Category Archives: Recent Research

Prostitution: A Growing but Silenced Issue

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

Women in Usos y Costumbres Governments III: The Fiesta for the Virgen de Asunción

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.

Kempf - Mexico - LachataoThe 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.

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Bolivia’s Process of Change in International Perspective

US Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia.

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?

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Clarity on My Last Day of Fieldwork in Brazil

castaneda_brazilI 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

Actors Involved in the Human Trade

ImagenI 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

A Brothel from the South of the Global South

I went to El Dandy for the first time on a Wednesday night. El Dandy is a brothel where only biological women work. It is the only brothel within the zone, but it is divided into two separate locals, owned by the same people. The brothel is nothing like those in Hollywood movies. It is an abandoned, old house standing in the middle of a silent street. In the street just in front of it there is a mountain where slums have been settling and growing towards the top. Two local gangs and the local police are fighting for the sovereignty of the territory on a daily basis. Later on, MJ explained to me that they are frequent clients, and they pay better than others. They never quarrel with women from El Dandy.

I was very nervous. MJ introduced me to the women who administer the place: two women. V and M where very kind to me. They gave me a cup of Aguardiente – a Colombian liquor- to welcome me. They knew why I was there and they appreciated that I was there. Women at El Dandy drink Aguardiente in order to keep themselves warm. At night, the city gets so cold that I myself went there dressed as if it was winter in New York. They also get paid for the number of bottles that their clients consume; some of them told me that they have learnt how to spill some of the cups full of aguardiente that their clients offer to them, without them noticing.

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Seeing Huamanga Through the Archive

Peru Photography Ayacucho Alejos CLACS NYUThis summer, I am traveling to three sites in Peru to investigate the development of the photographic technology during recent decades.  Having established that my dissertation will address the broad topic of social practices of photography in Peru, this trip is intended to help narrow the focus of my research and explore potential sites for more extended fieldwork.  I have chosen three locations, each with a rich photographic legacy.

Peru Ayacucho Photography Alejos CLACS NYUMy first stop was Huamanga (also known as Ayacucho), the capital city of the Huamanga province in the Ayacucho region of Peru.  Among the people I spoke with was Giovana Alejos, granddaughter of photographer Baldomero Alejos.  I found her in the Alejos photography store, with its own studio and laboratory, located on a side street off of the Plaza de Armas.

A photographer based in the city center of Huamanga from 1924-1976, Baldomero accumulated an archive of over 60,000 images.  The subject matter of the photos ranges from high society portraits to funeral processions, student groups, and popular festivals. Continue reading

Feminist Intersections: Los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos y la Violencia Contra las Mujeres

Agenda Nacional-Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, Managua Nicaragua

validación de agenda nacional, incluyendo creacion de plan de proteccion de promotoras y plan de incidencia politica.

Prior to arriving in Nicaragua, I was convinced I was going to research how women organize a pro-feminist women’s agenda to overturn restrictive reproductive rights policies. One such law that I was intent on researching was Nicaragua’s Codigo Penal, Articulo 165 that outlaws all forms of abortion, including therapeutic abortion, which means that women are not allowed to interrupt their pregnancies even if their lives are at risk. The ban and broader issues of abortion rights played a key role in the 2006 election that resulted in the return to power of former revolutionary and FSLN commander, Daniel Ortega. I originally planned on looking at this issue singularly and to assess it from a historical lens, to analyze top-down responses such as las casas maternas, which have sprouted throughout the country in response to the law that “prepare” women for parenting (even if their pregnancies were undesired), I intended to look at the Instituto Nicaraguense de la Mujer to analyze how the state approached reproductive rights, and, of course I was going to research women (feminists) organized response.

An interesting side note for readers, the right to a therapeutic abortion was a part of the 1893 Nicaraguan Codigo Penal, which means that Nicaragua has retrogressed over 100 years with this ban.

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Latin Tiger? Economic Development and the Changing Face of Panama

Corgan - Panama - Skyline

Panama City skyline from Casco Viejo, with the Cinta Costera viaduct development project in the center.

Panama has the fastest growing economy in Latin America. According to the CIA World Factbook, the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by more than 10% in 2012, miles ahead of its closest regional competitor, Peru, at 6.6%, and nearly double the growth rate of Chile. In fact, Panama’s economy grew faster in 2012 than all but six other nations’ worldwide – faster than China, faster than India, and far faster than the United States.

The gleaming skyline of the capital pays tribute to this unprecedented expansion. Of the ten tallest buildings in Latin America, nine are located in Panama City. Of the tallest twenty, Panama boasts fifteen, and all of them—all of them—have been completed since 2010. In step with this expansion, the country’s GDP per capita has risen from $6,200 in 2002 to $15,900 in 2012. According to the International Monetary Fund, Panama now boasts the fourth highest GDP per capita in Latin America, surpassing Costa Rica and Venezuela in recent years, and following close behind Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.

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Quechua Radio in the Peruvian Andes: Part I

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Youth Producers at Radio Huanta, Ayacucho, Peru

The focus of my thesis is on Quechua language, culture and media. During winter break last January, I went to Lima and met with Chirapaq headquarters, an NGO in Peru that supports indigenous culture.

One of their oldest projects is “Sapinchikmanta,” which means “From our roots” in Quechua. This project trains people in Ayacucho and other parts of Andes to produce radio shows in the Quechua language along with Spanish.This summer, I decided to start my field work researching this project as part of my thesis project, but before returning to Peru, I was able to start my research in New York in May, when I attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I followed and attended presentations on community radio from Guatemala, and met people who identify themselves as indigenous from different parts of Latin America.

In mid-June I arrived in Huamanga, the capital of Ayacucho where I began my work by meeting the staff of Chirapaq at their office in this city.

They introduced me to three stations in the region. I was surprised to learn that that these stations only broadcast one hour a week. I read that that there used to be five stations, which broadcast more frequently. During the next two weeks, I visited each station. First in Huamanga, then onto Huanta and Wilcashuaman, about two hours away in rural areas with a distinct climate and history. I did interviews (in Quechua) with the producers and listeners.

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