Mestizaje and religious celebrations in Latin America and the Caribbean

 

This week, from April 10th  to April 17th, is the celebration of the Holy Week in the Christian world. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this religious festivity, as with most of the Catholic rituals celebrated in the region, must be read under the light of the historical process of colonization.

Latin America and the Caribbean is defined, in a great part, by Mestizaje. Mestizaje is a social process of encounters, beyond people’s skin color, which includes encounters and struggles involving and identity, beliefs, practices, power structures, and knowledges (See resources on mestizaje here). As a mestiza myself, I have been fascinated with noticing how religious practices and rituals contain and express very vividly the mixed nature of the region.

In fact, colonizing the spiritual beliefs of native communities was one of the most important strategies throughout the colonization of Latin America. Catholicism was carried by the colonizers as the religion of “civilization”, and only through evangelization would indigenous people overcome “savagery”. With this mindset, indigenous communities across a great portion of the continent were evangelized though a process called “reduction”. This  referred to progressively converting native peoples to Catholicism in places called “missions“, which gathered the native communities for evangelization, agricultural production, crafts and construction. Evangelization took place through preaching the bible, instruction, and also through coercion.  Natives would be forbidden to speak in their languages and their temples would be destroyed, among other practices of colonization. These missions were conducted mainly by Franciscan and Jesuit religious communities, and were particularly strong in the Andes (Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, northern Chile and Argentina), Paraguay and northern Brazil. Similar missions were also established in Central and North America, up to today’s Arizona, New Mexico and Texas (More information here).  These missions grew almost like towns, and developed as agricultural and economic centers.

Left, Jesuit Missions in colonial Argentina (Image:Argentina Historica). Right, ruins of Jesuit Guaraní missions in Paraguay (Image: World Monuments Fund).

These practices extended from the early colonial times in the 1500s until the mid 1700s. The Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish empire around 1768. However, in some regions, similar practices of evangelization survived until the early 1800s (Read about the Jesuits in Latin America here. Additional resources at the library here).

As is the case with other cultures that have gone through colonization, mixed beliefs and practices that blend elements from native and colonial traditions emerged in Latin America. At a religious level, rituals vividly reveal this process of mestizaje. Academic interpretations on how and why this mixture of beliefs took place, and of how this process dialogues with particular characteristics of each community, are too varied and extended to discuss here (See some resources here). The fact is that religious traditions become adapted to the cultures where they were installed. As an act of survival and, perhaps, resistance, native communities in Latin America appropriated these rituals and maintained elements from their own tradition despite colonization.  Examples of this are the celebration of the Virgin of Candelaria. This Virgin is considered the patron saint of several towns across Latin America. In Paucartambo (in Cuzco, Peru), the Virgin of Candelaria is also known as “Mamacha Candelaria“, a term and a celebration which draws from native Andean religiosity.

Celebration of Mamacha Candelaria in Paucartambo, Peru. Image: Still from documentary “Festividad Virgen del Carmen de Paucartambo” by Folclore Peruano

Through a history of colonization, appropriation and syncretism, religiosity in Latin America has historically been experienced with passion and intensity. Therefore, the celebration of the Holy Week is a major celebration across the region.

Unlike the egg hunting celebration of the United States, the holy week of the Catholic tradition is heavily charged with a spirit of penitence and renewal. This is tied to both the Roman prosecution of Jesus, and the betrayal which lead to Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. The basic structure of holy week celebration in catholic countries which were Spanish colonies usually involves processions showing Jesus and Mary’s suffering:  Starting on Palm Sunday with his entry to the city of Jerusalem where he was received as the son of God; through to Holy Friday, the passion, where he is crucified; and finally ending on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. Holy Friday, or Good Friday, is when the largest amount of processions take place, representing several stations from Jesus’ apprehension to his crucifixion. These biblical episodes are recreated as processions, each with vivid displays of statues and enacted representations, such as Christ’s imprisonment and execution, and the celebration of his resurrection. This is called Viacrucis.

