Upon my return to Quito from the conference in Cuenca I spent many days on the FLACSO campus (Latin American Social Sciences Federation). FLACSO is an international graduate university system; there are five other campuses throughout Latin America. There I met with many of the professors and students from the gender and sexuality studies department. I began to interview people regarding feminism in Ecuador and its relationship to the formation of a neoliberal state.
Before leaving New York City my research interests in Ecuador had focused in on some provocative claims made by Amy Lind in her book Gendered Paradoxes. Lind documented the progressive institutionalization of gender into state functions, NGO structures, and lending policies in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and argued that this happened at the same time that Ecuador was undergoing a period of neoliberalization. Therefore, the mobilization of women and the institutionalization of gender considerations into social planning happened alongside structural adjustment and trade liberalization. To the degree that women’s social organization and volunteer work helped to absorb the shock of the 1998 economic crisis, and of shrinking state services, Lind argues that these were used more in the service of the neoliberal restructuring of the state than towards women’s empowerment or improved quality of life. I came to Ecuador following this line of analysis and found that many of the people I interviewed disagreed with the basic premise of the questions I was asking them. Professor Mercedes Prieto asked me whether it was accurate to speak of neoliberalism as a form of governance that was ever really implemented in Ecuador. Others argued that women’s organizations or NGO’s were not taking over responsibilities of a shrinking state but instead doing the social service work that government structures had never addressed in the first place. President Rafael Correa governs under the slogan of Socialism for the 21st Century, which means that regardless of whether or not Ecuador was ever fully neoliberal in its governance, its present form has officially turned away from that model. The argument that social movements, or women’s organizations, or that the instutionalization of gender considerations in governance, had somehow enabled neoliberalism to take hold in Ecuador didn’t really convince anyone. Continue reading
Bumba-Meu-Boi sculptural mobile by Sr. Nhozinho, early 20th c Maranhense crippled folkloric artist
The addendum to the Bumba fest images from the last post is that in reality the discourse of race-class-ethnicity & miscegenation via the portal of colonialism presented as popular theatre offers many inroads for analysis. One key factor to consider is that this month long event, now stretched to nearly two months falls under the Juninha holiday cycle, June festivals for São João or St. John the Baptist, and in reality São João is a subtext or trope for Xango. Thus, hidden in plain view is a multiple conversation of church-society-power-African and Indigenous traditions and contentious subtle debate against the previously dominant paradigm, the Portuguese, with a fundamental raison d’être of Orixa worship and power illustrated via the double consciousness/double speak of syncretic appropriation of African cosmology deftly concealed in several layers of guises. Xango has been said to have been one of the Orixá who was a real person and not simply a mythic being. The third king of the Oyo kingdom, he was deified posthumously. He is identified as the god of fire, thunder, lightning and a father of the sky. He is a consummate warrior, identified with maleness and sexuality, he is alleged to have had three wives, the Orixás: Oxum, Oya and Oba. All of whom figure deeply into the mythic pantheon of stories and legends in the ontology of Candomblé, Santeria and Lucumi. Xango cults pervade northeastern Brazil. I often look at him since one of his favorite foods is okra, turned into Caruru or Brazilian form of Gumbo, which is a major component in the meals associated with my primary research, A Festa da Boa Morte in Cachoeira.
Posted by Scott Alves Barton — PhD Candidate in Food Studies at NYU
Last weekend, I made a trip to San Sebastián to interview a member of the Aranzadi forensic team (Universidad del País Vasco) that oversaw the exhumation that I attended several weeks ago. Responsible for filming exhumations and creating short narrative documentaries about individual investigations, the person that I interviewed explained how audiovisual documentation has been integrated into standard forensic and archaeological methods employed by Aranzadi in the exhumation of mass graves. As my interlocutor was keen to point out, the narrative capacity of audiovisual storytelling and its ability to document events and collect testimonies have made this type of media a useful methodological tool both within and without the realm of science.
