Tag Mexico

Paving the home

Cement floors and the horizons of the possible.

Starting in 2000, a program in Mexico’s Coahuila state called “Piso Firme” (Firm Floor) offered up to $150 per home in mixed concrete, delivered directly to families who used it to cover their dirt floors. Scholar Paul Gertler evaluated the impact: Kids in houses that moved from all-dirt to all-concrete floors saw parasitic infestation rates drop 78 percent; the number of children who had diarrhea in any given month dropped by half; anemia fell more than four-fifths; and scores on cognitive tests went up by more than a third. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, mothers in newly cemented houses reported less depression and greater life satisfaction.) By 2005, Piso Firme had spread to other states, and 300,000 households—about 10 percent of dirt-floor houses in Mexico—had taken part in the program.

It helps if the street outside the house gets paved, too—not so much for health reasons as for economic ones. Economists Marco Gonzalez-Navarro and Climent Quintana-Domeque found in a 2010 study that paving the street in the town of Acayucan, Mexico, added more than 50 percent to land values and caused a 31 percent rise in rental values. It also considerably increased households’ access to credit. As a result, households on paved streets were 40 percent more likely to have cars.


From “Paving Paradise”, by Charles Kenny, Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb 2012 :: via Koranteng

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Why can’t we eat spaghetti too?

Earlier this summer, I posted an earlier excerpt of culinary anthropologist Rachel Laudan’s defense of the Bimbo-ization of Mexican bread. Here, she makes a wider historical, cultural, and sociological critique of certain ersatz-traditionalist beliefs of the foodie set.

So the sunlit past of the culinary Luddites never existed. So their ethos is based not on history but on a fairy tale. So what? Certainly no one would deny that an industrialized food supply has its own problems. Perhaps we should eat more fresh, natural, local, artisanal, slow food. Does it matter if the history is not quite right?

It matters quite a bit, I believe. If we do not understand that most people had no choice but to devote their lives to growing and cooking food, we are incapable of comprehending that modern food allows us unparalleled choices not just of diet but of what to do with our lives. If we urge the Mexican to stay at her metate, the farmer to stay at his olive press, the housewife to stay at her stove, all so that we may eat handmade tortillas, traditionally pressed olive oil, and home-cooked meals, we are assuming the mantle of the aristocrats of old.

If we fail to understand how scant and monotonous most traditional diets were, we can misunderstand the “ethnic foods” we encounter in cookbooks, at restaurants, or on our travels. We can represent the peoples of the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, India, or Mexico as pawns at the mercy of multi­national corporations bent on selling trashy modern products—failing to appreciate that, like us, they enjoy a choice of goods in the market. A Mexican friend, suffering from one too many foreign visitors who chided her because she offered Italian food, complained, “Why can’t we eat spaghetti, too?”


from “In Praise of Fast Food,” by Rachel Laudan, Utne Reader, September–October 2010: via The Morning News

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Salvaje de Corazon

Yet another reminder that we have little control over how our cultural creations will be used once we push them out into the world. The Onion-esque headline on this article would be hilarious if it weren’t so chilling.

La Familia is a notorious drug cartel founded in 2006 in Michoacan, Mexico, and is known for its brutal slayings of detractors.

Mexican authorities have issued a report on the group, which includes the finding that Eldredge’s 2001 book, ”Wild at Heart,” is required reading for gang members. Spanish translations of the book have been discoverd in La Familia residences by police authorities conducting raids, McClatchy Newspapers reports.

Eldredge leads Ransomed Heart, a Springs ministry dedicated to helping men regain their masculinity and become adventurers in life. In “Wild at Heart,” he writes approvingly of men’s innate love of weapons, combat and hunting.


Originally published at culture-making.com.

The daily grind

To make tortillas the traditional way, first you have to cook the maize with something alkaline (cement, for instance), and then grind the wet grains by hand, kneeling on the floor with your metate. It takes about an hour to grind enough to feed one person for one day. Until fifty years ago, there was no effective widespread way to automate this process: every Mexican household would have one woman in the back room, grinding wet corn for five hours a day. Since then, things have changed—bringing great benefits, widespread social change, and some losses too.

Of course, there are trade-offs. Bimbo is not as good as a bolillo. A machine-made tortilla is not anything like a homemade tortilla – it’s not even in the same universe.

Mexican women that I have talked to are very explicit about this trade-off. They know it doesn’t taste as good; they don’t care. Because if they want to have time, if they want to work, if they want to send their kids to school, then taste is less important than having that bit of extra money, and moving into the middle class. They have very self-consciously made this decision. In the last ten years, the number of women working in Mexico has gone up from about thirty-three percent to nearly fifty percent. One reason for that—it’s not the only reason, but it is a very important reason—is that we’ve had a revolution in the processing of maize for tortillas.


Originally published at culture-making.com.

The crying-on-the-inside kind of news

I can’t help thinking of The Simpsons when I read about at this—a pleasing combo of Kent Brockman, Krusty the Clown, and Bumblebee Man. It makes me think of court jesters and maskers using disguises and buffonery to criticize the powerful and get away with it.

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Foro TV, a product of the Mexican broadcasting conglomerate Televisa, promises to feature some of this country’s leading journalists and commentators, like Hector Aguilar Camin (co-author of “In the Shadow of the Mexican Revolution“), Denise Dresser and Leo Zuckerman.

But it opens the morning news with Brozo the clown. What does it say about the viewing audience — or Televisa’s perception of us — that we might want our news from a green-haired, red-nosed jokester?

Actually, Brozo has quite a history in Mexican current events, and it hasn’t always been a laughing matter. The costumed persona of journalist Victor Trujillo is known for an irreverence that often skewered the mighty and powerful. Embattled politicians all the way up to a president’s wife have chosen him to be the recipient of exclusive interviews or campaign promos.

