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.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mexico - Happier Than You

This from the National Geographic study of the happiest places on earth:
We also looked at Nuevo León, the happiest region of Mexico, which was the happiest country in Latin America when we did this work--actually the happiest country in the American hemisphere. Something interesting's going on there.
Wait, I thought Mexico was a failed state - a pit of terror and a nightmare from which the continent could awaken.

Something interesting's going on there. Religion is very important: For more than 80 percent of the people in this part of Mexico, religious faith tops their list of values. We know worldwide that religious people are happier than non-religious people.

Their definition of family is about an order of magnitude bigger than a typical definition of family. Theirs includes no only kids and moms and dads, but also cousins and second cousins, aunts and uncles, godparents. And that does some helpful things.

Religious people with a focus on the family? Those crazy anarchist Mexicans.

De DF Hasta Denver - White Wall Blocks Dark Virgin

Some priests never learn. Apparently some curate from Denver stepped into Mr. Peabody's way-back machine and shot back to 1790 where he sat in on a focus group of Spanish clergy dispatched to the Americas. Upon returning to the 21st century, said priest built a giant white wall in front of a mural of La Virgen because she "detracted from the central focus of the Holy Presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the altar." *head smack*

The Mexican church has had angst about La Virgen and similar saint devotions since initial conversion until independence - with even groups like the Sinarquistas expressing dismay at the level of devotion offered to La Virgen de Guadalupe as late as the 1940s. Interestingly enough, for most Mexican curates La Virgen was considered so mainstream by the 40s she was used as a distraction to take attention away from local miraculous expressions in areas with holy devotions considered to "Indian" (for example, Morelos in the 1950s). I guess the folks in Denver and the American Catholics never got the memo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Domes of Evil: Arizona and Luz Del Mundo

A Phoenix area Luz del Mundo (LDM) church is under attack - for being a mosque. The evangelical christian group based in Guadalajara, Mexico, is essentially a neo-pentecostal movement (founded in 1926 they were neo-pentecostal before it was cool) that embraces biblical literalism, Jesus Christ as savior from sin through his grace and baptism in his name alone, and with a modern apostle on the earth today. In short, there is enough doctrinal similarity between Arizona's evangelicals and Mormons to make them fit in quite nicely in that religiously conservative state. Unfortunately, they have a dome on their church.
Since the distinctive dome shape went up, church leaders said they have received phone calls from concerned neighbors who’ve mistaken the building for an Islamic mosque. READ MORE HERE
The group has placed a banner up on the dome stating that they are "building a christian house of prayer." I'm not sure what disturbs me more - that a dome suddenly becomes an evil structure or the implication that if the group building the dome wasn't LDM it would be ok to be concerned.

See a related (but different) Phoenix News Times article here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The New Argentina

It turns out that Manitoba is angry about immigrants - mostly that they aren't getting enough. Taking a page (probably not consciously) from their hemispheric steppe-neighbor, Argentina, they have gone out of their way to craft policy that allows migrants to find a home on the pampas, er, prairie. It's not as sexy as Vancouver or Toronto... and certainly it is no Montreal, but for those willing to endure the prairie snow, Winnipeg is a new migrant labor destination. And then, of course, there is the nature of Canadian politics:
Another force is in play: immigrant voting strength. About 20 percent of Canadians are foreign born (compared with 12.5 percent in the United States), and they are quicker to acquire citizenship and voting rights. “It’s political suicide to be against immigration,” said Leslie Seidle of the Institute for Research on Public Policy, a Montreal group. READ THE FULL STORY HERE
But there are some down sides I would mention.
1) Consider the visa restrictions that were placed on Mexicans and their entry into Canada. I think we might go too far if we see this story and start applying the stereotype of Canada as the "nice" country compared to the US. As one former Canadian official told the Times:
“The big difference between Canada and the U.S is that we don’t border Mexico,” said Naomi Alboim, a former immigration official who teaches at Queens University in Ontario.
It is an interesting concept. It sounds like British Canada is using the US as a buffer state with Spanish Mexico - essentially the purpose that the American mid-west, and Texas served as for centuries. Ahhh... borderlands history (or at least playing fast and loose with it).

