Date of Award

May 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Theresa Kenney

Second Advisor

Tami Williams

Committee Members

Iverson White, Gillian Rodger


Caribbean, Dr. Lisa Spencer, Ethnomusicology, Michael Ellis, Panama Canal, Reggaetón






Lisa Margaret Spencer

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 2019

Under the Supervision of Co-Chairs: Dr. Theresa Kenney and Dr. Tami Williams

PART I- Under the guidance of Dr. Jill Florence Lackey

A major component of my doctorate included an internship in cultural anthropology at UrbAn in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Dr. Jill Florence Lackey. The non-profit organization was housed in the Lincoln Park Village neighborhood. I assisted in planning events in the agency’s the South Side Museum, implementing the South Side Farmer’s Market, executing, and naming, the first “Gathering of the Nations” cultural festival in Kosciusko Park, proofreading a potential multi-cultural studies curriculum for Milwaukee Public Schools, transcribing stories of the city’s homeless youth, and videotaping Milwaukee police officers for a Graduate course at Marquette University, and contributing to other agency projects.

A key component of working as a cultural anthropologist is to connect groups and agencies through commonality that ultimately builds understanding and community. The methods and programs established by UrbAn were connected to many aspects of social justice, bringing voice and celebration to outsider, minority, and underprivileged peoples. Storytelling validates identity in personal, cultural, and unified modalities. I was able to use my film, social work, and Spanish language skills to maneuver through the community and serve it in ways best suggested by the agency’s founder and the inhabitants themselves. The project designed by UrbAn organized people to be in community together. Activities, events, and initiatives brought cultural groups together to celebrate their differences, rather than be divided by them.

PART II- Under the guidance of Dr. Iverson White and Dr. Theresa Kenney


Bad Syne

The first music and video images of this first project were created during my Master’s final. I took the footage and during my doctoral studies rented a film camera and expanded my footage, creating the narrative into a full music video. I entitled it, Zombie. The piece explores societal questions and inequities, as well as my relationship to these questions. I also began to explore the relationship between mind, body, and spirit on both a societal and personal level.

The second video, Bad Syne, was created mid-way through my doctorate with the permission and supervision of Iverson White. My time working on this piece gave me deeper insight into the lens of a Puerto Rican graffiti and hip-hop artist in New York City. I found the connections to be personal. The videos, like the research and written component of my dissertation, also focused on stories of identity, identities that cross in lines of music and outside art, Latino and Afro-Latino artists who were native to both Panama, Puerto Rico, and NYC. Graffiti art takes an anti-capitalist stand and organizes people to express themselves more freely. Hip-hop does the same.

While hip-hop is just one ingredient in both my video and dissertation, this sets, I feel, a quantifiable value on the significance of music for identity and understanding artists that are outside of the colonial power models. There are many Americas, each with their own voices and identities and I know, like Martin Luther King envisioned, there is a new America, where each person can define themselves according to their own accord as the oppressive, systematic structures dissipate and where all people are truly created and allowed to live, equal. Even today in a climate that warns civil war, it is art and music that are among the movements in the forefront of progress.

PART III- Under the guidance of Dr. Jeffrey Hayes, Dr. Theresa Kenney, Dr. Gillian Rodger, and Jack Kenney

Previous research suggests that the roots of the music genre of reggaetón are in Panama. However, without a more inclusive narrative of how the music was brought forth and by whom, its historical journey is thwarted and the heritage of Panama's voice and a branch of black/mestizo music remains unhonored and unacknowledged. The musical movement of reggaetón emerged from a narrative of the African diaspora, at the time already scattered throughout the West Indies, that migrated to the Central American isthmus in search of work, building the Panamanian railroad and canal. This research aspires to accurately contribute to documenting the relationship between reggaetón and Panama accrediting the music as a black/mestizo genre. This research uses the historical and cultural-anthropological methods to discern the intersection of politics, sociology, and music. This study explores how the reggaetón music movement contributed to Afro-Panamanian-Latino identity and offers an examination concerning its roots in the blended musical styles and socio-politics of the U.S. controlled Panama Canal Zone in the early 1900s. The music styles of reggaetón explored in this paper are from sources in English. This is due to the era being studied in this dissertation focuses on the U.S. controlled Panama Canal Zone, when implemented English was established as the predominant language in the region.