From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Yo Soy Elias

A few months ago I wrote about the life of a girl from El Recreo from her own eyes (see ¨Me Llamo Katerín¨), in the style of Angela´s Ashes.
Well, lately another boy (teen) at the library is tugging at my heartstrings lately. His name is Elias. He´s very thin and very poor and very determined. I will let him explain the rest...

Yo soy Elias. I think I´m 13 years old, but I don´t know because we don´t celebrate my birthday. I love soccer. I love mi mamá, although I don´t think she loves me sometimes. I have two sisters and a brother whose tongue hangs out the side of his mouth and he can´t speak so he can´t leave the house and mi mama calls him Mudito (Little Deaf One). I don´t like my sisters but I have to take care of them because mamá doesn´t.

When I finish with school in the morning, I go look for women with big bags. I offer to carry for them and sometimes they pay me. Then I can afford lunch. Or I pick up plastic bottles near the basketball court and sell them to recyclers for a few reales. Sometimes I buy myself una coca-cola. Once I bought mamá an ice cream, but she yelled at me for wasting money, so I don´t do that anymore.

After looking for money I go to the library to do homework. It´s so boring and I don´t see why I have to copy pages and pages of text books into my notebook. I don´t know why I need to learn if some day I´m just going to wind up a vago like mi papá. That´s what mamá says anyway.

I finish homework as fast as possible so I can do something more fun. Like soccer with the boys on the field. But sometimes there aren´t any games going on because someone has stolen the ball, so I hang out in the library.

The gringa librarian´s mom came to Nicaragua and made Valentine´s Day Cards with us. I don´t have friends or a girlfriend so I didn´t care about them, but I made one anyway because they had glitter pens and salvaje (savage cool) paper. But when I was going to leave the gringa approached me and told me that they were missing glitter pens.

I have taken things from the library before. One time I took a pencil. They have so many and I didn´t have one in the house. But I didn´t take the glitter pens. So I lifted up my shirt and emptied my pockets so she could see. She stared at my tattered jeans and the plastic bag I use to hold them up around my waist. Then she said sorry and let me go. Whatever.

I went back to the library a couple days ago for game day. They let us play games on Fridays. Most of them are missing pieces and I don´t know how to play the rest, but it´s something to do, so I go. I was going to borrow Monopoly but I saw they had new books on top of the cabinet. I don´t usually touch books, but one of them was about the 2010 World Cup. ¨SALVAJE!¨ I yelled. Then I forgot the gringa´s strict rules about voices in the library. She came up to me shushing but was smiling. She told me I could read it. I didn´t know we were allowed to touch the books.

I´ve never read a book for fun, but this was different. They had player bios and team stats. Then Melvin saw me reading it and came and joined me to read the Brazil chapter. I guess we forgot what time it was and the gringa never came to tell us to lower our voices because when she tapped us on the shoulder it was time to close the library. She was still smiling.

I still don´t like books. But if they´re about soccer, I guess they´re okay. Maybe I´ll go back to the library tomorrow. And learn the gringa´s name. And I wonder if they ever found those glitter pens.

Elias (left) and Melvin, huddled over ¨A Todo Fútbol,¨ a book donated by a family friend. One of my favorite moments at the library in El Recreo.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Culture Virus

Warning. I’m about to bash my country’s government’s atrocities in Latin America. Surprise!
When my friend Zach first met me, he thought I was twenty-eight. At first I thought it was appearance-related. Due to my mature face, figure, and demeanor, I have been called my father’s wife or sister more times than I can count. But Zach assured me my physical and emotional maturity weren’t the deciding factors. “Es que, all of you estadounidenses (people from the United States) confuse me. You seem much older than you are.” I wondered what nationality could have to do with maturity, so I asked for clarification.
“It’s like Americans are more…developed? Educated? Like you’ve reached a higher, wiser way of being.”
RED FLAG. Bueno, the US is responsible for a lot of good things. Like an escape from famine and religious and political persecution. And jazz music. And big dreams. But let’s face it. The way we have dominated the world doesn’t work. If you don’t agree with that, you should stop reading this blog post. But my argument is that Zach is very mistaken.
Perhaps mistaken is the wrong word. Brainwashed might be appropriate. For as long as I’ve known him, Zach has exhibited symptoms of “internalized oppression.” I first learned about it in my post-colonial literature class and comprehend it more fully thanks to my new favorite light reading material, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paolo Freire, the father of popular education. In this process, by which imperialist societies dominate developing countries, “the invaders (in this case, the United States) penetrate the cultural context of another group (Nicaraguans) in disrespect of the latter’s potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade.”
For those whom colonial studies are completely foreign, I will explain the example of internalized oppression that is applicable to this blog—though examples are plentiful (the UK to the Americas, France to Lebanon, Russia to Cuba). The US has occupied Nicaragua since the 1700s—with its troops, dictators, and more subtly, its culture. Thanks to years of invasion, Nicaraguans like Zach perceive their invaders as superior. When Zach thinks of the States, instead of seeing the military bully who funded a war against the people’s revolution in the 80s and 90s (read about that here), an overspending, neoliberal monster, he thinks of shiny skyscrapers and limitless opportunity. But at what cost? As cell phones, designers, and consumerism invade, traditional Nicaraguan values of family, simplicity, and art are lost.
Zach loves made-in-China Hollister and American Eagle. He listens to Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers. He clings to catchy English phrases like candy. Although he hates it, he’s studying accounting because he thinks it will help him find a job that will get him enough money to move out of El Recreo neighborhood and support a family. A noble quest that I have no right to judge. But I can’t help wondering whether he’s pursuing happiness, or the unattainable, unsustainable “American dream” of white picket fences and a mini-van, which he must see in all those glossy magazines and on the Disney Channel. Did I mention he can't afford a good education, but prioritizes getting the Disney Channel?
Interesting, too, is the fact that I am doing exactly the opposite of what he’s doing, I’m an Estadounidense who chose to leave suburbia for El Recreo, a barrio of tin houses, trash-lined river beds, and drug sales. I am an upper-middle class North American who hopes never to purchase meat, own a microwave, or buy new made-in-China clothing ever again (yay thrift stores!). My habits confuse him. What’s wrong with her, he must think. But I also hope it occurs to him to think, what’s right? He’s certainly done the same for me.