Category Archives: Recent Research

Exploring the Yareta of Northern Chile Through the Archives

Posted by Amanda Lotspike – MA Candidate at CLACS

To write a story of the yareta is to start from its partial absence in the Chilean altiplano. It’s a hard thing to do. The yareta demands attention; it grows “like a tortoise—big and green”[1], a plant with almost animate qualities despite its resolute grounding in the Andean volcanic belt. Thriving at altitudes of twelve to fifteen-thousand feet above sea level, the yareta is more than a single cushion shrub. Hundreds of tightly wound, waxy succulent leaves make up the flat surface area of its circular outcroppings—bulbous growths that take on the appearance of carpet moss from far away. At eye level, a heavy resin (yaretawaqa or “tears” of the yareta) smudges its bright green surface, while dried yellow flowers collect in small pockets where the slopes of the yareta rise and fall.

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The yareta, photo taken by author.

 

This summer I’ve set out to learn of and from the history of the yareta (its abundant growth, extraction and decline) in the Norte Grande of Chile. From stories of the “king” of the yareta (a Bolivian entrepreneur who led commercial exploitation of the species during the mid-twentieth century Chilean mining boom) to its representation in the writings of award-winning poet Miguel Urrelo Valdivia, I have explored the ways in which the yareta exists beyond its material presence (as a poetic imaginary, an heirloom, a divine resource and finally, a warning call).

In this series of blog posts I will highlight a few of these stories. First stop: the library at the National Service for Geology and Mining and the National Archive of Chile.
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La Memoria Circundante o La Magdalena de Proust es el Picante de Pollo: Tres Semanas en Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Posted by Guillermo Severiche – MFA Student at Creative Writing in Spanish at NYU

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Poco antes de llegar a Cochabamba releía la frase de Por el camino de Swann en donde el narrador sumerge su magdalena en el té y el recuerdo de pronto lo invade. Allí entiende que del pasado antiguo – una vez todo muerto y derrumbado – lo que más subsiste son los olores y sabores. Allí esperan, dice, aguardan entre las ruinas salvaguardando la memoria incólume de las personas pasadas que han dejado de ser, de los momentos matutinos que quizás significaron más de lo que pensábamos. Al aterrizar en Cochabamba tuve la sensación de un retorno ajeno. Al principio pensé que había algo familiar en todo esto, que volvía a la casa que hacía poco había vuelto a abandonar. Al día siguiente y durante las próximas tres semanas, fueron muchos los indicios que me permitieron entender que los recuerdos persisten en zonas geográficas ajenas para uno pero cercanas a aquellos del pasado; que es posible recordar cosas desconocidas porque significaron la vida diaria de los seres que de alguna u otra forma nos definieron. Un plato de sopa, un pedazo de pan, algunos modos de habla y entonaciones de voz, me trajeron a la memoria cosas de mis abuelos que llevaron consigo al emigrar hacia la Argentina como modos cotidianos de vida y que han permanecido a mi alrededor más allá de su muerte.

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The Underground Economy Supporting Public Internet Use in Cuba

Posted by Sam Kellogg — MA candidate in Media, Culture, and Communications at NYU

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The Wi-Fi park on 14th and 15th street, Vedado, Havana.

I met *Victor the second or third time I visited my local Wi-Fi park, on the corner of 14th and 15th streets in Vedado. Vedado is a neighborhood in Havana a mile west of the city center known for its tree-lined boulevards and grand houses, many of which were converted into shared living spaces or dedicated to municipal functions following the Cuban Revolution’s triumph in 1959. It’s in one of these converted houses I’ve been living for the past few weeks.

In the mornings, I sometimes pass by the park on 14th and 15th street to check my email, and most mornings until noon Victor is there, lounging on a green park bench beneath the extravagant orange flowers and merciful shade of the Flamboyán trees. His hustle is selling tarjetas to park visitors—single-use cards with scratch-off codes that give buyers access to the Internet for a set amount of time, usually an hour or two.