Left, Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia (image: Blog Semana Santa de Popayán). Right, Viacrucis at the lake Cocibolca, Nicaragua. Image: Fotoblog, “Hoy” Newspaper

Huge statues of saints are carried in procession, usually by men paying promises to them, and taken from churches into the streets, followed by believers.  While maintaining these basic patterns , there are a great spectrum of variations of the kinds of displays and additional rites that have evolved in different communities.

The ritual celebrations of the Viacrucis in Popayan, Colombia, for example, are a very classic representation of the processions that take place in Spain, the country where the tradition first originated.  The Judios de Masatete in Nicaragua and the Borrados in Nayarit, Mexico, on the other hand, demonstrate how the incorporation of native traditions and local culture can result in a very different representation of the same celebration.  Another example is the lake Cocibolca in Nicaragua, where the procession is adapted to water with canoes.

These are just a few examples of the wide diversity of religious syncretism and celebrations that take place in Latin America which are strongly expressed during the period known as Holy Week. Countries like Mexico and Guatemala also present a rich variety of cultural expressions through Catholic rituals; while in Brazil and the Caribbean the Spanish and indigenous traditions blend together amidst a strong African influence.

If you are interested about these processes of mestizaje in Latin America and its manifestation on spiritual practices, we invite you to consult books as “South and Meso-American native spirituality: from the cult of the feathered serpent to the theology of liberation“. If you are fluent in Spanish you can also take a look at “Religiones y culturas : perspectivas latinoamericanas“. The library holds a large collection on Latin American cultures and religious traditions, as well as on Catholicism in that region. In addition, we invite you to visit out International and Area Studies Library, and bring your questions to our Librarian on Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr. Antonio Sotomayor.

 

 

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About Colombians’ war and peace, and other peace processes in the XX – XXI centuries.

For Colombia’s political history, the last couple of weeks were simultaneously the most promising, frustrating, intense, unpredictable, and confusing. Between September 26th and October 7th, 2016, a peace agreement was signed, voted and rejected; there was a risk of ending the ceasefire; the peace process was supported by massive rallies; there was no plan B ready, not even by leaders opposing the agreement; and, if all this does not sound confusing enough, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos.

This is not the entire story, however. As with any other peace process, this is a matter of a long and complex political history.

School affected by war in rural Colombia. Photo by Jesus Abad Colorado. Source: BBC Mundo

School affected by war in rural Colombia. Photo by Jesus Abad Colorado. Source: BBC Mundo

Unlike Colombia’s conflict being framed in terms of mere terrorism, which assumes there are “bad guys” who should be defeated by the “good guys”, the country’s political violence has developed between conservatives and liberal guerrillas since very early on in its republican history.

More recently, after the 1948 event known as El Bogotazo, confrontations between liberals and conservatives scaled in cruelty and intensity to the point that the 1950s are known, even today, as the time of La Violencia. As a result of the huge social inequities, marginalized territories, and the inherited issues of the 50s combining with the socialist revolutionary environment in Latin America, several political rebel groups emerged in the 1960s and 70s. From those came the three largest guerrilla groups:  M-19, which disarmed in 1990 after a process that resulted in the 1991 constitutional reform; the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional), which has approached peace negotiations still in progress; and FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo), the largest rebel group in the country, and the protagonist of events these past two weeks. A fourth large paramilitary group, the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia), emerged in the 1980s not as a political movement, but to defend private properties where the national army could not guarantee safety. The AUC went through a disarming process in 2006, which has been highly questioned due to both its lack of transparency and because of evidence of State’s support in some paramilitary attacks (more references about this topic here).

One more thing—drugs. Drug-dealing and other illegal economies permeated almost every one of these nonofficial armed groups, which added the “easy money” factor to an already complicated picture. Read more about Colombia’s political history in the work of David Bushnell, Jorge Orlando Melo, Marco Palacios, Alfredo Molando and Paul Oquist, among others. There are more than 400 entries at the library catalog about political violence in Colombia . Also, you can find additional resources about connections between drug-dealing and war in Colombia here.

