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. …