This is how most Cubans and island visitors get online, check their emails, scroll through Facebook, and listen to the latest music. The process of connecting goes something like this: Visit your local Wi-Fi-enabled park, turn on your device’s Wi-Fi, and connect to the public network. Usually the network will be named “WIFI_ETECSA” (ETECSA is the state telecom company, and the sole Internet provider on the island). Once connected to the network, a pop-up screen with spaces to type in a username and password allows you to log in. If you’re using the scratch-off single-use cards that Victor sells to connect, you’ll type in two twelve-digit numbers printed on the back of the card for your username and password and cross your fingers. Wait a few seconds, and if you typed in the numbers correctly (I often don’t), you’ll see a green check-mark and emails and notifications will start pouring in.

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Front and back of a five-hour single-use login card.

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Using Food Recipes as Sources of Information for Changes in Food Preferences. Colombia. 1970´s – 2010´s.

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Posted by Juan C S Herrera – PhD Student at Steinhardt / Food Studies and Food management at NYU


After three weeks in Bogotá, Colombia, I took a stroll through one of the city’s main roads, 7th Avenue. There you can find several food options ranging from international food chains to Colombian food corporations, as well as affordable local adaptations of international foods to traditional corn on the cob and fresh fruit vendors. The availability of food options is linked to the preferences of Colombian consumers.

Food preferences have changed over the last decades. The reasons underlying the changes can be found in the relationship between the macro economic, social, and political space and how those macro variables play a role in the individual formation of food preferences. At the macro level, one can find four major changes that affect the availability of food products and therefore influence individual’s food preferences.

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The Racialized Rhetoric of Brazilian Museum Exhibitions at Midcentury and Contemporary Developments in Critical Pedagogy

Posted by Pilar Garrett, Joint MA Candidate at CLACS / Museums Studies, NYU

After three weeks in Brazil, to say my mind is over-saturated would be an understatement. This place, its social configurations, infrastructure, and patterns of behavior, are not simple- or, as Tom Jobim once noted, Brazil is not for beginners.

But I’ve known this my entire life; the degree of complexity is not news to me. However, armed with a deeper investigative purpose this time around, and a perspective made all the more sharp by the past year of critical academic reflection, Brazil’s peculiarities and blatant inequalities have presented themselves loudly and with more clarity. Such is the advantage of the field. Such is the curse and blessing of a social science education, the irremovable and ever-present analytical lens. Exhausting and oft-times emotional, I nevertheless know that these far-from-censored glances will  provide the foundation for sensitive, representative, and engaged work- and for that I am very grateful.

By way of explanation, I am here trying to sort out the racial implications of Brazil’s modernist project, specifically as represented and standardized through midcentury museum exhibitions. To this end, my work combines Brazilian social and political history, race theory, and museum theory, and while I’ve long had the conceptual framework of my thesis ready, it took being here in the field to narrow down the specific spaces of analysis for my project. My first week, following my landing in São Paulo, therefore consisted of peddling myself and my research proposal from one leading Paulista museum to another, as well as the Museu Afro Brasil which unfortunately- and tellingly- has been relegated to the lesser known of São Paulo’s cultural institutions. Of course, I had selected the museums that I felt fit my project beforehand so these rounds behaved mainly as a means to introduce myself, schedule appointments, and solidify connections in person. Continue reading

The Complexities of Mourning

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

During my visit to the Casa Arana building, I could witness the sadness with which the young men that guided me through this site regarded the failed project of a cabinet-making workshop that I described in my last post. The other sign that I interpreted as a gesture of solemn sadness, was their attitude as we visited the cepo. A cepo is a yoke for humans -that is the exact meaning of the word-, but people in La Chorrera actually use it to speak about a small room next to the stairs of Casa Arana, were indigenous people were tortured and murdered during the rubber boom. It is now a warehouse that the school administration uses to keep musical instruments (trumpets and drums), as well as supplies for the school activities (stationary materials, for instance). The three young men told me that this was the place where the overseers punished those who did not fulfilled the amount of rubber requested from them by the Casa Arana Company. One of the punishments, they added, was to leave the person hanging from the columns for an entire day. They also mentioned that the overseers would bring dogs and make them lick the wounds of those punished. One of them sighed as he mentioned how thousands of people died inside that small room. They explained how, afterwards, all the bodies were put on top of each other in a rectangular space on the ground limited by stone divisions, right between the cepo and the stairs.

