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.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Having a Ball in Latin America

Latin America isn't just the place for Canadian Mennonites, US Mormons, beat poets, and billionaire embezzlers to seek refuge. In the 1920s to the 1940s it was also a place of refuge for many members of the old Negro Leagues.

The passing of Cecil Kaiser on Monday (Feb. 14) reminds readers of his obituary that not only did the Negro Leagues cover the United States and Canada, but many of the players also participated in baseball in Latin America. Says historian Bob Kendrick "Players would go (to Latin America) after the season in the States and be treated like heroes. They would stay in the finest hotels, eat in the finest restaurants and then come back to the States and be treated as second-class citizens." As the Library of Congress points out: "In Cuba, Mexico, and other parts of Latin America, professional baseball was not segregated. Many blacks played baseball there in the winter as well as in Negro Leagues in the United States in the summer."

Matt Restall's recent book, Black Mexico, contains an intriguing chapter by Alva Moore Stevenson on her African American / Mexican family - formed when her grandfather Daniel went to Mexico to work on railroads and married a woman that worked for Villa. They then settled on the border and joined many of the families that were bi-racial (consider El Paso, Texas, and the number of African American soldiers married to Mexican American or Mexican women).

The connection between African Americans and Latin America has barely been explored for the modern era. There is a large and academic focus on African immigrants (slaves and descendants of slaves) in the colonial era, but the studies and their quality seem to trickle off as we move out of Brazil and the Caribbean in the modern era.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The OTHER Missionaries

US Evangelicals travel to Mexico to distribute food, sing songs, and build houses. That's why many Mexicans come to the US, as well.

That aside, I might point out that some Mexicans find the United States the target of their own missionary work. The Iglesia Luz Del Mundo has sent missionaries to the United States since at least the 1950s. Similarly, Mexican missionaries have been coming to the US from the LDS (Mormon) church for decades as well, and not just the gringos refritos of Colonia Juarez in Chihauhua, but "Mexicanos de Raza y Sangre," as well.

It isn't just Mexicans who come to convert the heathen Americans. Members of Daniel Comboni's institute of missionaries have been arriving in the US since 1939 to "consolidate" and "convert" the Catholic gospel message, and Evangelical Venezuelan singer / preacher Rafael Saracual felt called to come to the US to preach, teach and convert. And they are certainly not alone.

Aside from leading conservative brain (snark intended) Chuck Norris' comments about President Obama as a Muslim Missionary, I'm not sure most Norteamericanos consider the United States and themselves as a destination for conversion. But if I was a dedicated Mexican Evangelical, sitting in Mexico surrounded by family and civility, and I looked at a country where going to the mall or school could get you shot, where most children are exposed to pornography before literature, and where bigotry and hate are considered "free speech" I might be moved to pack up and come to the US to convert the heathens.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

US Evangelicals - Doin' It Franciscan Style

US evangelicals may be in something of a pickle as they look for spring break ministry options this year. Evangelicals have turned to Mexico for decades for "short time" ministries where couples, school groups, or friends get together, build houses out of garage doors in T.J., pass out Wonder Bread and cheese sandwiches, teach Bible school, and return to the states the following week. The crisis? The death of evangelical Nancy Davis near Reynosa has some groups cancelling their trips. In fact, just before the shooting, the Dallas Morning News religion blog began a discussion of how to make things better in Mexico - without actually going to Mexico. Changing US policy and gun laws as well as reducing demand for drugs in the US topped the responses of many theologians. Americans, listen to your pastors.

I see that an Oklahoma Church is going to Mexico to "spread the word" to Catholics via ... Passion Plays. It seems Mexicans may not be familiar with acting out the gospels, so teenagers from Tulsa are going to help them out with that. Did some pastor get his hands on Sahagun's field guide to converting Mexicans?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cock-A-Doodle Karma

Mess with the rooster and you get the spurs. That's what Jose Luis Ochoa found out this week as he was murdered by a fighting cock. Yes, I know.
Ochoa and the other spectators fled when authorities arrived at the scene of the fight, Sgt. Martin King told the Bakersfield Californian. Deputies found five dead roosters and other evidence of cockfighting at the location, he said.

An autopsy concluded Ochoa died of an accidental "sharp force injury" to his right calf.

"I have never seen this type of incident," King, a 24-year veteran of the sheriff's department, told the newspaper.

Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said it was unclear if a delay in seeking medical attention contributed to Ochoa's death. More here.
So, if you plan on being in Feria San Marcos in Aguascalientes this spring and on catching one of the cockfights (or in the trailer park behind the grocery story beside my "house"), stay, um, sharp.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rivera Sells Rivieras

Well, I guess Diego Rivera is selling Chrysler 200s. About 35 seconds in, notice his mural at the Art Institute in Detroit. Mexico's most famous "soft" communist is now selling luxury cars.

