Monday, March 30, 2009

Marcos and J-Lo do the salsa

I really enjoyed the readings this week, especially the first two! I find that when some sort of story is being told, I have a much easier time following along. The first article is a short and concise essay about Marcos and the Zapatistas (indigenous rebels) from Mexico. This is a fascinating situation where a leader of a rebel army and potential future president of a nation, is thrust into an international spotlight largely due to the suspense of hiding his true identity behind a balaclava or ski-mask. "el Sup" as he came to be known, used the media like it was a stage to create a buzz throughout the entire world that grew into erotic and cult-like following. However, as time wore on, the love affair with Marcos and the Zapatistas faded away and they were never really true contenders to take control of the Mexican government, in fact, "the day President Zedillo disclosed Marcos's identity on national television, no one even batted an eye" (Pg. 228). Interesting read, I would have never guessed that the world would have become so enamoured with a smooth talking masked man from Mexico but it happened and it is an interesting situation to reflect upon.
The second article is about Jennifer Lopez's voluptuous body so naturally it was not a difficult read for me. The author Mary Beltran argues that J-Lo's attitude towards her body and how it was received in the United States created a new role for Latina crossover actresses. In the past, Latinas were typecast into certain roles that were rigid and secondary in regards to the plot. J-Lo bucked that trend by not only being a short curvy actress in a streamline world, but also by stepping into lead roles that Latinas had rarely ventured in the past. her success led to an almost obsession with her body and was "indicative of larger changes in the cultural landscape" (Pg. 83). There is no question that J-Lo's "crossover butt" was a big deal in the late 90's and was a huge influence on future notions of appearance in Hollywood.
The last article by Patria Roman-Valazquez talks about how the performance of Salsa can provide a lot of insight into how Latin American pop culture is becoming blurred throughout the world. As more and more non-Latin people engage in traditional salsa practices, a new identity for the music is being born. One that has a unique touch on tradition salsa performances and shows that even if non-Latin people engage in this type of music, they can articulate the true meaning of Salsa through they way in which they move their body, not by where in the world the dance is taking place. In a globalized world, even certain dances are becoming transient and this article does a nice job of showing how salsa has made its way to London and is being enjoyed by people from all over the planet.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Telenovelas and Futbol

In this response I want to switch it up and talk about the second article first "Big Snakes on the Streets and Never Ending Stories: The Case of Venezuelan Telenovelas" by Nelson Hyppolyte Ortega. In this article, Ortega talks about the telenovela phenomenon that is so central in Latin American popular culture and how it has evolved over the years. He talks about how the radio novelas that were prevalent in the early 1900's were most likely the historical ancestor to the modern day telenovela. One aspect of the essay that I found intriguing is how Ortega compares soap operas and tlenovelas saying that soap operas are for entertainment and represent the upper class, while the telenovela's "mission is show reality and to teach about the affective, social, and political problems of contemporary society" (Pg. 65), while appealing more to the working class. The article focuses a great deal on one specific telenovela called Por estas Calles and its direct influence on Venezuelan Culture. This particular telenovela uses plots that are based on actual issues within the country, or as Ortega puts it "successfully exposed the national reality" (Pg. 72) such as scandals, corruption, drug trafficking, and money laundering etc. It has been heavily criticized by many scholars because of how real it is and how it can often depict powerful people within the country in such a negative manor. For example, there was an episode that had a a metropolitan police officer rented his revolver to certain delinquents in exchange for drugs. This telenovela is a great example of how the public consciousness has changed throughout the years in Venezuela. Overall, it was an interesting read and had some person elements for me because my Abuelita loves telenovelas and is hooked on them watching everyday.
In Alex Bellos' article Futbol: The Brazilian Way of Life, all that is football in Brazil is discussed. I have always known that football was a big deal in Brazil but I had no idea just how big! It is larger than life in that nation and this essay does a fantastic job of depicting that reality. The article focuses largely on the 1950 world cup that Brazil hosted and were favorites to win. They built the worlds largest stadium called the Maracana that could hold an excess of 180,000 people and the entire nation was envisioning watching their home squad capture the world cup on home soil. In the end they came up short, losing to there neighbours the Uruguayans by a score of 2-1. Some people were said to have jumped off the second story balcony to there death due to the outcome of the game. Bellos does an excellent job of relaying the feelings and emotions of the people after the loss, basically stating complete disbelief. The people even spread the rumours that team Uruguay "used the tactical system of Sao Goncalo's Carioca" (Pg. 44), a former Brazilian coach and a Brazilian style of play. This was a very long essay that tackles many different issues pertaining to Brazilian football, but one issue that really stood out for me was that of racist discrimination. All the scapegoats of the 1950 Brazilian football team were Black including Barbosa, the goalkeeper that let in the decisive goal. "Barbosa suffered most. Journalists voted him best goalkeeper of the 1950 world cup, yet he only played once more for the national team" (Pg. 56). It is amazing to me that a nation is so passionate about a sport that they could completely ostracize a player simply based on a performance in a game. One thing I know for sure is that the pressure on those players must be incredible and it is both a blessing and a curse to suit up for the Brazilian national team. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Theories of Mixture II: Transculturation

