“Let’s Go Back in Time, Ladies and Gentlemen!”

Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student.  Media, Culture, and Communication. NYU

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Douglas DC-3

It was a rainy Friday morning in San José del Guaviare when I boarded the old Douglas DC-3 that would take me to La Chorrera, in the Colombian Amazon region. The DC-3 is an American made cargo airplane, famous for its role during the Second World War. A member of the aircrew inaugurated our flight with the words “let’s go back in time, ladies and gentlemen!”, in a gesture of complicity with nervous passengers like me. He was clearly referring to the old aircraft we were in, but, looking at them in retrospective, his words also spoke about the nature of my fieldwork in La Chorrera.

As a first year doctoral student at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU, my research interests include state violence, official discourses and counter-discourses of memory in the context of endemic violence and war, as well as community based practices of memorialization and resilience. This Summer, I will be doing fieldwork in Colombia, with the intention of exploring the tensions between local and national discourses and projects of memorialization. Reflecting on collective memory goes beyond the historical reconstruction of violent events. It is, indeed, revisiting the past, but it is also understanding how that past is defined by its social functions in the present. In that sense, the old airplane was taking me in a journey to the past but also to a quest to understand the meaning of said past for the present inhabitants of La Chorrera.

I’m interested in the site known as Casa Arana, the center of the rubber boom expansion that took place between the 1900s and the 1930s in the Amazon. As a place where a genocide was coordinated and carried out —approximately 40,000 Uitoto, Bora and Andoque natives were enslaved and murdered there—, this construction has a particular history and, after the genocide ended, it has played many unexpected social roles. After the rubber boom, the place was used as an orphanage run by Capuchin monks, as the regional headquarters for the National Bank for Agrarian Development [Caja Agraria], and as a High School by the Salesian monks. Today is a public school run by the indigenous local population, known as House of Knowledge [Casa del Conocimiento]. Continue reading

Considering CNTE Blockades in Chiapas

Posted by Katie Schlechter – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

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Trucks halted by the CNTE teachers’ union blockade on a highway in northern Chiapas. (Photo: Katie Schlechter)

To get to the La 72 migrant shelter in Tenosique, Mexico, I had to fly to Villahermosa, and then take a bus across the state, passing through the northern tip of Chiapas near along the way. Upon arrival in Tabasco, I learned that many buses weren’t taking this route due to highway blockades in the Chiapas portion of the highway.

The blockades are part of the unrest that has rocked southern Mexico since I arrived at the beginning of June. The largest teacher’s union in the region, the CNTE, has been taking to the streets to protest education reform measures recently taken up by the government. The discussion here is similar to education reform debates in the United States: one side says that many teachers are not effective and should therefore be evaluated based on the performance of their students on standardized tests and the other side criticizes the state for cutting funding to education and sees the reforms as a way to shift the blame of a struggling education system from the state’s lack of resource allocation to the professional shortcomings of the teachers.

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Security, Red Tape, and Human Rights on the Mexico-Guatemala border

By Laura Weiss, NYU CLACS student

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My research this summer has to do with social movement responses to human rights abuses that have arisen or worsened as a result of U.S.-Mexico policy. One of my case examples for my thesis will be to explore the buildup and consequences of the Southern Border Plan – and the responses by NGOs and activist groups in Mexico and the United States.

Recently, I had the opportunity to join a delegation with the American Friends Service Committee on human rights, migration and militarization in Mexico, for a portion of their two-week trip, to the city of Tapachula in Chiapas, and its outskirts, on the Mexico-Guatemala border. It was a great opportunity to see firsthand a lot of what I’ve studied on the Southern Border and connect with a group of inspiring activists, researchers, journalists and filmmakers interested in similar topics. Going to Tapachula, meeting with human rights groups, and seeing the border zones deepened and complicated my understanding of the migration situation in Southern Mexico today.

Contextualizing the Southern Border Plan

Before coming to Mexico, I’d read a lot about the Southern Border Plan, or Plan Frontera Sur. The program, with the stated intention of improving border and human security on the 541 mile border between Mexico and Guatemala, was announced shortly after the “child migrant crisis” of 2014. In the summer of 2014, 70,000 Central American children arrived at the US-Mexico border, seeking refuge from the life-threatening conditions they faced in their home countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The program aimed to stop migrants and asylum-seekers in Mexico, before they reached the United States, and allotted funding for more migration officers, as well as new detection technologies and detention centers, with support from the United States. The plan also included methods to dissuade migrants and asylum-seekers from boarding the infamous Bestia cargo train that many traveling through Mexico have used as transportation northward – by speeding it up and inserting posts along the trail to make it more difficult to board.

