Reflections On One of the Weirdest Terms of My Life :)

Well, this was a strange term, to say the least! Although this course occurred during a less than ideal time in human existence, I would say that it was still  really fun! Learning about Latin American history and popular culture in this class has truly helped calm some of that home sickness I feel for Argentina and my family that lives there. Also, this class has helped me further understand the beauty and complexity of not only my Latin American roots but all of ours!

For a group of countries with such complex issues, it’s cultures, religions, and communities add an incredible amount of value to this world. From everything from literature to food, the popular cultures that exist within each region of Latin America are each incredible in their own ways. Some of my favourite parts of this term were the units on Folk Tales and Legends, Drugs, Lucha Libre, and Comics! Thank you, Jon, for picking such interesting topics for this course and thanks everyone for contributing such cool ideas and personal experiences to the class!

Prior to entering this course, I knew that Latin American cultures, religions, and history were extremely rich, but I couldn’t have imagined how much more proud I would feel to have a Latina background than I do now. Maybe it’s because of the isolation from many of my friends and family, the state of our world, or simply a sign of my own personal development, but I have a strong desire to continue learning and improving my connections with Latin American culture.

I’m not only interested in embracing my Argentinian roots further, I feel an even stronger pull to live in, visit, and revisit, other countries within Latin America when the pandemic is over! At the top of my list are: Chile (the southern parts of the country that eventually reach Tierra del Fuego but also most of it!), Dominican Republic (most of it!), Puerto Rico (most of it!), Cuba (i’ve been once with my family but i’d like to go again),  Honduras (it seems amazing from what I hear!), Colombia (it also sounds amazing from what I hear!), Mexico (Oaxaca and Mexico City in particular), and Brazil (I want to hangout with my friends who are from there and see where they take me!) – and there are still so many more places I want to visit!!

Discussion question: If you have any reccomendations for me please write them down below – i’m making a spreadsheet! Haha 🙂

Nick Morgan + Sin tetas no hay paraíso

Nick Morgan’s take on Sin tetas no hay paraíso is particularly interesting to me this week. One of the most interesting points Morgan makes in his article is that film noir and narconovelas are similar in style and roles within society. In this article, the author remarks how film noir was originally viewed as sensationalist and cheaply made, just like narconovelas are viewed by many today. Further, Morgan remarks how both film noir and narconovelas focus on the “dark sides of the social world”. Morgan explains how this theme was originally made a popular trend by film noir, and that this type of filmmaking is also important as it was the first of its kind to reflect the struggles of contemporary society directly.

An interesting observation mentioned in this article by Krutnik (1991)  is that a clear theme in film noir, that Morgan also states persists in narconovelas, is the continued failure of society to support individuals and the transformation of societies into places individuals have to escape from. The portrayal of societies as realistic-seeming dystopian worlds and hell-scapes is a theme that has persisted throughout many movie genres (e.g. horror) and, of course, narconovelas.

When considering the violent political history of Colombia, it makes sense to me that these themes would be explored in popular TV shows. I can imagine that, unfortunately, the sense that one is living in a violent and cynical world is not foreign to many Colombians. I feel like, unfortunately, many innocent people of Colombia have felt let down countless times by their societies and leaders, like so many other Latin Americans.

From colonization to Rojas’ dictatorship to nationwide poverty to drug wars to rape culture to – the list goes on and on – Colombians have probably experienced an incredible amount of disappointment in their governmental, social,  judicial, and economic institutions. That being said though, I can also imagine that many Colombians are also aware of their country’s strengths and are very proud of their cultures, society, and government – as they should be!

Reading this Morgan’s interpretation of the connections between film noir and narconovelas makes a lot of sense to me when I consider what Argentinian soap operas are like. They are of course diverse in plots and settings, like any TV genre, but have many of the same underlying themes. Many of them also use the literary style of tremendismo, in which grotesque images and violence are emphasized.

