Patricia Velázquez once tried to search any records of the word “reggaetón” on the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño’s official website. She came up emptyhanded, so she plotted a way to change this.
“What we want is to expose and study reggaeton as part of our culture,” says Velázquez, who’s a student of Cultural Management at the University of Puerto Rico. “What really matters is that the people who lived the genre and were raised with it are able to study and analyze it.”
“What we want is to expose and study reggaeton as part of our culture.”
Velázquez is now launching Hasta ‘Bajo Project, a transmedia endeavor that seeks to create the first digital and physical archive of Puerto Rican reggaetón, alongside Bryan Negrón, a sociology student at the University of Puerto Rico and the blogger behind Puesto Pa’l Perreo. The duo started the first phase of the project in early December, asking people on social media to upload photos of items – CDs, concert tickets, flyers, merch and more – and tag the project with the hashtag #SomosHastaBajo. Velázquez says this phase will allow them to map out a landscape of the items available before they move on to a physical archive.
“I want this to be a collaborative project with people because reggaetón is popular music; it belongs to the people,” Velázquez says.
Hasta ‘Bajo Project first began on Twitter, where Velázquez and Negrón first bonded over their mutual love of the genre. They eventually met offline and gathered to talk about what’s needed for reggaetón to be taken seriously in academic circles and why it still faces institutional and cultural discrimination in Puerto Rico.
Negrón had already been blogging about reggaetón for years, but Velázquez had never written about the genre before. It wasn’t until she was told to write about what angers her that she even considered exploring reggaetón as a subject inside academia. “I remember someone telling me I couldn’t be a feminist and love reggaetón,” she adds. “I was so mad.”
Contradictions like this one fuel Velázquez’s interest in the genre. Born in 1994, she was only 8 when Tego Calderón released El Abayarde and 11 when Barrio Fino dropped. She also witnessed how reggaetón ignited a political debate in 2002 when former Senator Velda González held public hearings to ban the genre in Puerto Rico, only to end up dancing hasta ‘bajo during a political rally years later.
Today, reggaetón is still one of the most polarizing subjects in Puerto Rican society, and the duo is aware their audience will be split in two ways. Still, Velázquez is not interested in changing that. “I want this project to be an invitation, to have enough information that people can formulate their own opinions,” she says. “I’m not trying to convince anyone.”
This is the sort of thinking that fuels the early stage efforts of Hasta ‘Bajo Project and its motto, “Reggaetón is also part of our culture.” And by culture, they mean Puerto Rican culture. Velázquez emphasizes their collection and preservation efforts will be focused on Puerto Rican reggaetón, recognizing places like Panamá and Colombia also have their own role in the creation and development of the genre.
“There are still people who think reggaetón is not valuable.”
In recent years, reggaetón has been making its way into academic circles at the University of Puerto Rico, where both Velázquez and Negrón are students, while writers, like Raquel Z. Rivera, have championed the creation of texts about reggaetón. In 2009, Rivera and co-editor Wayne Marshall published the book Reggaetón. Almost 10 years later, the University of Puerto Rico held its first reggaetón symposium – led by professors Dorsia Smith and Vigimaris Nadal Ramos – which focused on gender and class. Velázquez says events and texts like these help bring legitimacy to conversations around reggaetón’s cultural and social value, but a real preservation effort is far from being a reality.
“There are still people who think reggaetón is not valuable, and many of them are institutions like the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño,” she says. “A project like ours can start poking around these circles, even getting them mad enough to think about this topic.”
Velázquez cites her internship at the Smithsonian Museum last summer as an inspiration. She remembers being taken on a field trip to the National Museum of American History, where a tour guide showed collection items belonging to Latinx icons like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. But she kept asking herself, “Wait, but where are Jon Z’s sneakers, though?”
No matter where she goes, Velázquez can’t help thinking about reggaetón and she dreams of gathering enough funds to work full-time on Hasta ‘Bajo Project, a work of patriotism. As someone who grew up in Puerto Rico, her love of reggaetón is entwined with her love for her island.
“I was raised by reggaetón like much of Puerto Rican society today,” she says. “It’s my life.”