This most recent and internationally visible peace process with FARC was a 4-year negotiation of a 52-year long conflict, with previous attempts to reach a peace agreement occurring in 1982, 1991, 1992 and 1999-2002. Other conflicts in the last 32 years which were resolved through peace processes have lasted between 4 and 21 years long.

. List of conflicts solved by peace process between 1984 and 2005. Source: School of Peace, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

List of conflicts solved by peace process between 1984 and 2005. Source: School of Peace, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

On August 24th the negotiation team from the Colombian government, rebel leaders and international observers announced in La Havana-Cuba that an agreement had been reached. The same day, the Colombian President announced a bilateral ceasefire. The agreement would be signed and brought to citizen vote, so an intense campaign period for and against the agreement began. With significant presence and support from international observers, the peace agreement was officially signed on September 26th by Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño –“Timochenko” after four years of negotiations. One week later, on October 2nd, the vote took place. In spite of all poll predictions and the overall national and international optimism, the “No” campaign at 50.21% won out over the “Yes” campaign by the very small margin of 0.43%. Such a close race combined with almost 60% of potential voters not voting revealed a deep polarization, not between people wanting peace and people wanting war, but over what is the best way to achieve a collectively desired peace.

Results from the vote on October 2 to support or reject the peace agreement. Source: Colombia's National Registrar

Results from the vote on October 2 to support or reject the peace agreement. Source: Colombia’s National Registrar

Uncertainty and frustration came next. Leaders of the “No” campaign did not have a plan B for the process and showed to be a very heterogeneous group. The deadline was announced as October 31st. Faced with going back to open confrontation, citizens across the country brandishing mottos like “Don’t leave the table” and “Vigil for Peace” turned out for massive rallies to keep negotiations alive. These rallies included voters both for and against the agreement, as well as those who did not vote, and such strong public support pushed all parties to remain in dialogues. The Nobel Prize awarded (for some, too early) to President Juan Manuel Santos, adds an extra push to guarantee that a more robust and politically legitimate agreement is achieved.

Citizen support to the Peace Process, October 4th 2016, Bogota, Colombia. Source: El Tiempo

Citizen support to the Peace Process, October 5th 2016, Bogota, Colombia.
Source: El Tiempo

Huge challenges remain ahead. The most urgent one is that all parties—the government, FARC leaders and the heterogeneous (somewhat erratic) opposition—manage to re-negotiate some points of the agreement, which are seen as “immovable” for both sides of the table. As observed in other international processes and complex political peace negotiations, the political will to compromise and commit to an agreement is critical. Compromise and agreement are required not only from combatants and politicians, but from every single citizen. Scholars point to such cases as South Africa and Rwanda as examples of compromise by parties through a special transitional justice system. Regarding this need for compromise, the School of Peace from Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (AUB) show how in all of the 11 processes listed above, groups that fought during the armed conflict occupied influential political positions as a result of the peace process. In fact, one of the issues that generated fierce rejection from the opposition to the agreement is that it guaranteed political participation to FARC leaders.

Even if agreement is reached, an even larger challenge remains:  Everyone—government, rebels, and civilians—fulfilling their promises. This, analysts say, is a key factor in preventing new armed confrontations from emerging, and scholars argue that in Sri Lanka, Liberia and Nepal the failure to fulfill agreements generated new waves of violence.

In any case, other international peace processes reveal that civil wars are rarely terminated by the victory of one of the parties. In the 2016 yearbook of peace processes developed by UAB’s School of Peace, of the 61 conflicts that ended over the last 35 years, 77% did so through a peace agreement, and 16.4% through military victory of one of the parties. However, there are still 56 active armed conflicts distributed across the world, which, in  the 2016 yearbook, includes Colombia. Other countries with active wars are India, Senegal, Mozambique, Ukraine, Philippines, and Thailand (south).

Conflicts and Peace Building, 2015 map by School of Peace, UAB

Conflicts and Peace Building, 2015 map by School of Peace, UAB

Read more about armed conflicts and peace in Pakistan and African countries through the work of Adam Curle and Birgit Brock-Utne. Other important scholars on peace building and conflict resolution are Gene SharpJohan Galling, Betty Reardon, Roger Fisher and John Paul Lederach.

