Category Archives: pop culture

Black in Latin America

With a little break in the school year, I finally sat down and watched all of Henry Louis Gates’ Black in Latin America PBS series this weekend. There are four 50-minute episodes, and each is worth your time. Luckily, they are all free to view on show’s website.

There are quite a few aha moments to be had in the series. For instance, I had no idea that Haiti occupied the Dominican Republic for 22 years in the mid-19th century (episode 1)—an event that really began the shaping of Dominicans’ conception of “blackness,” as well as their feelings towards Haitians. I also learned about the racially charged character Negro Mama (episode 4)—a bumbling blackface thief played by comedian Jorge Benavides on Peruvian TV.

There is also quite a bit in the series about food, which meant that I was constantly hungry while watching it. At one point, Gates is having a discussion with a Mexican historian about fufu (episode 4), which is a popular savory dish in the Caribbean that has its roots in the cuisine of West Africa. Their discussion made me think of an entertaining episode of Internets Celebrities from a couple of weeks back about mofongo (just another word for the same dish) in Corona, Queens, NYC.

Gates himself seems most taken with the country of Brazil (episode 3), which has over 75 million people of African descent and was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery. Personally, I was  most interested in the complicated path of racial identity in Cuba (episode 2). But I got a ton out of each and every episode. Check it out!

The twit who tweeted

I just started a little Twitter account: @SpDilettante. Mostly I just use it to follow twittering news feeds and whatnot, but occasionally I’ll post or retweet something of interest about Spanish, Spain, Latin America, copyright information, dumb stuff, etc.

Chupacabras in Maine!

During my webby absence I did some traveling around the US, including a nice jaunt to Maine. While there, I took in the International Cryptozoology Museum, which is located in downtown Portland. I came on a good day because I was lucky enough to get a personal tour with Mr. Loren Coleman himself, who is the founder of the museum and is perhaps the most famous cryptozoologist in the United States.

Cryptozoology, if you don’t know, is the study of animals whose existence hasn’t yet been proven or which are thought to be extinct: dinosaurs, Big Foot, Ogopogo, my imaginary dog from 5th grade, etc. Keeping that in mind, I suppose it wasn’t too big of a surprise to me that Coleman keeps a small collection of chupacabras-related items in the old house of mysteries. But I was certainly happy that he does.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that chupacabras (chupar  “to suck” + cabra “goat” = goat sucker) are mythical creatures that were first reported in Puerto Rico in the mid-90s and which pop culture in the US usually associates with Mexico and Texas. The nasty little fellows are known for sucking the blood out of livestock—particularly goats. But what I loved about the museum’s collection on the topic is that beer bottle in the top photo: Cucapá Chupacabras Pale Ale. I had never heard of it before.
Apparently it’s a Mexican craft beer marketed to Americans who want the rich flavor of goat’s blood in the form of a cold, refreshing ale. So…drink up!

RPM Miami: US Media’s Spanglish Future?

There was a great feature on BBC Mundo yesterday by Eulimar Núñez about a new bilingual show on Telemundo’s sister station mun2 called RPM Miami (BBC story: “El ‘spanglish’ se expande en la televisión hispana de EE.UU.”).

The show is being promoted as the first bilingual program on US television (with apologies to Dora). The characters are constantly switching back and forth between English and Spanish (“Maybe vamos mañana a cantarte ‘Happy Birthday’. Beso, bye.”), and the program is clearly aimed at Latino youth who were born in the US. Mun2 itself, which is operated by Miami-based Telemundo and owned by NBC Universal, was developed for the Latino youth market by putting together a programming schedule that includes sports coverage, lots of music, and a heavy rotation of English-language shows mixed in with its normal Spanish-language programs.

RPM Miami (full episodes available here) is about a young Iraq War veteran named Alejandro who has returned to South Florida after being discharged.

Cuenta la historia de Alejandro, interpretado por el salvadoreño Adrián Bellani, quien regresa de la guerra de Irak para reunirse con su familia en el sur del estado de Florida y encuentra que su padre está desaparecido.

But a lot has changed while he was gone and Alejandro finds himself drawn into the world of underground street racing when he discovers that his father is missing and that his family is struggling financially.

Now I don’t know if this show will be any good, and I haven’t had a chance to watch the first episode yet…but I do know two things. First, my Spanish professor would hate it. As a first generation, old school Colombian immigrant, nothing gets on his nerves as much as Spanglish (“¡No lo entiendo!”). But my perspective is that it’s only natural for languages to mix in countries like the US, and that this is the way new languages are born. As we all know, Spanish itself evolved from Latin and didn’t fall out of the sky as a fully formed human tongue. Second, if the census numbers released this year tell us anything, it’s that we’re going to see more and more bilingual media in this country soon, whether RPM Miami is a ratings hit or not. So, chau chicos. Nos vemos soon, okay?

The bookstore with only one book

What kind of statement is made when a bookstore sells only one book. Is it performance art? Is it a joke? Does it mean the end of life as we know it? I’m not sure, but it’s doing swift business.

Ed’s Martian Book is a store located in a small space in NYC’s West Village, and it only carries the book Martian Summer by Andrew Kessler. Kessler also happens to be the store’s owner and proprietor…at least until his lease is up and a coffee shop goes into the location this summer.

The book is about Kessler’s time working in mission control for NASA on its Phoenix expedition—the same one that famously located evidence of water on Mars. But at Ed’s Martian Book you don’t need to look for the title just in the science section, it can also be found in bestsellers, new & notable, staff picks…heck it’s on every shelf and in every display in the store.

Kessler bought 3,000 copies of the book from his publisher in order to stock the store, and he has already sold hundreds of them for the cover price of $27.95. He refers to himself as a “Monobookist,” and I love the way this idea turns the book into a fetish object. It kind of feels like the Kindle just got punk’d.

(photos: Rachel “Cupcake Blogger” K. @ yelp)

Luchador Last Supper

Chris Parks’ skateboard deck art of Jesus and his apostles shown as luchadores is awesome! And just in time for Easter. (More and better photos here.)

What’s in My Bag?

There are a million and one ways of wasting time on the internet, but I find few as enjoyable and enlightening as watching Amoeba Records’ series “What’s in My Bag?”

(Venezuela’s Los Amigos Invisibles on a recent episode.)

Amoeba is, of course, the infamous California indy music store with locations in Berkley, San Francisco, and Hollywood. Each is gigantic (the SF store is in an old bowling alley) and filled to the gills with CDs, cassettes, records, DVDs, VHS tapes, and even laser discs. The selection is always deep and exotic—anyone could find at least one thing there that they’d like but have never heard before. That even goes for M.I.S.‘s Camilo Lara.

“What’s in My Bag?” is simply someone from Amoeba with a camera grabbing a famous patron and having him or her show off what they’re buying. Baggists include everyone: cartoonist Joe MattElviraElijah WoodDuran Duran, Robb Reiner from Anvil, the Roots’ Questlove, and on and on. I’ve never learned as much about music history and celebrity taste as I have from watching this fabulous series. And speaking of fabulous, here’s Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (¡en español!)…

La Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio

Latin Jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez

Pat Hoed…er, I mean Fantasma from the metal band Brujeria