Sunday, November 18, 2007

martin fierro

On Sunday we celebrated the Day of Tradition (officially, 10th November) in church, as well as Music Day (22nd November). These came together in a fiesta of traditional melodies and criolla stories.

At the time of sharing of bread and wine, we spoke in local dialects:
El pan hecho Dios me cambia
a otra vida santa y güena
como el soplo de una quena
se cambia en música y copla
porque es Dios mesmo que sopla
su propio aliento en mis venas.

By baked bread God transforms me
into another life, holy and good -
just as a blast on a quena*
becomes music and verse.
Because it is God, yes God, who blows
heavenly breath through my veins.**

The Day of Tradition is linked to José Hernández, the author of Martín Fierro, an epic poem about gaucho life and the founding text of modern Argentine identity (published 1872-9). So it was fitting that Eunhye and I found ourselves at the local multiplex Sunday afternoon, watching the latest animated adaptation of the work.

My motivation for seeing the film was to save myself having to read the book. Two years in Argentina, and no Martin Fierro? It's a bit like never having seen or read Shakesphere. I knew I needed catch up. Armed with some vague ideas about bar-brawls, the struggle between an emerging nation and loyalties to the old ways of el campo, and a horse-riding, guitar-swinging hero, I settled down to watch the film.
But if things go on
like they have up to now
it can be that all at once
we'll see the country side bare,
except for the bleachin'
bones of the ones who didn't make it.
(Martin Fierro, stanza 2120)

The story deals with the many conflicts over the land here. It recognises the brutality of the army against both the small land owners and gauchos, and the original peoples. Fierro participates in destruction of the original communities and denial of their rights to the land; yet at times he empathizes with them against the sterile, dislocated and violent army mentality. And in the second part of the epic, which wasn't included in the film, Fierro goes to live with a native community - although that also ends in tragedy. In another episode, distraught over the loss of his family, Fierro harasses a black woman in a bar, picking a fight with her compañero whom he then kills. But again, in part II, he encounters the man's brother, in some kind of atoning scene.

For many Argentines, Fierro represents fierce loyalty and a simpler times when every man had his farm and independence. A century later, and Argentines are unfortunately still justified in regarding with suspicion and anger: unjust landowners, judges, generals, politicians and speculators. A century later, and a clearer condemnation of the racism and violence bound up in the establishment of this nation - and many others - is need.

For a plot summary click here, and for an online version in Spanish here.

*A quena is an andean flute.
** Spanish by Pablo Sosa and others (I think), attempt at translation by me.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

life is rubbish

I heard a man singing, as I walked down the dark street. Maybe it was a folk song he learnt playing as a child, or maybe it was a catchy latino-pop melody he'd caught on the radio that morning. Whatever song it was, he sang it - standing with his hands deep in the rubbish bin.

In Elsa Tamez's guide to the book of Ecclesiastes, she suggests we should translate the key Hebrew world hebel not as vanity or emptiness but as something stronger, "All is s••t." (Eccles. 1.2). Life is rubbish, suggests the writer of this small book of the Bible. Nothing changes, the rich and powerful exploit the poor and there is no justice.

And yet, we have to find ways to live in this paralyzing state. Ecclesiastes suggests finding joy and friendship in the midst of the daily grind, thus interrupting the dehumanizing rhythms of money-making, violence and control.

Costa Rican writer Fernando Contreras Castro, speaks of generations of garbage-pickers, who are called divers:
The imperceptible yawn of the flies and the fleet of vultures stretching their wings meant nothing new to the early-morning divers.

Tamez continues, 'There is nothing new, for it is what one sees every day in the underworld, where people struggle daily for the spoils of the vultures and the “divers” in a sea of garbage:
Between the persistent drizzle and the vapors rising from that endless sea, the last trucks, now empty, moved away to begin another day of collection.

In the narrated world of Contreras we find what people experience as hebel in daily life: waiting for garbage, seeing garbage arrive, choosing garbage, selling garbage, eating and wearing garbage...But incredible as it may seem, in this garbage-world it is also possible to find tender and true love, like the love of Unica, Contrera’s main character.’ (Tamez 2000: 41-2, citing Contrera 1994:85f)

Even when life is rubbish, even when justice seems far away, it is possible to share bread, to find love, and to sing an old song, or a new one.

