Category Archives: history
(image source: Putumayo.com)
You hear Latin music and it makes you want to dance – but is it a Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, or something entirely different? The beat tempts you to the dance floor, but what do you do once you’re out there?
Today my friend and professional Latin dance instructor, Jennifer Gonzalez, guest posts and gives us the basics!
Lovin’ that Latin Dance!
by Jennifer Gonzalez
It is hard to believe that just 13-14 years ago I had no idea that merengue, salsa, bachata, or cha cha cha were dances. Ok, maybe in the ballroom world I had heard a bit about cha cha cha or salsa but definitely nothing else. The only type of Latin dance I had ever laid eyes on was whatever came out of Mexico or California. As much as I love the Mexican culture – the dance just didn’t do it for me.
Then one day, I met this man. He was (well, still is) Puerto Rican and he introduced me to ‘his’ music! I fell in love with the music instantly. For one of our dates, we went to go to see the movie, “Dance With Me” staring Chayanne and Vanessa Williams. In the movie, Chayanne takes Williams’ character to a club where they dance ‘real’ salsa (not the ballroom kind.) My eyes probably popped out of my head at that moment as I watched and saw what I thought looked like the most fun you could have out at a club.
I told my then-boyfriend, “I must learn how to dance salsa!” So for my birthday we went to a tiny little club that we had found in the City Paper. After only one lesson I was hooked. I had no problem with the rhythm or the steps and wanted more. What I didn’t know was that these lessons were going to open up a whole new world to me full of music, dance, and culture. Little by little I started to learn other dances, where they came from, and how they fit into the culture of Latin America.
What intrigues me is that many times people have a hard time distinguishing Latin music. A merengue will be playing and someone will ask, “Is that salsa?” No. They sound nothing alike. To me. How can you tell them apart? You learn about them!
Merengue is the easiest of the Latin dances to learn. It involves just two beats and two steps. 1-2, 1-2. The man and women mirror each other’s feet as they dance and start in closed-position. As they step, there is a slight bend to the knee which will move the hips. They key is to not move your shoulders to the side or to bounce – that will give you away as a gringo (or non- Hispanic person) immediately! The bend in the knee while dancing gives the hips the movement that everyone wants but works so hard to achieve. Because of the easy steps, the leader can move through series of turns without too many issues. The dance originated in the Dominican Republic in the 19th century and is considered the ‘national dance’. If you take a trip to the Dominican Republic and stay in a resort, you will most likely find merengue dance lessons each afternoon or evening (sometimes both). You can see the basic movement in the videos below:
One dance gaining in popularity right now is bachata. Everyone and their mother and brother want to learn Bachata – especially here in the Washington DC area. Again, this dance comes to us from the Dominican Republic. Many call bachata the ‘country music’ of Latin music. The lyrics are often full of heartache, pain, and love and as a result, the dance itself can portray all of these things. Traditional bachata dancing requires partners hold each other very close in the closed position. Their legs will straddle so as to not step on each other’s feet (with the woman’s right-leg often between the men’s legs while dancing). The dance involves 4 steps – 4 to the right, 4 to the left with the 4th step being a left-lift or hip pop (see the video). Although many dance very close together, it isn’t necessary. It can be beautiful danced with space between the man and the woman.
Salsa dancing is one of the most complex Latin dances. Not only are the steps harder to learn but there are variations within the dance itself which have caused controversy for years. Salsa music first originated in Cuba (as mambo) before being brought to the United States by Cuban musicians. The origins date back to Cuban Son. When the Cubans brought their salsa to the states it wasn’t yet considered ‘salsa’. Only after the United States shut the doors to Cuba and other artists took the music, added their own flavor (like Fania All Stars) was it given the name ‘salsa’. The style became immensely popular in Puerto Rico due to singers like Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Tito Puente, and others and slowly moved throughout the world. Today, you will find that styles of salsa vary from country to country. Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and more all have their own distinct style of moving.
What does salsa look like when danced? Excellent question! As people start to learn they may find themselves confused. The styles to pick from are: on1 (LA style), on2 (New York/Puerto Rican style), casino (Cuban style), or Colombian. They each have their own way of relating to the music but one thing stays the same: the clave. All salsa music is built upon the clave. If you dance up the clave or down the clave does not matter – just stay with the music. Salsa is danced in 6 beats: 1-2-3, 5-6-7 with on1 and on2 styles pausing for the 4 & the 8. However, Cuban and Colombian salsa most often use every beat of the music. Trying to decide which style to learn can be confusing but I suggest to just pick one, learn it well, and then move on to another.
