Category Archives: Issues
“Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth—many of them not yet recorded—may disappear.” – National Geographic/Enduring Voices Project
Members of La Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS13), have been instructed by gang leaders to learn Nahuat and other indigenous languages of the Central American country; languages which are highly endangered or almost extinct, and some of which have less than 100 native speakers currently living, according to the report.
Unfortunately, the gang’s purpose of learning these languages isn’t at all altruistic and they have no intention of learning the languages fluently. Gang members have been instructed to learn enough vocabulary to create an indecipherable code which will make it more difficult for law enforcement to intercept their messages.
This is disappointing, of course, although maybe not surprising. We’re left then with the same question linguists always face: How can Nahuat and other endangered languages be saved? Is it enough to merely preserve records of the languages, (such as the video below), or should efforts be made to keep languages alive by encouraging native speakers to pass it on? What sort of encouragement or programs would be successful? Is it a losing battle? What do you think?
When I first saw the trailer for The Girl, I knew immediately that I wanted to see the film – and then I found out that it opens on March 8th in New York and on March 15th in Los Angeles, (two locations I’m nowhere near.) Thankfully I not only got the opportunity to screen the film online, but to interview the director, David Riker.
I think you’ll be able to sense how much I loved this film from my interview questions (below), but if it isn’t clear enough, I’ll tell you – I loved it and recommend that anyone who is able to see it – go see it. I’ve watched a lot of films with immigration and border themes – this one is different thanks to the fact that it’s told through the eyes of a gringa who is already struggling with her own issues. The Girl will make you think, and then think twice about border issues and what defines a good life.
From David Riker, the director of La Ciudad, and Paul Mezey, the producer of Oscar-nominated films Maria Full of Grace and Beasts of the Southern Wild, comes a new film The Girl.
Abbie Cornish plays Ashley, a young single mom struggling with the loss of her child to Social Services, unwilling to accept the consequences of her actions and trapped in the quicksand of her south Texas life.
When Ashley’s path collides with Rosa (Maritza Santiago Hernandez), a strong-minded girl who has lost her mother while crossing the Rio Grande, she unwittingly begins a journey that will change her life forever.
Starting in a big box store in Texas and ending in a small village in southern Mexico, The Girl turns the immigrant story upside down, questioning the myth of the American Dream and asks that we consider the possibility of a better life – south of the border.
Interview with Director, David Riker
Latinaish: I understand you also wrote the script for this film? What was your inspiration?
DR: My inspiration to write the script has its roots in my debut feature, called ‘La Ciudad’ which was filmed over the course of five years in New York’s Latin American immigrant community. Listening to so many stories of sacrifice in crossing the border, I decided to travel there and see with my own eyes. What I saw was deeply upsetting, but also surprising, and after traveling back and forth through the borderlands I came to realize that my own preconceptions of the border were false — as is the central myth that hope is in the north. That realization led me to consider a story in which the logic of the border were turned upside down — and to ask the question, what might happen if an Anglo crossed the border — south.
Latinaish: The cinematography of this film was really breathtaking, particularly scenes that took place in Oaxaca, Mexico. Was this shot on location? Can you tell us about that?
DR: Yes, almost all of the film was shot in Mexico, but due to the violence in Tamaulipas (including Nuevo Laredo) we were not able to film along the border. This was a major creative setback as I had spent several years developing close relationships with people in the border city and had every location scouted. In the end we filmed all of the Mexico portion of the story in the state of Oaxaca — much of it in the Istmo, though some in the capital, in addition to the village at the end which is in the Sierra Norte. ‘Re-creating the border’ became the central creative challenge we faced, affecting every department from production design, casting, and wardrobe. The cinematographer is one of the stars of Mexico’s new generation, known for his lyrical work in El Violin.
Latinaish: Which scene was most difficult to capture, either emotionally or physically, and why? What challenges did you face on set?
DR: The most difficult scene… An interesting question. From an emotional standpoint, without a doubt the scene when Rosa realizes her mother has died. From a logistical standpoint, perhaps the nighttime river crossing which I intentionally wanted to film as a baptismal event. Every scene is a challenge, and every challenge is different. More than anything you are battling the lack of time and limited resources, and desperately fighting against compromise. But the Mexican crew and the actors were like a family and we all fought the battle each day together.