Discussion question: Can you think of any dark and grotesque media (e.g. TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, etc) that many Canadians subscribe to that is somewhat adjacent to narconovelas? If so, what is it? If not, why do you think similar types of TV shows don’t exist or aren’t as popular as they are in Colombia?

Mafalda and Argentina’s Middle Class

Ever since I was little, my mom has been sharing Mafalda comics with me! We have entire books in our house full of Mafalda comics. This weeks’ readings on Mafalda and other Argentine comics are especially interesting to me because I have never realized how significant comics are to Argentinian society as a whole – to me they were always random and cute things my mom would share with me for fun. In hindisight though, I feel like I should have realized how important these comics are seeing as how cynical humour and sarcasm is very prevalent in Argentinian culture.

Looking at the comics, I love how Mafalda is both cute but also very straightforward and even cynical. Whether it is her responses to particular situations or the reactions of those around her, the comics reveal serious issues in a comedic way. A great example of this is this segment on racism:

As seen above, I really enjoy how she is clearly smarter than most people she interacts with, especially when it comes to issues of equality. More importantly though, Mafalda brings sheer human ignorance and stupidity to light just by simply existing and being an unprejudiced human being. I find that this is how many forms of discrimination are often revenaled in real life – when regular unproblematic situations suddenly become an issue due to someone’s prejudices. Despite being a child, Mafalda exemplifies simple, rational, and unprejudiced ideas. As Cosse’s article suggests, these comics in the setting of Argentina’s history with fascist dictatorships, was demonstrative of Argentinian’s more liberal and progressive citizens. I would even argue that Mafalda still represents this in the context of Argentina’s current political state under Alberto Fernández’s central-left Peronist government.

A thing that I enjoyed reading from Cosse’s article is that Mafalda helped to demonstrate how heterogenous Argentinia’s middle-class was at the time due to cultural and ideological differences within the socioeconomic stratum. The majority of the comics show Mafalda being in conflict with the people she interacts with, although most of them live in a state of apparent understanding or peace. This comic demonstrates this for me:

Although there are certainly exceptions to this, I feel like the way Mafalda interacts with other people is a true reflection of low to upper-middle class Argentinian culture in its broadest sense. Despite often being in conflict with each other and treating each other somewhat rudely (e.g. using sarcasm and insults casually, complaining CONSTANTLY), they still coexist and work together against the systems that oppress them.

Discussion question: To what extent can we trust popular art to accurately represent the cultures it originates from? Does it have a responsibility to do so? If so, should it even have that responsibility?

The Importance of Music

This week’s reading/documentary hit home for me as music is a huge part of my life and has been since I can remember! My mom likes to joke that music runs in our family’s blood. My dad’s dad, my Zeide Simon, is a lover of all kinds of art and culture (e.g. literature, music, paintings, etc) and has passed that down to my dad and uncle, who then passed that down to my older brothers, and then to me. Then from my mother’s side, her and my grandmother, Abuela Pirucha, are major fans of more classic Latinoamerican tango, boleros, salsa, and cumbia.

Growing up, my parents would share music from all over the world with us, ranging from American rock (e.g. Jimi Hendrix, Jane’s Addiction, Pink Floyd), grunge (e.g. Nirvana,), soul (e.g. Sade) and country (e.g. James Taylor) to Latin American tango (e.g. Carlos Gardel), folk music (e.g. Mercedes Sosa, Atahualpa Yupanqui, etc), and rock (e.g. Luis Espinetta), and many more. Mixing these musical influences with that of my older brothers’ tastes in music (rap, R&B, neo-soul, alternative rock, lo-fi, trip-hop, etc) my taste in music has become extremely varied over the years.

The more I discover about music, the more I realize how incredible it is. From its complex origins to its ever-changing styles, and powerful uses within society, music is just awesome! As seen in the Moro No Brazil documentary and in the “Peruvian Punk as a Global Means of Underground” article by Sheene Greene, music transforms itself and entire cultures over time.

