Cultural Change: Awareness vs Erasure
By Daniela Roldan Cabrera
Every person’s culture is tied to their roots, to their customs, and to their identity. It can encompass multiple or few aspects of life, but it is always present regardless. It is ever-changing. Culture, like humanity, is constantly moving to adapt to the current world while also being tied to the traditions of certain people of a certain geographical area.
Latin American culture in particular, narrows the concept of culture to a particular area, but it doesn’t do much else when trying to condense it. Latin American culture is so rich and vast among countries. Within its multiple similarities, it has nuanced differences. For example, cultural costume skirts are long, but can have different patterns and colors. Words have a different meaning based on the country and the context, and can even exist exclusively in that country altogether. Music is combined and expressed differently even if all countries can find the same meaning and camaraderie in a song. And so much more. Latin American culture is full, and diverse, and multicultural and happy and bright; it could not possibly be encompassed, even if we had multiple issues for the theme.
For this reason, the theme of the second issue of our Death in Latin America seminar explores culture in a very particular way. It attempts to show how Latin American culture has been influenced and influenced, because of, and in different factors. It explores the awareness and protection one can have over one’s own culture and the erasure of a culture due to the power and pressure of another. This cultural change and its causes is what is of interest to this issue.
The first article deals with how Haiti, the first latin american black nation, protects its unique culture and widely unrepresented communities by giving them a form of expression in religion and Vodou. It discusses the significance Vodou can have in this particular culture, as it has allowed these communities of “various genders and sexualities” to feel accepted when they have historically felt disenfranchised by their governments and the catholic church. It “ helps people position themselves within popular culture”.
The next article deals with the positive influence of black culture in North America with the creation of jazz music. Nevertheless, it explores how that influence was discouraged in the beginning by white communities and their attempts of erasure towards this particular display of cultural innovation. The article brings to the forefront the challenged black jazz had to survive in order to thrive and become what it is now.
The third and fourth article discuss the influence and modernization on the change in culture, specifically in Brazil and Puerto Rico. The former proposes a positive influence: how economic modernization and nationalism influenced the creation of Brazilian jiu-jitsu through the assimilation of other martial arts. The latter discusses the negative influence of the United States on the territory of Puerto Rico and its attempts to reduce the population by targeting communities of color and performing trials of what would later be known as the birth control pill, all without the consent of these women. Of course the impact of this “modernization project” is still felt today in the island’s culture.
Finally, our last article examines the violent influence of nazi settlers in Latin America, while focusing on one in particular: Klaus Barbie. The article talks about the atrocities performed in different countries by these men and how when combined with the role of the U.S. during the Cold War in Operation Condor created devastating outcomes for the population in these countries.
All in all, these articles deal with different branches of culture: religion, music, sport, population and gender, and community. They deal with the pressure of modernization on culture, negative influences, pride and sense of belonging, and sharing of culture in other places to create a lasting impact. Together the articles presented in this issue have one thing in common: culture is not static and is impacted by positive and negative forces alike. Hopefully after reading through them you will leave with a better sense of the enormity of the Latin American culture, the influence it has sustained, the impact it has had, and its fluctuation throughout time and space.