Latinaish: I love that the “gringa” in this film, “Ashley”, played by actress Abbie Cornish, spoke Spanish so much of the time, but there was no explanation in the plot as to how the character learned to speak it so well – Can we assume she learned it just by living in southern Texas or from her co-workers? Did the actress, Abbie, already speak Spanish before the film?
DR: You are right, Ashley’s character was a composite of many people I’ve known, and a number of characters I met along the borderlands. Ashley speaks spanish because she has grown up in a Spanish-speaking world in South Texas. But Abbie Cornish didn’t speak a word. I think it’s a great testament to Abbie’s talent and force of character that she was undaunted by the challenge and threw herself into it with total commitment. As she said the first day we met to talk about the project, she didn’t simply want to learn her Spanish dialogues by heart, she wanted to understand the language.
Latinaish: The character “Rosa” played by Maritza Santiago Hernández had a fantastically stubborn personality in the film and I really fell in love with her. Was this her first film? Are there any other projects we can look for her in any time soon?
DR: I too fell in love with Maritza. She is an amazing girl, and yes, this is her first film role. I spent a great deal of time ‘searching for Rosa’ and saw thousands of young girls in communities all over Oaxaca. The casting took more than a year of full time work. I was not looking for a girl who could ‘play’ Rosa — I was looking for Rosa. And when I finally found Maritza I knew I had found her. She needed to be small but very strong, or tough or as you put it ‘stubborn.’ She needed to be full of life and light, but also depth. She needed to be naughty but also thoughtful. And of course she needed to have the indigenous features of the zapotec people in Oaxaca. After the film’s Mexico premiere at the Morelia Film Festival many journalists asked if she wanted to have an acting career. Her answer: ‘first she’ll finish school and become a teacher.’
Latinaish: What do you hope to accomplish with this film? What do you want the audience to take away?
I appreciate the question, as hope is the thing that sustains every storyteller. I hope that the film helps to generate dialogue about what it means to be an American, what it means to be an immigrant today, uprooted and far from home. I hope it helps to re-frame these questions in such a way that real understanding can begin — not through the limited lens of political debate – but in the broadest sense — what is our common humanity? What is it that divides us, and what do we share in common? Of course I know that it is after all only a film, so the goal must be modest. If people enjoy the story, are happy to meet young Maritza and to travel the journey with Ashley, I’m already a happy man.
This past week I wrote my weekly column for Fox News Latino about the tradition of Christmas Eve fireworks in El Salvador, and the injuries it causes each year.
While doing research for the article I came across several videos which, despite the serious subject matter I was writing about, I found really amusing. It’s funny when people have a good time with fireworks and don’t get hurt, so I can definitely see why people continue to buy them and set them off.
I myself have never handled anything more serious than sparklers and since I didn’t grow up with fireworks being set off right in front of me as Carlos did, I have a healthy fear/respect of them. That being said, I know some of you will be setting off some pretty impressive cuetes tomorrow night, so I just wanted to take a moment to remind everyone to be careful and to keep small children at a safe distance while you’re celebrating. If you talk to your family in El Salvador on the phone, remind them too. Christmas is not as fun at the hospital. Have fun, pero con cuidado!
In response to the New York Times article regarding the lack of Latino authors and books for children, Latina bloggers have launched the “Latinas for Latino Literature” campaign which works to identify the problems in today’s publishing world that contribute to this lack of diversity so that we can provide ideas for changing the situation to the benefit of not only Latino readers and writers, but to the benefit of the industry itself as they tap into this growing demographic. Look out for forthcoming Google hangouts, Twitter parties, and follow-up posts as this coordinated effort to bring quality books to an emerging group of readers continues.
I kneeled on the coarse, crimson carpet at the library, the third library I had visited that week, trying to find something, anything, on the shelves about El Salvador – the native country of my new husband. I often left libraries and bookstores defeated, with a stack of novels about Mexico, Mexicans, migrant workers – stories that I ended up loving, and still love – but what I really wanted was a book with Salvadoran characters, and I couldn’t find any. Any book I did manage to find about El Salvador would be non-fiction, and usually about the civil war.
When I became a mother of two boys, two Salvadoran-American boys, I wanted desperately to buy them books and read them stories with characters they could relate to. Again, visits to the library and bookstore turned up books featuring Mexican and Mexican-American characters, when we were lucky.