Further, music serves a very important role in societies – it mobilizes change by spreading widespread sentiments and struggles around particular causes. Musicians are often, directly or indirectly, important advocates for marginalized groups or vulnerable people. For example, Freddy Mercury became a symbol for LGBTQ+ rights and the fight against HIV/AIDS after his death. A more recent example is Kendrick Lamar’s voicing of the struggles of many Black Americans. Then thinking about the role of punk in Peruvian society, we again see that music can be used as a method of rebellion against oppression and injustice. In fact, punk music originated as a counterculture and then became more mainstream mostly as a result of capitalism.

A few years ago I came across a podcast by Radio Ambulante that discussed a group of a Cuban punk group called Los Frikis that injected themselves with HIV in the mid-90s in rebellion against Fidel Castro’s regime. The group claimed that by making themselves sick with HIV they would then be able to enter sanatoriums, which they believed provided better living conditions and resources than their lives on the street. They believed this would serve as a form of civil disobedience. In this case, the music served to bring a group of people with common struggles together. Further, it empowered a marginalized group of people to mobilize and fight against “the man”. This is pretty powerful! Here’s a Vice documentary on this topic if you’re interested:

Discussion question: Do you think music has the power to change societies? If so, how? If no, why not?

Reflections of a Sinful Argentinian: The Meaning of Soccer

From becoming vegetarian when I was 17 to finding televised soccer boring, I have never been the upstanding Argentinian of my family haha. My interests have never really aligned directly with anything “traditionally Argentinian” except for empanadas and Argentinian art/music (which I found later on in life). Luckily though, I have been given slack for this because I was born in Vancouver, BC and not Buenos Aires like most of my family so am by default “mas o menos una gringa” (kind of a foreigner). Due to my seemingly strange interests and citizenship, I have been nicknamed  “Green Peace”, “La Artista” (The Artist), simply “La Canadiense” (The Canadian), and many more because of this haha. While these nicknames were given to me as a joke, I have always understood that there are some things about my heritage that I still have yet to understand and soccer is definitely one of them.

Despite having played soccer for most of my life and spent lots of time with my soccer-crazed family, I have never been able to fully comprehend why people in Argentina are so incredibly passionate about the game. I always wondered why Argentinian pride relies so heavily on it and why entire lives revolve around it. My uncle, for example, is a soccer fanatic and has gotten into fist-fights and long-term conflicts with people over what has always seemed to me like dumb controversies about “El Rojo” (this is a nickname for his Argentinian home team, Independiente).

I have always thought to myself: “WHY?! Why would someone care about this stupid game, let alone risk their life for it?!” (violence is not uncommon at Argentinian soccer games) and as I read more about this topic, fútbol sudamericano increasingly appears to me like any popular movement or culture (e.g. religion) – it’s a platform by which people can project their concerns, frustrations, hopes, and dreams but most importantly it’s a place where people can see themselves as an integral part of something greater than themselves. And in the case of Argentinians, they view soccer as THE thing greatest than themselves (maybe right below or tied with God if they are religious). In fact, Maradona as a figure is connected with god by many Argentinians (the song I have linked below is named after his famous goal of 1986 called “the hand of god”).

As outlined by the readings, people often use first-person when speaking about a team (e.g. “We could have won if our defense wasn’t so bad”). Further, considering the origins of soccer in South America, modern fútbol sudamericano is a real-life example of a successful underdog story. For example, many famous Argentinian soccer players come from villas (e.g. Maradona), Argentinian slums, and not only manage to escape their poverty through soccer but eventually become the nation’s pride. Refer to this song and its lyrics for more insight into this topic in the context of Argentina:

Thinking about Argentinian artists such as Mercedes Sosa, popular culture like music and sport give people, albeit very few, opportunities to move up socioeconomic classes. This is not an uncommon phenomenon, as in the U.S. for example, similar trends have been seen with many of the country’s most famous Black hip-hop artists and athletes.  In what other parts of society can people escape their social classes like in pockets of popular culture? While whether or not people can truly escape their marginalization remains up for discussion, the transformative powers of sport and music in society are interesting.

Discussion question: Is sport important to society? Could we or should we survive without it as societies? Why or why not?

