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
This 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.
My 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
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.
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.
Fatima Antonio Gonzalez at her desk in her office in the Municipal Palace of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
“I am the first female municipal secretary in my town,” Teotitlán del Valle, says Fatima Antonio González. She was named to the position by the current municipal president at 23 years old in 2010. As municipal secretary, she deals with community records and documents.
Teotitlán del Valle is one of 418 towns governed by the indigenous system of usos y costumbres in Oaxaca, Mexico. While Antonio González earns a small salary, government posts in usos y costumbres systems are considered service to the community and are done to give back to the community and not for money.
At the time that she was named to the post, Antonio González was collaborating on Teotitlán del Valle’s Plan for Municipal Development, which identified community needs and goals for the current government’s 3-year term. She was one of the few in her generation to earn a college degree in economics. She says that only 5 or 6 out of the 30 or so community members her age have a college degree.
Cubans enjoyed a long weekend this past week in celebration of the national holiday, el Día de Rebeldía Nacional. The national holiday commemorates the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks led by Fidel Castro on July 26, 1953. The strategic plan to raid the barracks was foiled, and the surviving young rebel combatants were captured and punished by the Batista government. Fidel Castro was sent to prison, later to be tried in court, where he gave his famous speech History Will Absolve Me. The attempt to take the garrisons was a militaristic fracaso, but it brought Fidel Castro’s Movement— some of who would later become the guerrillas to fight in the Sierra Maestra— to the world’s attention. The national holiday serves as a day of remembrance for all the men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for “a better Cuba.” This year, I was fortunate enough to be in Cuba on the 60th anniversary of el Día de Rebeldía Nacional to watch the ceremony live on television.