The first article by Ortiz is a fantastic overview of how Cuba has morphed, rather dramatically, into the country it has become today. He discusses how Cuba experienced so much change is such a small amount of time by stating "The whole Gamut of culture run by Europe in a span of more than four millenniums took place in Cuba in less than four centuries" (Pg. 99). An intrinsic throughout all this change was the idea of Transculturation. This term is used to describe the extremely complex transmutations that have taken place in Cuba with regards to culture, economics, institutions, legal, ethical, religious, artistic, linguistic, psychological, sexual, and numerous other aspects of life. Cuba is so unique because it was settled by people from all over Europe and Africa intertwined by the Indians that were already there. The result has been a culture that is truly unique and reflective of all the different backgrounds involved. Ortiz sums it up perfectly near the end of the article "...the result of every union of cultures is similar to that of the reproductive process between individuals: the offspring always has something of both parents but is always different from each of them" (Pg. 103). I enjoyed this article, it was an excellent read and provided me with a great synopsis of how Cuba has come to be such a unique and diverse nation.
The second article was much different than the first, In Polar"s Indidgenismo and Heterogeneous Literatures: Their Double Sociocultural statute, the idea of universal (or National) literature is discussed. This article was much more complex and I must admit, I am not 100% sure if I have a complete understanding of its thesis but I will give it a try. Polar uses the term Indigenismo as a sort of literary Mestizaje. The term Indigenismo is a mixture of indigenous literature (or oral literature) and Mestizo literature, or in Polar's terms, literature's that are situated in conflicting crossings between two societies and two cultures. He then moves on to discuss Heterogeneity and how it has effected Latin American literature. What I was able to gather from the article is that even though literature was created in Latin America by either indigenous or mestizo people, it often was written in a way that the European elite would best understand.  He describes this on page 106 "Although written about the Indies, the chronicles nevertheless are realized when they manage to captivate the metropolitan reader. The fact that the almost unanimously appeal to the king, or to other instances of peninsular power, is a courtesan gesture, but also more profoundly, it is a sign of a system of communication that prevails in the chroniclers' statements: the King or the metropolis is their reader". I think what Polar is getting at is that these chronicles and literature were written for different reasons (he talks about the referent), and it is wrong to condemn them and say they are not genuine Indigenismo literature, because it is a true representation of where Latin America was heading, to a Mestizaje perspective and those writing reflected that. I may have missed some other key points but this is the best I could do to try and articulate my understanding of the essay. I look forward to hearing some feedback in class.  

Monday, March 2, 2009

Folk Culture And Modernity

I found the first article an interesting read for about the first 40 pages or so, then I began to fade away. In his essay, Mexican Murals in times of crisis, Bruce Campbell gives a well rounded synopsis of both the creation and demise of Mexican Muralism. As he states, "Mural painting was a pre-Columbian practice (Pg. 13), with its roots in the Aztec and Mayan empires. Over the years Mexican Muralism grew to be an artistic method for telling a story or more importantly, displaying political defiance. After the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920, highlighted by the "tres Grande" (Diego Rivera, Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco), Mexican Muralism became increasingly Political in an attempt to represent the working class or Campesinos. Throughout the article, Campbell discusses how over the next 60 years or so, Mexican Muralism has gone from a thriving powerful art form to being all but wiped out by the government. Campbell talks about the idea of public space and how it was contested for by activist Muralist and the government. For a number of years Murals were the primary platform for the working class to display their feelings about society and the government and they were heralded as masterful pieces of art, more than just graffiti. But almost all of the Murals have either been destroyed or painted over for advertising or political campaigns etc. Campbell describes these Murals as being a way for the people to convey Folk culture through Art within the public sphere. Overall it was an interesting read that gives a great deal of background info on Mexico and a great deal about the political evolution of the country over the past 100 years or so.
The second article, The Spirit Queens Court by Michael Taussig, was a battle. I tried, I tried like hell to figure out what was going on in this story. There were mystical aspects, Historical aspects (Lenin was mentioned early on), Political aspects, Indigenous aspects and religious aspects. The only problem is I have no idea how they all are intertwined. I think I will have to do the same thing I did with the Borges article when I first read it, try and figure it all out during our class discussion because I am lost. I am disappointed in myself because I think the writing is beautiful but I simply cannot comprehend what it all means. Adios! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First Half Reflections

