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 pressures...at 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.