About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Glenn Beck, Mormons, and Mexico

Ok, so two posts related to Mormons on this blog puts me in danger of getting a gazillion hits that have little to do with Latin America (9 of 10 google searches that bring people to this site are already about Mennonites).

On March 27, UDB and talk show host Glenn Beck went on the attack against Mexico, saying that the nation is run by nothing but criminals. Coming from GOP politics it takes a lot of cajones *pun intended* to assault Mexican politics as being full of criminals and that immigration to the US is a simple attempt to flood this nation with criminals. Interesting. So all Mexicans are criminals?

In a twist of fun irony, Mr. Beck is himself a very vocal Mormon - a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In that church, if you are breaking the law you can't join in through baptism and confirmation. However, are "illegal" immigrants baptized by the LDS church? You bet your mormon crickets they are.

Take a clue from your own church, Mr. Beck, which actually has fairly interesting things to say about compassion, etc. when it comes to "illegal" immigration. As Mr. Beck puts it, his conversion to Mormonism came from a moment of contemplation on their concept of Zion - community based on love, compassion, and shared purpose "one heart and one mind," etc. Says Mr. Beck "I want to genuinely love someone the first time I met them."

Let's introduce Glenn to some Mexicans, quick.

**Again, I'm uninterested in posts about Mormons and Mormonism unless somehow directly related to Latin America.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Lesson From Home for ... well, is that for D.C. or D.F.?

This is an interesting post from US News and World Report back in December of 2008. The discussion is of Aurora, Illinois.

The mid-1990s was the height of gang violence, when police logged hundreds of shootings and around two dozen murders per year. Funeral parlors refused to hold services for slain teens, fearing, with good reason, that reprisal gang attacks would come at the gravesides. The local cops, meanwhile, were moving from shooting to shooting so quickly they could hardly keep up, much less close cases. There were so many shell casings at some crime scenes, the old-timers joke, that police started kicking them into the sewers to avoid the crime lab paperwork. "It became so routine," says Police Chief Greg Thomas. "It was shooting after shooting after shooting with no way to break the cycle."

So, is Illinois a "failed state"? Not sure this is really the case. So, how exactly did the ATF deal with the problem in Illinois and reduce the violence.

Gunrunners. The strategy the ATF employed, in concert with local police and federal prosecutors, is one it is using increasingly. Federal agents spend their time on stakeouts, undercover busts, and working informants. They call on regional SWAT teams from the ATF to capture their most high-risk targets. The focus on major gunrunners has made it more difficult for gangs to regularly get their hands on dependable weaponry, experts say. As violence declines, local police and social workers can step in.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cuban Festival in SMA

A Mexican town known for its artists colonies and colonial architecture located in a region bristiling with conservative Catholicism decided to celebrate Cuban music this week in an old convent dedicated to a very strict order and now named after indigenous intellectual and liberal Ignacio Altamirano. I love Mexico.

El Sol del Bajio is reporting that San Miguel de Allende is holding its Six Annual Celebration of Cuban music in that town this week and next, and it is dedicating the celebration to Ibrahim Ferrer (of Buena Vista Social Club fame). This last year SMA was designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, and I imagine that the colonial architecture was only part of the reason this fairly globe-friendly site was embraced.

I've never been to SMA, and I admit to never having had any interest in going there. I tend not to like "hot spots" very much, but recent communication from the father of one of my future colleagues had me looking at SMA today. That, and my students just wrapped up Margaret Chowning's fascinating book on the Concepcion convent that is now the town's arts center. Historians deal in continuity and change over time, and San Miguel de Allende sounds far more interesting than the pots-for-putterers pueblo I had assumed it to be. Maybe a visit in 2010 is in order.

Thanks to the ever popular if not so accurate wikipedia for the photo of SMA.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Funeral Vessels and Big Love

Ok, so a few months ago our local TV channel did a HUGE no no. They came to a meeting of a local tribe and our anthropologists to discuss some of our holdings of funerary items. Despite being warned and asked not to, one of the channels there broadcast the pictures of the funeral vessels. What a stink it caused - and I think for good reason. If somebody's grave has been ripped up for education and profit, the relatives should expect at least a certain amount of respect for sacred things. Geesh.

