and focus on
some of them if taken closer. By doing such, I was able to begin analyzing the connection to
myself, as a dweller of the area, and the connection people have being residents of an urban
landscape whether you are from there or not. This process ended with thousands of photos to
look at and analyze prior to fragmenting them into categories to better locate them in the creative
process. From there, categories were established in order to quickly delineate their location and
content. Some of these categories were: place, people, food, nature, city, transportation, specific
events, miscellaneous, and memories. The categories could have been anything. The individual
doing the research defines the process of categorizing. It is merely a step to facilitate and
economize time while searching through them.
Video was also captured within different urban scenes and events. The footage would act
as data that could be reviewed once out of the metropolitan area. This was important because it
was able to capture audio as well. Through this, there was less note taking and more of just
participating in the environment unobtrusively. Among the footage, personal conversations,
social interactions, stranger's conversations, city noise, natural sounds, etc were captured
through this tool. This method also allowed for observation of behavior and the built
The history of urban Puerto Rico is assembled by two major colonizing periods: the
Spanish and the Commonwealth. These two periods contain their respective importance in
history and their effect in our Puerto Rican urban culture is clearly defined. In order to
expressively signify their importance in Puerto Rico's urban identity, it was vital to clearly
define these two periods in the body of work. It is here where typography becomes a strategic
tool to not only to visually render the message but also stylistically represent these two dominant
periods of Puerto Rico's history. Through typography one is able to communicate more than
message; it has the potential of enveloping elements of place, time, power, and culture.
Understanding the potential, my body of work revolves around writing. The writing exposes not
only messages but also the character of the pieces through its typographic compositions.
From research, several typefaces were selected to further enhance the creative project. One
typeface would be a blackletter and the other one a contemporary serif. Blackletter, also known
as Gothic script, was a script used throughout Western Europe from 1150 to 1500. This script
allows me to quickly position the viewer in a place and time, therefore efficiently delineating the
importance of the Spanish colonial period. Even though a specific style or type of blackletter was
not defined in Spain, it is concluded that blackletter, spread throughout Europe quickly.
Countless documents demonstrate the use of blackletter as authentic and official documents. The
blackletter textura, which is the style of Goudy TextTM Regular, was widely used by the Romans.
This is one of the reasons why I selected this typeface. The Spanish culture was heavily
influence by the Romans since the Roman Empire occupied what today is Spain. Furthermore,
religion, Roman Catholic, became Spain's main religion and to this day, Catholicism is the
predominant religion, not only in Spain but also in Latin America. I selected Goudy TextTM
Regular (Figure 9-1) as the typeface that encompasses the colonial period and Filosofia as the
contemporary period (Figure 9-2).
Goudy TextTM Regular contains a balance between white and black elements. What this
typeface was able to provide was the great presence of authenticity. This allowed me to depict
Spain's romantic but strong emphasis to power and history. The typeface is strong and legible at
a big scale. This allowed me to emphasize the monumentality of patrimony and fortified
architecture that the Spanish left in Puerto Rico. Furthermore, this typeface added the dimension
of time that I was after.
Filosofia afforded me with the opportunity to play with scale. This typeface is comfortable to
read at a small scale and equally beautiful at a large scale. The typeface is truly stylistic and
beautiful. It worked well as a contemporary typeface to represent a different time and a different
voice. It represents today's contemporary landscape. Once my typefaces were selected for the
compositions, I needed to begin molding the importance and the reason why I wanted to design.
My interest in this project grew from a void in my life, the displacement from my home
and my mother. It was that void that got me interested in reading about urban theory and authors
such as Richard Sennett and Kevin Lynch, who offered me a great deal of insight on how to read
urban form and life. But I also read Borges and poetry of a friend, Guillermo Rebollo Hil. It was
the poetry that satisfied my emotional side while Lynch and Sennett my academic side. While
reading, I continuously kept writing about experiences that I remembered or insights into how I
perceived urban life. Writing became very important in the process. I was writing ideas,
memories, experiences, thoughts, conversations, music, etc. The purpose of writing was to allow
me to go back to something and develop visual compositions out of words. Writing became the
root of the project.