A member of the Aranzadi team filming a testimony
During the exhumation process, audiovisual recording is used first and foremost to document the exhumation process. It is used to create an audiovisual record of how an exhumation begins, how it is carried out, and finally how it concludes. However, “levantando una fosa” is more than the application of archaeological methods. It is an event that requires the collaboration of many different people, most of important of which are the families desaparecidos and those members of the community who have pushed for this kind of revision of the recent past to take place. For those families who are exhuming missing loved ones, the exhumation is an emotionally charged event that is rooted in a wide range of memory practices. It is therefore, an event that often lends itself to the emergence of personal narratives regarding past experience. These narratives may be newly formed. They can also be narratives that are being publicly voiced for the first time. Video is useful here in that it provides a method and a medium for collecting these testimonies. It creates a space in which those most directly affected by violence can reject silence by narrating their experience that will be recorded by an audiovisual technology that will ensure future accessibility. In other words, video helps create a space for narrating experience while also facilitating the creation of an archive of experiences that illustrates the many ways in which social memory can manifest itself. Continue reading
It’s been a busy week in Sao Paulo. My arrival coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian Association of Historians (ANPUH). To commemorate their anniversary ANPUH is hosting a mega-symposium at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) with some 7000 participants – grad students, professors, archivists, bibliographers, etc. It’s a week-long symposium with over 100 concurrent panels everyday covering every possible subject matter. To make things more manageable I decided to narrow my options to three general topic areas: slavery, urban history and U.S. Studies (yes, Brazilian Scholars who study the United States). The discussions have been very stimulating. Some of the issues that have come up include the benefits and challenges of oral history as well as inter-disciplinary approaches to Urban History. Interestingly, there has been a new found interest among historians on the origins and consequences of the 1831 law that officially made the African slave trade to Brazil illegal. Traditionally the 1831 law has been treated as a quintessential example of the “para ingles ver” – for the English to see – whereby slavery was officially outlawed but never actually enforced by the Brazilian authorities. Scholars are now looking both at the local impact of the illegal slave trade – for the enslaved as well as the formation of the new Brazilian independent State – as well as its Atlantic dynamic. Finally, I have been struck by the truly national scope of ANPUH – there are scholars from all over Brazil at the symposium!
As for my archival research, due to the symposium I only spent one day at the Archivo Publico do Estado de Sao Paulo. It was my first experience working in a public archive in Brazil, and despite the fact the building where the archives are located is not in the best shape (its been under construction – “reforma” – for over three years) the experience was a very positive one. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful! I am researching the urban renewal program that the U.S. born urban planner – Robert Moses – did for the city of Sao Paulo in 1950. I spend my first day at the archives looking at magazines (particularly one called O Cruzeiro) from the late 1940s and early 1950s looking for articles related to Robert Moses’ trip to Sao Paulo. Since O Cruzeiro was owned by Assis Chateaubriand, a pro-American media mogul, I though I would find some reference to Robert Moses’ Program for Sao Paulo. I have yet to find anything so far!
Posted by Marcio Siwi — PhD Candidate in Latin American History at NYU
I arrived in Quito on Friday June 17th and hit the ground running. I met with professor Mercedes Prieto from the Gender Studies department of FLACSO university. Professor Mercedes Prieto was incredibly kind and generous to me. We met for a little under an hour. She listened carefully to what I had to say and then suggested that there are two themes to my work: women’s organizing, and the relationship between NGO’s and the state. She then gave me the names of at least 14 people she thinks I could contact, professors, FLACSO students, feminists, and LGBT activists. Towards the end of our meeting she said that she had been very generous with me, which she was, and that she only wished that professors in the US showed her students equal generosity. I knew what she meant. She had never met me before I wrote her a brief email stating my research interests, my stated research interests were very broad, and yet she took the time to really brainstorm with me about who I should contact. She also suggested several doctoral thesis as reading material during my trip. After she gave me the lists of names she introduced me to the departmental administrator and asked her to provide me with the contact information for the people on that list.
The following Monday I met with a friend of a friend who informed me about a conference happening in Cuenca starting on June 21st and invited me to join her. She said that given my interests in women’s organizing the conference would give me an opportunity to meet with indigenous women organizing in defense of their environment and community. The conference had about 12 different breakout groups and one of them specifically addressed the participation of women in environmental struggles. I attended the breakout meetings for this group on June 21st and 22nd and found that they had a very clearly articulated position on the direct impact of mining on women in affected communities. These included, the devaluation of women’s artisanal labor for men capacity to bring in cash from their work in the mines, less access to clean water forces women to travel longer distances to access it, wherever mines set up there is a large increase in alcoholism and brothels, the health impacts on family members and especially children increases women’s caring labor in the home. They also addressed how women are at the forefront of this struggle because often times men work for the mines and so cannot protest them without getting fired. Women are involved in the day-to-day organizing against mining companies and for that reason they are often targeted by police and private paramilitary troupes for rape in retaliation for their activism. The conference was an eye opening experience in seeing the hostility between the environmentalist movement and the administration of President Rafael Correa. The women presented their finding to the larger conference of about 400 hundred people. By attending the conference I was able to tap into an activist network of people in Quito that I would find very helpful in the coming weeks.
