El Dorado and the River of Despair
Stuff You Missed in History Class
For my communidades experience of the 4th six weeks, I listened to a very interesting and very informative historical podcast about two expeditions in South America to find El Dorado, the supposedly real city of gold. The podcast mainly referred to the expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro and the following journeys, including that of Pedro de Ursúa in which the insane spaniard Lope de Aguirre came to lead a massacre spree throughout the amazon. The podcast was part of the How Stuff Works website and focuses on lesser known historical happenings, events and, as its name suggests, things not taught in history classes. This podcast related well to what we are learning in class because it really gave the listener a better understanding of what the conquistador’s goals were, and the sometimes extreme steps they took to get what they wanted. It also showed how awful the Spanish expeditions could often be. Overall, it gave a very nice window into the colonial era of South America.
What I learned about El Encuentro/What I can take away
I was able to learn a lot about the history behind the searches for El Dorado in South America. For instance, I did not know that originally the legend of El Dorado began as a legend about a native king who supposedly covered himself in gold dust daily and then promptly washed it off at the end of the day. This legend quickly transformed into a tale about a kingdom of gold that enticed Spanish adventurers. One of these adventurers was Gonzalo Pizarro (the younger half-brother of the Francisco Pizarro), who lead an expedition into the amazon to find the legendary city. Pizarro’s journey went horribly, with most of the members dying along the way and its survivors being forced to eat their belts and shoes to stay alive. But the horrors faced on Pizarro’s expedition are dwarfed in comparison to what transpired on a later expedition originally lead by Pedro de Ursúa. A bloody mutiny eventually put a man named Lope De Aguirre in charge and from there things spiraled into terror. Aguirre was practically a mad man who proceeded to kill all the things the expedition came across, friend or foe. Aguirre’s name became infamous across the continent and eventually he was beheaded by the king’s forces. Until that point, Aguirre had seen himself as so damned as it was that he might as well continue to do horrible acts. He was the one who sent a letter back to spain explaining that in the jungle life was dark and awful, and that it was a “river of despair.” The lesson can be seen as showing the toll that these expeditions had on all they involved.
The main message that I got from the podcast was that the expeditions to find El Dorado were disillusioned from the start and cost the lives of many. These expeditions in particular were only started to increase the wealth and glory of those leading them, yet the price paid for this hope of material gain was extreme. A great many people were harmed in a great manner of ways. It also lead me to see the effects of the colonial society on the psyche of these men. Take Aguirre, he was a notorious criminal BEFORE the expedition in which he orchestrated a mutiny and went on a mass killing spree. His experiences in the new world must have been very dark and powerful, for the actions that he took later in his life were with an extreme lack of mercy and compassion. Aguirre came to believe he was of the same control as God, and that his work was “the wrath of God.” The colonial times in the new world must have been dark indeed.
For my second comunidades of the second semester, my family and I visited Gloria's restaurant on Greenville Avenue. Gloria's features authentic El Salvadorian cuisine as well as a variety of Spanish and Tex-Mex dishes. Gloria's was originally an el salvadorian restaurant in Oak Cliff run by the sister of Gloria Fuentes. When Gloria and her husband, Jose, immigrated to the Houston in 1978 from El Salvador to escape the civil war and chaos that was erupting in the country, they decided to go to Dallas and assist Gloria's sister with her restaurant. Eventually Gloria's sister tired of the restaurant business, and handed the establishment down to Gloria who took on an entrepreneurial role and lead it to success. The popularity of Gloria's has grown exponentially over the years, and nowadays the restaurant is happily serving authentic El Salvodorian meals and creating a unique atmosphere for customers from all over the city.
What I learned/What Can be taken away
Through my meal at Gloria's, not only was I able to get a taste of the chef's mastery of el salvadorian cooking, but I also gained a better knowledge of cuisine native to the country and how it relates to the culture. I ordered the entree, "Carne Adobada" ("adobada" meaning "marinated"), which consisted of an outside skirt steak that was marinated and cooked in tomato base sauce. The dish was served with a unique sort of rice, and also with deep fried plantains- a treat well loved in El Salvador. The plantain is similar to the banana, yet smaller and less sweet originally. The combination of marinated carne, rice, and plantains made for a delicious and new experience.
The experience at Gloria's gave my palate a sense of what central american food is like, and allowed me to better grasp what central american cuisine really is. It also gave me a testament to the struggle of immigrants in this country, and the great achievements they rise to, considering both Gloria and her husband themselves fled their home country at the young age of 17. The success of their restaurant business goes to show that with hard work, achievement is always attainable. Overall I can take away a better knowledge of el Salvadorian and central American cuisine, and a deeper solidification of the belief that immigrants to the US work extremely hard to escape the troubles of their former countries and to live successfully in the US.
Ladrón Que Roba a Ladrón
Una Película Hispana
For my final communidades of the second semester, I decided to watch a Spanish film. I chose to watch Ladrón Que Roba a Ladrón, a Lionsgate action/comedy film produced in 2007 that is similar in plot to Ocean's 11. The movie follows Colombian immigrant and thief, Emilio (Miguel Varoni) who arrives in Los Angeles to stage a heist against his former associate, Moctesuma Valdez (Saúl Lisazo), who has gained millions of dollars by swindling poor immigrants through his bogus health products. But because their professional thief contacts don't want to take up the job, Emilio and his partner Alejandro (Fernando Colunga) are forced to enlist actual day laborers to be undercover and take back what was conned from the poor. The movie felt a lot like the Ocean's 11 series, because it was funny but also kind of suspenseful. I really enjoyed it.
What I learned/What Can be taken away
The film gave me a better perspective on the style of Spanish made films. Though all movies are different, this one was fast paced and a little whimsical. Though the thieves were planning to do a serious heist and crime, the film was full of jokes and at times very comical. For instance, the relationship between Alejandro and Mocte's housemaid provides for a lighter diversion from the plot of the heist. The film did a lot to portray the immigrants and day laborers as the heroes and exploited ones. It showed them as being hardworking and willing to take back what they believed was stolen from their own. It was very similar to Robbin Hood.
From this I can take away a familiarity with Spanish movies. I will be better able to understand movies in Spanish now that I've fully seen one, and even more so if I keep practicing with other movies. I can also take away the reverence for immigrants that was portrayed in the film and the motif of the poor fighting back against the rich. Overall the film was very enjoyable and would definitely watch it again.
Throughout my comunidades experiences this semester, I gleaned many bits of information as well as facts and many large scale ideas about hispanic history and culture. Overall, if I had to choose a most interesting aspect of what I learned, it would be the lesson I got from the podcast about the river of despair and the quests for el dorado gone horribly wrong. The podcasts taught me a great deal about the true nature of early colonial life in south america, and the extent that these conquistadors went to to find their gold. It also really spoke volumes about the level of sheer barbarism that we can be reduced to if given the perfect storm of circumstances.
If I were to choose a most important aspect of my learning in comunidades throughout the semester, I would have to choose the lesson learned from the story of how Gloria's came to be. The idea of immigrants persevering and overcoming hardship to achieve success in a new life was personified by the story of Gloria Fuentes and her restaurant. Leaving the civil war in El Slavador at the age of 17 to eventually become a successful restaurant owner in Texas seems like a pretty amazing journey, and I believe it is important to recognize that.