Today, cultures are viably absorbed through communication. Media and books act as
filters of this unknown phenomenon. This modern method of understanding cultures has a hole,
this being the direction in which the information is going. This unidirectional transfer does not
allow the recipient to feed back into the formula. What this creates is an assumed and
unauthentic representation to what the culture is. Stereotypes are a product of this model. The
most optimal model is one that is bidirectional and both parties are allowed to dialogue back and
forth. It is through the transaction of the bidirectional model that one can truly begin to
understand cultural identity. In order for the dialogue to take place, one must interact with other
"naturals," see and hear their respective opinions. In urban Puerto Rico, specifically the
metropolitan area, this dialogue occurs bilingually. So many American brands and products are
present in this area that it is merely impossible to negate them. The metropolitan landscape
contains a constant dialogue between the English and Spanish language. What is bilingual by
nature has become one language, Spanglish. This is more evident in the younger generation than
any other. The creative project is based on the identity of the outside so in nature, it is bilingual. I
am bilingual and I also speak fluent "Spanglish." The young Puerto Rican generations have
adopted and continue to recreate this broken language in order to posses something unique about
the culture and through this process, affect culture. This hybrid language has become so widely
used that it is now heard in America, Latin America and even Europe. It has been magnified
through music and commercialized throughout the world. Because the plural use of English and
Spanish is used to today's urban landscape, the decision to use both languages was made in order
to preserve the authenticity to what is experienced in the street rather than the classroom per say.
This transaction was crucial to my creative project because not only did I project my perception
but also the perception of others who interact with me. In order to arrive into a position of
transaction between others, and myself, I wrote poems that depict realities of the urban quotidian
life. These self-written poems were internally processed and their messages contain an important
meaning to me. Understanding the fragility of this transaction, authorship becomes an integral
facet of my creative work. Even though my natural occupation of the space, as I was born and
raised there, adds credibility to the work, it is authorship what roots the work to me. Through
authorship, I take responsibility and position the viewer to understand the culture through my
participation in it. Above all, I felt that there is a need to expose the different realities of this
metropolitan area because people, who are not from there, assume that life is one way when it is
really more layered than media perhaps, depicts it. Even those living within this urban edge, at
times, overlook the essence of living in such form and end up not appreciating the great value the
city has on our culture and us. If one learns and grows through the difference in others, what
better place than the city to magnify and allow us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in such
exploration. As I was born and raised there, I learned and shaped myself through this plurality
and even though I might not have understood such transformation earlier, it still had an effect in
me. People might perceive my work as pessimistic or perhaps detrimental because they overlook
the details on how the city works. My work is not a negative outlook on the city. It is merely a
depiction of the things that allowed me to learn, develop character, garner my competitive
personality and at the same time be humble about my position in this shared urban space. This
need, to better understand one's purpose and meaning, rises from the death of my mother. Her
role in helping me figure out what I am was tore through death so it was up to me to search for
such. Writing became the most intimate yet reciprocal form of dialoguing between my external
reality, my recognition of presence and my internal memories. The writing not only depicts my
memories, experiences and observations, it also demonstrates that even though the urban world
is composed of different cultures, we all still share common experiences within this context. The
writing allows the reader to create sensorial experiences with the work. The work could say what
other people say but it is my words that give meaning to the research because the viewer is able
to experience a culture through my eyes, my words, acting as a filter to their heart and mind.
Urban Creative Analysis (UCA)
As I read theory, poetry and history of urban form and life, I visited Puerto Rico three
times in order to document the images in which I was writing about in my journals. In each trip, I
stayed for a period of three months and it was during those nine months that I documented all
images and started molding the research. The success of this research relied on a process that
started well beyond my decision to study in Graduate School. This process breaks down into
Living in Puerto Rico (Car)
Leaving Puerto Rico (Plane)
Returning to Puerto Rico (Foot)
Through these three metaphors, one can truly begin studying and evaluating urban identity.
These metaphors contain the elements of velocity, distance, and energy; they require the use of
all your senses as a method to describe the city.
Living in Puerto Rico. The car refers to the time one spends in the city under the
supervision of older siblings. It is at this time when one looks at the city from inside the car at
various velocity but always maintaining a distance to the use of touch, smell and at times
hearing. One looks out, protected by the car and the trajectories that the person driving chooses.
In this stage, one is looking at the city at a velocity that only permits you to see the facades the
city portrays to you. This is the time when one begins understanding landmarks as nodes of
direction within the city. It is very important because this stage is the first stage of the process of
understanding the city.
Leaving Puerto Rico. The second stage is the plane. It is in this stage where one leaves the
city for whatever reason and has the perspective to look at it from above. In this stage, distance is
a critical factor. Also, it is in this stage where one must use the mind to recover memories from
the time you could use your senses. Away from it, one counts on books, articles and sporadic
visits that refresh your mind with more images that define you in this urban landscape. At this
distance, one begins to notice what is maintained in memory and what one learned from looking
at it from the first stage. At this point, one begins to analyze and question elements from the city.
