It took the death of  Hugo Chavez, unfortunately, to turn the attention of the U.S. press back toward Latin America in general and Hugo Chavez in particular.  However, the biographies of the late Venezuelan leader are useful for highlighting some of the commonplaces in the history of the region. The obituary by Simon Romero of the New York Times, for example, evokes the caudillo and populist, which are too common categories of leaders in Latin America.

He was a dreamer with a common touch and enormous ambition. He maintained an almost visceral connection with the poor, tapping into their resentments, while strutting like the strongman in a caudillo novel. His followers called him Comandante.

In office, he upended the political order at home and used oil revenues to finance client states in Latin America, notably Bolivia and Nicaragua. Inspired by Simón Bolívar, the mercurial Venezuelan aristocrat who led South America’s 19th-century wars of independence, Mr. Chávez sought to unite the region and erode Washington’s influence.

Another remembrance from the prolific Latin American historian Greg Grandin tries to push back against the lazier U.S. views of Chavez, which distort him through a caracature that he was mentally unstable megalomaniac and his followers were merely stupid and seduced. I applaud Grandin’s view and share his regrets about U.S. news media coverage of Latin America. Although I think Chavez fell far short of the quality of leader that Venezuela’s poor deserve,  and even fell short of other actual populist Latin American leaders in the last few decades, he gets a better grade than most leaders that have been inflicted on Venezuela.

Luz Maria de la Torre is a native Quechua speaker from Ecuador who now teaches the language at UCLA. She says in an interview that education propelled her as a leader in preserving the language.
Education was the key to battling the discrimination and disempowerment that haunted her society for thousands of years. Profesora De La Torre obtained a Master’s Degree in political science from Facultad Lationoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Ecuador and studied linguistics and sociology in Paris V. She claims her parents had much to do with her achievements in higher education. “Aunque mis padres nunca aprendieron a leer y a escribir siempre estuvo en sus sueños que nosotros como una generación nueva aprendiéramos a leer; no solamente que leyéramos las palabras sino que leyéramos la vida,” said de la Torre.

A BBC report on the work of anthropologists in the Sonoran Desert who recover and investigate the dozens who die every year on their way to the U.S. In the year just ended, 150 bodies were discovered and almost half remain unidentified.

Mangueira samba school

Here is a sample of the spirited drumming from the bateria, or drum corps, of the famous Rio samba school from the Mangueira favela. Here is another sampling of the drumming from a variety of schools that appear to be performing in Rio’s sambadrome.

National Public Radio featured older and newer artists from Latin America who write political music.

Banda Group

I have marveled at the popularity of banda music among young Mexicans for a while now. You hear it on the few Spanish-language music stations around here. I talked about it with a young, hip DJ in a restaurant in Mexico City.

But it boggles since it would be as if I was digging polka music when I was a younger, dumber music fan in my youth instead of  Talking Heads, The Replacements or (even younger) Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Proof of its popularity among the young, and in this case young pukes, is the rash of burglaries of schools in L.A. If you are a bolillo and have no idea how the banda sound sounds, here’s a sample from the giant stars of the genre, Banda Recodo, from its homeland in Sinaloa.



The police in Honduras are not the solution to the problem of  violence in Honduras, they are the problem.

NPR reports on the growing opposition to the violence and police corruption in Honduras. Murder rates run many times higher than those in Mexico.

On December 12th churches and organizations worldwide celebrate and pay respect to Latin America’s very own Virgin of Guadalupe.  The celebrations usually contain of masses, feasts, and live music/events.  After a little research, I even found out that there are sometimes large parades that they hold in celebration.  On Saturday I attended a mass in honor of Guadalupe at Queen of Peace church in Madison.  To find out about this event, I called my parents back home and asked them if they could help me find any masses going on in Madison and they told me they found one at my Great Uncle’s church, Queen of Peace, where they would be having a mass and feast following the mass. 

As I arrived, I noticed that more than the majority of the people there were of some sort of Latin American race.  I was not alone though, for there were a few of adults that were there probably just to experience the Latin American mass like me.  The mass to honor the “lady of Guadalupe” was opened by a Spanish-speaking priest, but there were bibles/readings put in both Spanish in English for attendants like me to follow along.  The mass was surprisingly packed and I had to stand the entire time in the back.  The mass was very different from what I’m accustomed to at my hometown church, which was to be expected.  I’ve heard that this mass is very lively, while the catholic masses I’ve attended regularly throughout my life have been seen more as strict, formal, and serious.  Everyone was dressed pretty formal, but there was plenty of sing-a-longs and even live music going on that I usually do not see at my church.  The mass lasted a little over an hour and the key to the mass was when the participants were lined up to walk up and touch a Virgin of Guadalupe shrine/figure as they said a quick prayer to themselves.  I noticed that some even kissed the shrine.  The mass was very different to me, but it was what I expected from it and I enjoyed it despite the trouble to understand what was going on, I really enjoyed how ecstatic all the Spanish participants appeared to be at this mass.

The mass was followed upon by a meal in a separate hall connected to the church, in which I did not stay to eat, but I saw they were serving Chicken, rice, and what I think were tamales. 

This event relates to the point in class where we discussed the importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the Latin American community.  The virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most sacred figures in Latin America, seen much like the Virgin of Mary to northern Americans.  I would recommend attending a mass or celebration next year, just to experience something not every ‘non-Hispanic’ gets to experience.

