Sunday, August 28, 2005

Principe Surprise

Wow, talk about spoilers!

If you are watching El Príncipe Azul and want to be surprised, don't read this.

According to People en Español, Leonardo García, the supposed star of Telemundo's new reality show (although the real star, and the guy running away with the show, is Andrés García, su papá), dropped out of the show mid-way through filming. The magazine says that Leonardo realized he was still in love with a former girlfriend and didn't feel right about going out with the Príncipe Azul candidates when he knew he didn't really want to be with any of them. So he left the show and took off for Mexico.

We'd seen inklings of something "big" happening, when in the last few shows Leonardo didn't show up for his dates because of a supposed stomach ailment (again, a little too much information on this was provided by Andrés). I'm actually glad that Leonardo seems to have a personality and some cojones, because he was coming off as quite pale y muy soso in comparison with his outrageous papá.

So how did the producers deal with this? According to the article, they came up with not one other príncipe, but two. No word on how the girls felt about this or what the final outcome was. And I wonder where this leaves la mamá y la tía.

And of course, Andrés stays on as presenter.

Which is a good thing, considering that Andrés' excesses are the most entertaining thing on the show -- next to the excesses of some of the girls, including Evelyn, who is coming off as "La Nueva Omarosa."

I guess my real question is, why the heck am I watching this? Well, I can always say it's good language practice. I certainly have picked up some new derogatory expressions -- naca, patán, etc. -- thanks to the candidates, who are not exactly getting along well with each other and in some cases, with their hosts; and some new insulting machista phrases -- such as, "Las colombianas son como las cucarachas; puedes barrerlas con la escoba pero regresan por el palo" -- thanks to Andrés, who seems to have no shortage of them in his repertorio.

I've also learned more than I ever really wanted to know about La Bombita, the implant which has revived Andrés' mojo after his battle with prostate cancer. It's interesting to hear something like that discussed so openly -- especially in such a machista environment -- but I think I finally figured out why they keep mentioning La Bombita -- it is a sponsor of the show!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

I was going to say that anyone who is a teacher should go see this movie immediately, to get psyched for the coming school year. August, for teachers, is like a one-month-long Sunday night. You know that Sunday night feeling, when you know the weekend is over and what's facing you tomorrow? That's what all of August is like for us.

So when I see something that is as inspiring as "Mad Hot Ballroom," especially at this time of year, it's a wonderful reminder of why we do teach. Which is why I was going to recommend it to teachers.

But on second thought, I think I need to say that anyone who is a human being should go and see "Mad Hot Ballroom" immediately! It's a truly wonderful -- and wonderfully true -- story about 5th graders in NYC's five boroughs who take part in a 10-week ballroom dance program and ultimately go to a city-wide competition. It's a documentary, so these are not actors playing kids learning how to dance, and dealing with school, family, immigration issues, etc. These are real kids dealing with real issues, and really learning how to dance.

They are fabulous, and so is this movie.

I particularly loved one little boy in Washington Heights named Wilfredo, who had just moved to the US from the Dominican Republic and did not speak much English. But he could learn how to dance.... and when he walks into the World Financial Center's Winter Garden, the look on his face reminded me exactly of the look on Ibrahim Ferrer's face in the final shot of "The Buena Vista Social Club." They share the same innate grace and quiet dignity, and the same look of wonder and pride and amazement at where they are and what they have accomplished.

I also loved one sentence that the teacher at the Washington Heights school used to describe kids who didn't get the right attention when they were young -- "No lo bailaron cuando chiquito." "Nobody danced them when they were young. One of the things I love most about Latin cultures (most of them, anyway), is that you start dancing as soon as you can stand up (even before, really, in your parents' arms) and only stop when you die. Not like our culture here, where dancing has only a limited window in our lives.

I just spent an evening in the company of some 20,000 New Yorkers of Dominican descent, at the "Noche de Herencia Hispana" at a Mets game last week. Pedro Martinez was pitching, and after the game there was a concert by Aventura and by Frank Reyes -- who has a bachata hit in "Tu eres ajena", the merengue version of which (by Eddy Herrera) was prominently featured in the "Mad Hot Ballroom" finals. Shea Stadium was a sea of Dominican flags and Dominican pride, everyone was on their feet singing every word, and dancing, and when Pedro Martinez came out on the field while Frank Reyes was singing -- and started to dance -- the crowd went wild.

We have so, so much that we can learn from all the cultures that have come to this country. I hope that the dancing gene starts to work its way, by osmosis or by marriage, into the mainstream here!

Monday, August 22, 2005

La Chispa del Beisbol

The first Chispa video has been filmed and is almost completely edited! Click here to read about our video shoot with four Latino players from the New Jersey Jackals. What wonderful guys -- ¡tan simpáticos y tan carismáticos! They talk about themselves, their love of béisbol, how old they were when they started playing, how baseball came to their countries, and why they think Latinos are so important to baseball in the United States. (Key word here: ¡sabor!)

I can't wait to finish editing the video and get it out there -- I will have a working copy to show to the players before they leave in September, and with just a few more tweaks and some licensing issues taken care of (I found the perfect song!!!), it will be ready for distribution. I will be looking forward to some valuable feedback from my fellow teachers and Spanish-speaking parents!

Oh, and the video features specially commissioned artwork by María Sánchez of Sandía Fría!

Un millón de gracias y un montón de abrazos for everyone who has been so supportive of this creative chispa and helped make it a reality! ... and especially to Nancy Marmolejo of Comadre Coaching. If you or anyone you know needs a little help to spark your own chispa, contact Nancy!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

LatinaLista and Sequoia Gateway

If you're already a regular reader of LatinaLista, a blog on "anything and everything, from a Latina perspective," written by journalist and public radio commentator Marisa Treviño, you know how great it is. If you're not familiar with it, click on over there right away! I read this every day, and I always learn something new.

