Adios Gabo! An Obituary for García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez, one of the greatest Colombian and Latinamerican writers has passed away last Thursday April 17, 2014. Gabo, as was commonly known by his friends, readers, and the public, died in Mexico City at the age of 87. He has left us with a huge literary legacy. He crafted some of my favorite stories and inspired me with his powerful imagination. Gabo’s writing was magic, social, historic, cultural, and political. One of my literary masters and most important winds of my sentimental education. I discovered his short-stories and novels as a child. Growing up in Bogota in the 1980s involved reading, hearing, and commented Gabo’s stories. At home, school, neighborhoods, and other social domains we talked about characters, locations, historical processes, and plots from both his fictions and journalist pieces. We chased yellow butterflies, were scared by motorized pigs with curly smoky tales, and survived elephant dictators disguised as democratic presidents. We dreamed and lived magic realism. Learning to use the power of imagination and finding joy in the paradoxes of everyday life in Colombia is one of Gabo’s biggest legacies. And this legacy is also universal. His writing provides many clues about the contradictions that Latinamerica, and other post-colonial parts of the world, face. It gives us tools and ideas for agency and resilience. Reading Gabo’s novels, stories, reportages, and essays, help us to be better persons in this planet earth, better friends. For Colombians, specifically, re-reading and discussing his open work can help us to understand us, and potentially also gives us threads to exit the labyrinth of violence, hate, and solitude that has trapped us for the last 100 years. As Gabo said in “The Solitude of Latin America,” his Noble acceptance speech, “Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination. For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.” Gabo shared with us some of those scant means through the imagined worlds he created and shared with us. Thanks Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rest in Peace.

Am I Invisible Project: Theater of the Oppressed + Participatory Video

DSC_7259Can the performing arts promote civic dialogue,  social and political change? Yes, they do it but as a process and not as much as an immediate and quantifiable outcome. An example of that is the evolution of  Am I Invisible, a  project where people from the Austin homeless community has been participating and that led towards a main performance last Saturday at the Gym of the Episcopal Church. Since 2013, members of the homeless community have been able to learn and experiment with techniques from the theater of the oppressed, and participatory video, through a series of workshops at the the ARCH, Austin Resources Center for the Homeless.  As a volunteer in the project, I have been able to see the transformation of the participants as they  became use to tell their stories, act, speak up, self-reflect about their position in society, raise questions, and imagine social change. Last Saturday performance was the culmination of a long process of exploration and learning in where the homeless community had the opportunity to interact with a wider audience and engage in a public conversation about their visibility in one of the fastest growing USA cities.

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Latino/Hispanic Immigrant Youth in the U.S

Immigrant youth experiences are all different. They vary according to a manifold of individual and structural factors. However, all immigrant youth confront several challenges related to the process of assimilation to a new country. Adjusting to new social norms, incorporating to a new institutional environment, adapting to a new community, and often learning a new language affect the well-being of youth and are causes of psychological stress. (Suarez-Orozco and Suarez-Orozco, 2001; Rumbaut, 1995, 1994; Olsen, 2000) For Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth, in particular, the challenges can become even more complicated because their ethnic group is in the wrong side of many structural divides. In contemporary USA context, where disparities in educational attainment, income, health, occupation, and technology, have become pervasive, the Latino/Hispanic group systematically appears at the bottom of the scales according to official quantitative data. Such problematic position, have made this population the center of academic research on low educational attainment (Rivera-Batiz, 2008; Smith, 2002; Romo & Falbo, 1996), lack of employment opportunities (Kochhar, 2012; Perez, 1992), children poverty (Massey, 1993), teen pregnancy (Fry and Passel, 2009), lack of social capital (Noguera, 2004; Fernandez-Kelly and Shauffler, 1996), and poor health status (Hayes-Bautista, 2002).
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Colombian Audiovisual Memory in YouTube