The Fighting Cholitas

I loved watching this video! The physical strength, confidence, and grit of these women is very cool.

Something that I found to be beautiful is how the cholita wrestlers find so much purpose and strength in what they do. Many of them speak about how empowering being in the ring is. Marta la Alteña (Jenny) talks about how she believes every woman has a lot of strength and bravery within her but that for some it is hard to exhibit to others. Jenny’s way of demonstrating her worth and bravery is by wrestling – like the other cholitas featured in the documentary.

When I initially heard this, I very briefly thought to myself “Oh well that’s a bit sad and kind of pathetic…” but I then quickly realize that everyone, from cholita wrestlers to doctors to bus drivers, strives to find a way to demonstrate their worth within society. When I began to compare these female wrestlers to male wrestlers, I realized that the same initial thought didn’t cross my mind when I thought about them even though many male wrestlers give the same reasons for fighting: they have a passion for the sport and feel that they are brave or strong enough to win. This was interesting to reflect on as it made me realize that part of why the cholitas are so impactful: they challenge our predisposed ideas about women’s roles in society and the abilities they should have.

Another beautiful thing about these women is how proud they are of their cultures and independence as women. By wearing traditional skirts, cloths, and hats, they are able to exhibit their Indigenous culture with strength and pride. By literally fighting in traditional skirts, the cholitas are able to demonstrate to others, but most importantly their own people, how cholita women are a force to be reckoned with. When listening to the stories of these women, it is clear that they have experienced far more difficult challenges in life than knocking down an opponent in the ring. Ranging from racial discrimination to raising children as single mothers, these women are the embodiment of female resilience.

When I was doing some extra Googling on this topic, I found a nice article with photos that highlight the rise of cholita leaders and figures within Bolivian society. Ranging from radio show hosts to congresswomen, the photos included show how cholitas have fought against racial discrimination and misogyny within Bolivia.

The article is definitely worth a look!

Here’s my favourite photo from the bunch:

A cholita reads a book next to a newsstand during the march for International Women’s Day in La Paz. Even if in the last decade women, and especially indigenous women, have made enormous progresses in Bolivia, they are still very far from being equal to their male counterparts. Issues like domestic violence and access to education are still major problems that need to be faced by the Government and society in general

Discussion question: Why do you think wrestling was the sport of choice for the cholita fighters? Was it just an opportunity or might there be another reason for the choice?


Sarita Colonia: Why her?

This week’s readings are super interesting to me and right on brand with my final project! I’m going to discuss my favourite article of the two “Sarita Colonia Comes Flying”.

I thought this article was super interesting because it demonstrates very clearly what powers people believe Sarita Colonia possesses from the perspective of someone who is a passionate believer. As a reader who believes in religion and few superstitions, I am initially tempted to judge this person for believing in something that sounds so foreign to me but then when I reflect on my own beliefs and superstitions.

However, when taking a moment to reflect, I understand that the value we ascribe to a particular belief system is subjectively biased and that my beliefs aren’t any less “unrealistic” or “absurd” than the next. I believe that how realistic the powers of supernatural beings are to us are influenced by our experiences, social norms, and cultural surroundings. In Vancouver, believing in something like the powers of Sarita Colonia or of “the grandfather” is probably not very common or accepted in our culture because we don’t have exposure to similar superstitions. However, in Peru, due to Sarita Colonia having a large following and other similar superstitions also having believers in Peru, the powers of Sarita Colonia are much more accepted as a common truth. The idea that murderous ghosts and Saints are just accepted in some mainstream societies is still crazy to me – I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a serious conversation about a ghost with a police sergeant.

Another thing I thought was interesting about this article is that despite Sarita Colonia having died as an ordinary and common person, she was made the saint of some of the most marginalized people in Peruvian society. This is rather peculiar because what could an ordinary woman who died from malaria have in common with the suspicious and shamed? My theory is that perhaps she was made the saint of Peru’s most overlooked populations because she was also overlooked and viewed as unimportant to society prior to her canonization.

