Thursday, December 6, 2012

El corazón

"Soy la sangre dentro de tus venas,
soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena."
(Calle 13, Latinoamérica)

Latin American newspapers and magazines are kind of graphic - at least more graphic than those in the United States.  Graphic in the pornographic sense and in the bloody/gory sense.  During my mission, the glimpses I caught of Paraguayan periodicals were often startling.  It's the bloody/gory thing that I want to discuss now.

We've seen a lot of bloody/gory imagery in this class.  Vividly visceral depictions of blood, sweat, urine, etc. are found in materials we've studied from Victors and Vanquished to the short stories to The Kingdom of This World to Bless Me, Ultima, to... you get the picture.

I want to talk specifically about the heart.  Hearts are all over the place in Latin America.  Not the Valentine-shaped <3 type of heart, but the beating anatomical heart.  Catholic images of El Corazón Sagrado de Jesus are everywhere.  Recall the heart from Borges' The Circular Ruins.  In addition, think about the live performance of Latinoamérica that we watched in class - if you look closely, there's a small screen that shows a fist superimposed over an image of a heart that is beating constantly throughout the song.  The larger screen shows lots of different changing scenes, but the smaller one shows the beating heart throughout.  The music video shows an underground heart - the aorta and arteries stretch out through the dirt like roots of a tree.

Isn't the song all about roots?  About origins?  How does the heart relate to that?  Hearts are symbols of life and love.  Blood is a symbol of inheritance and mortality.  All these themes are very important in Latin America, but aren't they important in all cultures?  What makes Latin America different - why is there so much visceral realism?

(On a somewhat related note, blood symbolism ties in nicely with my post about fire and water from a couple weeks ago:  " must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood... For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified..." -Moses 6:59-60)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Those Who Don't"

"Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared.  They think we're dangerous.  They think we will attack them with shiny knives.  They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake...
All brown all around, we are safe.  But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight.  Yeah.  That is how it goes and goes."
(Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, 28)

I'm from the state that has the highest percentage of Mexican Americans.  I'm from the city that has the third largest population of Mexican Americans in the country.  My best friend from high school is Latino.  Not far from my house, there's a gas station where a couple dozen Mexican men gather each morning, waiting to be hired for a day of Manuel manual labor by other men who cart them away in the beds of their pickup trucks.  Two summers ago, I worked in a part of town very heavily populated by Latinos - most of the store signs are in Spanish, and many houses and other buildings are painted in bright, Latin American colors.

Despite all of this, I still feel like I don't have a good understanding of Mexican American or immigrant culture.  Most of the Latin culture I'm familiar with is what I experienced on my mission in Paraguay.  However, since I served south of the border speaking Spanish, lots of people assume that I understand Mexican slang or that I'm a connoisseur of Mexican food.  Especially returned missionaries who served in Mexico.  ("Let's go to this one place... they sell really good horchata!"  "What's that?" I ask.  "Are you serious?"  I'm still not entirely sure.)

I got a very sobering taste of immigrant life a few weeks ago, though, during a phone call with a mission buddy from Guatemala.  Here's part of our conversation:

Me:   "How's work?
José:   "Okay I guess.  It's a lot of work.  You guys (in the US) make more in a day than I make in a week."

He told me how much he makes, and it's true.  Dang.  Later on in the conversation:

José:   "My brother was in the USA for a while; he was in Texas."
(Being from Texas, I got excited and asked him about it.)
Me:   "Oh cool!  What city did he live in?  Did he like it?"
José:   "He was working there, but he didn't have documentation.  The cops found him and put him in jail.  We didn't know what happened - we hadn't heard from him for weeks and we were all really worried.  They deported him and he came home later on."

What do you say to that?  I didn't know how to respond.  I somehow managed to finish the conversation.

That phone conversation, along with The House on Mango Street and La Misma Luna, have helped me understand a little more about this very difficult aspect of Latin American culture.  Life is hard.  There's a lot of distrust going on out there, and I think a lot of it is due to ignorance.  I don't know if there's a solution to everything that's going on or if the whole immigration thing will ever get sorted out.  I only hope that building trust (from both sides of the issue) can help smooth things over.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I'm not really what you'd call a 'literature' person.  (Sorry, Dr. Mack, I know that's your thing.)  I read, and I enjoy reading (most of the time), but I'm not a fast reader.  It's a lot easier for me to relate to other types of art.  (But this class is REALLY helping me get more out of reading - seriously.)

I roomed with one of my good high school friends for my first three years of college.  He studied film here at BYU, and continues to do so as a graduate student in California.  While living together, I think some 'film critic' rubbed off on me.  I try to watch movies as pieces of art rather than mere forms of entertainment.  (However, different films serve different purposes - everybody needs a little Nacho Libre every now and then.)  I've also been playing music since I was five years old.  With this background, it's easier for me to relate to sound and visual images than to text.

My favorite thing we've studied so far this semester was the film The Mission.  (As mentioned in a previous post, I may be biased because I served my mission in Paraguay and visited the ruins of the Jesuit missions.)  But as we discussed in class, this film isn't really about the Guaraní Indians.  I think I'd like this film just as much if the setting were a different Latin American country with a different Indian tribe.  It's the message and high quality of the film that gets to me.

The Mission is about redemption - it has one of the best 'atonement' scenes that I've ever seen.  The film makes you think about life and hard decisions and how to treat others.  In addition, it's stunning from an artistic perspective.  It won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography and was nominated for Best Picture.  The film score is equally beautiful - I heard "Gabriel's Oboe" several times before I ever saw the movie or realized that that's where the melody came from.  The music was ranked #23 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years of Film Scores.

Conclusion:  that's why The Mission is my favorite so far.