African American Studies


Felix Rodriguez (b. 7/9/1967) is a New York-born filmmaker. Both his parents are Puerto Rican. Rodriguez was born in East Harlem and was raised for the first 10 years of his life in Queens. At this time, his parents moved back to Puerto Rico, where Felix attended junior high and high school. Because his first language was English, Rodriguez had to pick up Spanish in Puerto Rico. His primary occupation in Puerto Rico was as an attendant for his father’s livestock, a job that he hated. Puerto Rico was constantly being inundated with American popular culture, and soon enough Felix decided that he wanted to return to New York for good. He had a bicultural education in that he was taken with both Latin music such as salsa and meringue and with American hip-hop and pop music. In fact, Rodriguez was an accomplished salsa dancer, and he won many competitions. Because he is dark-skinned, his social class was more or less picked out for him—he was considered a “Cocolo,” or a Moreno associated with African and African-American culture. Cocolos were distinguished from Roqueros, who tended to be lighter-skinned and enamored of rock music. Such divisions were new to Felix, who had spent his first years in New York among Puerto Ricans who did not necessarily make such race-based distinctions.

Felix’s academic interests were initially directed toward engineering. Knowing that he wanted to return to New York, he attended SUNY Stony Brook from 1985-1989. During this time he began to experiment with his sexuality. He had several sexual encounters with other men, but he did not yet consider himself gay because of a macho Puerto Rican adage that held that only the recipient of homosexual sex counts as a gay person. Upon graduating from Stony Brook, Rodriguez began working at Citibank, where we made a good deal of money. However, he soon found this life unfulfilling, and he decided to go to NYU ‘s Tisch School to study film. Embarking on this path was much like fulfilling a childhood dream, since Rodriguez had an affinity for art and narrative from a young age. At NYU, he came out of the closet as a gay man. This move served to clarify many of Felix’s own lifelong confusions about his sexuality: he had long wondered why he was not sexually attracted to women in the way his peers were, but he had never considered that he might be gay. Upon completing his program at NYU, Rodriguez began writing, directing, and editing both short and long films. He worked as a consultant and segment director on a New York morning show for a while, but soon left when he realized that the program was not interested in covering incidents in the lives of black and Latino populations in New York. His first full-length film was a documentary called “La Bruja: A Witch From the Bronx,” which focused on the career of a Latina rapper and her struggle to achieve recognition for her art despite the press of financial and familial responsibilities. For many years, Rodriguez was basically on his own. He had to secure his own funding (his parents, who lacked any substantive appreciation for art, did not contribute) as well as round up the necessary crew for his projects. More recently, Rodriguez bought a co-op near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where he lives with his partner. Despite the occasional hardships that being a self-employed artist entails, Rodriguez is happy with the life he has chosen, and he feels that he is both accomplishing his artistic goals and achieving his long-deferred dreams.

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