Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Futbol y novelas

I was waiting for weeks to get to this reading about futbol and culture and it did not let me down, it was really enjoyable and fascinating along the whole step of the way.

Futbol, like many other sports, is not just something that you simply see, but you also live it and feel it. As Bellos puts it, there is always a before and an after. Latin America, in general, is renowned for having various champions in distinct disciplines such as futbol, baseball and boxing, however without a doubt futbol is the one that “mueve masas”. The nation, for many, is an imaginary community in which people who have never met before feel they have a common bond, and I believe that (in the case of futbol) the national team serve as a way in which to cement that bond among the people in this “imaginary community”. El Maracanazo is a perfect example of that; it united Brazilians before the game with a general feeling of confidence and one of sadness at the end. Ultimately, most Brazilians were going through the same phase together before and after the Maracanzo.

I personally have a connection with that, like the Brazilians I had my own Hiroshima that had to do with futbol. To spare the details, all that has to be known is that I (and the majority of us) were confident that we would emerge victorious, however futbol is “la mecanica de lo imprevisto” and we lost to them. Until this day I still have not watched any replays of that match, not even to make sure if that was penalty or if that should of been a red card or not, I just do not want to go back and relive that moment. And of course I wasn’t the only one affected, it’s one of those moments when the whole nation seems to freeze and even though we are carrying our daily duties as usual, it is not as it was before. I remember the next day I had to go to work and one of my co-workers was also avid fan of the national team, and on that day we never spoke about The Game. I knew that we wanted to say something about The Game, but we just didn’t know what to say. A week later we finally discussed The Game and its consequences; that conversation lasted for almost 3 hours.

Ultimately el Maracanazo and my Hiroshima reaffirmed something to me; futbol is not a game of 20 men (or women) who run for a ball and 2 men (or women) who stand beneath 3 goal posts. No. Futbol is a game of 20 men (or women) who run for a ball, 2 men (or women) who stand beneath 3 goal posts and all the souls who wait for the result.

Telenovelas have been something that has characterized Latin American culture for a while and is probably the one of best indicator of true popular culture in Latin America because I’m sure everyone is familiar one way or another. When I was young and my parents weren’t home, nana would always put her novela while waiting for me to sleep so I’ve been (unfortunately) familiarized with them. I don’t particularly see what the deal about them is since they always have practically the same plot and structure, yet they are still as popular as futbol is to Brazilians or Argentineans. One of the things I noticed was that most of the people who sit and watch these novelas are from the lower and lower-middle class, particularly maids. I remember in my childhood how nana would talk with the other maids of the building about the episode from last night. One thing that I’ve always found funny was when they complained how much the ending sucked, I just find it funny simply because it ends the same way the other novelas have ended.

ps: There's this satiric show in Panama that did a "Top 10" on novelas a while back. It outlined the ten characteristics of a novela, basically if you do not most of these in your novela, then you've failed as a director. Part 1,Part 2 and Part 3.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Culture as Folk culture

I really liked the readings this week, especially the first one regarding Mayan myths. I find that many myths and legends (not only restricted to Latin America) always have a message which is transmitted in the story, moral messages to be more precise, what in Spanish are referred to as “moraleja”. I came across many of these type of stories in a book called The Darien Gap: Travels in the Rainforest of Panama by Martin Mitchinson (it’s a great book if you’re interested in culture and folklore of indigenous people, it’s an easy read perfect for the long hours in the airport, just be careful not to miss your plane like I did). What I inferred from these stories is that the primary end is to teach some in that culture (most likely kids) how to deal with problems that you face in life. At the same time it’s a process of acculturation which bounds the person with the cultural traditions in his group.

The second reading was great. Honestly I will never cease to be amazed with the creativity of those whom come up with these stories. I’ve heard this type of folk tales many times and from different cultures (or ethnic groups) in the region. And again I believe that this story ties in with a particular aspect of Latin American culture: resistance. The many stories I’ve heard that resemble Argueda’s “The Poncho’s Dream” have always the same characteristics. First they have a character that is associated with a particular group, usually belonging to the same which is telling the story. Second, this character is oppressed and humiliated day and night by a more powerful figure, usually the “white men”. And finally, the character at the end always outsmarts his oppressor in some way, leaving him with some sense of pride. And there the story ends.

While reading Mitchinson’s book I came across a similar scenario. In his book Mitchinson and some Embera (indigenous group in Panama) were telling stories to each other. It was Mitchinson turn to tell a story so he decided to go for a joke (if you want to read the joke click here, Mitchinson replaced the word “Pakistani” with “white men” and “Indian” with “indian”).After finishing the joke every Embera in the room laughed and said “That is one smart indian” . This tells me that the audience feels compelled by listening to these stories that involve an oppressed character always outwitting their oppressor.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Popular Culture in Latin America

Reading Rowe & Schelling work was very interesting to me because I believe it not only touched on many aspects of popular culture in Latin America, but also they demonstrated the complexity of it. I could spend hours discussing about futbol, music and even black culture within the cultural sphere in Latin America, however there is one particular aspect in this paper that grabbed my attention, and that the aspect was resistance in Latin American culture.

This process of syncretism between colonial and pre-colonial culture is very characteristic of Latin American society, particularly that of the worldviews held in Latin America.

Christianity is probably the biggest “remain” left from the colonial period and many people in the region still practice it the same way it was practiced in the past (traditionally). However, as Rowe and Schelling point out, some elements of Christianity have been altered and previous indigenous worldviews have been incorporated. Sometimes these elements are incorporated in order to make better sense of the new worldviews that are being imposed to the indigenous by the missionaries (i.e. Corpus Christi). And in other cases, these elements are incorporated deliberately as a symbol of resistance (i.e. “El Baile de la Conquista” among the indigenous and “El Congo” among the blacks). The former, though maybe not on purpose, is still a form of resistance because it’s not fully accepting Christian worldviews without renouncing to their indigenous worldviews. I believe that it’s this “unconscious-form” of resistance that characterizes many aspects of the culture of Latin America. However, there are still many aspects of resistance within Latin American culture that are a bit more obvious.

