Arabic Flagship Talent Show

At the last minute, I was invited by my friend to attend the Arabic Flagship Program’s annual talent show. I went to take a break from studying, and was so happy that I did! My friend was actually this year’s host, and I was glad to be able to be there to support her and the other flagship program members that put on this great show.

The event was catered by the local Lebanese restaurant Sisters, which my friend informed me provided more than enough food each year. Sure enough, there was so much food left over at the end of the show that the hosts were begging guests to take some home. The pita, hummus, and baba ganoush were amazing, but the highlight of the show was the entertainment. Various student organizations and Arabic classes at OU created pieces for the talent show, giving us an entertaining array of videos and live performances. As someone who knows virtually nothing about the Arabic language, I found the talent show both fun and very informative.

The first act was a video created by the OU Belly Dance Club and the OU Film Club. I thought it was great that these two organizations teamed up to contribute to the talent show. The video consisted of a brief instructional segment demonstrating a few moves, and then a traditional dance by members of the Belly Dance Club. Next, there was a poem reading by a member of the flagship program. She read the poem “Who Am I” in both its original Arabic and in English, for the audience members not fluent in Arabic.

My personal favorite act (and the one that got the most laughs) was an advanced Arabic class’s take on the infamous “Panda Cheese” commercials that aired several years ago in Egypt. I remembered seeing these ads on Facebook, so I understood the reference. Essentially, in each commercial skit, someone asks for “Panda” brand cheese, and upon being told there is none a panda appears and destroys everything in its path. The talent show skit, done in Arabic, had the same premise but took place at different locations on campus.

Other acts included the singing of a lovely song by one of the colloquial Arabic classes, and a recorded telling of a Moroccan folktale by the Moroccan Dialect Club (thankfully, they provided English subtitles). One member of the flagship program also presented some stunning Arabic calligraphy poems. These poems were composed of Arabic words in shapes that illustrated the subject matter of each poem. The three pieces she showed were stunning and creative, ranging from words in the shape of each fruit in a bowl of fruit to a depiction of the sun and moon.

I loved being able to both see and hear Arabic, as I had so little previous exposure to this beautiful language. I began to understand why my friend was so in love with her Arabic major, and was impressed by her proficiency in a language so unlike our own in both alphabet and pronunciation. The talent show made for a lovely and educational evening—I’ll certainly be looking out for it next year!


Even the Rain

This week, OU’s Spanish Club hosted a viewing of the Bolivian film “También la Lluvia” (Even the Rain). At first, I was a bit concerned that I would not be able to understand a film entirely in Spanish. Thankfully, there were both English and Spanish subtitles! I challenged myself to only look at the Spanish subtitles, but admit that I did peek at the English every once in awhile. Typically, I only needed to do this when there were colloquial words and idioms that I was not familiar with.

The movie is based on a true story about the film directors Sebastián and Costa, who traveled from their native Mexico and Spain to Bolivia to work on a project. The movie they planned to create was a historical film based on the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. However, they arrived at the time of the Bolivian protests against water privatization be their government. The film focuses on this issue, which becomes a central part of the project. The man the directors cast as Hatuey, the native Taino chief that led a rebellion against the Spaniards, is ironically at the head of the protests against water privatization (unbeknownst to the directors). Without giving too much away, I will say that the film clearly aligns the role of the long-deceased chief Hatuey with Daniel, the local Bolivian actor leading the charge against the privatization of Bolivian water sources that have belonged to the people (especially indigenous) since before the time of Hatuey.

I was interested to see this movie because one of the classes I took while abroad in Mexico focused on the privatization of water by the government. Lakes and rivers that had served as sources of drinking water, agricultural water, and fishing sites for rural communities for centuries were being sold to large international companies. Many of these companies were alternative energy corporations seeking to create dams that would generate hydroelectricity. However, instead of pursuing this in their own nations, these companies would pay off Latin American governments to privatize water sources near small communities that had no means to legally defend them. While this class focused on Mexican politics, I do remember briefly touching on the similar Bolivian “Water War” that took place around the turn on the 21st century after escalating for years. The term “war” is used to describe the police violence that broke out against lower class protesters.

“También la Lluvia” illustrates this violence, as well as the corruption of the Bolivian government and police force during this time. The directors struggle morally as they are torn between completing their film (about the European seizure of land from native tribes) and defending their Bolivian actors and their families as they protest the privatization of their water by a large European firm. The parallels are subtle yet undeniable, making this film a powerful statement about colonization and our modern world.


The Negotiation

This semester, one of my favorite Latin Americanist Lunches was a talk given by the Colombian filmmaker Margarita Martinez. I was especially eager to attend this lunch because I wanted to be better informed about the current Colombian political situation. My extended family, all from Colombia, discuss this often and I rarely have anything to contribute.

Martinez spoke to us about her recent documentary “La Negociación.” The film’s slogan is appropriately “Making peace is harder than making war.” Martinez and her team focused on the peace negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government. Although the movie was just released in 2018, it had been many years in the making. Martinez’s filmmaking process was long, grueling, and potentially dangerous. She and her team had to conduct a remarkable amount of field research before they could even begin to film. From what she told us, this process changed her and her perspective on Colombian politics forever.

Before she became a film director, Martinez was a young journalist in Bogotá. She told us that during the beginning of her career, “the only news was war.” Inadvertently, she became somewhat of a war reporter. The violence between FARC, a revolutionary guerilla group founded in 1964 in order to take land back from the government for the lower class, and the paramilitary Colombian government has been tearing the nation apart for decades. The crimes of both sides, some of which Martinez shared with us, were atrocious. However, in 2012 there was finally some talk of peace. The making of a peace agreement was to be a tense and laborious process that took over 4 years. Martinez’s documentary, which covers the negotiations involved in this process, gives a reporter’s perspective into the standoffs and compromises that made the agreement so drawn out. Appropriately, the film poster is a labyrinth.

What interested me most about the talk was Martinez’s account of the revelations she had while working on the film. She went into the project with the perspective of a journalist who had been assigned again and again to cover the terrible crimes of FARC. Never did she report on the misdeeds of the military government. However, as she made the film and worked her way as close to the negotiations as possible, she discovered that the misdoings were far from one-sided. The crimes of the government were almost too awful to mention. Among other things, they would dress up young, poor men as guerilla fighters and kill them to then publicize another “victory” against FARC. Above all, Martinez was horrified by the dehumanization of both sides. As she worked, she learned to see past her biases and truly listen to the guerillas as they told their stories.

At the core of the negotiations was the idea of reconciliation versus revenge. Should all wrongdoings be punished? Or should both sides simply shake hands and move on? Not surprisingly, the most bitter arguments she witnessed were within each party, not between. In both FARC and the government, some staunchly believed that revenge must be had, while others adopted a policy for forgiveness. At last, the peace agreement was signed in late 2016. Essentially, it was an agreement to let the crimes of the past go in favor of the rebuilding of Colombia. Needless to say, many people on each side (especially those who had lost loved ones) were dissatisfied with this policy, and felt as if their opponents should not go unpunished for their crimes. Martinez worked hard to take as unbiased a stance as possible, but admitted that the filmmaking process changed her in ways she could not have anticipated.


Arabic Film Club – Spring 2019

This semester, I was involved with Arabic Film Club. The club met every other week on Friday afternoons and members spent time watching Arabic films and cartoons. My favorite meeting was when we watched The Insult. The movie was a particularly sad movie that focused on the conflict between Tony Hanna, a Lebanese Christian, and Yasser Abdallah Salameh, a Palestinian refugee. At the beginning of the movie Tony had a fairly prejudiced view of Yasser because of Lebanese propaganda he listened to. While their conflict continued throughout the film, Tony and Yasser appear to respect each other by the end of the film. This film was particularly interesting to watch because I had not heard much about conflict between Lebanon and Palestine. I’m glad I was a part of Arabic Film club because I would never have watched such an interesting film.


Climate Change Emergency Declared in the UK

On May 1st, the UK Parliament voted to declare a “Climate Change Emergency.” While this action does not bind the UK to any particular action, it does show how the government sees climate change as a very immediate problem that must be addressed. The action came as a result of demands made by an activist group known as Extinction Rebellion. I believe this action will help to pressure other countries to follow similar steps. I hope that if the UK is able to make significant headway on climate change, it will pressure other countries to follow suit. Unfortunately, the parliament failed to give a good definition for what a “climate change emergency” is.  So, while this declaration is important, it fails to specify what specifically is included in this emergency. Despite this lack of clarification, I am still excited that the United Kingdom is issued this formal declaration.


Venezuela Crisis

For the past couple of years, Venezuela has had a tough economic situation. However, since January, Venezuela has been going through a political crisis; in January Jaun Guaidó declared himself acting president of Venezuela. The next day after Guaidó declared this, the US announced full support of him, stripping away the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro. Guaidó claimed that Maduro’s election last year was not legitimate because other candidates were barred from running. This issue has been so controversial because nations around the world have announced their support for both individuals. Obviously, this crisis has been detrimental to Venezuela because they do not have an established head of state. This issue will be interesting to follow in the future to see who takes control of the presidency.


Roma Screening for International Awareness Week

On April 11th, I watched the film, Roma, at Farzaneh Hall. The event took place during International Awareness Week. I had heard very good reviews about Roma and so I wanted to see why everyone thought it was so impactful. Ultimately, I agreed with the reviews in that the film was very well produced and that it told an inspiring story. However, I think the film was relatively slow and that much of its success was due to the artistic elements present in the film. The film was pictured in black and white. At first, I was unsure about this decision, but I got used to the stylistic effect within the first ten minutes of the movie. This effect made the film seem as though it was a memory from the past. Overall, I am glad that I had the opportunity watch such a critically acclaimed film.


Native Crossroads Festival

On April 4th, I attended the Native Crossroads Film Festival. The festival seeks to share stories and films about indigenous peoples around the world. I saw a film called Sami Blood, a Swedish drama about two sisters growing up in a Sami school in the 1930s. The film starts off with present day Elle-Marja visiting her younger sister’s funeral. Elle-Marja comes from a family of Sami people but she attempts to distance herself from her native culture and heritage. The film then flashes back to when Elle-Marja and her sister grew up in a Sami boarding school. At the school, the sisters are taught Swedish and are punished if they speak their own language. The teacher is not supportive of the students and tells them they are not as capable as other Swedish children. Because of this hostile environment, we see Elle-Marja begin to reject her own culture. At the end of the movie, Elle-Marja symbolically apologies her sister in her casket and acknowledges her culture again. I truly enjoyed watching this movie because it told such a powerful story. I think it’s important to learn about the struggles of indigenous people throughout the world.


COLSA’s Colombian Night

This year, I went to my first COLSA Colombian Night at OU. It was about time—I’ve been a Colombian student at OU for four years now. Embarrassingly, I had never really looked into the Colombian Student Association. My experience at Colombian Night was my first introduction to the club!

The night consisted of a dinner, a show, and a fiesta. I wasn’t able to make it to the dinner, but the show was lots of fun! Apparently, each year Colombian Night focuses on a different region of the country. This year, the theme was Los Llanos, or the plains of Colombia. COLSA put together a beautiful video introducing the beauty of the Colombian plains, and highlighting the diversity of Colombian culture. Los Llanos are primarily in eastern Colombia, and run into western Venezuela. Our MCs for the night, one from Colombia and one from Venezuela, illustrated the significance and beauty of this shared land.

After we stood for the national anthem of Colombia, played via another video, and a live rendition of the US national anthem, the show began. There was lots of traditional dancing, which the COLSA members had clearly rehearsed and perfected. Their costumes were beautiful—bright, vivid dresses in blue, yellow and red (the colors on the Colombian flag). Aside from the dances, there was a short play narrated in both English and Spanish. I kept up with the Spanish, but was grateful for the translations. Colombians speak so quickly! Like the rest of the show, the play was polished and very impressive. The students acting in it seemed to be having a lot of fun on stage, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

After the show, we all received small harp-shaped keychains—this initially confused me, as I wasn’t aware that the harp was a significant instrument in Colombian music. But after some research I saw that Colombia has proudly reinvented the harp and made it their own, sometimes referring to it as “the Andean harp.”

I also attended the fiesta following the show, which was at the Norman Main Street Event Center. It was great to see even more dancing and get to talk to the friend who had invited me to the event. Although the party was largely COLSA members to begin with, eventually more and more students arrived. There was a large presence from the entire international student body, and everyone seemed to enjoy celebrating and learning about Colombian culture! I stayed for about an hour before getting tired and going home. I expected the fiesta to start winding down after that time, but my friend who stayed informed me that they kept dancing for hours (I can’t imagine how anybody had the energy).

As I left, I sent a WhatsApp message to my Abuelita, who I constantly disappoint with my lack of Colombian-ness. Though attending Colombia Night doesn’t make up for my patchy Spanish and terrible dancing, she seemed to appreciate the effort.


Landscapes of Rememberance and Embodiment

Last week, I attended the first Latin American and Caribbean Lunch of the semester, hosted by OU’s Center for the Americas. Jessica Cerezo-Román, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, came to speak to us about her medical anthropology research on ancient Native American burial traditions in the Southwestern US/Northern Mexico. Her talk was titled “Landscapes of Remembrance and Embodiment: Between the Classic Period Hohokam and Trincheras Traditions.” Although I had known nothing about these tribes and their culture, I chose to come to the presentation because I find medical anthropology fascinating. I had the opportunity to take my first class in the anthropology department last year, and loved learning about anthropology’s contributions to our understanding of past civilizations.

Cerezo-Román’s research focuses on primarily two tribes that existed in the pre-Hispanic borderlands. The Hohokam tribe lived in what in now central and southern Arizona, with evidence of early Hohokam around 1 AD and late Hohokam around 1500 AD. Meanwhile, Trincheras Native American culture blossomed in the present-day Mexican state of Sonora. Most of the skeletal samples examined by Cerezo-Román were estimated to come from the Classical time period in the Americas, between 1150-1500 AD.

While the Hohokam and Trincheras cultures were both apparently complex and fascinating, Cerezo-Román focuses her attention and expertise on revealing details about the burial practices of these tribes. From here, she is able to infer a surprising amount about the ancient societies. She shared with us her primary research questions: “What does treatment of the dead tell us about social interactions on a broader regional level?” and “What do cremation funerals tell us about ideologies of group identity?”

One interesting aspect of the burial practices of both tribes is the prevalence of cremation. Most often, the ashes of the deal would be placed in vessels (clay pots) and laid on the earth. However, she also found that ashes would sometimes be apparently scattered without a vessel. What’s more, there are some fascinating distinctions between the typical locations of remains that reveal differences between the two tribes. While their burial practices might appear identical at first, the Hohokam and Trincheras differed greatly in where they placed their dead. The Hohokam tended to place the cremated remains, either in vessels or without, near the person’s family home. Sometimes, the vessels would even be found in the home itself. Interestingly, this was never the case in Trincheras villages. Instead, remains would be placed in communal cemeteries in unmarked vessels. This says a lot about how the two tribes thought of their deceased. In Hohokam tradition, the location of the ashes suggests a stronger connection to the dead, as well as a commitment to remembrance of individuals. But in Trincheras settlements, the burial patterns emphasized a much more collective mindset. It seems especially significant that the dead were all placed in unmarked and unadorned clay vessels, regardless of the person’s status place in society. I imagine that Trincheras society must have been remarkably cohesive and perhaps humble, with a strong value for collectivity and commitment to the whole.

Overall, Cerezo-Román’s presentation was fascinating. She came with a wealth of content to share with us, and was clearly passionate about her research. I could tell that I was not alone in my interest, as there were more questions and comments afterward than I have ever seen at one of these lunches! I’ve already registered for the next Latin American and Caribbean lunch, and am looking forward to it!