Upon reflection of the first half of the semester I am overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge in the classroom. After years of being a student, I have come to realize that in many cases I absorb the most knowledge just simply from listening to my classmates speak. This class is certainly no different as there is an immense amount of information being conveyed through our class discussions and I am very much enjoying it. I guess the main concept of the first half has been "What is culture?". The Williams and Keesing articles provided examples of Culture both as a journey and similar to a coral reef. The journey symbolizes how culture is never stagnant and continues to morph and evolve and the Coral Reef references how culture constantly changes and acquires deposits but there is no specific pattern for that change as it grows, similar to a Coral Reef. After reading these two essays, I was left with a strong sense that culture is very much ordinary...its the clothes we wear, the cafes we go to, and all these other very mundane aspects of life. Once I grasped the basic concept of Culture as flowing and ever evolving, I was able to tackle all the other readings with this basic pillar in mind.
I wont recap every single reading but I will highlight by far my favorite. Eva Peron's "my message" was in my opinion a beautifully written piece that had me captivated from start to finish. There is no question that was influenced by the fact that Evita's story is so popular internationally, but I definitely enjoyed the way in which she documents her journey from her poor upbringing to her rise among Argentina's elite. A controversial figure no doubt, but an extremely powerful symbol of the people and culture of not only Argentina, but of all Latin America.
My second favorite reading was the tiny short story "The Pongo's Dream" by Jose Maria Arguedas. I know I am not the only one in class who liked this story as it has it all from struggle to redemption as Pongo gets the last laugh after a life of hardship and slavery. While the Master has had the power in the first life, Pongo will be liberated in the after life while the Master will have to lick excrement until the end of time. This story not only gives us a window into what early twentieth century life in Peru was like, but also leaves the reader with a surprise ending to an enjoyable Folk Legend.
In all this class has been enjoyable thus far, I would definitely consider myself as somewhat lacking with regards to my knowledge in Latin American history, but I am trying to be like a sponge right now and absorb as much information as I can from both the readings and the class discussions. The vivid descriptions in the readings have caused me to want to visit these places sometime in my lifetime for sure, especially Peru! Look forward to a fun second half.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I must admit, I enjoyed the first reading by Vasconcelos but struggled through the Wade article. While I feel that Vasconcelos is clearly somewhat of a mad-man, I was engaged in the text and continually wondering what he might say next. In his essay, "The Cosmic Race", Vasconcelos talks about the creation of a super-race of mestizos or mixed people. He states that the Americas came to be as they are today (or in 1925) through constant conflict between latinism and Anglo-Saxonism. The Latin people colonized central and South America and, according to Vasconcelos, began to reproduce with the Natives, people of Aboriginal and Black descent. In contrast to Darwin's theory of "survival of the Fittest" where the strongest traits and characteristics of humanity thrive and the weakest die off, the author sees the amalgamation of two different ethnicity's as a method of creating a superior race that magnifies the strengths of both backgrounds into one race or culture, the Mestizo race. When I was reading the text i found myself likening Vasconcelos's theory to that of a dog breeder. Dog breeders have created hypo-allergenic dogs, animals that won't mess with a person's allergies, allowing allergic people to have a dog. They also try and breed dogs to have strong hips and good skin and so on... Apparently, in Vasconcelos's twisted view, the mestizo race would gain world supremacy sue to the rich blend of cultures that define the race. He uses religious connotations, Mythical connotations, mystical connotations, and sexual connotations to build an argument that I found somewhat outrageous. It was almost comical at the end that he could believe all this would come to fruition as stated by the very last sentence, "...we in America shall arrive, before any part of the world, at the creation of a new race fashioned out of the treasures of all the previous ones: The final race, the cosmic race" (Pg. 40). Honestly, I could envision this script going straight to the space network, it lacks any sense of reality.
The Wade article was much less fantasy than the vasconcelos paper! Although I did not enjoy the read as a whole, there were some interesting parts of the article. Wade discusses music and the embodiment of Mestizaje in Columbia, and specifically in the Caribbean coast of Columbia where there are a high percentage of Black people and Mestizo culture. I found it interesting that different types of music were symbolic of different types of people. For example, Cumbia music is symbolic of the courtship between a man of African descent while a woman of Aboriginal descent. The Cumbia dance is seen as very sexual and it "...recreates the image of an 'original' inter-racial encounter" (Pg. 245). The Mestizaje used music as vehicle for expression and an art form to call their own.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Popular Culture as folk culture