In Latin American countries, independence and other national holidays are celebrated very differently from other parts of the world. In many countries of the region (after practicing for 6-8 months) both the students and military from all around the country march in remembrance of the struggles that lead to independence. One particular national holiday of some Latin American countries is the celebration of the so-called “gritos de independencia” (cries for independence). Cries for independence are sometimes considered the official starting points for independence; it is an act of resistance in which a person (or population) calls for independence. Now this is not as subtle as the “unconscious-form” of resistance I mentioned early, rather it is a more obvious form of resistance and many nations adopt this event and make it part of their national holiday. By doing so, this event is now part of the culture of that country because it commemorates that act of resistance. Additionally, this ties in with another of Rowe and Schelling argument which was that part of the culture in Latin America comes from the rural areas. The similarity that the Grito de Dolores in Mexico, Grito de Independencia de la Villa de los Santos in Panama and el Grito de Lares in Puerto Rico have is that they all occurred in towns that are far away from the urban setting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

El pueblo

While I was reading Eva Peron’s “My Message” I couldn’t help myself laugh a bit, not because I’m mocking her writing but because I’ve heard this perception of the people from many (especially politicians) over the years. “El pueblo” (as I’m sure this was Eva’s direct translation of “the people”) is conceptualized as a “race” of people which is characterized by having good moral values and being hard workers however they are exploited by another race, the oligarchs who are totally opposite to the people. Basically, the concept of the people to Eva Peron is very similar to that of politicians today try so hard to relate with; the lower working class. Eva’s use of metaphor to distinguish the people as a race is a very interesting one. She repeats this word in order to distinguish between the people and the oligarchs, since a race is composed of distinct specie that shares distinct characteristics. This basically means that since they both come from different races (oligarchs and the people) they are totally different. As different as salt is from pepper. However I do not agree with this notion since I find it very idealized.

Borges writing was interesting since it posed a totally different perspective from that of Eva’s people. As I was reading it I tried to place it in a historical context, but I wasn’t able to pin point an exact date or event. However, my best deduction is that it was at some time during Peron’s presidency, and that “the Monster” was not the army, rather a nationalist group. Regardless I found this reading quite interesting since it presents another characteristic of the people. In a way, I think Eva sees the people as been just plainly being black or white, while Borges sees the other colors of the people. These colors were not so beautiful, since it described a more violent and evil aspect of this “race” that Eva didn’t. And that is why I believe Borges account is more realistic than that of Eva’s, not because I’m saying that the people are more violent, simply because if you are assigned a particular group or race it is not a guarantee that you’ll behave accordingly with their set norms. Eva did not acknowledge that in her people race there are going to be undeniably some rotten apples, and in the oligarch race there are going to be some good apples. As I said, not everything is black or white, especially us humans and our behavior; we are much more complex than that.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What is culture?

Over the recent years, my initial perspective of culture has been altered gradually by the many views of it I've encountered. Now a days, I believe that culture is simply something so characteristic that you can safely pin point to a certain place (which can be as broad as a region or as specific as a city). Essentially, for me culture is identity.

Keesing's statements of culture for me had more impact than that of Williams. Williams take on culture as "ordinary" was very interesting and I do agree with the notion that culture is everywhere, however it didn't have as much as Keesing's article. I guess mostly because he tackles the notions of the culture through the anthropologist lenses, which is something I've been familiarizing for the past year or so. There are two of Keesing's arguments which I particularly liked; one was on radical alterity and the other one was the notion of culture as composed of small things which are not necessarily “theirs” or “ours”.

What I liked about this radical alterity notion is that I believe we do this a lot. I think that we distinguish ourselves from other cultures, in an attempt to find the uniqueness of our own culture. (Whether these distinctions are “radical” or not, depends on the cultures we are distinguishing). These distinctions of the "otherness" of different cultures can work like a process of elimination which in its final outcome will leave you with characteristics of your own. When in class we tried to highlight aspects of Canadian culture, I particularly named objects which to me were representative of Canadian cultures. My group did not agree with some of the things I named, but as a foreigner these things were characteristic of Canadian culture. Essentially, what Mounties, moose and maple syrup had in common, in my perspective, is that these objects are absent from where I come from and here there are more common. Hence, I related them as part of the Canadian culture.

I believe that it is definitively the small things that make one's culture so characteristic, even though some of these distinctions were "taken" from a different culture and incorporated into one's. If you really think about it, the things that identify a particular culture (for example, that of your own country) are small things like places, language and/or music. Whereas the States has McDonald’s, Canada has Tim Horton’s, Panama has Pio Pio. These places have been incorporated as elements that now represent a particular culture. Similarly, Panamanian culture also highlights an example of elements “taken” from a different culture and incorporated into one’s own. Reggae and its genres are characteristic of the Caribbean and during the construction of the canal many Caribbeans were hired and brought with them their culture, including their music. Over time Panamanians started to sing reggae (in Spanish) and essentially, we ended up borrowing this aspect of the Caribbean culture and incorporated it into our own. Today, Spanish reggae is very characteristic of Panama, especially that of the Atlantic provinces.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Hi my name is Jean Sebastien Pourcelot and I'm a second year archaeology and Latin American studies major. I come from Panama and I'm interested in learning and understanding more about the culture of the region.