The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Twelve — Latin Life: What it means to be part of (Latin) American Culture, by Maria Olivares Boscan
Latin Life: What it means to be part of (Latin) American Culture
Latin America is known mainly because of its food, its dances, and its poverty. In the shadow of its more successful brother, North America, it seems but a collection of countries who strive to mold themselves in the shape of powerful northern counterpart –and often fail. As a Venezuelan, I have first-handedly experienced some of the physical and economic insecurity, the political polarity, and the scarcity in a struggling Latin American nation. I have seen the poverty, the classism, and the effects of a global economy on an oil-dependent country. I have seen and suffered some human right abuses. And it all felt normal to me.
It took a trip out of South America to realize the true nature of the life I led. True, I knew other countries experienced abundance, and that their lack of oil led them to diversify their exports –but that did not mean I understood why some found it shocking to go to a super market and find it half-empty or to have so much and such subsidized oil that it was cheaper to fill up a tank than to buy water. I did not understand why it was such a big deal that radio stations were censored and shut down little by little, why piracy of goods whose original versions would not see our soil was wrong, or why it was surprising to have cheap high-quality hair salons. All that was normal to me. And, because it was normal, I did not see it.
I was conditioned, like many other Latinos, to think that my country was not good enough. I was taught that we were poor; that we were lazy; that we were opportunistic. My people weren’t in the media I consumed –next to no Latinos in Charlie Brown, Harry Potter, and Legend of Zelda,- and the four seasons seemed more natural to me than the rain-dry cycle I observed at home. Our politicians were corrupt and inept, and our citizens ignorant. Our streets were too dirty, our roads too bumpy, our service poor. Naturally, with this narrow-minded, defeatist mindset, I was blinded. I did not see past the pollution and into the beauty of the raw, tropical landscapes I could see whenever I left home –which wasn’t often, due to the fact that the chances of being victim of a crime, lethal or not, seemed too high to risk it. I ignored the fact that I had a pleasant climate, that I was surrounded by hardworking people, and that our women, though advertised by the international community as some of the most beautiful in the world, could also be some of the strongest. I did not see –and did not miss,- my people’s strength, resilience, and sense of humor until I was gone.
When I came to the United States, having reached the dream of countless Latino youths who look to a better future, I woke to my own sense of inadequacy. I re-evaluated my experiences and concluded that as a country –and maybe even as a continent,- Venezuela and South America in general may give itself less credit than it deserves. We tend to under-appreciate our own advancements and our own strength. Living with the adversity left behind by colonial times and with third world problems, we have had to learn to improvise, to problem-solve creatively, and to endure. If there is no sugar, we use honey. If there is no honey, we use panela, or raw sugar cane. If there is not even that, we will have our coffee –whatever brand we can find,- black. We are Latin Americans and I am Venezuelan. Some of my people play baseball with a thin pipe and a bottle cap and make it to the Big Leagues. Some of my people raise big families on a salary that does not raise as fast as our 30% inflation rate. Some of my people dream big, and others are grounded in reality. We are diverse and we are unique. We are Venezuelan, Latino, and American.
For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see http://www2.css.edu/app/depts/HIS/historyjournal/index.cfm?cat=10
The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Reports.
Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year
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