Photo by Lyn McCraken
Next April the Graduate Association of Latin American Studies (GALAS) at NYU will open an exhibition entitled Stories of El Salvador: The Civil War and Its Aftermath. Raúl Guzmán and Camilla Querin, two students of the joint degree Master’s program in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Museum Studies will be curating the exhibition that will be exhibited at the Stovall Gallery in the Kimmel Center.
The exhibition is the result of collaboration between GALAS, CLACS, NACLA, Museum Studies, the Mujeres de la Guerra project and the Stovall Gallery. The photo exhibition will focus on the Civil War in El Salvador and the role of women during and after the conflict. The exhibition will present a historical view of the Salvadoran Civil War through portrait photos, videos and oral histories of women involved in the conflict.
The intention is to educate people about the Salvadoran Civil War, about the power of women, their resilience and their organizational abilities. The aim is to tell their inspiring stories and share their hope, wisdom and dedication with the world, to make people reflect upon different forms of activism and to reach not only an NYU audience, but also the Salvadoran community in NYC, people interested in activism, feminism, community organization, photography and resilience after armed conflicts.
Posted by Raúl Guzmán and Camilla Querin – MA Candidates at CLACS / Museum Studies
When I met MJ, a sex worker, we spent almost eight hours talking. She has a delicious sense of humor; she has a joke for everything- “perhaps to make life more livable” –she says. We were sitting at a grocery store in the north of Bogotá, in the middle of a huge street, where cars often get crowded in order to reach the following avenue. This is, however, one of the wealthiest zones in the city.
MJ told me that she would take me to many places where prostitution takes place. As she described some of them, she started to talk about her experiences in each of them. In one of them she had a fixed schedule: from 9am to 5pm. She arrived there through a newspaper advertisement. Drugs, alcohol and smoking cigarettes are not allowed there. It is a traditional family home. Nobody, except its clients, would ever suspect that prostitution is allowed there. When sex workers enter the house, they must turn their cell phones off: the client is the only one that matters.
Tucked away in the Andes mountain range, the small city of Ayacucho was the birth place of the notorious Maoist insurgent group, the Shining Path (SP). The movement began in the 1960s and 70s in the University of Huamanga, and then spread out into the surrounding communities in the early 1980s. At first, the ideas and ideals of the Shining Path revolution were attractive to many Ayacuchans, the majority of whom were quechua-speakers campesinos (farmers or peasants), who as a population had been historically excluded from full participation – economic, democratic, and social – in the Peruvian nation. Slowly, however, as rural communities began to witness SP’s use of violence as a tool for discipline, punishment, and social control, many began to turn their backs on the group. In some villages ronderos (civilian guards) were formed as a mechanism of defense against the Shining Path. The rondero groups were themselves notoriously violent, especially those which allied with Peruvian armed forces. The Peruvian military itself was also heavily complicit in violence that constituted violations of human rights; in its desperation to rid the country of leftist “terrorists,” it massacred and “disappeared” civilians throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
This last point was driven home for me in no uncertain terms when, upon arrival in Ayacucho, I visited Los Cabitos, a former military base in the desert just outside of city limits. Hundreds of people were said to have entered the base and never been seen or heard from again. These accounts were confirmed when the Specialized Forensic Team (an entity of the Peruvian judicial branch), exhumed more than one hundred dead bodies from impromptu graves in a small valley behind the base. The entire area is still today covered in the grids left behind from the forensic archaeological excavations (pictured). Perhaps even more haunting was the infamous Cabitos oven, which was eventually installed by the military to burn bodies and dispose of remains more effectively. During the excavation, calcined bone fragments, especially teeth, were said to have been found under the site of the oven and scattered around the perimeter of the property. Although it is possible to extract DNA from bone, the charring and calcificaiton of remains greatly reduces this prospect and limits forensic investigators’ ability to identify remains and accurately estimate the number of people killed at Los Cabitos. Continue reading
At first glance, the TIPNIS road seems to be a domestic issue affecting only Bolivia. Those in favor of the road argue for national development and connectivity, while opponents propose harmonious development that favors the rights and territory of the TIPNIS’s indigenous groups in accordance with Bolivia’s 2009 Constitution. The reality of globalization forces a different reading of the TIPNIS conflict, recognizing the international interests at play and the Morales government’s maneuverings as symptoms of Bolivia’s projection on the world stage. To understand this better I turned to CEDIB researcher Pablo Villegas and geopolitics, a term which shed light on my research and the way international factors condition Bolivia’s “process of change” even as Evo Morales denounces imperialism, colonialism, and neoliberalism.
In Part 1, I shared my experiences with Quechua radio in Huanta, Ayacucho. I continued my research by traveling to Vilcashuaman, a tiny, cold town high up in the puna, 11,350 feet above sea level.
When the bus reached a mountain peak, the radio picked up a strong signal from Vilcashuaman’s main station, even though we were still three hours away. The station played huaynos. Occasionally, the announcers shared news from the municipalidad and del Estado, in both Spanish and Quechua. We passed Condorcocha (condor lake). When the bus stopped to pick up passengers, I heard playful comments in Quechua like pipas tanqay mamayta — can somebody help push the mamita wearing many skirts] through the door?”