This week, I hear that there is a big stink because the HBO series Big Love is going to broadcast their version of Mormon temple ceremonies. Another big geesh here. After my experience at the conference I went to where scholars treated religion like a Burns and Allen routine, the experience with the local TV stations and the funerary vessels, and now what I'm hearing about this Big Love stink I have to shake my head. The constant desire to "shed light" on items that are sacred to others in a way that evidences no obvious respect is simply too much. As Latin Americanists, we will be crawling all over ruins, caves, or churches physically (as well as in our research and writing) that have deep and sacred meaning to people who still use those sites and engage with those ideas, and I simply have to say, have some respect. I could care less about this Big Love show - I certainly don't have the cash (or the interest) for cable as a new professor. They can do what they like, but I think at times there need to be some limits. Burning a tallit and tzitzit in public has been considered a hate crime, so why is violating sacred Mormon experiences any different. Again, like the panel I attended, I guess we have "acceptable" religiuos whipping boys.

I once had a colleague ask a highly inappropriate (and I do mean HIGHLY) question about my own life and beliefs, to which I responded with an extemely graphic question about his wife and their sexual interaction. He was floored. What did I mean by asking such a question, he gasped. "I'm just pointing a light at a little studied topic," I replied. Boundaries, people, boundaries.

*** And just to be clear, this is a web site about Latin America. Unless you have something to say about Mormons in Latin America, I don't want anybody bringing your Big Love spitting contest on to this blog. I will continue to delete those comments.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Religion, Exoticism, Race, and Intellectuals

I attended a panel at a conference that made me feel as though we were talking about sex ed in front a pack or junior high students. One of the panelists was relating the beliefs of a particular religious group as practiced in the United States and then how it was received in Mexico. The group's beliefs are fairly outside the mainstream of U.S. religious thought, and every time one of those beliefs was mentioned the audience participants laughed. The panelist, sensing blood in the water, turned on the extra snark for entertainment value. However, when the Mexican believers put their spin on those beliefs, the room was silent - apparently those same beliefs were no longer funny.

Jainist Digambaras? Not funny. Glossolalia in the US south? A laugh a minute. Kaparot? Oooooh...bet that last one would play to mixed reviews, though I think Woody Allen once did something with it - who doesn't love a good chicken ritual?

I'm beginning to think that Brad Gregory has hit it on the head when he quips in his Salvation at Stake that many scholars simply won't put away their personal baggage when it comes to religion - hence the level of sardonic comments at beliefs practiced by "white" Americans or Europeans which are supposed to be subject to the boundaries of enlightenment thinking.

This is where a certain amount of racial exoticism comes in. Groups considered outside of "western" enlightenment traditions (rightfully or wrongfully), particularly those that have been subject to colonization projects (yes, I see the irony) are not subject to the snearing head shaking. Their practices are traditional, acceptab, and, yes, romantically exotic. Exceptions? Yep...and I think those are telling. Consider the religious practices outside of the the European dominated traditions: The Hijab and Burka, female genital mutilation, or stoning for adultery. Like our puritain ancestors of old, we have our own little captive narratives in which women are held bound by dastardly practice and where intellectuals and enlightenment thinking is to serve as the rescue party of colonists from Deerfield (sorry for the broad range of historical references today).

I'm not saying that you have to agree with all these practices, but if a US American thinks we all came to earth from the planet Globbitybong and were born from tamarind pods, don't laugh your head silly at it then nod your head gravely when a tribesman from Borneo does the same. Genuine reaction with disregard to processes of exoticism, please.

And finally, as a person that focuses on religion in his studies, this practice most disturbs me because it betrays a scholars inability to look at a religious practice in the terms the practitioner perceives it OR to even take religion serious enough to be conisdered as a key factor in a cultural, political, social, or, yes, economic process. As Alfred Schmidt states in his comments on Fragments of a Golden Age, if scholars refuse to take religion seriously as scholars, then they won't even bother to examine it. A problem, I would argue, that becomes all the more apparent when the subject under study is closer in proximity of ethnicity or social background.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hey, What Happened?

Secret History has taken a little down time (it may kill the already small readership) because:
1) We had a baby earlier this week.
2) I have to run off to the RMCLAS in Santa Fe.

I'll be back at it soon...and probably pounding the net pavement for readers once more.