Video 1 demonstration:
New York Style:
Beyond Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata
Beyond the dances mentioned above there are numerous other Latin dances available. The most popular is probably the cha cha cha. Most people are familiar with the cha cha cha from ballroom dancing or tv shows like Dancing With the Stars. Again, cha cha cha was born in Cuba. It progressed from the Danzón and received the name ‘cha cha cha’ from the sound the footwork would make on the floor. And although many people call it just the cha cha – the proper name is cha cha cha. The footwork is most similar to salsa but with a syncopated step on the 4 and 8. For a feel of the cha cha cha, I might recommend people break out their old Santana music and listen to “Oye Como Va.” This song was written by Tito Puente as a straight cha cha cha but Santana took it and created an incredible rock song. The cha cha cha is still there in the song. Although the cha cha cha can be danced to some popular music (as they show on tv) it is best danced to classic cha cha cha music for the proper feel.
Another popular dance is Afro-Cuban rumba. Again, ballroom took what they called rumba and created their own dance. When you say ‘rumba’ in Cuba or in Puerto Rico or other Latin American countries they will most often assume you are talking about the rhythm that originated in Cuba. Because rumba is so diverse and complex, I would suggest reading this article I wrote for Ritmo Bello which explains the types of rumba as well as gives examples.
Learning these dances not only gives people the opportunity to connect with a culture (Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian, Dominican, etc.) it provides an outlet for exercise and socializing. Some of my greatest friends have come through dancing salsa. And for me, I know that I still have so much to learn. Watch the videos, pick up some music from Amazon or iTunes, and get in the groove!
Jennifer Gonzalez has been dancing salsa for the past 12 years and salsa rueda/casino for the past 10. She danced and taught with SAOCO DC for 4 years before having to focus her interests elsewhere due to kids, work, and life in general. She has also taught at the San Francisco Salsa Rueda Festival for two years and independently throughout Northern Virginia. Jennifer dances LA Style on1 and salsa casino but prefers salsa casino. She has trained with Aramis Pazos in Washington DC in AfroCuban dance. She works full-time as a web content manager and in search engine optimization/social media marketing. In addition, Jennifer authors Salsa Casino in DC – a blog dedicated to sharing events, classes, and more that are happening in the Washington DC Metro area as well as teaching people about the Cuban history of dance. Additionally, she is a regular contributor to PlanetTimba.com and The Examiner. When she is not dancing, thinking about dancing, or writing about dancing she spends time with her two children and husband.
Originating from an artist named Fernando Llort, the art is simple and colorful, typically making use of animals such as birds, rabbits, and turtles, as well as common objects such as flowers, trees, and houses.
After traveling and studying in Europe in the United States, Llort returned to El Salvador amidst war. Leaving San Salvador for La Palma, he started an artist workshop called, “La Semilla de Dios.”
Teaching the people of La Palma to make art has given them an alternative way to make a living. Today, if you buy a souvenir in El Salvador, chances are it will feature folk art in this traditional style.
One of my own souvenirs:
Photos of murals in La Palma, which I really love.
Image source: Permission granted by Flickr users Richard & Jo, (gracias!)
The website of artist, Fernando Llort (Free gift when you join the mailing list!)
Souvenirs – Latinaish.com
Souvenirs Part II – Latinaish.com
Today our church celebrates Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, but the forecast is calling for freezing rain so it may be postponed or canceled since the Spanish-speaking priest comes in from out of the city. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t attend the service, because it’s the one I look most forward to each year.
Raised Protestant, the Catholic relationship with the Virgin Mary was something that I had difficulty understanding at first. Protestants do not adore her the way Catholics do. I also found it confusing that there seemed to be a lot of Virgins in the Catholic faith. There is the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin, etc. I later learned that these are not different virgins – they are all the same Virgin Mary, (mother of Jesus). Some of the names are just describing her attributes, (such as Our Lady of Peace), and others are for locations where she appeared to people.
Years ago, during the course of writing one of my manuscripts, I needed to do research on the Catholic faith. While researching, I discovered the Virgin of Guadalupe, and fell in love. There is something about the Virgin of Guadalupe that intrigues me more than I can really put into words.
Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes once said, “…one may no longer consider himself a Christian, but you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.” And Nobel Literature laureate, Octavio Paz, wrote, “The Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery.”
If you don’t know the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, allow me to share it with you.
There once was an indigenous Mexican man named Juan Diego. (His birth name was Cuauhtlatoatzin, but Juan Diego was the name he took when Spanish bishops converted him to Christianity.)