The disbursement of funding has been extremely opaque, and denial hasn’t helped make it any clearer. When I was in Puebla, Mexico, in January for a course on social welfare and child migrants through NYU’s School of Social Work, both the National Migration Institute  (INM) delegate in Puebla and US Embassy representatives in Mexico City denied any financial pressure or support from the US government for the plan. But the law begs to differ. The congressional appropriations for 2015 clearly show that at least $75 million was appropriated to Mexico to secure its southern borders, that in addition to the yearly budget for the US-Mexico bilateral security initiative, Plan Mérida, which has included over $2.6 billion in U.S. funding since 2008.

Meanwhile, measures to help improve services for Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries have come much more slowly than those securitizing the southern border. The US and Mexico have both defied international law that state that a person cannot be sent back to a country where they face threats to their life and person. As I wrote in an article, “Secure Borders Now, Protect People Later,” for NACLA in February, it wasn’t until January 2016 that the US government announced any sort of specific refugee program to allow Central American child migrants to remain in the country. By national security measures, however, Plan Frontera Sur seemed to work—at least in the short term. Detention and deportation rates from Mexico to Northern triangle countries increased by 40% in the year followed the passage of Plan Frontera Sur, according to the Migration Policy Institute. However, more recent estimates show that the number arriving at the US-Mexico border is once again rising.

With all of this information in mind, I set off to Tapachula.

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Selva Negra: Nicaragua’s Black Forest

Posted by Vladimir Penaloza – MA Candidate at CLACS

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Published Photo Reprinted from the book Deutsche Schule Managua 25 Jahre

When I started this research, I was interested in the incarceration and expropriation of assets of German nationals in Nicaragua during World War II. Once I arrived in Nicaragua and began going through the archives, I realized that the footprint of Germans in Nicaragua was much greater than I had previously known. Germans have been present in Nicaragua ever since the mid 19th century. The majority of them settled in the highlands of Matagalpa and Jinotega, a two-hour drive north of Managua, an area conducive to coffee harvesting.

By 1852, a few families of German descent had settled in the region of Matagalpa, the most prominent of these families was that of Ludwig “Luis” Elster and his wife Katharina Braun. Luis Elster and his wife established the first finca in the north of Nicaragua, in which they helped introduce coffee to this region. After the Elsters, the influx of Germans increased making the region a center for German migration in Nicaragua. Currently, Matagalpa is the hub of of coffee growing in Nicaragua.

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Hacia la Paz: Celebrating Ceasefire in Bogotá

Posted by Hanna Wallis – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

A crowd of several dozen huddles against the rain under huge Colombian flags with white flowers in hand, paz written on damp faces. They gaze expectantly toward the huge screen at the front of the plaza broadcasting live news from Havana; the four years of peace negotiations between the government and the country’s largest guerrilla group FARC approach a conclusive ceasefire agreement, a symbolic move to end five decades of armed conflict. We are standing in the exact coordinates of Bogota where 68 years ago, liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated, catalyzing what is known in Colombian history as “La Violencia.” Today, the site where the conflict began is also where we inaugurate its conclusion. Hope radiates among people holding long embraces, statue-sized political handshakes projecting before us.

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I arrived to Colombia just a day before this historical moment. While the government and FARC have flirted with the possibility of final signed peace accord for several months (the original deadline was March 23), this latest agreement was not pre-announced. My first full day in Bogota I hear mutterings about celebrating a peace agreement the next morning. All of my adopted Colombian family adorns themselves in peace regalia and we proceed to the Séptima con Avenida Jimenez.

Although more steps remain before the country reaches a final peace accord, this latest message from Havana marks several important changes: the FARC have agreed to disarm in a binding ceasefire wherein their weapons will be transferred to the United Nations. The government has also to create a special unit in its general attorney office to fight paramilitary and other criminal organizations.