On Tuesday, December 13th, 2011, I went to 6:30 P.M. mass at St. Patrick’s in Whitewater, WI. It was during the Sacrament of Penance, El Rito de Reconciliacion II. As you enter St. Patrick’s, you cannot help but notice the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. On December 12th, the Hispanic community of Whitewater celebrated La Fiesta de La Virgen de Guadalupe. Two statues of a darker skinned version of Mary rested on the altar. Below their feet were dozens of flowers, cactus, and candles. Behind them was a poster of Juan Diego gazing up at the Virgin of Guadalupe. On the opposite side of the poster was a picture of the Basilica of Guadalupe.

As the priests entered the church, I looked down at a pamphlet I used to follow along with the service. On one side, the words were typed in English, while on the other side, the same words were translated into Spanish. Songs and hymns followed the same, with one set of words being in English while the other set were in Spanish. Church definitely was a lot different from when I was a little kid.

The influence of the Hispanic community and culture was evident that night I went to mass. From the colorful offerings to Guadalupe to the bilingual service, the Catholic Church has made great efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community and adjust to meet their needs.

But I could not help but wonder when and where did this adjustment come about? And was it the Hispanic communities who initially asked for this change or did the Catholic Church decide on their own to adapt their masses for Spanish speakers?

In class we discussed the Catholic community within Mexico. We discussed how Juan Diego was visited by the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12th, 1531. She was of darker skin than the Spanish invaders; she was just like Juan Diego. And as time went on, since the majority of Catholics were Mexicans, the syncretism of the Virgin of Guadalupe came to pass. The Catholic Church recognized Juan Diego as a saint and the Virgin of Guadalupe was celebrated every 12th of December.

A question I would have loved to discuss with the priests of St. Patrick’s is what their viewpoints on the Virgin of Guadalupe are and how
they view her festival? I understand that Guadalupe may come from the old
mother goddess Tonantzin from Tepeyac, where the Virgin of Guadalupe was said
to have appeared to Juan Diego. Does this cultural significance bother non
Hispanic Catholics?

In an attempt to answer my own question, I would assume that
a majority of Catholics do not find this offensive or bothersome at all. After
mass, I walked up to the altar to admire the many offerings in remembrance and
recognition of Guadalupe. An elderly woman approached me and began to describe with
happy enthusiasm all the different events that occurred that past Sunday at St.
Patrick’s for the celebration of Guadalupe. Her genuine admiration for both the
celebration and culture were evident in her features and tone. She made it seem
like an event no one should ever miss for the world. I guess I know where I’ll
be next December 12th.

Lourdes is my mother and an exceptional woman. I did not realize her long journey until realizations from this class of what immigrants go through. Lourdes was born in Nicaragua, now the poorest country in Central America. However, she and her family were one of the few families to be fortunate to be raised with a family who had the opportunity to education. Her father was a doctor and mother was raising 10 children, would be twelve had two not died a minimal time after birth. The children including Lourdes had a very nice upbringing. She recalls always having two nannies who many times took the place of her mother given the ten children. Although education was provided many of her sisters did not graduate high school. Lourdes was the only woman of her sisters to graduate high school. She explained during those times it was common for women not to graduate that instead they would marry before graduation and then start a family.
During this time a civil war was occurring in Nicaragua against the Somoza family a dictatorship that had been in power for forty years and the guerillas known as the Sandinistas. Shortly after the war Lourdes met and married Ernesto a man who was a guerilla and in the Sandinista party. The Sandinista party however did not prove to be what the people were hoping for, rather it became another dictatorship. The Sandinistas would confiscate home and take peoples civil liberties. Many of the families in the same neighborhood including Lourdes brother in law lost their land and home to the Sandinistas without any form of law to help. Bank accounts would be frozen for suspicious activity without any relevance. The money quickly devaluated. Lourdes recalls the government stamping the money and putting a new amount over the actual Cordoba, their currency. Years later both Lourdes and her husband Ernesto decided to leave the country to move to the United States for fear of their government.
With three children at this point the family moved to the United States through visas and political asylum. The family moved in 1988, Lourdes was 28 years old. The first move was in Miami. She had brothers making the trip more comforting however she felt it was no place to raise her kids. Lourdes decided to follow her sisters to Wisconsin. As many of the immigration stories mentioned in class, Lourdes loved her country and assumed she would return three to four years after the political turmoil passed. However Nicaragua to this day stays politically corrupt. The president when Lourdes left is now president of the country again, serving his third term after changing the Nicaraguan Constitution.
Coming to the United States had many changes from what she was used to, she thanked God she had family here. Lourdes knew little English upon arriving. However she made the effort to learn by taking classes at WCTC a free program offered in Waukesha. She stated there were many difficulties and frustrations but that Waukesha had a wonderful program for immigrants. Ernesto fell into disastrous habits. He became an alcoholic who proved to be of little help in providing income for the family. Lourdes with three kids would learn to drive, attend MATC and earn her associates in Dental Laboratory Technology, and raise three children with the help of her family.
However she like many immigrant women would work a variety jobs, usually two to three at a time. While attending school she recalled working at a restaurant washing dishes and cleaning houses on Friday. Later in years she became a teacher’s aide through La Casa in Waukesha. Lourdes is now a dental technician in Milwaukee. She owns her own home and has successfully raised three children the majority of the time being a single mother.
Immigration has been a major issue in class. Not too long ago we were discussing the dream act, an act that would grant citizenship to illegal immigrants after working in the country for longer than five years. I truly believe in the act. The United States is a country where the majority of the population is immigrants. To me immigrants who overcome the many obstacles and succeed deserve citizenship over those who take no action to move their success and their countries success in the right path.

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