Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith & Identity

Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith & Identity

Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith & Identity

Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith & Identity

Synopsis

Sangre llama a sangre. (Blood cries out to blood.) - Latin American aphorism The common "blood" of a people- that imperceptible flow that binds neighbor to neighbor and generation to generation- derives much of its strength from cultural memory. Cultural memories are those transformative historical experiences that define a culture, even as time passes and it adapts to new influences. For oppressed peoples, cultural memory engenders the spirit of resistance; not surprisingly, some of its most powerful incarnations are rooted in religion. In this interdisciplinary examination, Jeanette Rodriguez and Ted Fortier explore how four such forms of cultural memory have preserved the spirit of a particular people. Cultural Memory is not a comparative work, but it is a multicultural one, with four distinct case studies: the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the devotion it inspires among Mexican Americans; the role of secrecy and ceremony among the Yaqui Indians of Arizona; the evolving narrative of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador as transmitted through the church of the poor and the martyrs; and the syncretism of Catholic Tzeltal Mayans of Chiapas, Mexico. In each case, the authors' religious credentials eased the resistance encountered by social scientists and other researchers. The result is a landmark work in cultural studies, a conversation between a liberation theologian and a cultural anthropologist on the religious nature of cultural memory and the power it brings to those who wield it.

Excerpt

This manuscript is a result of a dialogue between an anthropologist and a theologian, specifically, between a cultural anthropologist who has spent many years working with various indigenous groups and a theologian who has accompanied various faith communities in Latin America and is a proponent of liberation theologies. For some time now we have been struggling with the question of how to identify and describe the notion of cultural memory. in particular, we are interested in how cultural memory functions and is transmitted among marginalized communities in a constant struggle for survival. Two experiences are crucial sources for the way we have come to understand the dynamics of memory and narrative. One of us, Jeanette Rodríguez, became interested in cultural memory through her discovery of her Jewish roots. She writes:

I was a religious studies and philosophy major at a New York college
where 80 percent of the students were Jewish. I am a “cradle” Ro
man Catholic and a New York Latina. My parents and brothers emi
grated from Ecuador to the United States in 1952. Given my own bi
lingual and bicultural background, I cannot remember a time when
I did not live in creative, ambiguous, or hostile tension. This partic
ular period, however, was one of intense struggle as I wrestled with
the questions of religion and meaning in the twentieth century.

A key to this angst was my exposure to, and understanding of, the
Holocaust. I thought that anyone in touch with his or her human
ity would be outraged by the massacre of many millions of women,
men, and children. Yet many of those around me, and certainly our
own American culture, seemed blasé about this catastrophic trag
edy. My own affective reaction included youthful indignation and a
commitment that this should “never again” happen. At home, I at
tempted to regain inner peace.

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