The yearbook asserts that “The culture of negotiation is now a reality”. As both a Colombian citizen and one of many people across the globe who wish to have a better world someday, I wholeheartedly hope that the culture of negotiation can be a reality in Colombia. Two Colombian films which offer a beautiful and intense experience of the complexity of the county’s political violence—and are available to the U of I community through Kanopy Streaming—are Los Colores de la Montaña by Carlos Cesar Arbelaez (2010) and La Sirga, by William Vega (2012).

Explore more about political violence and peace processes in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala. Also, explore the documentaries and films about Latin American history through Kanopy Streaming. This database includes films about political history, covering topics such as the Cuban Revolution and ‘El Che Guevara’, Nicaragua during the ‘Sandinista’ period, the consequences of violence in Guatemala, Peru in the aftermath of political violence, and the disappeared people during the Argentinian military regime, among many other documentaries and films.

If you want to delve more deeply into research about political history around the world, visit our International and Area Studies Library. Our subject specialists in Latin America, Africa, Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, Central Europe, Central Asia, and Global Studies/Political Science can always guide you with more specific research advice. See you there!

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Honduras Water Project: Part 2

This blog post is a follow-up to a post from last semester about the Honduras Water Project. This course, which provides students the chance to see how learning can have real life applications, is an extremely unique opportunity for students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

UIUC flyer for the Honduras Water Project Course

A University of Illinois flyer for the Honduras Water Project course

The two-semester long course is supported by the College of Engineering and included a research trip to Cerro Verde, Honduras over winter break. A small group of students was accompanied by professors Ann-Perry Witmer and Keilin Jahnke in visiting the small community site. While there we conducted surveys, both technical and social, and also included a health education workshop to work in correlation with our studies from the fall semester and also to aid in our efforts for this spring semester as well.

During our 10 days there, we lived in the community with the local people and stayed in a regional home, living on dirt floors without a shower for 10 days. Through this experience, we were able to see just a small amount of what life is like in the community. We built friendships and mutual respect during our time in Cerro Verde, and we left with new friendships and a greater drive to complete this project of developing a reliable water distribution system. Students representing each of the four divided teams– social, political, water, and structures– carried out various tasks during the trip to collect needed information for the water distribution system, and also to conduct health education workshops in the community.

The UIUC students, faculty, and our friends from our partner NGO, ADEC. photo credit: Jesse Han

The University of Illinois students, faculty, and our friends from our partnering nongovernmental organization, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC) [Water and Community Development] Photo Credit: Jesse Han

The social team was responsible for conducting household surveys at each of the 46 houses in Cerro Verde. Prior to arriving to Honduras, we created a survey for basic demographic information, household water usage, and overall community health. We interviewed community members from every household in the community. Not only did this provide us with vital information to aid in the construction of the system, but it also allowed us to create relationships with everyone in the community. By the end of the trip, we could not only remember people’s names, but we could also tell you where they lived, how many children they had, and how accessible water was for them.

The Social team conducting household surveys in the community. photo credit: Keilin Jahnke

Two members of the Social team, Wendy Vergara and Ashley Adams, conducting household surveys in the community.
Photo Credit: Keilin Jahnke

The social team also conducted a health education workshop with the help of Oneida Lara Garcia, one of the water quality specialists for our partnering nongovernmental organization, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC) (Water and Community Development). The workshop was originally intended for children, but was expanded when nearly the entire community came to participate.

When asked about the importance of educational workshops in collaboration with international projects, Wendy Vergara, a sophomore in natural resources and environmental science said,

“It’s easy to overlook some of the resources we have in America. When it comes to early education, we don’t second guess it. Not something you think about because it’s required. It’s a resource that is given and provided to nearly everyone in the States. So when you visit a community like Cerro Verde, who only has one school room for all the children, you start to see the opportunities you have that they don’t. These school rooms are very limited in supplies and staff. The community doesn’t have their own teacher, but instead a teacher from a nearby community volunteers their time. This teacher tries to teach all grades at once, and you can feel how difficult that can be. Educational workshops further develop community members’ skills, and allow for information to be communicated to both children and adults. They provide visual knowledge essential to the community such as chlorinating water. Especially due to minimal literacy rates, some people may misuse products or go by word of mouth, which poses a threat to their health. Workshops can help decrease miscommunication and promote a safe space for them to ask questions.”

