June 17, 2014

Understanding Latin America

I think as humans (or simply an organism), we tend to seek out order, organization. In fact, we ourselves are a defiant manifestation of order in a perfectly chaotic universe. It really is one of the most amazing things about life. Our need to make sense of an often messy world can drive us to create boxes with labels and to want to place people within those boxes. I mean, if every single individual is unique, how are we supposed to work with that? The thought of getting to know that many people is exhausting and in order to live our lives at a normal pace, we sometimes make assumptions about people without knowing them that well. I'm sure there's a whole sociology paper on this somewhere, that explains how we use general cultural information to approach people we don't know, and how that is some kind of survival strategy, at its core. It's understandable. But as we all know, it can lead to problems.

I remember when I first visited Paraguay, people back home were surprised that spicy food is not a mainstay of the Paraguayan diet. It seems like most American assumptions about Latino countries are based around what they know -- or think they know -- about our neighbor, México. Of course, as many Latinos abroad find themselves repeating, not all of Latin America is like México. In fact, Latin America is wildly and almost mystifyingly (word?) diverse, while at the same time maintaining a percieved homogeneity that I guess is based around language, and perhaps a few other dusty relics of Spanish occupation.

I began to really think about the cultural and geographical scope of Latin American yesterday while listening to the radio. Some type Reggeaton beat was going, and what seemed like distinctly Caribbean flair and dialect. Here we are, far, far away from the Caribbean (or the ocean, for that matter), surrounded by rolling fields full of cattle, where the staple foods tend to involve cheese and anise, listening to this groove that speaks of scantily-clad beach-goers -- rum and fried plantains, maybe. But Paraguayans listen to it, they like it, they "get" it -- whatever the moral of the story in a Reggeaton song may be (likely very little to do with morality). And that's certainly more than I can say about it. So where's the common ground? Is it really just the Spanish language? A common appreciation for the female backside? It's hard to put a finger on. Perhaps a secret that only Latin Americans know. Alike, yet so, so different.

So, this post doesn't really have a conclusion. I'm simply mystified (definitely a word) by the phenomenon that is Latin America. It is not defined by borders and it can't be boxed in by assumptions of commonality. It's a messy, chaotic, and nuanced beast. Like everything, no matter how much we struggle against it. I certainly tire of answering questions or making broad statements about America and Americans. It's hard to to break down something as complex as culture and just say, "this how we are, and this is how you are." At the end of the day, I really just want people to realize this is how I am, and realize that while I am influenced by culture, I am not determined by or beholden to it. Much less so a stereotype or assumption. Culture isn't something you can define with brevity. I just want respect for who I am as an individual, with a healthy but distanced appreciation for how culture may have shaped me. And I'd like to think I can return the favor.

No comments:

Post a Comment