LatinaLista's latest posting is on a wonderful program in California called Sequoia Gateway, which helps young Latinos in central California to develop both soccer and academic skills, with an eye toward college scholarships. I happen to have a personal connection with this program, since my former college roommate is the proud stepmom and stepmom-in-law to Amalia and Marvin Lopez, the founders and directors of the program. What a fabulous organization! I am always thrilled to learn about people like Amalia and Marvin, who are really making a difference in their communities.

Check out LatinaLista and learn all about Sequoia Gateway!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Principe Update

Yesterday, I wrote about Telemundo's new reality show, El Príncipe Azul, and the comment made by the mamá norteamericana: "Yo no quiero nietos negros."

I originally thought that the comment was made directly to the Dominican contestant. As it turns out, it was made "privately" to the other women of the family, the príncipe's tía and abuela. "Privately," of course, meaning on national TV. To their credit, the tía and abuela disagreed with the mamá.

Well, I wasn't the only one struck by that comment. Our local Spanish news reported on the reactions around here to those palabras controversiales. And obviously, the producers chose to put that comment on the air because they knew it would be news -- and it would keep people watching.

The interesting thing to me is that it opens up conversations on race and prejudices in all the cultures portrayed in the show. I would like to believe that these prejudices are as pasado de moda as Andrés García's celebrated machismo. But I know that in the real world, they're not.

I live in a town with a lot of interracial families (and a lot of gay families as well). A friend of mine who is white and married to an African-American, with three biracial kids, said to me once: "The white (liberal) kids are always trying to pretend that race isn't an issue. The black kids know it is. Nothing is going to get better until we can all be honest about the issue."

Whatever you think about the machista and exploitative excesses of El Príncipe Azul, it is providing an honest look into both the stated and unstated views on race in Latino and Anglo cultures.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

El Principe Azul

Never have the cultural differences between Anglos and Latinos been more clear to me than in watching Telemundo's new reality show, El Principe Azul.

Modeled on the U.S. "Bachelor"-type shows, it's ostensibly the search for the perfect mate for Leonardo García, son of the actor Andrés García. But it's also a cultural window into, if not the differences between U.S. and Latino cultures, at least the differences between U.S. and Latino television.

Last night's premier episode introduced Andrés García, his son Leonardo, Leonardo's mother Sandra ("la norteamericana"), and Andrés' sister and mother. There was an extensive interview with Andrés García during which we learned about his numerous infidelities while he was married to Sandra (they're now divorced), his bout with prostate cancer which left him impotent ("me quemaron los aguacates"), the "bombita" which he now employs, which has cured the problem, and various and sundry other personal and intimate details of his life. He delights in his machismo, even while his sister admits that perhaps that attitude is becoming a little pasado de moda.

Interestingly enough, we didn't learn a whole lot about Leonardo, his son! Clearly the star of the show is Andrés...

But anyway, here was the interesting part, and the part that really set it aside from the U.S. shows (which I have to say I have only watched a few minutes of, so perhaps I'm exaggerating the differences).

When the 20 girls of varying Latin nationalities were introduced, they each walked up a red carpet and spoke with Andrés García for a moment, before entering the house that is the set for the show. He flirted with each one, then as she walked away, he made a comment to the camera, with Leonardo watching inside. These comments would NEVER have gotten by U.S. censors! "Esa tiene voz de cama." "Esa está rica, por esa tú y yo vamos a pelear." "Las dominicanas son encantadoras y peligrosísimas." And my favorite, "La fruta guayaba ... después te digo cómo es y dónde se encuentra."

In the scenes from upcoming episodes, we see the girls being interviewed by Andrés and by Leonardo's mother, grandmother and aunt. They ask questions about what the girls are like in bed, whether they've had plastic surgery ... and then at one point, Sandra, Leonardo's mother, says to one of the Dominican contestants, "Perdona, pero yo no quiero nietos negros."

This comment is seen being discussed by the girls -- the Dominican says the mom is a racist -- and then she confronts Sandra about it. Sandra responds with this incredible phrase: "Yo no soy racista, yo soy tejana!" I will be interested to see how the rest of that conversation plays out.

Whatever you think about ANY of the above, and yes, it is all horrendously politically incorrect -- it is really interesting to me that these comments are on the air. Because even though they are politically incorrect, they are honest reflections of what the people are really thinking. And perhaps a lot more honest than any of our supposed "reality" shows.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Day Without a Mexican

Run, don't walk, to your nearest video store and rent A Day Without a Mexican, a very moving and yet very funny movie by Sergio Arau.

The premise, if you're not familiar with it, is that all of the Latin Americans in California suddenly disappear for one day. (Part of the joke is that many Californians refer to all Latin Americans as "Mexican".) Of course, farms are suddenly left without agricultural workers, restaurants are left without staff, etc. -- all the cliches you would expect. But there is so much more, because the contributions of Latin Americans in California, and in this country as a whole, are so far-reaching. And this movie, for all of its broad strokes, paints much of this very subtly, but very, very effectively.

It was interesting to see on film the very border -- and the fence into the sea -- that I had just read about in Héctor Tobar's Translation Nation (see my previous post on Libros).

I highly recommend the DVD version of A Day Without a Mexican, in which you can watch the interviews with the director, cast and crew. Here is where the real emotions and the real opinions come out, without the filter of the movie.

And I just want to mention that I can very much identify with a main character, who disappears at a crucial point in this film. What a powerful moment, and it says so much.