When I was struggling to understand the writing of Asturias I found myself captivated by the words themselves. I often found myself re-reading paragraphs in an attempt to pick up the general direction of the "Legend of the Singing Tablets", the "Legend of the Crystal Mask", the Legend of the Silent Bell", and the "Legend of the Dancing Butchers", but also revelling in the beauty of the words that were being used. I especially enjoyed the story of Ambiastro from the Legend of the Crystal Mask, who displayed a strong theme of resistance to the men with "worm-white skin" (Spanish Colonialists I would guess?) and fled into some sort of cave and created symbolic art pieces out of granite and wood and other materials. All these creations were methods of telling stories or struggle and redemption, or at least I think!! All the other legends had similar stories about legendary figures that have been infiltrated by some new group of people or religion and they resist or fight in some way. I think that in all the Legends the characters that represent the Indians end up dying or succumbing to these new external least that's how I interpreted it, I suppose I will find out in class this week! Even though I did not completely understand what was happening at all times i did however enjoy the writing, there is no question it was eloquent and unique.
The second reading "The Pongo's dream" by Jose Maria Arguedas, was much easier to understand and I really enjoyed the short story. Pongo represents the lowly serf that has been dominated his entire life by people more privileged than him, in this story it is his Lord. After being abused constantly by his Lord and even ridiculed by the other serfs for being small and quiet, Pongo tells his Lord about a dream he has. Since the Lord is the privileged person he gets dipped in honey and shines as though he is made of Gold, while the lowly Pongo is covered in excrement and feces and looks and smells horrible. However, in the end, the Lord is forced to lick pongo's excrement covered body clean while Pongo gets to lick the honey covered body of the Lord. I think this mythical story describes the how the poor people of Peru have been mistreated but also foreshadows how they will resist and gain their independence from the Landlord's rule. A descriptive and interesting taste of what Peru was like as recent as the 1950's.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Faces of popular culture

When I entered this class I sported a very limited amount of knowledge about Latin American Culture and I can honestly say that this article has helped immensely. I enjoyed the article, some areas lost me a bit, like the part about theatrical performances but in all it was a very interesting and informative article.
Due to the sheer size of this piece I will highlight some topics that i feel were integral such as the influence of the Spaniards on popular culture. Although the colonial Spaniards tried to wipe out many of the natives' Religious customs and traditions, and attempted to replace them with Catholicism it is interesting that many of those customs and traditions have survived. "Popular Catholicism in rural Latin America tends to be combination of native pre-Columbian elements, Spanish popular Catholicism of the sixteenth century and the teachings of the official church" (Rowe and Shelling, Pg. 68). These ancient native traditions have been kept alive through oral teachings, art, and even theatrical performances. It is amazing to me that even though the Natives in Latin America were froced to adopt Catholicism and disregard their own Gods, the people were able to somewhat salvage a significant chunk of their traditions religious practices.
Another important aspect of the article is the focus on a flow of population between rural and urban settings. With 60-70% of the population in Latin America now living in cities there has been a shift identity and culture of the people. "To see the city as a corrupting and contaminating force, in opposition to a pure and authentic culture rooted in the rural areas is to indulge in nostalgia" (Rowe and Shelling, Pg. 97).  With such a massive flow of population from the rural areas of Latin America to modern urbanization, popular culture in Latin America is now revolved around city living, with elements such as mass media being able to reach all the way into rural areas as well. 
Lastly, being a sports fan I found it ironic that while the British first brought soccer to Latin America, most notably Brazil, now the Brazilians are the best soccer players in the world and constantly beat the British at their own game. Soccer is a game that can be played by anyone, regardless of socio-economic status, and often its the poorer nations in the world that have the strongest soccer players.
All in all, it was a very fun and informative article that provides a great look at the faces of popular culture in Latin America both over the past 400 years and up until the present day. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

