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.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

El Salvador: En Busca de Booze y Libertad

El Salvador is on the hunt. Not for democracy. Not for truth and reconciliation. Not for environmental recovery or potable water (though all those things would be great, I'm sure).

Nope, El Salvador is looking for a national cocktail. In a bizarre meeting of Benedict Anderson and Cheers, El Salvador is trying to answer the query of thousands(?) of tourists who come to that nation each year and ask, "Hey, what do you guys drink here...what's the national hooch?" Take a look at the short video.

Well, I suppose after democratic elections it is always time to get down to the business of setting up what is really important to the nation - providing an official avenue for visiting surfers and NGO workers to get crunked. I'm not sure that I am going to start seeing all sorts of "Señor Papusa’s" or "Chumpe's Bar and Grill" shirts on my spring break returnees, but maybe it will be nice to have something "official" to use in the toasts for Funes' big election day party. Hillary Clinton has already confirmed attendance, as have Lula and Hugo. Can't you see them all at the bar downing "Mojitos al Pulgarcito" or some such?

On a more serious note, if you would like a good "solidarity site" with El Salvador, try this one called CISPES founded by a guy (and his family) I went to undergrad with. CISPES

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On the sunny side of the street

Anthropologist Anthony F. C. Lewis wrote about various Native American “revivalist” movements, and gave what I think is one of the best statements on why people look for a “revitalization” through a re-tooling of their world view. In 1956 he wrote that people have revitalization movements because they are undertaking “a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture.” That brings me to a moment I had with my students.

Two weeks ago we wrapped up the quarter in World History by having the students read Our Word is Our Weapon by Subcomandante Marcos. Of those that read the book (about ½ the class) there was a pretty sharp divide regarding the actions of the Zapatistas. Some were disgusted with the EZLN and Marcos. The EZLN was nothing more than a farce and a sham foisted on Indians who would once more see their hopes crushed. In a nutshell, they sounded a bit like the folks over at Dissident Voice speaking about those who long for a past that never was and future that never will be. “We are a people bereft of real choices because our capacity to imagine a real world–a doable, viable world–has been shattered,” wrote Gary Corseri in August of 2008. That is exactly what the students sounded like. Greed, they said, was the essential nature of man. Hobbes, they argued, was right, and that only a the guy with the biggest cudgel will keep us from ripping each other apart, not some false dream of community autonomy and cooperation. The EZLN, they said, was wasting their time – just get out of the jungle and go get a job in a factory some where. Wow. Those are what my mom used to call “gloomy Gusses”

The pro-EZLN students on the other hand found Marcos’ vision enlightening. Respect for human rights and dignity, cooperation, local autonomy and the practice of community democracy seemed like what they wished the US would be. Somebody needed to take a stand, said they, and instead of just protesting or yakking about it in a classroom, the EZLN went out and DID something. Even if they failed, at least they had tried.

The kicker – the divide was not along conservative / liberal lines. Both conservative and liberal students were so jaded they found the EZLN a folly, while both liberal and conservative students found the EZLN a commendable vision.

All things considered (including the EZLN), I think there is cause for optimism in the Americas at this moment. With a few notable exceptions, nations from Tierra del Fuego to Baffin Bay are starting to do what Corseri has said we lost in the US – they are imagining a doable, viable world. Indigenous rights gain momentum, a balance is even being found between the rights of the poor and the rights of the wealthy in some nations. Have we reached perfection? No. But to roll over and die should not be an option, just as ripping nations apart because we don’t get our way the first time should be replaced by patient and effective action. For example, Mexico, I aver, is perhaps one to two presidential elections away from finding some sense of balance in party politics and casting aside the constant recourse to cries of corruption. So many places have come so far in just over a decade that optimism should be the word of the day.

Hey, I may not agree entirely with John Lennon’s vision from Imagine, but I certainly can agree that we need to dream. What is wrong, as Wallace says, with seeking that "more satisfying culture."

***And FYI, the simple citation of Dissident Voice doesn't mean I'm on board with everything that goes on there - but they do have some good writers some times. Check them out and make your own decision.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Out with Tollotzin and the Revolution, in with the Torre

Mexico is building a tower to celebrate Independence - the state of Mexico, that is. While Mexico City's massive Torre Bicentenario is like a far-left historian's interpretation of the Revolution (a great idea but poorly executed and mired in "irregularity" and controversy), Toluca is going ahead with its own Torre Bicentenario. It will be on the highway coming into Toluca from DF and will replace the Puerta Tollotzin. Though Torre, I would think, might be an exageration - it looks like a really tall Car and Driver award.

Puerta Tollotzin is an interesting (and I think very striking sculpture from the air) modernist portrayal of pre-contact deity. What struck me was the interesting way all of this is done. Puerta Tollotzin was the product of a contest in which the UNAM architecture faculty won the design. Modernity meets indigenous Mexico as portrayed by Mexico City - any historic parallels, Bueller? To continue the rhyming, we see the planned replacement of the monument by a tower designed by local architects and that looks more at independence, not at the Revolution.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Ozumba...Or, More on Violence in Mexico

Recently I was looking at videos onYouTube for the town where I did some of my dissertation research. Ozumba is a great little town - religiously a bit of an odd duck, but as a community it is quite a place to visit (like any of the medium sized market towns in rural Mexico). Clearly most of the videos were a celebration of community civic/religious culture and probably as important to Ozumba "ex-pats" as to the town itself. That's when I found:

Ouch. Again, my concern on violence in Mexico has less to do with organized crime and more to do with the insidious form taken in the video (and the same concern I have for violence in the US or anywhere else): Violence of hate between two parties as entertainment for others. US snuff films, torture-porn, Mexican tabloids...this is the violence that concerns me more than the clash of two cartels. Even TV violence, that generates up to 40 acts of violence an hour doesn't disturb me as much as this personal expression of lust for blood. What distinguishes the psychopath from the rest of society is the inability to feel compassion or sentiment for other people as people. They see them only as objects that revolve around the personal sphere of the psychopath, deserving of care or attention only when they fit the needs of the psychopath. Understandably, the materialist US society generates more psychopaths than Mexico, but this video reminds me that the crumbling of community in Mexico and the link to personal violence is very real.