Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Letter from Lima

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Letter from Lima

Article excerpt

LIMA, PERU-When I first went to South America in 1965 on a fellowship to do graduate studies in Lima, Peru, the image of the region was "Tercer Mundistas", or Third World countries which the U.S. benevolently tolerated for its resources and territorial self-interest.

As a journalist and later as an international bureaucrat, I lived intermittently in Latin America and traveled its length and breadth; the Andes, the Amazon, the plains, and the coastal lands to the straits of Magellan.

It was never as bad or backward as depicted by some although statistics might belie this depending on how one grades the region today.

How can you label Buenos Aires with its tangos and European-style living, Río de Janeiro and its festive raison d'etre or Lima with its Spanish/indigenous mix, as forever Third World genre? However, Argentina, among others, is again suffering fiscally.

The Third World tag was due partly to its long history of plundering of the natives by the conquistadors and the natives' resistance to Old World mores imposed upon them.

It was followed by a group of leaders, mostly military, or supported by the military, who applied their own form of oppressive, corrupt governing.

The Southern Hemisphere, for me, has a unique political history and characters and above all, a rich indigenous culture, slow to blend in with its Spanish conquistadors and then socially and economically ostracized; a history which has always fascinated me.

In my youth in Texas, I knew the region only as that faraway continent where Spanish was spoken and many of the people looked like me; a place that one could only fantasize about.

I liked the people's sense of humor even when things were bad. One of my favorites - true, some swear - is how the popular Dominican Republican dance, the merengue, came into being.

Dictator Rafael Trujillo had a peg leg but loved to dance. His shimmy toward the dance floor was the signal, or command, for the other dancers to join him on the floor to stomp with the hot Caribbean music.

But the general had to push his bum leg across the floor while boogying with the other. His subjects, wanting to show their loyalty to El Jefe by emulating his rhythm, also dragged one leg as they swung their partners across the dance floor and thus the merengue rhythm was born. …

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