This is the most critical stage due to the reading, analyzing and interpreting of what one search
for, identity and cultural value. It is here where one becomes a historian, academic, theorist, and
thinker. This is the stage where one opens its eyes without the older siblings having control of it.
Returning to Puerto Rico. The third stage is the foot stage. Here, one returns to the city
after one has read, written, analyzed and studied the city one once occupied. Now, one walks the
city and sees it differently. This new vision is due to the exploration of oneself away from it and
now the understanding of one's purpose within this urban culture. At this point, one starts
transforming the information into art and most importantly, into meaning. It is here when one
uses all of your senses to better define his or her own meaning as an urban dweller.
After understanding the city through these metaphors, compositions were created and an
exhibition was designed to expose such. The exhibition was crucial to the work because it was a
tool to interaction between my work and the community. It was very important for me to see how
people reacted to my work. Several considerations were taken in order to achieve an intimate
experience between viewer and the work. In order to direct people from enjoying the pieces from
afar and getting them to become intimate with them, I had to consider two senses, sight and
touch. I did not want the viewer to see my work from a distance because I feel that culture must
be experienced through immersion. To achieve that, I played with scale in order to attract
attention to the viewer but also permit them to want more in order to get closer and see the rest
(Figure 9-4). This seemed to work exquisitely. The second sense, touch, was tough to
conceptualize. I wanted the viewer to desire to touch my work. I wanted the viewer to physically
interact with culture so I debated on how I will achieve that and I seemed to get it from the
texture of the paper where I printed my urban poems. I selected a dense, textured paper that
accompanied with the historic typeface, gave the viewer a sense of time and place therefore
triggering them to get closer and touch the piece. In the future, I hope to use the sense of smell
and sound to further enhance the experience of my work. I feel this is a good strategy to the way
a designed the exhibition in order to not only grab the attention of the viewer but immerse them
into this culture in order for them to absorb it.
It sounds complicated but that was the only way I was able to reach an effective dialog on
the urban culture of the landscape. I see this process (walking, driving and flying) as tools to
understanding culture. There are plenty of ways researchers or even individuals might consider
to understanding and learning about cultures. Many would do it through the study of paintings,
sculptures, books, monuments, tourist guidebooks, television, movies, etc. I learned it by these
three stages. Sure, some of the other elements were present in my understanding of myself but
for me, the city is the painting, sculpture, monument and the book that contains chapters and
chapters of information valuable to one's search of urban identity and culture.
The tangible result of the project was developed with great detail. There were different
types of work produced for this project with the intention of enveloping as much of the city as
possible. The first creative product was a set of poems that narrated memories, experiences,
commentaries and passages about urban culture and the quotidian life (Figure 9-3). It was in
these poems that I initially began to explore the use of Goudy Text Regular from Linotype and
Filosofia Regular from Emigre. These typefaces were selected because they satisfied several
criteria important to the body of work. Furthermore, these typefaces represent me in my body of
work. Their form and articulation are a direct representation of my life, character and
personality. The blackletter represents my bold, aggressive and strength aspects and Filosofia
represents my romantic, articulate, and contemporary aspects. Through the use of both typefaces,
I was able to begin encapsulating time into the pieces and permitted my perception to be
manifested with the opportunity of being interpreted. They were the backbone of the entire body
of work. These poems were the most crucial facet of the project because they contained the
substance of what I wanted to viewer to see. Looking at the poem in Figure 9-4, one can notice
how the typography moves within the aperture. Typography was used to evoke rhythm, pacing,
and movement. That is the reason why one can observe that not all words and even letters, line
up next to each other. This decision creates an irregular rhythm that exists within the vernacular
language of the street. Looking at a detailed image of the same poem (Figure 9-5) demonstrates
the intentions closer. Notice how angles and proximity are arranged in order for it to be legible
but at the same time, to convey a secondary message of space and order. When using Goudy,
Notice how it not only depicts the colonial period but also to adds power, boldness, and weight
the canvas. Its use allows for visual balance and aesthetic interest. It also, because of its density,
allows the eye to move easier through the composition. Other examples also demonstrate the
procedure (Figure 9-6 through 9-9).