As a regular young woman who met a tragic end, she had no apparent impact on society during her life. Maybe part of the appeal of Sarita Colonia is that while she was just a regular person who died a tragic death in this world, she was able to become an extraordinary being in the next world, despite how insignificant she was initially deemed by society. Maybe she is symbolic for second chances in life and death – a kind of hope symbol for those deemed unimportant by our world.

Discussion question: Why Sarita Colonia? Why would they have picked her of all people to become a saint? Do you think it was just random popular imagination that canonized  Sarita Colonia or is there a reason behind it?

Mexican Catholicism: A Syncretism of Christianity and Indigenous Faiths

For our final project, we will be investigating the origins and traditions of Catholicism in Mexico. We are most interested in studying the different Mexican saints and virgins, as well as their cultural significance. For example, we might talk about La Virgen de Guadalupe or La Santa Muerte.

According to a Pew study referenced in this article, about 80 percent of Mexicans identify as Catholic. However, as explained in this article, much of the Catholicism followed by many Mexicans has strong influences from pre-Hispanic traditions. For example, about half of Mexico’s Catholic population claims that they have “medium” to “high” levels of engagement with indigenous beliefs and traditions. Included in these are beliefs in reincarnation, witchcraft, sorcery, magic, communication with spirits, and the evil eye.

In the article, “Mexican Catholicism: Conquest, Faith, and Resistance”, Jessica Frankovich briefly discusses the significance and predominance of Catholicism in Mexico. The author begins by discussing how one of Mexico City’s most impressive tourist attractions is The Metropolitan Cathedral in the Zocalo (town center). She goes into a detailed description of how large the building is and how beautiful its architecture is. Apparently,  the construction of the building took over 200 years to complete and is incredibly beautiful on the inside as well. It is also the oldest church in Latin America and serves as a demonstration of the arrival of Spanish conquistadores to Central America. When the Spaniards conquered the Aztec land of Tenochtitlan, they renamed it Mexico City and created a massive cathedral.

With this came the tragic elements of colonization such as kidnapping, forced conversions of Indigenous children, the eradication of Indigenous traditions, the murder of native civilians and leaders. Part of why the cathedral was built in the middle of the city and on top of destroyed Aztec temples was to assert dominance.

Interestingly though, despite the immensely destructive effects of the church in Mexico, Catholicism and Indigenous traditions found a way to merge – just like Candomblé was created in Brazil from Catholic and Yoruban faith influences. A Mexican equivalent is Dia de Los Muertos, which while originating from pre-Hispanic traditions surrounding reincarnation and customs of venerating death, often has rosaries as well as images of La Virgen de Guadalupe and La Santa Muerte.

Discussion question: Do you know of any North American Indigenous traditions or beliefs that have melded with Catholicism in similar ways?

Coca, Corridos, and Culture

The assigned readings for this week remind me of a course I took last year called Anthropology of Drugs (ANTH 203), where we studied the socio-cultural meanings and constructions of drugs. One of the most important things I learned through this course is that the classification of substances as drugs is highly dependent on cultural, political, economic, and social contexts. I l learned that in essence, drugs, like all other things in our societies, are socially constructed.

This means that while something might be viewed as a dangerous substance in one context, it might mean something completely different in another context. For example, while the classification of cocaine as a drug is not likely to be subjective (it is universally viewed as a stimulant), whether or not coca leaves are viewed as equivalents or extensions of that drug depends on the interpretation of the material.

According to the readings, while coca leaves were considered an illicit substance by American, Peruvian, and Bolivian governments, it was considered to be the complete opposite by the people that used the leaves every day. From social gatherings to everyday jobs, the plant is essential to life, just like coffee or tea are essential to many cultures around the world.

In the context of Indigenous rights issues in Latin America, I interpret the decision of those governments to demonize coca leaves, destroying or extorting harmless quantities of coca plants, as an attempt to damage Indigenous cultures and ways of life. To me, removing regular civilian access to this plant is equal to banning Indigenous language or rituals.