Juan Diego was a widower who walked every Saturday and Sunday to church. When it was cold out he wore a cloak-like covering called a “tilma”, a common type of clothing for the people of his tribe. On one particular Saturday morning (December 9, 1531), on his way to church, Juan Diego claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin.
As he passed the hill at Tepeyac just outside of Mexico City he heard music and saw a light. A woman’s voice called him by name from the top of the hill, so he climbed up to see. Near the top he saw a beautiful young dark skinned woman dressed like an Aztec princess. She spoke to him in his native language (Nahuatl) and told Juan that she was the Virgin Mary.
The Virgin instructed Juan Diego to seek permission for a church to be built on that site and in return she would always care for the people there. Juan Diego did as he was told but the bishop asked for a sign to verify that what Juan Diego claimed had really happened.
Juan Diego returned to the hill and told the Virgin what the bishop had said. The Virgin then directed Juan Diego to go further up the hill and there he would find roses. He was instructed to gather the roses into his tilma. Juan Diego did as the Virgin instructed. (Remember it is winter time and roses would not have been blooming.) The Virgin then told Juan Diego to bring the roses to the bishop.
Not only was the bishop surprised by the roses because they were not in season but these particular roses were also not native to Mexico. These roses were native to his homeland (Spain). And then as Juan Diego emptied the roses from his tilma, it revealed an amazing image of the Virgin.
Juan Diego’s tilma with the image still exists today. It is on display at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. This is considered yet another miracle because Juan Diego’s tilma is made from the coarse fibers of the maguey cactus. A fabric of this type should have deteriorated after 20 years. (It has been in good condition for almost 500 years and examined by many scientists who can find no explanation.)
For those who take a more cynical view, there are theories that the Catholic church made all this up just to convert the native peoples of Mexico.
Today, many of those faithful to the Virgin of Guadalupe pray to her and ask miracles. Many claim she has healed them or loved ones from incurable illnesses. Some make promises to the Virgin in return for answered prayer. On the day of celebration for the Virgin of Guadalupe, some will walk on their knees, (some for miles), to her altar in gratitude and devotion.
Our church usually assembles in the street with mariachi at sunrise to sing “Las Mañanitas” to La Virgen. After misa, there is a procession and a traditional desayuno of pozole, tamales and champurrado.
I hope we will be able to go, but here are photos from last year.
“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.” – Jon Stewart
The history of Thanksgiving we’ve come to know growing up in American public schools is little more than a fairy tale. The true history is muddled in uncertainty, contradiction, controversy and outright lies.
While I’m certainly not a historian and therefore not qualified to delve into this with any voice of authority, I can say one thing for certain – If it weren’t for the kindness and generosity of the Native Americans to the new immigrants to this land, they would not have survived.
Many tribes reached out to these new people and taught them how to fertilize, grow, harvest and preserve crops. They showed them which foods were safe to eat, instructed them on methods of hunting and fishing, and gave them many gifts.
What did they receive in return? Lies. Broken promises. Treaties that could never be trusted. Being forced into small parcels of land. Loss of their freedom, culture, language, way of life… Death.
Even today the indigenous people who cared for this land, in a way we do not today, are suffering the consequences of past generations.
This isn’t a guilt trip for white people, or others who were born here in the United States. Is it your fault? Did you personally steal, rape and pillage? No. And I don’t think we can hold people accountable for the sins of their ancestors. We’re all individuals responsible for our own behavior. But there is a lesson to be learned.
What we can do, is to live in harmony with those around us and teach our children to do the same – To be thankful for what we have and to share with others, including new immigrants from all over the world that come here to the U.S. – To live the example of those tribes who reached out to a people from an entirely different culture, race and language – To be thankful for what we have, and when we have an abundance, give to those who are not as fortunate.
After all, today’s “undocumented immigrants” are just modern day Pilgrims.
“Great spirit, grant me vision
that I may not go wrong
and find myself in prison
of things I have not done
Teach me the secret
that I might see
fill my heart with compassion
to love my enemy.”
-Robby Romero/Prayer Song
Some people wouldn’t think that you can find Latin American art and culture at a museum for American Indians, but you can because Latin American culture is a mix of indigenous and Spanish culture. So, until Washington D.C. builds the much needed National Museum of The American Latino, this is a good place to look for a little Latinidad.
While the American Indian museum will have special events specifically for Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), they have many things on display year round.
“Day of the Dead rituals date back thousands of years. Early Mesoamerican peoples saw death as a continuation of life. They believed deceased members of their family could return to them during a month long celebration in late summer.