 

Children and community members gathered for the health education workshop. photo credit: Jesse Han

Children and community members gathered for the health education workshop.
Photo Credit: Jesse Han

The structures team had the opportunity to do the most hiking out of all the teams, although all of us got good exercise climbing through the mountainous area. They surveyed all the points in the community that could be included in the water distribution system. After finishing, two architecture students were able to create a more accurate map of all the houses on site. The Patronato, or, community leaders, requested a copy to post in their community building as well.

Kelsey Schreiber, a senior in general engineering, when discussing the the biggest challenge for the structures team said,

“The most difficult task. . . was ensuring that all of the homes being serviced were properly accounted for and surveyed. Between finding remote homes, distinguishing between current and future plots, and getting the correct homeowner names, we were never quite sure if we had all the correct information. Similarly, climbing the hills every day was brutal but built character.”

 

The nearly finalized schematic of the water distribution system pipelines throughout Cerro Verde.

The nearly finalized schematic of the water distribution system pipelines throughout Cerro Verde.

The water team spent most of its time at the water source which was higher up in the mountains. They performed various tests for flow rate and water quality to help decide which source would be best suited for the system.

When asked what the most interesting thing about the trip to Cerro Verde was, Rahul Koshy, a junior in molecular and cellular biology said,

“We were exposed to people who grew up in a different culture and lived a different lifestyle, but there was definitely an underlying similarity between these and the people I’ve known all my life. I found that it was really easy to relate to the members of Cerro Verde even though they had a very different background than me. This is a small thing to learn, but it has changed the way I view people on the news, people on the streets, people in my life etc.”

 

The water team taking measurements and doing testing at a potential source. photo credit: Jesse Han

The water team taking measurements and doing testing at a potential source.
Photo Credit: Jesse Han

The political team also had an important job, working with the Patronato. It worked to make sure that there was complete transparency between the community, our class, and the NGO. It is imperative for this course, and for international projects, that the community take ownership of the project and that they are involved in every aspect of the planning, design, and implementation. An exciting accomplishment this year was that for the first time in Honduras Water Project’s history that the political team was able to draft and sign a complete agreement with the community and ADEC while still in Honduras.

Samantha Morrow, a senior in earth, society, and environmental sustainability and also global studies, when asked what benefit there is for having a signed agreement has for the project said, 

“The written agreement is extremely important to the project for multiple reasons. Signing this document while we were in Cerro Verde allowed the Patronato and community to have physical evidence of our commitment to this project. This document keeps all parties accountable for their stated responsibilities and will protect the rights of all parties. Without this document the community might lose faith that this project will move forward or believe that we are not committed to the project. Additionally, this document allows us to hold the community accountable to protecting the system and maintaining its sustainability.”

 

The signed agreement between the community of Cerro Verde, the NGO partner ADEC, and UIUC's Honduras Water Project class.

The signed agreement between the community of Cerro Verde, ADEC, and the University of Illinois’ Honduras Water Project class.

The fall semester of our course consisted of preliminary research and also preparations for the trip in January 2016. This semester we have focused on creating the most appropriate system for the community. Our class has been in constant contact with ADEC, as well as the community regarding every step and decision in the design process. 

Keilin Jahnke is a PhD student in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and professor for the course. When asked what benefit can come from spending time in the community that one is working with for an international engineering project, she responded saying,

“It can be easy to sit in a classroom thousands of miles away from the community that you are working with and think of nothing else besides the technical components of the project. But actually experiencing the community, living with the people you are working with, gives you the social and cultural context that is vital for the project’s success. No longer are you just working on an engineering project, you are acting as a consultant to real people who have real lives, real intricacies, real needs.”

