Tag: Latin American history

Many Years Later, as He Stood Before the Firing Squad…

The greatest writer of all time has died.


It is of course impossible to summarize the career of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or to assess his influence on Latin America, the land, he said, of “poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality.”

My favorite Garcia Marquez line doesn’t come from one of his novels, not even the majestic One Hundred Years of Solitude (the greatest novel of all time). No, I like how he stated in an essay the simple truth that “Puritanism is insatiable and feeds upon its own excrement.” It’s one of many brilliant observations, poetically rendered, that he left to the world.

He has no successor.



Our babysitter is a recent immigrant (from Africa). She was confused about the concept of Halloween, so she asked me to explain it to her.

Halfway through mentioning the various aspects — ghosts and goblins, people watching horror movies, children going door to door for candy, adults getting drunk, women dressing trashy — she asked, “I don’t understand how that is all one holiday, and what do pumpkins have to do with anything?” She’s right. This is one seriously schizophrenic party.

And I didn’t even get into the roots of the holiday, which are in the pagan celebration of Samhain. And of course, I was remiss in not mentioning the Latin American custom of Dia de los Muertos, which has established more of a presence in the United States over the last few years, largely because of the booming Hispanic population (you’re welcome).

But regardless of how you celebrate today, be sure to maintain the spirit of the holiday. You know, like the kids do.

skeleton mom

Just Hanging on the Hacienda

As we all know, Hispanic culture has contributed much to the United States. A quick glance at the artistic, political, and social makeup of the nation confirms that Latinos are prime instigators when it comes to plotting the direction of the country.

Many of our new values have their roots in Latin America. However, there is one concept from the old world that should not be welcome here. Ironically, it is U.S. powerbrokers — people unlikely to be Latino — who are most clamoring for it to gain a foothold in this country.

I’m talking about the encomienda system, which hasn’t formally existed for hundreds of years, but which has never really gone away. Briefly, the encomienda system was set up by the Spanish Conquistadors, who divided Latin America among themselves. An encomienda was a land grant that gave a Spaniard property rights over Indian labor. Basically, the conquistador got a hacienda and indentured servants to make him rich.

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No More Getting Pushed Around

When I was a kid, my mother provoked a controversy in our neighborhood by demanding more funding for local schools. She even got in the mayor’s face about it during a public hearing.

Our neighbors, as well as the people who went to our church, were scandalized. It wasn’t that anyone disagreed with her about the pathetic state of the schools. No, what caused them to whisper among themselves was the fact that she had spoken up about it.

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Off With Their Heads

Like you, I receive a lot of strange requests via email. Thus far, I have resisted invitations from strangers to take part in their pyramid schemes or to meet them for illicit affairs or to order pharmaceuticals by the truckload.

But I recently got a missive that captured my attention. I have been asked to join a pokatok league.

A natural question, of course, is what the hell is pokatok? Well, I didn’t know either.

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The Horror, The Horror

First off, thanks to Quickbeam and Allegra for their thoughtful comments on my last post (“Believe”). I appreciate their faith, in every sense of the word.

Now, my previous post may have given people the impression that I base everything upon logic, and disdain the supernatural or unexplainable. That’s not true, of course, because I love a good ghost story.

I just don’t love them as much as my mom does.

For proof, let me regale you with the time that my mother and I got into an argument at the video store. It was the mid- 1980s, and the selection was sparse in those pioneering days of the VCR. Still, it was probably a little odd to see me, a sullen teenager, arguing to rent “Raging Bull” while my mother insisted on getting “The Omen 3.”

You see, my mother, about whom I’ve written before, has very definite ideas about what constitutes fine cinema. By her criteria, a great film must include at least one of the following elements:

  • A car chase with the monstrous villain in hot pursuit
  • An unstoppable killer robot/android/cyborg
  • A hidden door leading to a hellish parallel dimension
  • A good-looking vampire
  • A winged demon ripping people’s souls out through their chests

These are pretty great standards, of course, and I have no issue with them. But at one point, I thought they were a little too restrictive. Could a great movie also feature subtle character development, dramatic perspectives on another era, or startling insight into the human condition?

Well, my mother would point out that such factors only slow down the movie and delay getting to the really good part where that slimy alien creature devours the lead astronaut’s head.

In a way, she’s correct.

Horror movies have been unfairly maligned as empty, moronic time-wasters – the creepy third cousin at the cinematic family reunion. Even mainstream comedies get more respect.

But films of this genre are often the cultural barometer of where we stand. In addition, they can serve as a cathartic release for our fears and pain. This may especially be true for those of us who have witnessed violence or suffered through the abrupt departure of loved ones, like my mother has.

The history of Latin America, in truth, has been one long horror movie for some time. I don’t know if Hispanics are more likely to embrace scary movies, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true.

For example, one of my friends, a man who is originally from my family’s home country of El Salvador, has a vast treasure trove of horror movies. His wife, born and raised in America, tolerates his fascination and puts up with the overflowing boxes of tapes and discs, all of which offer some kind of gruesome imagery.

With so much real-life horror in our backgrounds, we seem well-suited to fictional depictions of terror. Perhaps this is why my mother constantly overrode my fledgling attempts at film snobbery when I was younger.

More than once, she would arrive home from a hard day of work to announce that she had stopped at the video store on the commute. Then she would enthusiastically proclaim, “I picked up the ‘Seven Doors of Death’!”

But let me be clear. She actually has good taste, singling out classics like “Rosemary’s Baby” and contemporary masterpieces like “The Descent” for high praise. She dismisses substandard fare with a direct “That is not scary” – the ultimate insult for a horror film.

Maybe because I grew up on them, or because I’m Latino, or because movies like “The Others” are so damn cool, I still love these kinds of films. Our joint appreciation for terrifying spectacles is one of the things my mother and I have in common.

For this reason, I have never understood my friends who say they don’t know what to do for entertainment when their parents visit. When my mom drops by to see my wife and me, we can always just pop in a DVD of “The Thing.”

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