More than twenty poems were developed but only sixteen were exhibited. The poems were
printed on a Kraft paper purchased at Neenah. This paper allows the pieces to maintain the
vernacular aesthetic that was desired for the exhibition. Through this material, one is able to
detach the viewer from something that seems untouchable into an intimate and local piece that
should be interacted with. Typographically, there was a need to expose two realities, the colonial
and contemporary. As explained before, Goudy Text Regular and Filosofia were chosen to depict
their respective realities. The selection of typography allows the viewer to observe that there is
two time periods that exist within the compositions. The duality of time was very important due
to its transparency in the urban landscape. The size was kept small in order to attract the viewer
to get closer and read the poems.
The next phase of the pieces was patterns. The significance of this facet of the work is
visible though the way people live within the city. There are several things that are omnipresent
in the city and people, through repetition, make it significant and assimilate them into their
quotidian life. Through this process, they become part of the urban culture. These patterns are
symbols of the way we live in the city. They represents facets from cuisine, music, sports, etc.
some of them seem obvious to all people and others seem unusual. Since many people only see
few elements of this urban culture, these patterns manifest the common but also uncommon
facets of this rich landscape. Some of the elements include the perpetual traffic jams, the thought
of spending time on the beach, the craving of refreshing one's thirst with a fresh fruit juice, the
competition that drives us, and the presence of religion in our lives. These are just few of many
patterns of the urban quotidian life. The pieces contain not only the pattern but also an image
below it. This image allows the viewer to position place and symbol. The decision to include
both came from a desire to manifest where the memory visits and how it interprets images into
developing symbols. Many different images can trigger the memory to think of the same pattern,
this is just one. These patterns will quickly trigger the sensory thoughts and provoke the viewer
to imagine, feel, taste, hear and touch the culture (Figure 9-11). The patterns contained elements
of the quotidian life, such as: vegetation, domestic animals, religious motifs, traffic jams, cultural
events, and people (Figure 9-13). I wanted to show a little bit of everything in the vernacular
rather than just making a set of fruits or so on. The elaboration of the patterns, besides its
exposure of the quotidian, was to visualize it as a commercial print that could be applied to wall
surfaces, fabric, and objects (Figure 9-15). Due to time and cost, the patterns were kept as
samples on paper.
The last facet of the creative project was the 20" b y 30" canvas of municipality poems
(Figure 9-10). These compositions contained not only the poem but also imagery to accompany
the writing. They depict memories and experiences within the municipalities of the metropolitan
area. Images had direct correlation with the writing. Under such a layered landscape, components
of the city can be easily overlooked by locals and even more by foreigners. Every image
captured had an elaborate amount of layers that were overwhelming to the poems. In order to
magnify the strength of the compositions, a technique, which I call, singularization was utilized.
This technique refers to the use of imagery in order to convey a targeted message. Since images
were complex, by extracting just what is necessary from the image, one can focus the
composition and the message (Figure 9-16). This method allows for subject focus and through
this, a foreigner might be able to notice such subject when visiting the urban landscape in a
future occasion. They helped accentuate the message. These compositions expose the realities of
a young man living in the city and the facets of growing in such complex urban setting.
Typography is used to delineate message, time and rhythm. The poem's lines are arranged
according to the pace of the message. This would allow the viewer to experience elements such
as: intensity, density, dominance, passiveness, distance, proximity, movement and space. The
poem permeates the negative space of the piece as if it is creating its own landscape. The
language is written as the urban colloquial language is utilized. This means that certain aspects of
the pronunciation are omitted, accents are added or subtracted, and slang vocabulary is utilized.
This decision was made in order to demonstrate the origin, corruption and genuine elements of
today's urban language. Typography size is varied in order to create intensity, focus and
importance according to the messages. The pieces seem minimal but such minimalism allows the
viewer to see what they need to see and nothing else. This creates interest in the images that are
presented. It affords a sense of impact and shock due to the power of the images. This is once
again called visual singularity. Through this technique, one is able to only expose what one
desires the viewer to experience. The technique could be used to maximize the visual into the
viewer's memory in order for the viewer to be more prone to noticing the subject if seen under
such a layered landscape. This technique allows complete focus on the message and gave the
compositions a clean, uniform aesthetic (Figure 9-2). A portion of the work was framed in order
to further accentuate time and history. Whether all pieces will be framed has yet to be
determined. All photographs, patterns, and municipality poems were printed with archival paper
and ink in order to maximize its collector's value and preservation.