Spanish colonizers tried and failed to put an end to the ritual. Instead, to integrate it into Christian tradition, they moved its observance to the first two days of November: All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.”
-Printed on a plaque at The National Museum of the American Indian
These women were sewing and I didn’t want to disturb them by snapping photos too closely or interrupt them by asking questions, so I’m not sure of their ethnicity, but their colorful embroidery reminded me very much of Latin America.
Also on display…
American flags are out in full force this weekend – And thanks to Hurricane Earl passing off the coast, the red, white and blue, snapped proudly in the wind.
While I was taking photos, I noticed the juxtaposition of this flag and a sign that made me smile.
Okay, maybe I’m easily amused, but the way “NACHOS” is written up there, as if there is nothing more American than that, it made me happy.
Actually, if you’re interested to know, nachos have a good story behind them.
From Wikipedia: Nachos originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, at a restaurant called the Victory Club, owned by Rodolfo De Los Santos. One day in 1943, the wives of ten to twelve U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were in Piedras Negras on a shopping trip, and arrived at the restaurant after it had closed for the day. The maître d’, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, invented a new snack for them with what little he had available in the kitchen: tortillas and cheese. Anaya cut the tortillas into triangles, added longhorn cheddar cheese, quickly heated them, and added sliced jalapeño peppers. He served the dish, calling it Nacho’s especiales – meaning something like “Nacho’s special dish” in Spanish.
Anaya went on to work at the Moderno Restaurant in Piedras Negras, which still uses the original recipe. He also opened his own restaurant, “Nacho’s Restaurant”, in Piedras Negras. Anaya’s original recipe was printed in the 1954 St. Anne’s Cookbook.
The popularity of the dish swiftly spread throughout Texas. The first known appearance of the word “nachos” in English dates to 1949, from the book A Taste of Texas. Waitress Carmen Rocha is credited with introducing the dish to Los Angeles at El Cholo Mexican restaurant in 1959.
So there you have it. Nachos may not have been invented without some hungry gringas and an ingenious Mexican. You see, gente? This is what can happen when we all try to get along.
My father played soccer before I was born. The dusty trophies on a shelf in the basement and a few faded sepia-tinted photographs were all I knew of it. I don’t remember my father ever watching soccer while I was growing up and though I was given a soccer ball for my first Christmas, the game was only played casually in our yard, just another ball that was part of our collection of toys, piled in a box along with cob-webbed baseball bats, tennis rackets, and flat basketballs.
It wasn’t until I started working at a little Italian restaurant that fútbol fever took over. The owner was from Italy, and as any good Italian should, he loved soccer, (“calcio” in Italian.) Business was often slow and he was infamous for working us hard, always reminding us in his thick accent, “If you can’t find something to do, I will find something for you. I am not paying you for nothing.” But during the World Cup, he allowed us to sit with him at the wobbly uneven-legged tables in the dinning room once in awhile to watch the games play on the little TV up in the corner, (though we had to re-fill ketchup bottles and salt shakers while we watched.) Sometimes he even forgot to complain that we were taking advantage of his generous “unlimited fountain drinks for employees” benefit.
It was during this time that I really fell in love with the game, and not just because it offered a momentary respite from scrubbing floor tiles with a toothbrush. The actual game itself is beautiful; there is beauty in the skill in which the men move the ball down the field, but also in the ball itself. Such a humble object, so humble that people have been known to create them out of trash in the most dire circumstances. There is beauty in the fact that the game is accessible to all, and that no matter our differences, for a brief time, it can bring the world together in a common love.
My husband’s love of fútbol is a very different story, (as is almost every story which directly compares our childhoods.) Growing up in El Salvador during a bloody civil war, with the sounds of helicopters and gunfire as background noise, he still ran out to kick the ball around with his friends. His father was the coach of a second division team, and my husband was the team mascot. Sometimes they would go to the crowded stadium to watch games, which could often times be dangerous as it was common for passionate, (and sometimes intoxicated) fans, to become violent. The Football War, (La guerra del fútbol), between El Salvador and Honduras happened before my husband’s time, but that just goes to show the passion they have for the game.
Though my husband has told me he wasn’t given toys as a child, and his Christmas present was usually a pair of shoes, (purposefully bought a few sizes too big so they would last), somehow he remembers having the official FIFA World Cup sticker albums. While I collected puffy, sparkly, and scratch-and-sniff stickers like most American children of the 1980′s, my husband collected stickers of futbolistas and it’s one of very few fond childhood memories he has.