The People

Eva Peron's "My Message" was an amazing essay! I thought it was passionate, insightful, real, and surprisingly easy to follow. She talked about fanaticism for the people and her country and I believe no one could be more fanatic about her people, her country, and most importantly about Peron, then Evita herself. She heralded her husband for being a servant of the people when he didn't have to, as he was born into the Oligarchy and a life of wealth and status. My perspective of  of Evita's political ideology is somewhere between communist and liberal socialist, although I would lean toward the latter. She talks about how the people are both entitled and honored by being "workers" and that there shall only be one class of citizens. For the most part, I found this essay to be an interesting read, Evita is an extremely strong woman no doubt, and it shows in her writing. I also really enjoyed her section on religion and agree that "religion should never be an instrument of oppression for the people" (Peron, Pg. 77). Unfortunately we see that religion is far too often the root of oppression for people all across the globe both in the present day and the past. 
On the other end of the spectrum is "A celebration of the monster", what's the deal with this article? It's like trainspotting the essay, just a random, seemingly drug induced assortment of thoughts put together to make sentences. OR...I completely missed some sort of abstract way of describing some type of bus driver, a monster and, a letter to Nelly? Also, I definitely gathered that it was an Argentinian based story but it sure to have many hints of Italian throughout the article as well. Maybe I will figure all this out in class after some people much smarter than me dissect it in great detail. I can only hope because I am left very confused after attempting to read this one.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Hey class! My name is Javier and I joined class a little late but better late than never!! I am excited to learn about Latin American culture as I have some ties to that area of the world with my family originally being from Cuba. I am new to this blogging world so go easy on me at the start! Look forward to a fun semester!


I had a little technical difficulty with posting the first week's responses so I had to break the two articles up this week. In response to the Keesing article, I agree with the theme of his argument that "culture" is very complex and cannot be conceptualized as anthropologists have for years as a widespread reified entity. Culture is abstract not concrete. It is more than just art, music, language, and food. I do agree with the idea of Culture having a history likened to a coral reef, the core is constantly morphing in small almost invisible ways but it is in continuous change and all those subtle changes work to shape the true identity of that culture. 
I liked the section of the article (Pg. 7) that discussed how outsiders who are trying to study a culture are often viewed as villains because they try and understand customs and traditions that are not inherent to them, often misrepresenting the people they study. I often watch documentaries on certain cultures and feel like I have no idea what it would be like to be a part of that culture. In turn, it makes it hard for me to truly understand what that culture is really all about. 
Keesing concludes his article by saying that he is not arguing for a "concept of culture that takes paintings to be more cultural than cookbooks or umbrellas..." (Keesing, Pg. 11) and goes on to state that "...what anthropologists and other social theorists need is a concept of the cultural that adequately characterizes both complex modern ways of life and those of small-scale communities, past, and present" (Keesing, Pg. 11). Keesing feels that the reification of culture causes problems because the whole is not the sum of its part with regards to cultural studies. We must look further into roots of the entire society to truly understand what that culture is all about. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

span404-What is Culture? Williams

Williams- "A culture is common meanings, the product of a whole people, and offered individual meanings, the product of a man's whole committed personal and social experience" (Williams, Pg. 15). Williams argues that culture is indeed very ordinary due to the way in which it is taken for granted by people. He discusses how Marxism argues culture is dying and the masses are ignorant, influenced by the development of the industrial state and how it "deliberately cheapens our human responses, making art and literature into desperate survivors..." (Williams, Pg. 16). Despite being a member of the communist party for a year and a half, Williams rejects how Marxism views society and insists that the essence of culture lies within its people. He also notes how culture is constantly changing and evolving as people change and evolve. In Williams' rural homeland he sees a powerful sense of culture with a strong democratic ideology, one that has not yet been encapsulated by the capitalist doctrine. Personally I do agree with most of Williams' arguments although I found the article a little disjointed at times. Maybe that i just me not understanding the writing completely but after finishing the essay I do definitely get a sense of exactly the direction Williams is heading in. He feels the industrial revolution is thought of as a culture-vulture but in fact culture lies within the people, and those people are still strongly connected to the arts and other characteristics of a vibrant culture.