In order to facilitate the use and interpretations of the pieces, here are some of the
descriptions. The description is based on the artist's perception through his life in and outside the
urban perimeter in metropolitan Puerto Rico.
Figure 9-10: These two compositions depict the importance of the haircut in a young
man's life. The use of the gamecock is utilized to serve as a metaphor to what the young male
lives in the city. In order to fight, the gamecock must not have its crest due to its fragile position
and the possibility of bleeding to death. The importance of the haircut in a young man's life is
just as crucial. Young males cut their hair every week to maintain elegance in order to compete
in the urban landscape. Just as the gamecock, there are people who have earned their reputation
for preparing and breeding strong fowls. This does not guarantee their victory but in perception,
it helps theirs odds. The young man's hair is also left to people that have earned a reputation for
such task. Young males visit their respective master's to keep them elegant not only for the
ladies but also for the men. The decision to include this facet of urban life is attributed its current
importance in the urban culture. Whether it is in Puerto Rico, New York, Orlando, Chicago,
Puerto Rican males have an obsession with their haircuts and maintaining such elegance.
Figure 9-11: This piece exposes one of many elements that are part of the urban
quotidian life. The fortification of the fort is and will always be part of our history and the
dominant use of avocado as part of our cuisine is just as important. In my household, avocado
was eaten with white rice and it is part of my life as Puerto Rico's urban history. The image of
the fort and beyond reminded me of the avocado because of its beautiful green color. The excess
of the color activated my memory into thinking of such side dish to any meal. My mother loved
avocados and a strong memory of her will be her obsession with eating plain white rice with
avocado while she sat on her own to meditate.
Figure 9-16: This poster raises a question that parallels with the metaphor of the
gamecock. The question reads, "What does a gamecock that has lost many battles do?" This
speaks about not only the bums, but also any male in the city. The decision to using the bum was
made because, visually, it portrays a sense of defeat and the body exposes such depreciation. The
composition also answers many possibilities to what a multi-loosing gamecock does. It
comments on results of strength, perseverance, weakness, addiction, spirituality, labor, and
Figure 9-1. blackletter, Goudy Text Regular, 2006
The quick brown fox jumps over
Figure 9-2. Filosofia, 2006
quile sopi Qg ?
me dtjan sat
Figure 9-3. Urban poem. 4" x 12", 2006.
que pensara la cultural de nosotros
Snin rermalnanraml queler rnmenaniau
) idcntrdad no pdaemo estar mas displastar
cstamos al garctt.
miaiiifeslacioun de la tela urbana.
Aliora sonos adiclt a la brea. aritf b tao
nus coIarotn ias ins. ,:pa' que carajo son las guaguas?
Eso es pa' los pobrcs Si dc cheque' a chlquc pagamos y en deudas still
I.s qi-se..a ern ea e ne i.Kn s h .r -2l.nH cuanto CStaLi El dia
n.. & li i.. dc tu murtc.
Figure 9-4. Urban poem. 4" x 12", 2006.
en identidad no podemos estar mas despistau.
cstamos al garet.
alabrea. arr9 l ata
son las guaguas?
mos y en deudas still -
orasolamente CUantO tstard cl
Urban poem. 4" x 12", 2006.
quin SOQ O r"mrr0?
me drias k ee
me drias ster
Figure 9-6. Urban poem. 4" x 12", 2006.
'"' '~"" "~ '' ~" "~"
pre n tale a un jibaro y te dira i
pr'egurtale aun teco y te dira oti
preguntale a otro,
y otro te dira lo que tu eres.
nadie reconoce lo que te has faj)
dejate de fecas.
eres chino o japones?
es lo mismo.
nadie lo va a reconocer.
mr dejas stt
Figure 9-7. Urban poem. 4" x 12", 2006.
Sno U to pnEude ]impial conm la minrda e papcl.
rnas vale que no la cagues porquI
,w tr qnuda hasta que rc limpic 11lorando y
Figure 9-8. Urban poem. 4" x 12", 2006.
Figure 9-9. Urban poem. 4" x 12", 2006.
Patl brEa .iH
,. s algaro
olh Sit! h in. iin. I'n
l) ampr dirr mai si nr
Figure 9-10. Bayam6n #1 and #2. 20" x 30", 2006.
UUUt2UCVVU~V UJCUJ "~U UU(ZUC)U~U~~VU~VU(2 AJUU UUCY hUVQ U& NUL)CUV
C,. c.0.c o n y.u.' cI u.i.c
c C *.. 0 L U. CU
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t C?1.: u 'L'c c '.