I guess this is exactly what Gramsci was talking about, no?

Top Smear: Part Deux

The Mexico Section of the Latin American Studies Association has lodged the following protests against the BBC for their portrayal of Mexico in the press.
Statement by the Mexico Section
of the Latin American Studies Association
The Mexico Section of the international Latin American Studies Association condemns in the strongest possible terms the derogatory and racist remarks made about the people of Mexico by television presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in the 30 January 2011 ‘Top Gear’ programme segment ostensibly dedicated to an assessment of the Mastretta MXT sports car. Denigrating an entire people by assigning them presumed innate characteristics from a position of asserted superiority is conduct unbecoming any responsible media outlet, and it is entirely unacceptable for a public service broadcaster.

We call upon the BBC to acknowledge unambiguously its error in this matter and to issue a full, unreserved and public apology. Furthermore, we urge the BBC to reflect on the wisdom and effectiveness of basing humour on tired and false stereotypes of ‘national character,’ and to strengthen its programme guidelines so as to preclude any recurrence of distasteful episodes of this kind.

This statement was approved by a majority vote of the Mexico Section’s executive council. This is not an official policy statement of the Latin American Studies Association, which neither endorses nor rejects the views expressed.

Professor Sandra Kuntz-Ficker Professor, El Colegio de México

Kevin J. Middlebrook University of London
To be fair, the debate in the section seemed to split the group, many of whom made the valid point that with all the problems facing Mexico in the present day, a little racist language from racist little pasty Englishmen would make no difference. Some make the point that the attack on Mexico hurts the nations "brand" (my words) and does irreparable damage to the nation when it needs service dollar $$$ the most.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Top Smear

Top Gear, voted the most popular "factual" show in the UK, is feeling the heat from the ambassador of Mexico. Reports the BBC:
Reviewing the Mastretta on Sunday's show, Hammond said: "Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat."

The presenters, known for their edgy jibes, then described Mexican food as "refried sick".

Clarkson said he was confident he would not receive any complaints about their comments because the Mexican ambassador would be asleep.
Since when do the English, of all people, get to complain about physical inadequacy, odd clothing, and bad food? Replies the Ambassador to the UK, Eduardo Medina Mora:
"The presenters of the programme resorted to outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults to stir bigoted feelings against the Mexican people, their culture, as well as their official representative in the United Kingdom," he wrote.

"These offensive, xenophobic and humiliating remarks only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate prejudice against Mexico and its people."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hey, Dummy

I'm currently following the FaceBook comments of a colleague and friend who is a specialist in Egypt and who has family in Egypt as well. She has been able to synthesize all the information out there as well as add some insider information from her own knowledge as well as that of her husband who is an Egyptian human rights lawyer and film maker. It has been very informative. But here's the rub... .

Recently, this link was offered: A Guide on How Not to Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt.

Both informative as well as extremely offensive, the post lays out some truly important items about Egypt. Unfortunately, the title really says it all: unless you know what specialists in Egypt know, you are stupid. This has me thinking about the blogosphere - my own and certainly many of the ones that I follow - and the tone that people take when reporting on the misconceptions of Latin America in general. How often to blogs on Latin America manage to do what the author of Stupid Stuff About Egypt does and simultaneously rebuke Americans for not knowing all there is to know about the situation as well as showing interest and trying to learn more about the situation.

For example, I am concerned about the results of the popular uprising because (from a Latin American historical perspective) we have seen dozens of popular movements end in pseudo-democracy and/or military rule while under the gaze of the Washington Consensus. What will come next? I am also excited to see Al Jazeera grab a wider following. They have always managed to have a fairly interesting perspective on Latin America, and I would hope that this would introduce them to American markets in a more aggressive manner. Why should those less familiar with Al Jazeera get rebuked for saying they are excited to see it get more play in the US (according to the blogger, commenting on the success of AJ in covering the protests is stupid). Come on, what is that blogger going to ask me about Hugo Chavez or violence in Mexico?

Do bloggers on Latin America cross this line as well? Do we enter into the land of preachy, pedantic, priggish little shrews that decry ignorance while rebuking the kinds of beginner questions that open the door for us to teach the "truth" about our region? Maybe this is a good, long look in the mirror that we can get from lifting our heads up from out of our little niches (as Prof. McNeill warned us all to do) and understanding that we all need a broader knowledge about the world, and that we have more of a duty to cut back on the elitist, preachy, smug language that drives people from the classrooms - all it does is reveal who the real dunce is.