 

This course, ENG 398/498: Honduras Water Project, is led every year and is open to all students.It not only teaches you new technical knowledge, but it can also provide new perspectives about approaching international work. It has has encouraged me to pursue a master degree in engineering as these efforts blend STEM and interdisciplinary studies, and always promote a holistic approach towards international projects.

To hear more about the final design for the water distribution system for Cerro Verde come to the John Deere Pavilion onTuesday, May 3, 2016 from 4:00- 6:00 p.m. Everyone is welcome! For additional information, visit the Honduras Water Project website and/or contact Professor Ann-Perry Witmer.

Flyer for our Final Presentation May 3, 2016

Flyer for the course’s final presentation May 3, 2016

 

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“The Fairer Sex” Writes

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What writers would you highlight to commemorate Women’s History Month? Comment below!

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Image Source: suggestive celine (via Flickr)

March is Women’s History Month and an appropriate time to highlight some of the women’s voices that represent world literature. After all,

  • American Hillary Clinton, who is an author of five books, is running for the U.S. presidency,
  • Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is an author of five books, has a TED Talk that opens our courses concerned with social justice,
  • and Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, author of one book, continues to fight for the equal education of girls and boys.

Check out these literary works from across the globe that engage discourses of women’s and gender rights in ways that are frequently subversive, occasionally confrontational, and always powerful.

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Mahasweta Devi. Image Source: TopNews

Draupadi” by Mahasweta Devi (1978)

Tags: India, South Asia, Bengali, short story

In a poor, post-colonial town in India, rumor has it that an infamous young woman, “Dopdi,” who has yet to reach the age of 30, has become a menace to local authorities. Fighting for labor rights and attacking officials without warning, she presents a dangerous local figure. Yet no one can identify her with any certainty. While the police have laid traps to draw her out of hiding in the forest, Dopdi continues to evade capture. In the end, what is meant to be Dopdi’s undoing invigorates her spirit and renders her an even more powerful threat. The best reading of this story is dependent on minimal research into the South Asian mythical epic of the Mahabharata. Themes of gender, sexual violence, and classism are strong threads in this short and powerful work. To continue the conversation addressing sexual violence as a world phenomenon and its prevalence in South Asia, attend the April 5th evening screening of India’s Daughter at the Spurlock Museum.

More Like This: Gayatri Spivak’s essay Can the Subaltern Speak? (India and postcolonial nations), most any title by Jhumpa Lahiri (India & the USA)

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Gayatri Spivak. Image Source: Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung on Flickr

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Jhumpa Lahiri. Image Source: Il Circollo del lettori on Flickr

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)

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Tsitsi Dangarembga. Image Source: Pan American Center on Flickr

Tags: Zimbabwe, Africa, English, novel

In this novel, “Tambu” is a young girl living in a country then known as Rhodesia in the 1960s. Because she is female, her ambition for academic study is not well supported by her community—that is, until her older brother suddenly dies and someone must take on a role of leadership and status to save her family from economic ruin. As Tambu is introduced to a new world of privilege, knowledge, and experience, readers examine what she leaves behind and what these sacrifices mean in shaping a new, hybrid identity. This bildungsroman succeeds in taking on the ambitious goal of engaging discourses of gender, colonialism, and competing cultures in a work deemed one of the most important to have come out of Africa. If you are a current University of Illinois student and interested in these themes and this novel in particular, consider taking a course taught by Dr. Manisha Babb. She teaches a cross-listed course called Modern African Literature offered in the English, African Studies, Comparative World Literature, and French departments, respectively as ENG 470, AFST 410, CW 410, and FR 410.