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u C 1 '. A ,
.( .. ,( 3 .,
C.. CS..GC 333 ., O C
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.., P 3 .0. 6 0 .
iShLI ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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Figure 9-11. Aguacate pattern. 12" x 12", 2006.
3, C 0
.. 0 .
6O O 8O
O~ JON OA Ok
O0 O~ bOO
( 0 Ou( UO'
O Olt OVk Af O
Figure 9-12. Aguacate detail, 2006.
y$ F .I yI -y 1.1 -.1 t l )
flf itI t $I II I II I I4 1 I I
it f 111iff III f 1 f1 I 1 )
I, f iI q I r1 1 I 1 t I I I k Ivq I II I r II
S!, 5 6 '16 "0P ~ : '41,id ;
.. -. 1. . . .
Figure 9-13. Patterns of urban culture. 12" x 12" each, 2006.
Figure 9-14. Candelabro detail, 2006.
00 000 00 0 00 j V
0 00 0000000X X, X
OS0~ rO OSOQ~14 aoo^^^
S02 .. ..
m c8 w ? d~ ,
~ ~ ~ 1 |" o "
Figure 9-15. Pattern details, 2006.
sipt pritanda hasta gu[ no refpltt mis.
sB mloa pra Ia rcllt pOlquc n nrinin ladlo ow quinim Ms.
or riLrI h.ror la i nidar i[udo ID quLr L'u d0tinljo JETa.
b1a0. bura, bins, lasr (mrsiguir alao rn pa trabaar.
iraLE jAl uidnl Jrre p[ni no io drpil pcLidr
dir gut na a scu ir prticnd p a lain rntgl no Ir dan.
It pia il ambar pro no a Is pauor armrnrr.
It prs tanto qou no 10 dia Iktlar,
or Iaian c oUr dia pam kar tro otra Ia.
st Crnmu t 1 busra futta is ara r it da nda cd.
or arrtpiamt, ber a t nso porquc nadir mis to padrc soNar.
Figure 9-16. El sabio, 2
,:]i, n,,.,: ,r ;. ll ...ir l:,j, ,,, ,n, ', .- :', an;' i s --i* ,
x 30", 2000.
I '. 111 IW l na rr 2 ---06
Figure 9-17. El sabio (detail), 2006.
siguc pclcando hasta que I
se muda para la calle porq
sc mete herofna para oluid
busra, busca, busra, hast
se mete al cuadrilItcro pt
dice que na a sqguir perian
it pesa el arrebato per no
It pcsa tanto que no Io dejr
at loanta otto dfa para ha
tragic y bien no se recibe.
todo gallo pasa por esto
en a.lgn memento u otro.
pero todos pasan, todos pagan.
la ciudad es el cuadrilAtero
y y6 el animal que pelea en ella.
soy un gallo del ayer, del maflana.
un gallo, urban y
.^.^ Si^P cirB I
Figure 9-18. Ciudad de Carolina (detail), 20" x 30", 2006.
la frnnia a haonorjahle
de haecr ud rwr
paral ld olninimncint uraiio
y lass iafaer6fn personal.
guLlie 9- 19.
esidente, 20 x 30", 2000.
la forma mis honorable
de hacer su dinero
es limpiando su territorial,
para el mantenimiento urban
y la satisfacci6n personal,
sea lo que sea.
gure 9-20. Resident (detail), 2006.
Figure 9-20 Residente(detail), 2006.
y la ciudad me persigue.
ahora es mi turn para pe.ear
y d6jame decirte que mi entrenamiento fud
trgico y bien no se recibe.
todo akllo pasa por esto
en algun momentoo u oulra.
pero todos pasan, todos pagan.
la ciudad es el cuadrilatero
y y6 el animal que pelea en ella.
s.:.v unl gatll delayer, del mafana.
un gallO. urban
.ruI t cMpora I
Figure 9-21. Carolina, 20" x 30", 2006.