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The potential implications of these changes for the population at large has inspired broad speculation and concern. I’m here to research how the peace process will impact an indigenous resistance movement in Cauca, Colombia, which has fought for political representation and autonomy since the 1970s.  While quelling the tensions between the different armed groups is critical in the transition toward “post-conflict”, their movement represents the existence of plural interests excluded from the bilateral negotiations. I am excited to depart from the urban hullabaloo and immerse where I can hear a counter-point to the elation of the crowd in front of me.

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My academic research will loosely center around their alternative forms of development and pursuit of sovereignty. As a joint masters student in Journalism and Latin American Studies, I will also seek out a character-driven reportage. I’ve been networking with organizations and government representatives to broaden my contextual understanding. With this backdrop, the voices from Nasa community members in Cauca will ring distinctly.

The Ties that Bind: The Making of Diaspora in the Río de la Plata

Posted by – Keyanah Freeland, PhD Student NYU Department of History

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January 11, 1885 Edition of the Afro-Uruguayan Newspaper “La Regeneración” discusses and critiques an anti-black article that appeared in another Montevideo periodical

 

Historically separated and linked by the estuary of the Río de la Plata, the cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay are not often figured as important sites within the historic formation of the African Diaspora within the Americas. Indeed, since the arrival of millions of European immigrants (mainly Spanish and Italian) to the region at the turn of the twentieth century, both nations have, to varying degrees, fashioned themselves as “white nations.” On the one hand, the precipitous decline of both cities’ populations of African descent from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth  lent some credence to the presumed new racial homogeneity of both cities.  According to the national censuses of both countries, the population of African descent in Buenos Aires had decreased from 25% to less than 2%, and in Montevideo from 10.7% to less than 1% (Reid Andrews, 1980, 2010). On the other, the ideological erasure of blackness on both sides of the Río de la Plata through the writings of prominent intellectuals and politicians contributed to a process of Europeanization, of reconstituting Europe physically and socially in the Americas. Blackness, as well as indigeneity and any other form of unaccepted nonwhiteness, thus had no place in the vision and constitution of these “white nations.”

However, as early as the 1930s, historians, anthropologists, and literary scholars have argued against the narratives of erasure that either deny the presence of people of African descent beyond the end of the nineteenth century (in the case of Argentina) or distort their contributions and importance to national history (in the case of Uruguay). From the pioneering works of historians Elena Studer, Miguel Angel Rosal, and George Reid Andrews, to the more recent scholarly contributions of historian Alex Borucki and anthropologist Lea Geler, a variety of counter-narratives have demonstrated the importance of slavery to the region throughout the colonial period, the profound contributions of men of color to the region’s wars of independence, the rich tradition of nineteenth and twentieth century black intellectual and journalistic production, and finally, the sustained fight for civic and political equality amidst continued discrimination. Continue reading

Indigenous Puno?

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Posted by Ximena Málaga Sabogal – PhD student in Anthropology at NYU

It has been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Puno, one of the biggest cities in the southern Peruvian Andes. I have a long history with this city, having researched in the area throughout my bachelor and masters degree. Still, Puno was always a place to go through, in order to get somewhere else. This time I am going to spend two months in the city, going through the archives and talking to people who can somehow enlighten me on my research topic. Although I am an anthropologist, I also have a background in history and always try to bring these two together in my research. I am interested in the Aymara and Quechua identity definitions and its connections with the international indigenous movement.

Who is indigenous? What does it even mean? For a long time, this was not a question being asked in Peru. El problema del Indio (the Indian problem) became a topic at the beginning of the 20th century but the question about who is indio was not put forward until the last decades. As in Latin America more broadly, ethnicity in Peru is constructed through a combination of quite fluid physical and cultural categories that are sometimes claimed as means of self-identification, but more often ascribed by others. During the first half of the 20th century, the category of race became culturized (and culture became racialized) which led to even more complications in the definitions of who the indio was. From an elite and “white” perspective, national progress required de-indianization of the country’s population, to be accomplished through education and literacy, while the growing rural-to-urban migration process watered down distinct cultural characteristics of those who only a decade before were considered by the state as definitely Indian. Velasco Alvarado’s revolutionary government (1968-1975) further advanced the process of de-indianization, although for different reasons, advocating for the use of the term “peasant.

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