These days, the library selection has gotten better, and the online selection is a dream come true compared to what I faced when my boys were younger. I’ve read books about Cubans and Puerto Ricans, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Guatemalans and Paraguayans, and thanks to Sandra Benitez, an amazing book called “Bitter Grounds” with a diverse Salvadoran cast. I stayed up late turning the pages, almost not believing that after so many years, I was finally reading a book with Salvadoran characters.
Why am I writing this? – Because I want the publishing industry to know that I am here – an avid reader, hungry for these books for myself, for my husband, for our boys, and for the children out there whose parents won’t go to the trouble I’ve gone to – the children who are at the mercy of whatever their school librarian decides to put on the shelves.
I want it to be known that I hunger for even more diversity, for Latin American characters and characters of Latin American descent from all walks of life. Don’t stop telling the story of the migrant worker, the immigrant, of Mexicans – but let us hear other voices too. We want to hear from characters who are rich, who are poor, and everything in between. We want characters who are white collar workers, and blue collar workers. We want characters who are beautiful, ugly, inspirational, relatable, flawed, ordinary, outrageous, wise, hilarious, serious, complex – in other words, we want all the diversity of voices that are available in the general market. Please, keep seeking out fresh authors and publishing their stories – We are here waiting for them, (and in some cases, some of us are here writing them, too.)
Do you feel there’s enough diversity in the books commonly available in bookstores and libraries? Which Latino/a author or book most influenced you and why?
Chécalo: Other “Latinas for Latino Literature“
#101HispanicWaysToDie was a trending topic on social network Twitter today.
The range of responses to the hashtag was interesting. The vast majority, including myself, had fun with the hashtag – just some light-hearted joking around. Others became nostalgic for childhood, even when it meant remembering being smacked with a chancla. Some people expressed disgust at the hashtag, possibly assuming the worst, and not actually checking it out. Then there were the racists who couldn’t resist jumping in and talking about illegal border crossing – decidedly NOT funny.
One Latina tweeted “say [to your parents] you’re going out with a moreno” – It was unclear whether the person who wrote it meant it seriously, as an honest commentary on their reality, or if they were trying to be humorous. This unfunny tweet which points out the racist tendencies of some parents, was re-tweeted 301 times and favorited 119 times at last count and there were other similar tweets which, perhaps reflect a sad reality that deserves more discussion en la comunidad latina.
Whenever there’s a trending hashtag on Twitter, you’re going to get this diverse mix of funny, honest and offensive. I jumped in and tried to keep my tweets light and funny. Here they are re-purposed for this blog post. Feel free to add your own in comments!
13 Latino Ways to Die
1. Suffocation after too much Vicks Vapo-Rub has been put up your nostrils.
2. Pine-Sol and bleach fumes after your mother cleans the house.
3. Setting off illegal fireworks.
4. Third degree cheese burns from not allowing the pupusa to cool before attempting to consume.
5. Laughing with your siblings during misa.
6. Accidentally telling your Mom that you’re “embarazada” when you actually mean to say you’re embarrassed.
7. Parents use a lesson from the old country. You respond “But we’re not in El Salvador! We’re in the United States!”
9. Riding in the back of a pickup truck.
10. Laughing when your parent translates a Spanish idiom to English but it makes no sense.
11. Rooting for the U.S. team when they play your parent’s home country in soccer.
12. Kicked in the nalgas by a bota picuda.
13. Making too much noise in the room when your abuela is trying to hear her horoscope from Walter Mercado.
Update! Related Link: #101HispanicWaysToDie Shows True Colors on ModernMami.com
Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation is below!
El otro fin de semana, Carlos tenía dolor de oido, sentía que tenía fluido por dentro, y me pidió una cura. Empecé a enumerar los remedios caseros, pero Carlos no estaba entusiasmado por ninguno de ellos. Entonces me acordé de una pintura de Carmen Lomas Garza llamado Ventosa, que muestra un cono hecho de periódico con fuego en el oído de alguien. Le conté a Carlos y quiso hacerlo.
Hice un poco de investigación y luego decidimos probarlo. La primera vez lo hicimos en el comedor y eso era un gran error. El suelo en nuestra casa es alfombra y algunas cenizas empezaron a caer, creando un peligro de incendio. Cuando el fuego en el cono creció me dio pánico y no sabía cómo apagarlo. Abrí la puerta de atrás y lo tiré al patio.