IMPORTANCE OF WORK
The discipline of design in the academic environments has been concerned with
conceptualization and aesthetics. Not too often did I experience a drive into using the ability to
conceptualize, problem solve and aesthetically develop elements into a drive of understanding
cultures, society and people (Figure 10-1). It was not until I started my graduate studies in
Graphic Design, that I began exploring my desire to use visual compositions to educate and help
society understand culture through my work. The field of Graphic Design is often viewed as a
process of creating corporate identities in order to get money in return, but I feel that it could be
used to help communities (whether academic or professional) to understand other cultures. As
designers we create cultures and now that diversification is becoming global, the necessity of
understanding cultures has become essential. Language itself segregates the cultures, so do
customs. But visual imagery can be absorbed by everyone and could be used as a tool to educate
others on the life and conditions of places. The potential lies in using language, music and
images to formalize and concretize ideas of culture and then expose them for others to see and
My intention as a designer is to represent elements of my life in an innovative way. In
doing such, facilitate others to better understand my culture through my experiences. As an
academic I hope to show a thorough compilation of important elements that comprise the
understanding of the urban culture of Puerto Rico but perhaps an example to be used when
studying other cultures. The goal is to present the heterogeneous multi-temporal stages of
identity that are and will always be presented in a modem urban context. The final goal is to
inspire others into learning about cultures in the discipline of design.
Urban dialogues, is an important project in the field of graphic design (Figure 10-2, 10-3).
The project exposes the trajectory one could experience in the process of understanding urban
identity and culture. As the majority of the world turns urban for the first time in human history,
we will need to be prepared to face the complexities of this plural landscape. With this
complexity comes an enormous confusion to how we perceive and understand others and
ourselves. Graphic designers have an integral role in this moment in history. We shape messages
through media and space and it is our responsibility to make sure that things have the capacity of
being understood by others. Decoding information in the multiplicity of the urban landscape is a
challenge and the necessity of finding the essence of one's culture is even more critical. For
these reasons, I understand that "urban dialogues" is an important project to this field.
This project also serves as an important step in my life as I know clearly understand the
purpose my mother lived and died. She allowed me to see for myself, the light and the shadows
of my beautiful home. Through this process, I was able to take my academic life into a different
level and it opened the doors to my professional life for many years to come. It is my mission to
utilize what I have learned to show others the reality of this complex phenomenon, the city.
Through exhibitions, seminars, workshops, and writing, I hope to spread my knowledge to many
people and many cultures. This is how society will benefit from my work, through the exposure
of it. I hope my name one day is remembered as someone who loves his culture very much and
that understood his place in it.
Figure 10-1. Exhibition piece. 2006.
Figure 10-2. Exhibition opening. April 17 of 2006.
Figure 10-3. Exhibition opening. April 17 of 2006.
EQUIPMENT AND DOCUMENTATION
In order to document I used the following tools:
Sony DSC-717 digital camera at its highest resolution to capture vernacular images.
1GIG Memory Stick in order to be on the field without loading images constantly.
256 MB Memory Stick just n case I ran out of space.
Samsung Digital Camcorder to capture dialogues, music and sounds of the city.
Apple Powerbook G4 to contain and manipulate my data.
Lacie External Hard Drive 180 to store of images and video.
Adobe Photoshop CS2
Adobe Illustrator CS2
Adobe Indesign CS2
Final Cut Pro HD
While in Puerto Rico, I took over 5,000 photographs, over 10 hours of video footage which
include personal interviews, city life, cockfighting and collection of routinely things which are
used in the quotidian life. I was mostly interested in places, things and people, which were part
of my life in order to reach a genuine representation of my identity.
While in Puerto Rico, I always had my digital camera and digital camcorder with me. That
was not a problem since I commuted the island with a close friend or on my own. Most of the
pictures I shot were taken from an unobtrusive location in order to capture an uninterrupted shot
of quotidian life. Many shots were taken while moving in the car, others while shooting it from a
distance in which the subject could not realize I was there. This method was crucial to my
research. Through this method, I acquired shots that depict behavior that is natural to the subject
in the picture rather than a modeled shot.
Puerto Rico's urban identity is more complex that what I imagined. Even though I lived
there for 16 years and continue to go back and visit, the multiplicity of the urban landscape is
faster and more aggressive than what one can experience wholly. Through the process of
unveiling certain aspects of this culture, I was able to realize the importance of this study not
only to myself but also to the Latin American community, urban community and academic
community. The great majority of the Latin American community was under the ruling of Spain
for centuries. This occupation of land had an immense effect on how society is lived today. The
complexity lies as time continues to disappear and we see ourselves renovating the past but
yearning modernization. In a way, we want the new but are not willing to let go of the past. This
friction creates plurality in our urban backyard and develops a lack of understanding into how
this chaos truly works and affects us.