Further, I feel like these campaigns were such fake public displays of action against the narcos. Instead of focusing on political corruption, national poverty, and general crime, all conditions that have contributed to the emergence of drug cartels, they targeted the people who were not only the least powerful but probably the least likely to retaliate with violence.

Gaining insight into the hardships marginalized people have to go through in countries with powerful cartels, I can understand why some have glorified it through songs like corridos. While there is an appeal to powerful cartel members, just as there is an appeal to American gangsters, and many Mexicans genuinely enjoy corridos like Americans enjoy rap, I feel as though the widespread popularity of corridos is in part due to a fear of standing out as a rebel in one’s own community against a cartel. Maybe people feel that if they do not listen to and enjoy that type of music they will be viewed as rebels against the powerful mobsters in their communities, and subsequently put in danger.

However, the glorification of murders is also not exclusive to narcotraficantes or American gangsters, it exists in multiple forms around the globe. For example, suicide bombers are often martyred in the Middle-East and serial killers are sometimes made into celebrities (e.g. Ted Bundy).  I feel as though logic is the least important part of why corridos glorifying narcos are so popular. It seems as though it is more of a simple attraction to radicality and violence in general, which is often expressed through various forms of media (e.g. action movies, violent video games, war-based reporting, etc), that makes people interested in the content of corridos and perhaps narcoculture in general.

Discussion question: Why do you guys think narcoculture and corridos are popular?

Food Is Power

This week’s readings were focused on the possible roles and symbolism of food in Latin American popular culture. Despite the readings being very different, a common theme between the two is the actual or symbolic power of food as a form of rebellion against oppression. Where Rosario Castellanos in “Cooking Lessons” uses the action of cooking meat to assist in the explanation of sexism and misogyny, Marisa Brandt explains the role of maize in Mexican Indigenous cultures and political battles.

When reading Castellanos’ short story, I was immediately captivated by her writing style and the storyline. I was recently reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963) and was instantly reminded of her writing while reading Castellanos’ work. Based on this short story, I would say that Plath and Castellanos’ writing styles are both simultaneously surreal and sharp, as they have their own cynical and satirical thoughts that interrupt the narrations of the mundane life activities. The similarities in their literary styles and themes make sense as these pieces were written in the 1960s and 1970s, which is concurrent with the global rise of second-wave feminism, as well as psychedelic experimentation in arts and culture.

In their stories, both Plath and Castellanos write about similar feelings of entrapment at the hands of their husbands, gender-based oppression, animosity towards patriarchal norms, and a variety of similar topics. By using the meat as a symbol for herself, Castellanos comments on female objectification and oppression, maybe even alluding to her own internalization of these values as she is the one also cooking the meat.

Additionally, in The Bell Jar Plath, which is semi-autobiographical, the main character is extremely depressed and I feel like the protagonist in Castellano’s story is also depressed and a reflection of Castellanos herself. The way she sarcastically comments on her tasks and experiences as if the person doing those things were somebody else gives me the impression that she is experiencing depersonalization, which is when a person becomes a detached observer of themselves.

When Castellanos writes this following part, I feel as though she is admitting that her onset of sadness and her inability to recognize herself is due to her husband, who I believe is symbolic of the overarching societal structures of patriarchy:

“When some employee pages me in the lobby of the hotel I remain deaf with that vague uneasiness that is the prelude to recognition. Who could that person be who doesn’t answer?… Is it anxiety that presses against my heart? No, it’s his hand pressing on my shoulder and his lips smiling at me in benevolent mockery, more like a sorcerer than a master” (p.348).

Overall, I really enjoyed reading both of the readings for this week but felt most connected to Castellanos’ story. Much of her experiences and resentments resonate with me. Both because I grew up in a Latino home with similar gendered expectations and norms, and because our society is still quite sexist despite us claiming it is not.

Discussion question: What do you guys think about the symbolism of her preparing the meat? Does it mean something that she is the one talking about herself as the food and simultaneously cooking it?

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