Después Carlos me dijo que no se sentía mejor y unas horas más tarde quería tratar otra vez. Esta vez lo hicimos en la bañera, pero una vez más cuando el fuego creció un poco fuera de control, me ponía nerviosa. Yo creo que este remedio casero es demasiado peligroso por casas en los Estados Unidos, la mayoría que son hechas de puras cosas inflamables.
Al final, Carlos dijo que el “cono de fuego”, como lo llamamos, realmente no le ayudaba. Intenté uno de los primeros remedios que había mencionado originalmente – gotitas de aceite de oliva en el oído. Ahora se siente mejor.
¿Tienes experiencia con el “cono de fuego”? Funciona para ti?
The other weekend, Carlos had an earache – he felt like he had fluid in his ear and he asked me for a cure. I started to list home remedies I knew of, but Carlos wasn’t enthusiastic about any of them. Then I remembered a Carmen Lomas Garza painting called Ventosa, which shows a newspaper cone of fire in someone’s ear. I told Carlos about it and he wanted to do it.
I did a little research and then decided to try it. The first time we did it in the dining room which was a big mistake. The flooring is carpet in our house and some ash began to fall, creating a fire hazard. When the fire grew bigger on the cone I panicked and didn’t know how to put it out. I unlocked the back door and threw it onto the patio.
Afterward Carlos told me he wasn’t feeling better and a few hours later he wanted to try again. This time we did it in the bathtub, but again when the fire grew a little out of control, I got nervous. I think this home remedy is too dangerous for homes in the United States, which are made of purely flammable things.
In the end, Carlos said the “cone of fire”, as we call it, didn’t really help. I tried one of the first remedies that I had originally mentioned – drops of olive oil in the ear. Now he feels better.
Do you have experience with the “cone of fire?” – Does it work for you?
On SpanglishBaby I talked about a non-profit organization called Story Corps which records people’s true stories to create a sort of archive of American history for future generations. Some of these stories have been animated, and I shared a really hilarious yet heartwarming video from the Story Corps collection called Facundo the Great – (go check it out on SpanglishBaby!)
While I clicked around on the Story Corps website, I found several other animated stories I loved just as much as Facundo the Great. Here are two more, and if you love them mucho, check out Story Corps for más.
I’m not planning on getting too political here on Latinaish.com despite it being an election year, but I couldn’t resist sharing this greeting card I discovered this evening at Target.
Wow – this simple card manages to hit 3 demographics at once!
1. Spanglish speakers
2. Democrats or others voting for Obama
3. People familiar with the “Keep Calm” meme
Congratulations to the artist at Recycled Paper Greetings for hitting it out of the park. And for Republicans out there, no worries, there was a much less catchy “Keep Calm, Vote for Rom” version as well.
PBS is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th to October 15th with some programming you might want to go mark on your calendar!
Title: EL VELADOR (The Night Watchman)
Date: September 27th 2012 / 10:00-11:00 PM ET
Description: “Stand guard with Martin, who watches over the extravagant mausoleums of notorious Mexican drug lords.”
Title: HAVANA, HAVANA!
Date: July 27th 2012 / 9:00-10:00 PM ET
Description: “Tap your toes to the beat of this music documentary, which vibrates with the soul and energy of African-Cuban drummers, guajira guitarists and the pulsing melodies of celebrated Cuban musician Raul Paz, who brings together fellow musical stars Descemer Bueno, Kelvis Ochoa and David Torrens for a concert in Havana…”
Title: BIBLIOBURRO: The Donkey Library
Date: Check local listings
Description: “A decade ago, Colombian grade-school teacher Luis Soriano was inspired to spend his weekends bringing a modest collection of precious books, via two hard-working donkeys, to the children of Magdalena Province’s poor and violence-ridden interior. As Soriano braves armed bands, drug traffickers, snakes and heat, his library on hooves carries an inspirational message about education and a better future for Colombia.”
TALES OF MASKED MEN
Date: September 28th 2012 / 10:00-11:00 PM ET
Description: “…the fascinating, mysterious world of lucha libre and its role in Latino communities in the United States, Mexico and Latin America…”
Other programming to check your local listings for:
NOT IN OUR TOWN: LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
Description: “Witness the efforts of villagers to confront anti-immigrant bias and repair the fabric of community life.”
Description: “Spend a year in the life of the champion mariachi ensemble at Zapata High School in South Texas.”