More Like This: Mariama Bâ’s Une si longue lettre (Senegal), Maria Nsué’s Ekomo (Equatorial Guinea)

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Mariama Bâ. Image Source: Wikipedia

A photo of Maria Nsue. Image Source: escritores.org

Maria Nsué. Image Source: escritores.org

Emails from Scheherazad (2003) by Mohja Kahf

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Mohja Kahf. Image Source: Aslan Media on Flickr

Tags: Syria, the Middle Eastern Diaspora, poetry

Do you remember Scheherazad(e)? She was the sole wife and queen to King Shahryar who eluded death by telling tales within tales that never ended? The stories of Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba all stem from this famous text. Mohja Kahf, a poet of Syrian descent, revisits this legacy in her compilation of poems. Emails from Scheherazad. Her bi-cultural identity informs and enriches her work, as seen in the poem “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears.” In it she describes being the product of both a Middle Eastern and an American culture. She regularly contradicts the widely held notion that being a Muslim and a woman is synonymous with being oppressed and her poems allude to globally recognizable female characters who face adversity—Eve, Malinche, Hagar, and more—suggesting a shared history and resilience. To get more connected to the local Muslim community on University campus, check out the United Muslims and Minority Advocates (UMMA) on Facebook.

More Like This: Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights, Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens (Egypt & the USA), Ghada Abdel Aal’s I Want to Get Married (Egypt)

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Mona Eltahawy. Image Source: Aspen Institute (via Flickr)

 

A photo of Ghada Abdel Aal. Image Source Christopher Rose on Flickr

Ghada Abdel Aal. Image Source: Christopher Rose (via Flickr)

Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1983)

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Barbara Streisand as Yentl. Image Source: Ziegfeld Girl on Flickr

Tags: Poland & the Jewish Diaspora, Yiddish, short story

This text is actually written by a man. Because it inherently engages questions of genders and their roles in society, and also features a female protagonist, it remains relevant to global literature that tackles issues concerning women’s lives. The main character in this work, Yentl, has been spoiled by her father as a child by being allowed to study sacred rabbinical texts, an activity strictly reserved for men in her community. When her father dies, not wanting to abandon her religious learning, she makes a plan to hide her sex and continue on her path of erudition. However, there are some unanticipated expectations associated with her new role as a male. The cinematic adaptation of Yentl starring Barbara Streisand is inextricably linked to this literary work. If you’re an enrolled student and interested in this area, seek out the Program in Jewish Culture & Society for more about works written in Yiddish and on the Jewish diaspora. A selection of the program’s courses can be found on the program’s website.

More Like This: Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank, Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots 

A photo of Anne Frank. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Anne Frank. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A photo of Deborah Feldman. Image Source: Zimbio

Deborah Feldman. Image Source: Zimbio

Kinsey Report” by Rosario Castellanos

An image of Rosario Castellanos. Image Source: Milagros Mata Gil on Flickr

Rosario Castellanos. Image Source: Milagros Mata Gil (via Flickr)

Tags: Mexico, Latin America, Spanish, poetry

The title of this poem refers to American sexologist Alfred Kinsey, whose published works on human sexual behavior became well known in the mid to late 20th century. While this poem makes for a quick read, it remains in the reader’s memory indefinitely. It features six different feminine voices that expound on the condition of their gender. One woman reports on her marriage which has become a hollow and juridical union of self-sacrifice and anxiety; another fears being deemed a prude for lack of sexual activity or a whore for any carnal intimacy engaged outside of marriage; a third wistfully awaits a Prince Charming who will whisk her away from any care she might have. All of the voices problematize notions of female gender and show how societal expectations and traditional roles can, to say the very least, be limiting. For ways to find more Latin American literature, see this lib guide.

More Like This: All titles by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico), all titles by Clarice Lispector (Brazil), Sabina Berman’s (Mexico) Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda

A drawing of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Image Source: Wikipedia

A drawing of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Image Source: Wikipedia

A photo of Clarice Lispector. Image source: ana.claudia on Flickr

Clarice Lispector. Image source: ana.claudia (via Flickr)

Happy reading, sharing, and happy Women’s History Month! Let us know what additional authors you would add to this conversation. Also drop by the Main Library’s Marshall Gallery (first floor, east side of the building ) to see an exhibit curated by Leanna Barcelona highlighting women’s history at the University of Illinois. If you want even more titles, visit the Undergraduate Library’s post to commemorate Women’s History Month last year.

For more posts like these, make sure to like our Facebook page, where we share a new Glocal Notes article every week of the semester.

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