In the metropolitan area in Puerto Rico, everything is up for change. Everyone knows that
it will happen but the question is not when but how will we change with it. We must be attentive
and retentive of all things that were once standing or living. It is through this that we learn about
ourselves. The power of memory is the education that can illuminate your future. Through this
education, we will be participants into the development of stronger units that will empower the
mind, body and soul in order to make the city an organic experience generator.
Even though this project had an academic termination to accomplish a degree of Master in
Fine Arts, it is a perpetual project that will be part of me and of those close to me. The city needs
to expose its experiences. We need to tell others because it is through that transaction that we
learn and grow into better urban dwellers. It is through those transactions that we come together
as a unit. Through this project, I have satisfied the dream of a mother but at the same time, I
satisfied the need I had and was not aware of. The only thing left for me to do is what I share
with every other urban dweller; not only in Puerto Rico but the rest of the urban world that is
survival. It is through survival that one has the opportunity to tell others the story. Therefore, I
recommend everyone to desire the need to know stories from other urban dwellers that have been
there longer than you. Through those stories, you will be stronger to fight and compete in this
chaotic paradise that I call "urbe" and you call city.
LIST OF REFERENCES
Almondoz, Arturo. 2000 Ensayos de Cultura Urbana. Fondo Editorial Fundarte.
Bachelard, Gaston. 1964 The Poetics of Space. Translated by the Orion Press. (First Published in
French in 1957.)
Beauregard, Robert A. 1999 The Urban Moment. By Sage Publications, Inc.
Cabrera, Gilberto. 1997 Puerto Rico y su Historia Intima Tomo 1._Hato Rey. Ramallo Bros.
"Caliban". Caliban: Apuntes sobre la cultural en nuestra America, Mexico: Diogenes, 1971. (115-
27) Fernandez Retamar
Cantz, Hatje Dr. 2002 Under Siege: Four African Cities Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa,
Lagos Documenta 1 _Platform4. Published by Hatje Cantz Publishers.
De Hostos, Adolfo. 1966 Historia de San Juan Ciudad Morada._San Juan. Institute de Cultura
"Del ensayo" y "El ensayo en su function social." Teoria de la critical y el ensayo en
Hispanoamerica. La Habana: Editorial Academia, 1990. (pp. 109-11/113-15)
Garcia Canclini, Nestor 1995 Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity.
Translated by Christopher L. Chiappari and Sylvia L. Lopez. Published by the Regents of
the University of Minnesota.
Montoya, Jairo. 1999 Ciudades y Memorias. Editorial Universidad de Antioquia.
Multiplicity 2003 USE: Uncertain States of Europe. Translated by Antony Bowden. Published by
Presupuestos de la identidad cultural iberoamericana" (pp.23-110). Identidad cultural de
Iberoamerica en su narrative. Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1986. (Fernando Ainsa)
Quiles, Edwin. 2003 San Juan: Tras la Fachada. San Juan. Editorial Instituto de Cultura
Sennett, Richard 1970 The Uses of Disorder: Personal Identity and City Life. Published by
Norton & Company, Inc.
Sepulveda, Anibal. 1989 San Juan: Historia Ilustrada de su Desarrollo Urbano. Viejo San Juan.
Centro de Investigaciones CARIMAR.
Universidad de Guadalajara 2002 Reconstruccion del termino disefio: memories del XI Congreso
de Academicos de Escuelas de Disefio Grafico.
Zijderveld, Anton C. 1998 A Theory of Urbanity: The Economic and Civil Culture of Cities by
Ricardo Hernandez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1980. He lived in a metropolitan
area of Puerto Rico where he attended military school for nearly 12 years. He is the son of a
teacher, social worker and single mother. Ricardo spent most of his childhood surrounded by
college students and university professors due to the fact that his mother worked at the biggest
private university in Puerto Rico. The importance of education was inculcated since early age
and the desire to go beyond an undergraduate degree was a dream to his mother. Within the
family institution, Ricardo is the oldest of 3 children of Sandra Ruiz. He has a younger brother
who is 3 years apart and a sister who is 9 years apart. Since early age, he took on the
responsibility to look after them since his mother at times, had to work multiple jobs in order to
keep the family afloat and keep us enrolled in a costly military school.
Ricardo moved to Florida in 1996 after his grandmother died and his mother made the
decision in order to benefit the future of her children's education. At the University of Florida, he
studied in the School of Design, Construction and Planning where he began by studying
architecture and later graduated with a bachelor in design from the Interior Design division.
Upon graduation, he decided to attend Graduate School in order to expand his knowledge in
design communication and language.