Quite on accident I stumbled upon photos from my blog which had been stolen. I was looking at the images in a Facebook album owned by a Salvadoran pride community only to see a photo that looked familiar – “Wait a minute,” I thought, “that’s my photo!”
I clicked to enlarge it and not only had it been used without permission, but my name and my blog were not mentioned at all. Looking through the album I found almost a dozen of my photos. Soon I would find my stolen photos in the Facebook photo albums of two other similar communities owned by people in El Salvador.
I accused one of the people of theft and left comments on every single one of my photos demanding that the photos be removed. This person removed the photos quickly and apologized saying the theft had been unintentional. (He claims that the photos were submitted to him and he didn’t know where they had come from. I accepted his apology and moved on.)
In the second case it was a very large community and the guy who owned it had the nerve to watermark my photos with his name and even made comments on the photos as if he had taken them. Angry, I decided to take care of things through the Facebook complaint form for copyright violations. It was a little tedious, but Facebook acted within hours and removed the photos without me having to engage the owner of the page in conversation.
In the third case, I determined that the owner of the Facebook community was a female and decided, out of some sort of sympathy and sisterhood, to give her a chance to remove the photos herself instead of reporting her to Facebook. I told her that the photos were mine and that I was giving her one hour to remove them. If she failed to remove the photos, I would be forced to report the violation to Facebook.
She did not respond well to my ultimatum and began to insult me. I explained to her that I was being kind in giving her this chance and that others in my position could potentially take her to court. Her response?
“tu estas loca hija aqui no vengas con pendejadas saves q me vale berda lo q tu quieras hacer”
Wow. I was a little shocked but I composed myself long enough to reply:
“Qué es ‘berda’? … La palabra es VERGA. Si vas a ser maleducada, por lo menos, aprenda a deletrear, cipota.”
In the end, I reported the copyright violation to Facebook and Facebook removed the photos from her album, but I was left wondering about a lot of things. I related this whole story to Carlos and he seemed unimpressed. The look on his face said to me, “What did you expect?”
“People in El Salvador don’t respect copyrights – you should know that,” he said.
And he was right, I should know that. In El Salvador, pirated DVDs and CDs are sold out in the open. Stores in the mall carry knock-off T-shirts printed with every cartoon character and American rock band imaginable. My suegra, who’s a seamstress, buys bags of clothing labels at the market – The clothing labels are for sewing onto the clothing she makes and sells. She sews in tags that say Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and Liz Claiborne.
And it isn’t just individuals who do this – Even businesses in El Salvador get in on the action. I’ve mentioned before, that one day we were traveling back from Chalatenango to the city and we were starving. We saw a sign for Wendy’s – exactly like the Wendy’s sign you all know and love with the same red background, same white lettering, same instantly recognizable font. We go inside the Wendy’s only to find out it’s a little comedor selling bistec y arroz, quesadilla, and all kinds of Salvadoran food. No burgers and fries were to be found – this was not a real Wendy’s.
I think that many (not all) people in El Salvador are so used to literally being surrounded by copyright violations on a daily basis that the concept of intellectual property becomes impossible to understand. In the minds of the people who stole my images, they feel they’ve done nothing wrong. When confronted by accusations of “theft”, in their minds I was being irrational, selfish, crazy. After all, they didn’t literally steal a physical object from me – I still have my photo, they just have it too. What’s the big deal?
As I dealt with the copyright violations, Carlos told me more than once that I was wasting my time. “That’s a losing battle,” he said, “they’ll do it again, and if not them, some other Salvadoran will.” Although I wasn’t able to be at peace with that for a few days, I do agree with him.
I want to be clear here – I don’t believe this difference in ethics is due to American culture, American belief systems or Americans themselves being any way superior to Salvadoran culture, Salvadoran belief systems or Salvadorans themselves. I don’t believe that Salvadorans are less moral, less civilized or less anything. What I do believe is that this difference in ethics is an example of ethical relativism in action – In other words, my “right and wrong” are not necessarily the same as your average Salvadoran’s “right and wrong.”
It’s a controversial and complex philosophy, but it makes sense to me. What do you think? Are morals & ethics non-negotiable or are they dependent on one’s culture? What differences have you observed in ethics across cultures?
Ethical Issues Across Cultures (PDF)
Morality is a Culturally Conditioned Response
Tim’s El Salvador Blog – (the discussion in comments on this post about piracy is really interesting.)