Posted by Claudia Garriga Lopez — PhD Student in Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU
There are many recurring themes in my experiences of Colombia: the fruits that continue to fascinate me; the awful rains from which many parts of the country are still recovering; and a few other topics that have raised interesting questions about Colombia’s development in the unique context of the armed conflict, but also within a broader regional framework.
One of the themes that I find particularly controversial and therefore difficult to tackle is that of the megaproyecto, or ‘megaproject’. The term, which I only heard a few weeks ago, refers to any sort of large infrastructure or other development project. The idea that this sort of project (a new bridge, a mine, a carbon plant etc.) causes damage to the environment and presents issues of workers’ rights, land rights and others is not new. What strikes me about the megaprojects in Colombia is that there is a particularly broad spectrum of opinion regarding the megaproject and its possible effects, and that breadth of thought has motivated me to consider the issue in more depth.
Colombia, despite being ahead of many other countries in Latin America in terms of economic development and standard of living, has massive infrastructure problems and still demonstrates a huge proportion of the population living in poverty. The country boasts an incredible amount of natural resources, especially in the fuel sector. Since the reduction of the armed conflict, international corporations are increasingly interested in Colombia as a site for resource exploitation, and infrastructure development agencies are more willing to invest. This could be great for the Colombian economy if it brings in foreign funding in addition to improving infrastructure. The problem is that the money comes in at the top of the pyramid – at the level of government and large corporations – and the potential effects of that increased income (job creation, social programs etc.) don’t trickle down to the bottom where people need it most. The other problem is that the projects themselves create massive interruptions and sometimes dangerous living situations in the areas where they take place. An example is the current development of carbon extraction sites in the area of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a region rich in biodiversity as well as traditional indigenous ways of life, both of which are being negatively affected by the chemicals, fumes, noise pollution and other disruption caused by the mine. Indigenous territory is being encroached upon while local people employed by the mines complain of dangerous conditions and underpay.
Two issues at play here are: mismanagement of funds to the detriment of the poor who could benefit if the money was spent correctly; and inadequate implementation of new projects that affect this population.This is the group at the base of the pyramid. Hopefully the fact that I noticed this issue is an indication that it’s visible at the national level and that these issues will be resolved. That said, I think there’s a long way to go before the right changes are made so that ‘megaprojects’ can benefit all sectors of the population.
Posted by Cristal Downing — MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU
Part of the mural dedicated to the victims of the sweatshop fire at 1269 Luis Viale. "No olvidamos" "Con el maltrato, no hay trato"
A view of the whole mural and the burned out building
On March 30th, 2006, a fire in a clandestine textile workshop on Calle Luis Viale in the working class neighborhood of Caballito, Buenos Aires, killed five children and one woman, all of whom were undocumented Bolivians living and working with 50 some other immigrants in the building. My project is to try to understand the way this fire was constructed in the media, the ways the Bolivian garment worker community, and various other actors responded to the tragedy and why they responded in the way/s they did. I am also interested in learning what, if anything, has changed as a result of the fire, as well as the way it has been remembered subsequently.
I have been in Buenos Aires for almost two weeks now. This is my first time here so this time has been as much about getting oriented, and learning to use the bus and subway, as it has been about starting to reach out to potential contacts.
Earlier this week, I spoke with the members of a workers’ cooperative, called Alameda. There seem to be several immigrant garment workers’ groups in the city and Alameda is one of the most vocal and politically active and had submitted testimony and evidence to the city about several illegal and exploitative garment shops even prior to the fire. Olga Cruz, one of the original organizers (alongside the president Gustavo Vera), spoke at length to me about the challenges facing immigrant workers in their search to making a decent living and the issues of corruption, particularly related to the collaboration of the police force and labor inspectors with the workshop owners, that allows this kind of exploitation to exist. Alameda has also formed its own garment clothing chain, along with a worker’s cooperative in Thailand.I am looking forward to attending one of Alameda’s worker meetings tonight. Continue reading
Memorial plaque at Urzante exhumation site
At the end of June, I attended a conference in Madrid that addressed many of the social, political, historical, and ethical debates emerging in response to the excavation of mass graves and the exhumation and identification of victims of political violence in Spain. Organized by anthropologist Francisco Ferrándiz (CSIC, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicos), “Bajo Tierra” brought together a wide range of experts from across disciplinary fields in order to discuss the impact that forensic investigations of Francoist political violence have had – and are continuing to have – on contemporary Spanish memory politics. For someone relatively new to the study of the Spanish historical memory movement, the three-day conference was an excellent opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the social and political complexities that surround the application of forensic science to the study of the recent past.