Elsa Tamez (2000) When the Horizons Close. Rereading Ecclesiastes Maryknoll, NY: Orbis

Fernando Contreras Castro, Unica mirando al mar San José: Farben Grupo Editorial Norma, 1994

Sunday, November 11, 2007

white poppy for peace

be at peace with one another
(Mark 9.50)

peace pledge union

Friday, November 09, 2007

then comes the blossom

Giver of life, with flowers you write,
with songs you give warmth,
with songs you give shade,
to those who are to live on the earth.*

'The sacred comes to us as beauty, in warm colours and sounds; and we humans approach truth through flower and song, that is in xochitl in cuicatl.' (Irarrazaval 1996:106)

Silence my soul.
These trees are prayers.
I asked a tree,
tell me about God.
it blossomed.**

I have waited for the blossom to come. Too soon there is a flash of blue, a blaze atop the tree-green. Already it is falling, covering the ground below.

Diego Irarrazaval, "In Xochitl in Cuicatl of Women and Men in Latin American Theology." Voices from the Third World vol. XIX/ 1 June 1996, pp. 106-137.

*The words of Nezahualcoyotl, of the Nahuatl people, recorded in, Miguel Leon Portilla, Literaturas Indigenas de Mejico Mexico: FCE 1992, p.274

**In response to Irarrazaval, Chung Hyun-Kyung (1996:143) offered a poem from the Asian mystic, Tagore.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

not good enough

When I told people I was coming to Argentina to research feminist theology, a frequent response was, 'Good Luck!' Many assumed in the macho Latin culture, all women stayed at home, raised children and prayed to the Virgin.

Yet readers of this blog will know that feminism within and beyond the church has a long history in Latin America. There are no shortage of women en la lucha, in the struggle. This is the title of Ada María Isasi-Díaz's book on mujerista theology, from the perspective of Hispanic Women or Latinas, that is, women of Latin American origins living in the USA.

Ada makes a helpful observation about how macho and machismo have become common usage for sexist behaviour amongst English speaking people:
Use of machismo implies that Hispanic men are more sexist than Anglo men. Using machismo absolves somewhat the sexism of Anglo men and sets Anglo men and Anglo culture above Hispanic men and Hispanic culture. Hispanic Women do not deny the sexism of our culture or of most Hispanic men. But it is not greater than the sexism of the USA society in general and of Anglo men in particular. (Isasi-Díaz 2004: 37)

In conversations about my work in Argentina, I notice how we Brits persist in letting ourselves off the hook through comparisons with other cultures. 'It must be difficult living in such a traditional/ violent/ macho country,' they say. The implication being that we can pat ourselves on the back for our progressive, egalitarian society.

Argentina is a sexist society. I have been patronized, belittled, and ignored. I have been offered doors open, or a seat on the bus, in return for staying in my place and keeping my mouth shut. I have been the subject of shocked concern, 'Such a young girl like you? And all alone?' I live in a country where plastic surgery for women is scarily common amongst those who can afford it, and where the first elected female president was indecently quick in rejecting calls for access to safe, legal abortion.

But I also live in a city where women are often the ones who make things happen. They campaign for safer neighbourhoods. They take courses on community health care. They graffiti the walls of the cathedral calling for legal safe abortion. And they continue to seek the truth about their disappeared friends, children and grandchildren. When the Madres speak, we listen.

In Britain access to education, suitable health care, and less tolerance for domestic violence are some areas in which women have made gains. But the struggle continues. We cannot yet say that all girls and women are valued, are safe at home and on the streets, have control over their own bodies, and are free to follow their dreams. Telling ourselves we aren't as bad as somewhere else just isn't good enough.

Drawings by Jacky Fleming.

Ada María Isasi-Díaz (2004) En la Lucha/ In the Struggle Elaborating a Mujerista Theology, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press

Thursday, November 01, 2007

tod@s l@s sant@s

In holy places:
Sing for God's saints who have
travelled faith's journey before us,
who in our weariness
give us their hope to restore us;
in them we see the new creation to be,
spirit of love made flesh for us.
(Katy Galloway, Common Ground)

With holy people:
It isn't the noise in the streets
that keeps us from resting, my friend,
nor it the shouts of the young people coming out drunk from St. Paul's bar…

What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with Resurrection!….

Because in this marathon of Hope,
there are always others to relieve us
in bearing the courage necessary
to arrive at the goal
which lies beyond death….

Accompany us then on this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
You will then know
how marvellous it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!

To dream awake,
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying
and to already know oneself
(Esquivel l982: 59-63)

Of holy wisdom:
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God and prophets.
(Wisdom of Solomon 7.27)

Julia Esquivel (1982) Threatened With Resurrection Elgin, IL: The Brethren Press
Elizabeth A. Johnson (1998) Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reding of the Communion of Saints London: SCM