2) Canada's points system often makes it harder for the poorest of immigrants to seek employment and refuge - exactly the population that might most need it.

Final note: Kudos to Jason DeParle and John Woods for this conversation starting piece of writing and photography. Good job.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Wouldn't it Be Cheaper...

This from the Associated Press:
A jury has awarded $1.73 million to the family of an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who died of penile cancer that went undiagnosed for more than a year while he was in state and federal custody.

After he was convicted of methamphetamine possession in 2005, Castaneda spent more than a year in state and federal facilities, where he was repeatedly denied adequate care for painful lesions on his penis, his lawyer Conal Doyle said Thursday.

Doctors who examined Castaneda twice ordered a biopsy, but he never got one. The first time the procedure was ordered, it was denied by a prison's chief physician. The procedure was apparently forgotten the second time because a doctor failed to follow up. A third time, a federal physician ordered a biopsy but Castaneda was released before it could be done.

Castaneda was given only pain pills and clean boxer shorts every day, and his condition worsened until he had to have his penis amputated in 2007. He died shortly afterward at age 36.

Two things I might say about this:
1) Why was he in prison? Why wasn't he in a medical rehab facility? Medical rehab has proven - time and again by the Rand Corporation - to be far more effective in terms of cost and changing behavior.

2) Was he denied care because he was illegal? Would it not have been far more effective to provide care at the start rather than pay for incarceration and then the cost of legal bills. This decision doesn't even cover the federal law suit pending against the penal system in LA.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Once Was Lost But Now Am Found

This just in from the folks at Stephen F. Austin State University:
After an intensive five-year search, a team of Texas Archeological Stewardship Network (TASN) members and professional archeologists have announced the discovery of the original location of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais, later, "de los Tejas," in western Nacogdoches County.

The mission is the oldest yet discovered from 18th-century Spanish Texas, predating the missions and presidio in San Antonio. Additionally, Mission Concepción is the earliest location yet discovered that bears the name "Tejas".

Read more here.
Granted, the missions and presidios of East Texas are failures in a failed colonial enterprise, generally only important for creating a buffer zone between the French and British Empires and their Indian allies - with all of the attending viral effects. Nevertheless, the discovery of what until now has been the stuff of no more than local legend and speculation could re-kindle an interest in what is probably the most interesting of Texas Spanish/French/Indian borderlands.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

THIS is an Expert

More than once I have ranted and raved about the use of journalists as experts on Latin America. Not content to write the news or their tired little books on drug violence (The Last Narco, Killing Pablo, etc.) they become the source for television news sources too lazy or too mired in sound bites to sit down with real experts in the field for an interview. Today, however, Huffington Post gets a rare huzzah from me for the column by Jeff Rubin of Boston University on Brazil. Balanced, level headed, full of specific examples and historical context, Rubin provides commentary on the region that we just don't see from the mainstream reporters with their sensationalist hyperbole limited knowledge. For more on Rubin, see here.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Scottish Muertos Y Los Tapatios

In a dusty corridor of Guadalajara's old Belen cemetery lie two graves that not only receive some special tokens of respect on Dia de Los Muertos, but also here and there throughout the year.

Joseph Johnston and his wife Jean Young came to Guadalajara as paupers where he practiced medicine, often for free. They supposedly won the lottery after praying for 12 nights at midnight and after that continued to practice medicine, still often never charging patrons for his services. Today these two Scots grant righteous desires for wealth and love - something of the anti-Santa Muerte, if you will.

Guadalajara is one of Mexico's most Catholic cities - and probably one of the least Baroque in worship. Folk saints and the like take a second chair to traditional saints and the "whiter" appearances of both Virgin and Lord tend to have more influence here than in Mexico. The Johnston's are something of an interesting compromise in the folk saint world - European in nature and training but thoroughly popular in devotion. D.E.P. Jean and Joseph.