estampilla-inravisionAmong all the metaphors that can be used to understand YouTube, I choose the one of an archive because it allows me to explore the relation between media and memory. As an archive, YouTube is an open and global digital repository of audiovisual records in constant expansion, produced by a range of users and participants with a variety of interests and skills. Evidence of its archival characteristic can be found in the almost 200 millions of videos that compose the “world’s largest vault for moving-image material.” (Snickars and Vondera: 13) While users upload videos of any kind to the expanding archive, including original, remixed, and copied material, and both private and public content; the owners of YouTube provide the storage service and the infrastructure for searching, classifying, and watching. As a result of the low barriers of entry to the archive, and the simple and easy way in which anybody could contribute, the audiovisual records that are stored in YouTube are incredible diverse and they come from all parts of the world. From home movies to music videos to TV shows clips to videos of war combats, the variety of genres, formats, themes, styles and quality is enormous. Such diversity of records and openness is one of the reasons why Youtube has become a sort of defacto audiovisual archive that people around the world use for remembering the past and constructing personal, collective and cultural memories. For the specific case of Colombian audiovisual records, YouTube has helped to solve the lack of public access to copies of television shows, commercials, and films from the 20th Century,  as well as has opened a dynamic space for a more participatory construction of collective memory.

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AMX and the Growing Hip Hop Movement in ATX

One of the things that surprised me when I moved to Austin four years ago was that in “the music capital of the world” so little hip hop was performed, heard, and announced in the local venues and media outlets. Although the hip hop movement has been thriving in Austin for decades, it has been until recent years that it has started to gain more recognition and visibility. Hip hop is growing in ATX. There is not an identifiable Austinite hip hop style yet such as the one from Houston, Atlanta, or LA, but artists and fans from different areas of town have become more connected and have been strengthening their community. What it seemed to be a fragmented movement with different unknown scenes spread across the Austin metropolitan area are now in the process of becoming a more unified, although still diverse, scene. The emergence of the Austin Mic Exchange (AMX) as an open platform for performance and networking provides a good example of how the hip hop movement in Austin is evolving and how hip hop creative entrepreneurs are leveraging (and remixing) the resources available in the city in order to support their local community and movement.
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Enduring Analog Printing Presses

The sound of the printing press was what at first called my attention. We were walking nearby the Plaza Santo Domingo in Mexico City downtown when a percussive and repetitive noise appeared at the entrance of a little street near the church. We walked closely and entered a pedestrian street called Leandro Valle. As we crossed through the street we discovered a series of analog printing press business located in an open public area, near huge columns that were part of the Santo Domingo church. The source of the loud and repetitive sound was a printing machine operated by an old man dressed in a blue coat. He used his arm in order to pull a lever that pressed the different plates of the machine. The other machines were in stand-by.  Adult men were hanging out in front of the printing presses, or in tables nearby where they organized movable types. Their businesses displayed some of their products such as calendars and cards. I was totally fascinated by the discovery of these analogue presses. Watching these old printers reminded of the rich Mexican printing tradition as well as of the first printing press in the Americas, the one established in 1530s by Juan Pablos in a colonial house also located in the DF downtown.
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Learning with Digital and Participatory Maps

In the digital era, maps are everywhere -from large-scale displays within galleries and museums, to mobile smartphone screens. Not only do maps allow us to navigate the places where we live, they also have great potential as educational tools, especially when learners engage in their creation. Next Monday I will be at SXSWedu moderating a conversation about maps, learning, and participation. Together with Debora Lui, Claudia Silva, and Giuliana Cucinelli, we will discuss the use of digital maps in educational and cultural settings and talk about how they can foster the acquisition of multi-literacies and 21st century skills, the implementation of innovative pedagogies, and support civic engagement and community building. What kind of learning processes can be supported by the creation of digital and participatory maps? How can digital maps provide opportunities to tell stories about our communities, cities, and neighborhoods? How does digital participatory mapping allow learners to connect with their communities and cities thus transforming them into laboratories for experimentation, survey, and exploration?
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