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, September 28, 2009

Monumental Destruction

This week the Giraffes of Toluca died. Not the ones out at Zocango park, but the monument located on the road to DF called the Puerta Tolotzin that looked like the African animal. And, as Sol de Toluca reports, there wasn't an ounce of complaint about the removal, either. I had mentioned earlier that a bicentennial tower might be put up there, but that project seems on hold. Alexander Naime, however, gets props here for the best quote of the week in my book:
Toluca es una ciudad que se construye al capricho de quienes gobiernan y muy lejos de los intereses de los ciudadanos, muy lejos de su historia, muy lejos de los símbolos prácticamente borrados de la memoria colectiva.
I guess I can cut those three weeks out of my Mexico course that are post-1940 and just have the students read a translated version of that sentence.

One of the things I certainly appreciate about Mexico is the Roman near-madness for public monuments. The great Minerva and Arch in Guadalajara that illustrated the split personality of that city, the outlandish and striking revolutionary of Acatlan, the penitentes of Taxco, and of course, almost every square inch of DF. Public monuments give us a Mexico that simultaneously deigns to offer citizens a higher concept of community life while at times betraying that desire by covering for the lack of real improvements through lumps of brass and stone. My favorite monuments, however, are by far the glorietas. These islands of imposed and manufactured history are awash in a sea of racing modernization, but they are now so much part of the landscape and community that their original meaning is wrested from hands of their builders to become places of navigation, protest, hope, or resistance. So, while I appreciated Alexander Naime's complaint on the absence of a powerful monument outside of Toluca, perhaps he has missed what the "jirafas" of Tolotzin or the other monuments have meant to those not consumed with them as ideas of grand public art.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Random Islamic Post

Got this the other day from Richard at Mexfiles:

I get an occasional email or comment on my site from someone who has returned to Judaism (I once posted on the "secret Jews" of Tijuana), but have seen very little (other than inflamatory "THE AY-RABS ARE TAKIN' OVER") on Latino Muslims... which is also a sort of return to the Iberian roots (or, at least those of AL-Andaluz).

I caught this on U.S. "Hispanic" Muslims: Brooklyn Rail, "The Latino Crescent" . I don't run into a lot of Mexican Muslims... there's a small community of Mayans who adopted Islam (basically as a way of opting out of the wars between the Catholics, Traditionalists, Pentacostals and JWs) and some recent immigrants from the middle east, but very little in the Mexican press on this. Seems to be more a U.S. phenonoma.
One of the things I enjoyed about living in Guadalajara was the Middle Eastern food. Mexican yogurt is disgusting (sorry, folks) and we enjoyed giant buckets of fantastic yogurt from local Lebanese restaurants - and not one of the owners was Muslim. All the restaurants dripped with Christian imagery and at least two of the four we regularly visited were well intermarried with Tapatios. The only Muslim's I've met in Mexico have generally been African refugees from the horn in DF when staying at the Quaker house.

For now, I suggest folks grab Jose Reis's wonderful Slave Rebellion in Brazil on Muslim slaves involved in a, well, Slave Rebellion in Bahia in the early nineteenth century.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Penitentes

The SF Chronicle recently ran a "reflective" essay in which a person "discovers" Santa Muerte and gives us his oh-so profound final shot: "We are Mexicans, and our affinity for Death runs deeper than hope." The first comment from a reader? "Whatever dude."

Americans - of whatever ethnic stripe - have been getting their kicks off of the "salacious details" of Latin American religion for some time. From colonial-era tales of the cruelty of Spanish priests to the skinny chick Santa Muerte, the English-speaking world likes to focus on the "exotic" religion of Latin America (wow, how many more quotes can I use in this selection). There is even a new film out with Simon Baker called Not Forgotten that includes - ahem - the "bloody" rites of the Santa Muerte. Gag.

Just for fun, I thought I'd highlight a previous obsession U.S. Americans used to have with another aspect of Latino religion, the Penitentes Brotherhood of New Mexico. Centered around flagellation that was introduced to New Mexico by the Third Order of St. Francis in the seventeenth century, the Penitentes started out as a public organization but by the arrival of the U.S. in the area they had most certainly gone underground. And of course, like any religious practice that is supposed to be personal, private, and sacred, the media got right on to "exposing" the rituals of the Penitentes which include mock crucifixion.