So this year, as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa fast approaches, I encouraged my husband to buy the sticker album. He was at first reluctant, saying that there was no one to trade stickers with, but after I found out some friends would be buying the albums, he agreed. It didn’t take long for my husband’s enthusiasm to be re-ignited. When we bought the album at one of the local Latino markets, we bought a few of the sticker packets with it. The next day, he came home from work with more packets in hand, having stopped at the store on the way. Watching him open the packets and sort through them gives me a glimpse of the little boy he used to be.
We also like sharing this experience with our boys. At first it was just to force our love of fútbol on them, but it turns out, the album provides a great opportunity for practicing Spanish. The pages are multi-lingual, listing the names of the countries and other vocabulary in a dozen or so languages.
As for the stickers, so far we’ve got three doubles. We’ve got an extra Sebastian Abreu (Uruguay/Sticker #86.), Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina/Sticker #117), and Hendry Thomas (Honduras/Sticker #612). Who wants to trade? :)
A quote from Benito Juárez:
“Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.”- Benito Juárez
(Translation: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”)
…Arizona, I’m looking in your general direction.
Here’s an interesting little bit of audio from NPR/StoryCorps, (America’s largest nonprofit national oral history project):
Sylvia Mendez talks to her sister Sandra Mendez Duran about Mendez v. Westminster, their family’s 1945 lawsuit that won Mexican-American children the right to attend white schools.
The past couple days I have been visiting websites talking about the immigration march I went to in D.C. on Sunday. Some of the blogs I’ve come across are run by ignorant, xenophobic racists.
One of the worst websites I came across was Youth for Western Civilization. After reading William L. Houston’s extremely biased and vile “report” of the immigration march, I was filled with so much sadness for the ignorance that fills his young head.
I tried to comment multiple times. I presented intelligent arguments, and for this, my comments were deleted. I suppose those who run the website are too cowardly and ignorant to respond to factual truth. Meanwhile, they eagerly publish racist ranting comments which are written by people who obviously do not know how to turn off the CAPS lock.
Well, I will not be silenced. So William, and all the rest of you – I’m calling you out on my own blog and you can not delete me here. I will have my say, (even if it is just throwing pearls to swine.) And because you tried to shut me up, I will yell it even louder.
You went to the march/rally with the sole intent of finding “evidence” to jibe with your own misguided beliefs. You took photos of people waving non-U.S. flags just so you could call them unpatriotic. You and I both know, those people were in the minority and that the vast majority of the 200,000+ people proudly waved AMERICAN flags… Besides, even if people showed pride in their roots, how is it wrong? Is it any different than the Republicans who wave Israeli flags, (or worse, Confederate flags), or Caucasians who wear “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” T-shirts?
Second, those with Che Guevara shirts and things of that nature were also few in numbers. I saw ONE person and I was there for several hours. You must have really gotten a lot of exercise walking through the crowd and searching these people out.
In any crowd and at any event, at any gathering of any race or political party, you are going to find people with a different agenda. This rally was full of peaceful, hopeful people and you know it.
You say, “This wasn’t a spontatneous [sic] outburst of American patriotism like you see at the Tea Parties. Rather, it was tens of thousands of people waving small American flags (which the organizers provided them with) … because they want something in return, namely, American citizenship and access to taxpayer subsidized public services.”
You also say, “Some Latino demonstraters [sic] had bigoted, anti- European signs. There were signs at the rally which claimed that North America is a “Bronze Continent” that belongs to Indians and Latinos. There were others which claimed that Europeans were illegal immigrants.”
You are railing against the Latinos at the rally for being bigoted which is the epitome of irony. You also praise Teabaggers for their patriotism. Do I even have to explain how ridiculous that is? So, Latinos are bigots in your mind for suggesting a historically true fact, (that North America was stolen from the Indigenous people), yet Teabaggers, who are absolutely vile racists who most recently shouted “N*gg*r” and spit on a Black Congressman, are cool with you? … You are so far down the wrong path that even a top-of-the-line GPS couldn’t help you find your way back to reality.
Lastly, about that video you shot of people unintentionally walking over a little U.S. flag on the ground… You say:
“As we were leaving, we noticed Latino demonstrators walking over a discarded American flag on the sidewalk. We shot some video of those patriotic Americans which we will share on YouTube.”
Did you ever consider that perhaps the little flag slipped out of someone’s hand, (perhaps a child’s), accidentally, and it was totally unbeknownst to the person who dropped it? The people who are walking over it are not stomping on it, they simply fail to notice it is there. How does that make them unpatriotic? … You, on the other hand, saw your beloved flag on the ground being trampled. Not only did you leave it there, but you watched, and you took the time to video tape it. What does that make you?