Tuesday, November 8, 2011

¡Navidad ya viene!

In spirit of Christmastime (which in reality is just around the corner), I thought it would be nice to give a sneak peak to what Christmas as well as New Years Eve is like in Latin America. I cannot give an accurate account for Christmas in all of Latin America but I can give a genuine account of Christmas in Colombia and describe how it is in other countries judging by others' stories. 

I think most of us would agree that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but in Latin America it's not about a bouncing, white-bearded man prancing around a white wonderland. It is about baby Jesus slipping into our homes and leaving gifts for all the children of the world. Yep, in Latin America Santa Claus has only recently become a Christmas figure and even so, baby Jesus remains the prominent Christmas icon. Christmas is celebrated with large gatherings of the whole family, mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, and everything in between. Groups of families unite to put on novenas, which are prayer sessions that happen every night starting on the 16th of December and ending on the 24th, completing the nine days implied in the word "novena". Novenas are usually followed by Hispanic Christmas carols such as "Burrito Sabanero" or "Peces en el Rio" and then of course food, lots and lots of food. On the 24th of December, the birth of baby Jesus is celebrated with food, dancing and presents at midnight for the children. It is an overpowering feeling of happiness and contentment. 

Then the days that follow until New Years Eve are all about partying all night long. In Colombia, we usually have a parade of horseback riding, which displays people in their greatest riding attire atop majestic horses, trotting down the road. Another day is dedicated to the salsa parade, I guess you could consider it a down-sized, Latino version of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as it exhibits the city's greatest dance groups and singers and bands, jamming away on their huge, colorful floats. Finally, New Year's Eve arrives, and brings with it plenty of emotions, memories of the year that has passed, and resolutions for the New Year. This night is a very emotional and almost spiritual night for Latin American families. For some people, it is even more important than Christmas. After a grand banquet at midnight with the family, the furniture is moved aside, the music is turned up, and the party begins! You can hear the sounds of fireworks and people cheering, laughing, crying, giving thanks with their eyes up to the sky.

Put this on your "Things-to-do-before-I-die" list right now: spend a Christmas in Latin America. It will be like nothing that you have ever experienced!

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Rio Medellin en navidad 2007 by chilangoco is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dancing Queens AND Kings

Latin Americans are hard-working people who are very serious about their job, education, duties, career, and overall goals. We strive to achieve the best and always put in our best effort in whatever we do. Most importantly, our friends and family are people to cherish and spend a lot of time with since they are the ones who will grant us warmth and happiness. But also, Latin Americans know how to have fun! There is no doubt about that. One of the things that we consider the most fun is dancing. We are so serious about our dancing that we are even recognized globally for our skills: the city where I am from, Cali, Colombia, is especially enthusiastic about dancing, so much that it is known the the Salsa Capital of the World.

In Latin American countries, when you typically go out to a party or to a club, the main attraction is the dance floor where you will find yourself dancing to various genres of music: salsa, merengue, bachata, vallenato, cumbia, reggaetton, among others. But dancing is not just about the fun of it. We also take it quite seriously and, actually, salsa has very recently been established as a professional ballroom dance style. Salsa has it's greatest influence in Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Cuba. The Dominican Republic is known for its sensual bachata. Venezuela has great merengue and most latin american countries share the cumbia or at least some variation of it. Dancing for many is a lifestyle, a way of making a living, and we pride ourselves in our distinct, animated styles of dancing. When you visit one of these magical countries, be sure to go out on the town one night, and take a partner who could dance all night - don't worry, you'll find that people with this ability are relatively easy to find!

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Cafe de Colombia by Marisol Pelaez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stereotypes and Why You Should Ignore Them

Too often, stereotypes cloud the image foreigners may have of a country and this could deeply affect the country in question. For example, in my case, I have always been subject to judgment based on the fact that I am Colombian, and "evidently" my Dad must be a drug-dealer. This is the stereotype that I have struggled with the most for all of my life.

I do not mean to rant, I just want to clear the air as to the reality of my country. The truth is that yes, Colombia produces a lot of coccaine, around 60% of the world's coccaine. But to specify, 90% of the coccaine it produces goes straight to the States, its main consumer. Oh, the irony... Those of us who have actually visited or lived in Colombia know that coccaine is not a part of Colombians' lives. Rarely do you ever hear about people doing coccaine and most people, especially young people, are willing to insist that Colombians aren't the ones consuming the drugs, it's the consuming countries, and I emphasize the United States, who ironically is the country who stereotypes the heaviest. I am a firm believer in the laws of supply and demand; if there were not so much demand, well obviously the coccaine industry would decrease in response to this.