A few years back, Brozo stunned a high-ranking city official who was appearing as a guest on a morning show the clown hosted at the time. Brozo aired a secret videotape showing the man stuffing a briefcase and then his pockets with thousands of dollars in alleged bribe money. The man’s career was toast, and the scandal may have cost his boss, then-Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the presidency in 2006.

Brozo left morning television following the death of his wife in 2004 but is returning now to what he says will be a no-holds-barred format.


Originally published at culture-making.com.

¡Tamales oaxaqueños!

The sonic signature of a cultural (and culinary) world.

 

You hear it from a block away: an amplified, singsong call with an uncanny power to slice through the urban din. The tone is cheap and tinny—as kitschy as a sound can be. And it’s my favorite in Mexico City.

Listen now, as it nears, the nasal-toned male voice stretching out syllables and pauses, again and again, into a verse so familiar it could be the unofficial anthem of this vast city, a kind of culinary call to prayer. ”Ri-costa-ma-les oaxa-que-ños!” blares a loudspeaker on the vendor’s tamale cart. ”Tamales oaxaqueños!” ”Tamales calien-ti-tos!

Go to any neighborhood in Mexico City, from gritty to grand, and at some point during the evening you might hear it. The recorded call, always in the same hypnotic voice, is pumped from countless speakers aboard countless tamalero pedal carts. Step up and order your delicious Oaxacan tamales.


from “A delicious sound above the din of Mexico City,” by Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, 23 November 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Tough luck, Mel

A fable of conflicting values and the mistaken assumption that Hollywood would have sufficiant cultural clout even in a rugged corner of South Africa—it looks like the forthcoming Biblical film epic The Lamb will have to be staged somewhere else. Best quote from the article not in the excerpt below: “The Rev. Cyril Smith, whose cathedral would have been made into a Mexican village film set, says the consortium miscalculated the level of opposition and the legal status of the land.”

A filmmaker’s dream of building a Hollywood-style studio in the northern part of South Africa has been blocked after a passionate campaign by the local Khoi-San community. Residents of the remote and desolate town of Pella say they do not care about the millions of dollars promised or the prospect of A-list celebrities flying in on private jets and instead wanted to keep their “sacred” scrubland, which was won in battle by their forefathers.

Desert Star Studios wanted to transform their ancestral lands into a giant studio featuring biblical and cowboy film sets, production offices, stunt tracks, storehouses, and workshops, plus a luxury resort, golf course, and private landing strip. The consortium planned to spend $14 million on the project which it says would create 18,000 jobs and generate a further $14.2 million income for the area over the next 10 years—a huge sum for a relatively poor province.

A visit to the semi-desert area can see its potential. The flat scrubland nestles between giant mountains under clear blue skies. There are hidden valleys cut by tributaries to the mighty Orange River, and one mountain resembling the doomed Israeli fortress of Masada.

But the filmmakers underestimated the will of the local 5,000-strong population who put the spiritual value of the land over any potential economic gain and nixed the plan last month. “No money in the world can buy this land,” says Ina Basson, secretary of the Pella Community Forum. “It is ours and has sentimental value. Our forefathers fought the Germans for this land and had to battle to keep it. They have spilled blood for the land and for us, and it is not for sale. “[The producers] said Mel Gibson and Halle Berry would fly in to do movies, and that Tiger Woods would design the golf course,” adds Ms. Basson. “We don’t care about them. We want to live here.”


Originally published at culture-making.com.

Avenida Morelos, Guadalajara, Mexico

Quite a paint job on this shop in central Guadalajara. I’m not sure whether it sells flowers or dresses (or butterflies!).

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photo by Flickr user Wonderlane, 21 July, 2005 :: via Intelligent Travel

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City

Although this one (the flagship of the Mexican public library system) looks a bit like the interior of the Borg spaceships from Star Trek, I’m hard pressed to find an image of a library that isn’t pleasing on some deep level. It’s pleasing to think that the best of library-ness, whatever that quite means, are promised to be reflected in the cultural furnishings and activity of the New Jerusalem.

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Vista de la Biblioteca Vasconcelos,” by Eneas (flickr), 25 June 2006

Originally published at culture-making.com.

Aztec ‘noisemakers’ reconsidered

You gotta love the sort of patience required for endeavors like this.

Sounds still play an important role in Mexican society. A cow bell announces the arrival of the garbage truck outside Mexico City homes. A trilling, tuneless flute heralds the knife sharpener’s arrival. A whistle emitting cat meows says the lottery ticket seller is here.

But pre-Columbian instruments often end up in a warehouse, Velazquez said, “and I’m talking about museums around the world doing this, not just here.”

That’s changing, said Tomas Barrientos, director of the archaeology department at Del Valle University of Guatemala.

“Ten years ago, nothing was known about this,” he said. “But with the opening up of museum collections and people’s private collections, it’s an area of research that is growing in importance.”

Velazquez meticulously researches each noisemaker before replicating it. He travels across Mexico to examine newly unearthed wind instruments, some dating back to 400 B.C. and shaped like animals or deities. He studies reliefs and scans 500-year-old Spanish chronicles.

But making replicas is only part of the work. Then he has to figure out how to play them. He’ll blow into some holes and plug others, or press the instrument to his lips and flutter his tongue. Sometimes he puts the noisemaker inside his mouth and blows, fluctuating the air from his lungs.

He experimented with one frog-shaped whistle for a year before discovering its inner croak.


from ”Researchers make noises of pre-Columbian society”, by Julie Watson, Wired News/AP, 29 June 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.