Monolingual Quechua speakers, Plaza of Vilcashuaman
Finally we arrived into town. There was an amazing plaza constructed by the Incas after they conquered their longtime enemy, the Chankas. The plaza was full of senior citizens dressed in beautiful traditional clothing. I began to talk with them, mostly the ladies. They came from small villages throughout the region, traveling by foot or combi, to pick up their pensions from the local office of Banco Nacion, the state bank. They were beneficiaries of Pensión 65, a program started by the State in 2012 to provide monthly benefits (125 soles or $45) to seniors in poor rural areas.
Since I started to think about my research project, there is one question that has unbearably revolved in my mind: Why do we, Latin Americans, decide to do research on and about our own countries? I am from Bogotá, Colombia and I came back here to do research on prostitution. To a certain extent, the reason why I chose coming back had to do with the fact that “First world” countries still intervene not only in defining Latin America, but also in reconfiguring it.
During the last decades, Colombia’s social inequalities have massively increased. With its more than half a century long armed conflict and the recently signed TLC with the United States, the effects of its eternal colonial history are not only becoming more evident, but also more unlivable for its citizens. A remainder of this reality is the amazing increase in street prostitution. Nevertheless, as everything else that publicly denies or contests the discourse of neoliberal progress, this has been a nationally silenced issue. Continue reading
As part of the fieldwork for my thesis on the role of women in traditional indigenous usos y costumbres-style governments in Oaxaca, Mexico, I had the opportunity to flex my participant-observation skills and attend the fiesta for the Virgen de Asunción in Santa Catarina Lachatao. Lachatao is a small town with few educational or job opportunities in the Sierra Norte mountains of Oaxaca state, but community members have a fierce loyalty towards their hometown. Many of those who have migrated to Oaxaca City or Mexico City for school or work return for the fiesta on August 15th.
The fiesta highlights how the usos y costumbres system is based on giving or donating services for the common good. It is planned by a special August 15th party committee in conjunction with the Temple Committee whose members are named through the municipal government and work for free. Every community household is asked to donate $300 pesos to cover the costs of the event, and a member of the Temple Committee told me that everyone does. Some households volunteer to provide food for the band or donate a particular part of the event, such as the band fees, on top of giving $300 pesos.
US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia.
La Paz’s Sopocachi and San Jorge neighborhoods extend well beyond city limits. As the home to many foreign embassies in Bolivia, a walk through these neighborhoods is a trot around the world. One embassy towers over its immediate neighbors, although for all intents and purposes it is empty, standing as a colossal shell without an ambassador. Since 2008 when Evo Morales expelled the US ambassador, the US Embassy has operated as a glorified consulate, which is not to say that the ghost of the US has been excoriated for good. On the contrary, my interest in Bolivia’s “process of change” in the international arena began with a question many Americans ask themselves since 9/11, but geared specifically towards the incendiary rhetoric of Evo Morales and his supporters: Why do they hate us?
I originally came to Brazil and more specifically, Salvador, Bahia because I wanted to write about the conflict between FIFA and the displacement of a particular type of street vendor prominent in the region: Baianas de acarajé.
I knew my research would have to change because the Baianas were allotted 6 spots within all of the FIFA games to sell the regions’ traditionally African-rooted food acarajé. I knew I’d have to gather information and begin to head into a more specific direction with my thesis.
I started working with the Association for Baianas (ABAM) a lot—everyday during the week and then spending time with the street vendors themselves on the weekend. Throughout my five weeks of fieldwork, I learned two main things. (1.) I don’t have an “in” and “out” time. Unlike a historian, I can’t close the archives and decide to pick up where I left off tomorrow. I was doing a lot of ethnography, although I wasn’t exclusively an ethnographer. Thus, I did have “time off.” I can only imagine the intensity of a full-time ethnographic fieldwork project. As I worked more and more at the association, doing all sorts of tasks from answering the phone, writing official documents to the state, to sitting in on meetings with secretaries—I had to learn to be flexible and soak in the intensity. The association lacks funds, staff, structure, and so on; thus, although people agreed to be interviewed and help me with my research, they also expected me to help them and apply any skills that I had. For a while, I was confused about whether I was focusing too much on the association, focusing too much on its relationship to the state, and getting too close to the women in the organization. What about the women who were not apart of the Association? What about the evangelical Baianas? And the conflict between them? What about working alongside a Baiana and learning to make acarajé step by step? What about the World Cup? Why weren’t they so eager to talk about the World Cup as I was eager to know about it? Am I missing perspectives? Should I distance myself from the association? Are they expecting too much out of me? Continue reading
I arrived to Madre de Dios on July 1st. The same day the illegal and informal miners started a strike against a recent decree declared by the state (DL-1100), which ordered the process of formalization of the illegal extractivism and established a list of requirements for that formalization. According to the miners, those requirements were impossible to fulfill, and the state was just trying to declare their activity as a crime. According to the state, the miners were not respecting the law and had no will to formalize their activities. Until today, they have not reached an agreement.
Certainly, the strike altered my plans in the region and limited my access to the area where my research was taking place. There was a constant threat of blocking the Interoceánica highway, a corridor that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The Interoceánica is nowadays the only route of access to Madre de Dios. And, therefore, the one used for trafficking women from nearby provinces, especially Puno, Cusco and Abancay. Continue reading