Famed writer Charles Lummis wrote an article for Cosmopolitan in 1889 with engraings based on his photographs of the mock crucifixion and whipping. Writer Carl Taylor was allegedly murdered by his house boy for an article he published in Today on the topic, or so said Time magazine in 1936. '36 was a busy year for the Penitentes as that year marked the introduction of Roland C. Price and Harry J. Revier's explotation mash-up of documentary footage and S&M studio footage called Lash of the Penitentes. Some how this film didn't make it into Helen Delpar's book The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican.

Anyway, the a fun YouTube clip is included below. I hope you enjoy the campy trash ... um ... trailer (trailer trash?).

FYI - For more info on the Penitentes, see Marth Weigle's 2007 A Penitente Bibliography. The drawing is by Santa Fe artist Will Shuster.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Religion in Latin America

As a member of the Religion in World History group headed by David Lidenfeld that works to promote the discussion of religion in world history, I compiled a list of ten books on Latin American religion that world historians might find useful.

Why ten? I admit to using the “cutesy list” approach, and it seemed to fit the nature of the H-World list that I had sent it to.

I picked most of these works for two reasons: Either they serve as overviews for those looking for an introduction (such as the Creole Religions book) or they serve as specific cases in Latin America that I’ve noticed make good connections to similar processes elsewhere in the world (such as Diacon’s book on Brazil). Also, while Gustavo Gutierrez's book is the founding Bible of liberation theology for scholars, I chose the Boff brothers for readability.

If nothing, perhaps there will be some comments on the books selected that will prompt some to think of Latin American history as a place to look for comparative cases for their own interests.
  • Creole Religions of the Caribbean by Margarite Fernandez Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert. New York University Press, 2007.
  • Conversion of a Continent: Contemporary Religious Change in Latin America, edited by Timothy Steigenga and Edward Cleary. Rutgers University Press, 2008.
  • The Millennial Kingdom of the Franciscans in the New World by John Leddy Phelan. University of California Press, 1970.
  • Slave Rebellion in Brazil: The Muslim Uprisings of 1835 in Bahia by Joao Jose Reis. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
  • Millenarian Vision, Capitalist Reality: Brazil’s Contestado Rebellion, 1912-1916 by Todd Diacon. Duke University Press, 1991.
  • The Reformation of Machismo: Evangelical Conversion and Gender in Colombia by Elizabeth Brusco. University of Texas at Austin Press, 1995.
  • Peru’s Indian People and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest by Steve J. Stern (SECOND EDITION). University of Wisconsin Press, 1993.
  • God and Production in a Guatemala Town by Sheldon Annis. University of Texas at Austin Press, 1987.
  • The Church in Colonial Latin America, edited by John F. Schwaller. Scholarly Resources (now Rowman and Littlefield) Books, 2000.
  • Introducing Liberation Theology by Leonardo and Cleodovis Boff. Orbis Books, 1987.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Shot in the Arm for Chicano Studies?

Last night while doing dishes I heard that Eva Longoria Parker enrolled at Cal State Northridge for an MA in Chicano Studies. Well, I guess if CSUN needed a shot in the arm to raise enrollment, that might do it for me (though Mrs. Parker is taking the class on line).

There is an interesting discussion at the ForChicanoStudies Wiki about CSUN and Chicano studies, particularly an interesting discussion by a very famous Chicano Studies professor about the relationship at CSUN between Chicano Studies and history.

I've always had a tenuous relationship with Chicano Studies and the CS students. As a TA I often heard complaints from CS students about the history professors (three "Latino" and two "Anglos") and how they didn't teach the REAL history: Japanese envoys to the Aztec empire, Aztlan in south Texas or San Diego, Emiliano Zapata's power to speak with animals, unbroken lineages of Mexica shamans, etc. Living in family student housing we hung out with lots of CS students who refused to take history courses on Latin America because they felt history lacked a sense "struggle" or sympathy with the Chicano power movement. I suppose what really got my attention most was a young woman born in Honduras that was in one of my sections I was a TA for. She figuratively hit the wall during the section on early twentieth-century race and how she was tired of being (her words) "run over" by Chicano Studies students because she refused to self-identify as Chicano. She even recounted an ugly incident when she told another student she was "no damn Aztec and neither was he" since his last name was Pech and his family came from Merida. He did not take that well.

