It’s interesting how where you grow up and the education you receive shapes your world view. I grew up here in Pittsburgh, but married someone from Latin America. We do everything we can to keep our children connected with Latin American culture, as I’ve written about before. In one of the Latin American events we were at, someone mentioned “the five continents of the world.” Five continents? Don’t they mean seven? After some investigation I learned the difference. First, they don’t consider Antarctica a continent. Second, America is one continent, which kind of makes sense since it is one continuous landmass. I like it too, as it brings us all closer together. We do share one vast and diverse continent. Here is a small sampling of materials that are from/about life in the diverse places on our continent.
Black in Latin America – Henry Louis Gates Jr. This title is available in book and on dvd. I’d advise reading the book first and then watching the documentary, which is essential viewing. Henry Louis Gates travels to several nations that share our great continent and examines the Afro descendant experience. He interviews scholars and locals, reviews history, visits museums and brings to light their plight in well-researched yet very accessible terms. The countries he visits are Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Peru and Mexico. Although these are about very serious issues of inequality and ethnic relations, Gates also manages to capture the beauty of these countries and cultures and even some great cultural expressions, such as merengue dancing in the Dominican Republic.
Even the Rain – Easily one of my favorite movies of all time. A Spanish film crew shows up to make a movie about Christopher Columbus in Bolivia, while at the same time the political situation in the country turns sour after the government privatizes the water supply. While the story is fiction, the historical backdrop is not. This story has elements that are present in every country on our great continent: inequality, exploitation and the lack of recognition of the indigenous peoples. The movie also has many powerful story lines like the value of friendship, the ability to change someone’s heart, standing up for what’s right, courage and love.
El Norte– Two war orphans in Guatemala make the daunting journey through Mexico to enter the United States illegally. What awaits them in the USA is less than the American dream.
Brazil, Bahia – Bahia Brazil is the Brazilian state with the most Afro descendants, and African heritage is present in many aspects of the culture, such as religion, dancing and music. This collection of music gives you a great feel for the rich cultural heritage of Bahia and Brazil.
The Book of Unknown Americans – Stories of immigrant life in the United States. A powerful human and family story. Great characters that demonstrate the diversity of Latin American immigrants in the United States.
Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States by Bill Bryson – Brison gives us the biography of the English language and how it evolved in our country. An in depth study of the various forces that shaped the way we speak. The book even mentions the Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania region several times for our contributions to our nation’s shared tongue. Bryson also brings his characteristic wit and charm to this work, I laughed out loud several times while enjoying this book.