The people of Colombia are always so eager to bring down those stereotypes, they try very hard to emphasize other products, like coffee or emeralds, and hopefully to be able to crush the coccaine industry and replace it with one of the various other resources we have to offer the world. And also, since people believe that all there is to Colombia is coccaine and drug dealers, then they also think that it is a dangerous place where you will get robbed, kidnapped, or even killed. This is also a lie, those dangerous times were about 15 years ago, and the country is working very hard to make the land a better, safer place for both natives and visitors. To be quite honest, the real danger hides in the rainforest, not in the cities. And if you ever do visit Colombia, you will find that all the natives welcome you with open arms and clearly steer you away from any sketchy parts of town.

Colombians are friendly, welcoming, and have a constant smile on their faces. I hope the world would give Colombia a chance, maybe even visit and find out for themselves what a paradise it truly is. All we really want is vindication.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Handshake for a Kiss

To be quite honest, one of the strangest things about coming here, to me at least, is the way people greet each other. In the United States, when meeting a person for the first time, the usual firm handshake is expected. In Latin American countries, a light kiss on the cheek is the customary way of greeting a person; it is not a slobbery kiss smack dab on your face, it’s more like a kiss to the air and slight contact between cheeks. And from then on, greetings with friends become more affectionate and even "explosive", you could say. Upon seeing a friend, you'd find them yell out your name (MARI!!!) and open there arms really big and plant a big kiss on your cheeks and then hug for another 3 to 5 seconds. Here in the U.S. a friendly hug is about as far as that will go. Awkwardly enough, I have found myself going in for a kiss subconsciously and I have seriously "weirded" out the person. Now I don't know about you, but I love greeting people with a kiss, I find it a wonderful icebreaker and just so much warmer. I get a better sense of humanity; I love to show my friends that I love that, and to show strangers that I am open and willing to let them into my lives as new friends.

Maybe this world would be a better place if we showed just a bit more affection, even if it is toward a stranger... honestly, who would mind that? What is so bad about a simple air kiss? Cultural differences can be definitive when it comes to such a simple thing as a greeting, but they can make such a huge difference. I cannot imagine how Anh, a friend from Vietnam, would react to someone just lunging in to plant one on her without even knowing her.

I think it will take me a while to get used to just a wave of the hand or a light one-arm hug, but one of the great things about Trinity is the wide diversity of people and learning all their different ways of greeting, what is acceptable and what is not. Hopefully I will be able to avoid any other awkward greeting... but I will stick to the effusive, loud, and warm greetings that I love.

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handshake by buddawiggi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Allow me to introduce myself...

Seeing that this is my first blog post ever, I would like to start out by talking a bit about myself and my diverse background.

Let's start from the very beginning. I was born on February 11th, 1993 in the weirdest city in Texas: Austin. This would mean that I love the winter season, heart shaped chocolates, and tie-dye. My parents are Pedro and Teresa Pelaez, both originally from Cali, Colombia and belonging to a large family tree of pure-blood Colombians. My dad  received a full grant to study at St. Edward's University in Austin and when he met my mom in Colombia she decided to move to Texas with my dad and they got married. They both have had to work very hard especially coming from low-income families and plunging into a new country so drastically. They have given  me a wonderful life and education, full of love and wealth (spiritual kind). Now I am studying at Trinity University and my childhood chapter seems to have ended and the cycle continues.

Like the patriotic Colombians they are, my parents raised me as a culturally bilingual child. My first language is Spanish...Barney the dinosaur took care of teaching me English. Almost every other summer we would go to Colombia and visit all the family, travel around all the major tourist sites, and just soaking everything in. So from a very early age I developed a deep sense of patriotism and love for my country. To me Colombia was home, it's where my heart was, and I absolutely loved visiting. I decided to go study my Junior year in high school at an American high school, the same one my dad graduated from. I loved it so much that I decided to stay for my Senior year and graduate there.

Coming to Trinity has taught me the many things Latin American countries have in common. It is not just Colombia but also the rest of Central and South America and the Caribbean. Unfortunately, there are many stereotypes and misconceptions of Latin Americans, our cultures, our traditions, our beliefs, our society, everything in general. I am here to hopefully clear the water.

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Colombian Flag by Deptfordjon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.