On the other hand, now that I am teaching my own courses in a place with no Chicano Studies, I really wish it was here so that the students would come with a stronger sense of identity.

Anyway, my experience is completely anecdotal and most certainly over-reaches, but my particular experience has left me with a couple thoughts. I think all-in-all history departments need to take Chicano history far more serious than they do - even the Latin Americanists. Teachers of US history most certainly need to, and World Historians could certainly find a fruitful area of comparison. On the other hand, CS needs to take Latin American history more seriously than they do at times, and broaden horizons beyond Mexico (and maybe Guatemala) and embrace study of the region as a whole - even beyond the more popular areas of art, literature, and music.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Blood in the Face: Joe Wilson, Dominion Theology, and White Supremacists

Lost in the kerfuffle about Joe Wilson's tantrum in congress is that the thing that moved him to break with two centuries of mostly civil treatment of Presidents by the Congress was the idea of immigration - Mexican immigration. Let's not fool ourselves and think that Joe Wilson is upset about Irish immigrants to NYC.

Take a moment and listen to the Fresh Air interview of Max Blumenthal about his book Republican Gomorrah. Considering the sort of Christian Identity and Dominion Theology folks involved (essentially Christian defenses of white supremacy - read Blood in the Face by James Ridgeway or see the documentary) I think we have a more dangerous sort of racism to deal with than the "no dogs or spanish" brand. Some racism can be dealt with by facts, numbers, time, and a little exposure / education. This brand, however, is dangerous. As Mal Reynolds would say, there's nothing more dangerous than "... a monster that thinks he's right with god." Sounds a lot like Joe Wilson and Glenn Beck to me. Is Wilson part of "The Family"?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mex Mont, or Really Good Beef for those Tacos

Bozeman (MT) Daily Chronicle had a nice (in some ways) article on the presence of Mexican labor in the resort town of Big Sky and in the Bozeman area in general. I was struck by a couple of things.

1) When the author asks why hispanics are not coming to Montana in large numbers, the fall-back answer is "the weather." I'm not sure what sort of magic happens between the winters of Denver and the winters in Bozeman, but it certainly isn't anything that makes Montana winters more brutal. The real story here is jobs, and recognition that Mexicans won't move to where there are no jobs is key to understanding immigration. If it was about weather, Toluca would be depopulated, as would most places in the high sierra from EdoMex to Chihuahua.

2) The similarities that the migrants described when talking about Montana compared to Mexico: beautiful mountains, small towns, farms and ranches, and that rural "lifestyle" that dominates the area. That is perhaps why I like western and south eastern Mexico State so much.

3) The emphasis on the rejection of the presence of Mexicans. This rejection, I would very much be willing to bet, is one not only based in competition for jobs, but also with the indigenous appearance. Montana is an interesting place racially. Never segregated for African Americans, it is a brutally racist place for Native Americans. Indigenous in appearance, Migrants from central and southern Mexico are most certainly running into that same wall. In all fairness, however, as a Montana-born person living in exile in Texas , people from anywhere ***cough cough California*** are generally not welcomed.

4) The "uninviting" nature of the state based on the ability of the ICE folks to enforce laws. I would aver that there is more going on to ICE effectiveness in Montana than just a lower population. ICE can apparently do their job without fences and internal checkpoints.

And finally, I was blown away how yesterday many of the Montana news sources made a big deal out of the busting of 6 Mexicans tied to Pharmaceuticos Collins, a company in GDL supplying chemicals for (wait for it).... meth. Again, we have a local example of how the consumption of drugs in the far-flung corners of the United States ties this nation to drug cartels and it is doubtful we will ever start taking drug uses seriously as a health issue.