Essays by Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellow César Colón-Montijo highlights afterlives of Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera (1931-1987)

Friday, Dec 10, 2021

By Michelle Tong

Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow César Colón-Montijo has published two essays expanding on his research on the afterlives of Afro-Puerto Rican singer Ismael “Maelo” Rivera (1931-1987).

Reflecting on the process of publishing these essays, Colón-Montijo noted, “I see these pieces as building blocks for the book manuscript I am writing, entitled 'Después de tanta salsa', which will be published in 2022 by Ediciones Callejón, one of the foremost Puerto Rican academic and literary presses.”

The first of his essays was published in 2020 titled “Mi Jaragual: Masculinidade precária, soberania e farmacolonialidade aural na salsa de Ismael ‘Maelo’ Rivera” and is featured in the Brazilian cultural studies journal Revista ECO-Pós.

Colón-Montijo said, “This piece deals with hetero-patriarchal notions of family and nation in Maelo’s music, specifically with how his songs voice legitimate sovereignty claims regarding Puerto Rico’s long-standing colonial struggles, while also reiterating a masculinist ethos that furthers the erasure of women from both nationhood and musical narratives.”

His most recent essay titled “Her Name Was Doña Margot” appears in the current issue of Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism. This essay focuses on the life of Margarita Rivera García, a black working-class Puerto Rican composer, midwife, healer, and spiritual medium, who was also the mother of Maelo.

“The essay delves into Doña Margot’s parallel presence and erasure in salsa historiographies, by analyzing her songs and testimonios as feminist interventions that challenge the ways in which her affective, creative, and spiritual labor has been outshined by her son’s iconic aura as performer.”

As a member of Princeton’s first cohort of Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows, Colón-Montijo recalls how this program provided him with the opportunity to focus on his writing and research even amidst the pandemic and the transition to virtual work and instruction.

“Being a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Department of Spanish and Portuguese (SPO) has given me the space and time to write at ease, which is a particularly rare situation to be in, especially amid a pandemic,” he explained. “Despite the strangeness of teaching, working, and attending digital events from afar, I was able to complete these pieces thanks to this research appointment.”

Furthermore, it was not only his research interests that played a part in driving forth his writing, but personal events have also played an important role during the publication of these essays.

“These pieces were written and published not only during the pandemic, but also during an important personal and familial moment: the pregnancy of my wife Lívia and the birth of our daughter Odara, which makes these essays more meaningful; particularly the one about Doña Margot because it links songwriting and midwifery as listening practices.”

Colón-Montijo also added how the return to campus has also given him the opportunity to reconnect with the rest of the SPO community, share his research, as well as participate in advising and teaching students.

“Being back on campus and having the chance to interact in person with colleagues and students — for example during the inaugural SPO Research Day — is a highlight of my experience at SPO. Also, I must stress that teaching and advising undergraduate theses at SPO has been very rewarding.”

César Colón-Montijo will teach a course in the upcoming spring semester titled “Music and Migration in the Caribbean.”