They didn’t give me more details about the tortures that took place there and I didn’t want to ask them more about it, since what they told me was part of public reports. However, I kept thinking about the fact that their demeanor in this specific spot only repeated when we were at the “cabinet-making cemetery.” It’s not that one situation is more or less important than the other, or even comparable in terms of what could be more significant for the people of La Chorrera. But they have at least one element in common: a feeling of failure, related to a project of modernization that brought violence and death -in the case of the Casa Arana rubber exploitation- or  disappointment for a promise of progress in which the indigenous people would receive all the benefits.

This kind of mourning towards progress repeated in many instances of my stay at La Chorrera. It was the feeling most similar that I found to pain for the past as it is traditionally portrayed in western contexts, as well as promoted by the Colombian state through its policies of memorialization. To my surprise, in the case of the project of building a museum at the site were the Casa Arana Company built its emporium of slavery and death, what seems to be more relevant to the inhabitants of La Chorrera is not to give the space an atmosphere of solemnity or sacredness; this is not a place where they would go to mourn and remember those who died there. Instead, the project represents the possibility to reclaim and reaffirm a status that was historically denied to them: that of Colombian citizens in full rights. Proof of this that what is most important to them in terms of building the museum is what it would represent in terms of their relationship with the Colombian state.  Continue reading

#YoSoyNicky: Anti-Discrimination Activism in the Dominican Republic

by Saudi Garcia (Department of Anthropology Doctoral Student)

Activity buzzed around me in the nearly empty-space of the salon floor as I sat on a small stool and managed the phone line, cellphone and the locked glass door. At 10 AM, a call rang through the landline and on the other side, a young woman began speaking through what I sensed were tears. “Can I speak with Carolina?” She asked. In that moment, I was unable to immediately transfer her to Carolina Contreras, the owner of Miss Rizos salon and a public figure in what is the growing natural hair movement in the Dominican Republic. Instead, I asked if there is anything that I can do to help. I wrote her phone number and the details of her story in my cellphone and passed it on to Carolina via text message.

The woman on the other end of the line was Fátima Gónzalez Méndez (aka Nicky) a political science student from the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo. After applying and being accepted to her program of choice and being notified of receiving the scholarship, only to have it withdrawn, Nicky decided to lobby at MESCYT for a scholarship that would enable her to study and live in the Basque Country, Spain. On the morning of July 26th Nicky had gone to the office of the minister of higher education in Science and Technology (MESCYT) in Santo Domingo to lobby.  In her words, the minister in charge of the scholarship selection process, Ligia Amada Melo, dismissed her efforts to obtain a scholarship, telling her that she does not give scholarship to people with “pelo como tu” (“Hair like yours”).

Nicky has afro-textured hair, a copper-colored Afro that halos around her face. The implications of the statement by this public figure were immediately interpreted to be discriminatory against people who wear their hair in curly or afro styles. This form of discrimination is common in the Dominican Republic where women, girls and men experience exclusion in various sectors of public life due to their appearance.

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photo courtesy of verne.elpais.com

Until 2013, the Junta Central Electoral forced women with afro and curly hair to straighten it for their national ID card pictures. Female bank tellers offering customer service at the country’s major banks are barred from wearing their hair natural and other women have been denied entry into commercial establishments for similar reasons. Young men in poor neighborhoods are arrested and their hair is shaved as a standard policing tactic. In May and July, several young women took to social media to denounce being denied entry to their schools because they refused to straighten their hair. These restrictions are often upheld in the name of “buena presencia” or good appearance. However, they are indicative of the translucent coating of respectability politics that permeate life in Dominican, and Caribbean, society.

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