For conference organizers, participants, and audience members, the symposium was also an opportunity to reflect on how different kinds of research protocols have evolved since the year 2000, when public support for exhumations first began to grow, thus breaking the long pact of silence put forth by an amnesty agreement made between political factions during the democratic transition. In this sense, the conference was also an opportunity for those active in the historical memory movement to take stock of the different kinds of achievements made both within and without the realm of academia and to critically discuss new challenges that currently are emerging under Spain’s new, ever-changing memory landscape. Although the exhumations occurring in Spain and the memory politics surrounding them were the main focus of the symposium, the conference also sought to situate the exhumation of “Franco’s graves” within a cross-national, comparative perspective. Due to my own interest in the similarities and differences between post-dictatorship memory politics in Latin America’s Southern Cone and that of Spain, it was interesting to see the ways in which different strategies for historically, socially, politically, and judicially addressing violent pasts in Argentina and Chile have been situated as successful models for addressing Spain’s history of political violence. Continue reading
My first few hours in São Luis were spent here at the Bumba-Meu-Boi competition. Intially, I took it as pure camp and regional diversion until I realized the depth of this particular farcical melodramatic dance and music competition. The essential narrative is one of miscegnation, colonialism and power depicting the Indigenous, the colonizing Portuguese rancher, the African in the guise of Mãe Catarina, the buffon and all knowing slave portrayed as by a man in drag. Both Catarina and the wife of the rancher are pregnant. At issue is the magical properties that cause what you adore to be reflected in the actions you make. In this instance the baby appears with a cow’s face. The farce allows an open discussion of the complexity of racial paradigms and historic uses of power in an arena of family entertainment with regional dishes and Brazilian carny-style snack foods. The competitions involve 6-10 troupes per night. Traditionally this festa was part of Juninha and the festivities for São João (St. John) in June. Financially, it became apparent that extending the competitions into July provided an outlet for locals on ‘winter break’ to have an escape concurrent to the beginning of the international tourist season…
Posted by Scott Alves Barton — PhD Candidate in Food Studies at NYU
Entrance to Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology
When I entered the “Oaxaca” area of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology I was astounded by a large mural, painted in 1964 by Arturo Garcia Bustos. Covering an entire wall, Garcia Bustos presents the viewer with a romantic portrayal of the market in Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Filled with bustling activity, indigenous women (including Zapotec) dominate the scene. Whether consciously or not Garcia Bustos taps into a misleading myth of matriarchy that has arisen about this indigenous region in the last few decades. This myth has inspired documentaries, media stories, and academic articles, many which name Juchitan (the region’s largest city) a Matriarchy and a Queer Paradise. This mural was not only exciting for its vast size and beauty, but for its relevance to my research interests that prompt me to better understand the visual representation of Zapotec women of the Isthmus (although I specifically focus on Oaxaca’s COCEI indigenous movement).
The Museo de Antropologia offers many displays on Zapotec indigenous culture, most of which emphasize in some way indigenous dress, particularly that of women. I felt unsettled as I saw anaguas and rebozos (important elements of Zapotec indigenous dress) behind glass panes or in pristine, untouchable displays. If anything, my research has shown me how Zapotec, COCEI women used their dress as tools to challenge indigenous invisibility and to consolidate ethnic pride in the COCEI movement. Whereas the museum focused on the “informative”, I longed to be back in Oaxaca where women politicize dress through the act of wearing. I have to admit that in part I loved the museum for the way it forced me to continuously re-signify and decontextualize many of the “cultural objects” (like dress) that I am trying to understand. For this reason the Museo de Antropologia and its library proved to be my most visited place in Mexico City. Almost every day I walked through its exhibits as I took breaks reading dissertations on Zapotec women and the COCEI. I am especially thankful for the museum’s vast research materials and the friendly staff that helped me locate many wonderful sources.
Posted by Sofia Huizar — MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU