PBS's Latino Connection Series Offers a Thought-Provoking View of Latin American Societies

Article excerpt

SO close and yet so far.

The countries and cultures of contemporary Latin America are trading partners with the United States and our nearest neighbors. More than a half billion people inhabit the 33 nations of Central and South America and the Caribbean. By the year 2000, Hispanics from all over the Americas and their descendants will collectively make up the largest minority among US citizens.

Yet most people in this country know little about the variety of Latino cultures. A 10-part series beginning on PBS this week, "Americas: An Insider Perspective on Contemporary Latin American and Caribbean Society," is meant to open the doors to the viewer's sympathies, imagination, and understanding of Latino cultures. It is also meant to wake the viewer to the fact that what happens among our neighbors affects us.

The series is narrated with conviction and intelligence by Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia ("The Addams Family," "Kiss of the Spider Woman"). His distinguished presence is a unifying force among interviews with right-wing generals, left-wing labor leaders, politicians of all stripes, housewives, feminists, businessmen, priests, and others from every class and race.

A complex and fascinating view of contemporary Latin American and Caribbean cultures emerges as the various modern histories come together. Economic development, patterns of migration, the arts, religion, the changing role of women, racial conflict and identity, revolutions, ethnic diversity, and problems of national sovereignty are brought into perspective.

The tone of the series is always even, never overwrought or overtly didactic. Both sides of the issues are presented by those who figure in the various dramas. Wealthy landowners complain about the change in workers' attitudes after the unions took hold in Argentina. Right-wing, middle-class women complain about not having enough yarn to make baby clothes when Salvador Allende took power in Chile, while poor women weep over the disappearance of their children after the military coup.

It is chilling to listen to a Brazilian general explain and excuse "disappearings" and torture without remorse in one program, and in a later program to hear from a woman doctor who suffered unspeakable torture merely for having opposed the military regime. After several programs, what takes shape is a picture of great suffering and great endurance, of cultures struggling for and against social justice while trying to make economic progress under harsh conditions. …