Boyle Heights, a neighborhood just east of downtown Los Angeles, is the epicenter of a gentrification battle that shows no signs of letting down. For years, the tight-knit community has fought tooth and nail against developers who they believe are only interested in installing high-priced residences and businesses in the area, which would lead to higher rents and a more expensive cost of living, resulting in the displacement of many people who live currently there. Activists have protested against the development of luxury apartments, a trendy coffee shop and retail/medical buildings near Mariachi Plaza.
Some activists have also taken a hard-line stance against art galleries for laying the groundwork for gentrification. One of the galleries visited by protestors was Self-Help Graphics, a Latino-founded art gallery that has served the community since the ‘70s. The decision to protest Self-Help Graphics didn’t make sense to Guadalupe Rosales, the Boyle Heights artist behind the popular Veterans and Rucas Instagram. A new mini-doc, “The Town I Live In,” captures Rosales’ struggle with being an artist who supports the fight against gentrification but also has ties to artists and galleries that were the target of activists. “This issue — it’s not just black and white. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do as an artist from Boyle Heights,” says Rosales.
Rosales, who co-directed the film with Matt Walsh, doesn’t proclaim to have any answers. Instead, she wonders if there are spaces where Latino artists and their work can reside while battling gentrification is the priority in her neighborhood. Rosales: “I want to be able to make art in my neighborhood, and not [be] seen as someone who is enabling gentrification.”
Scholars at Lima’s San Marcos university say it’s the first time a student has written and defended a thesis entirely in a native language. Roxana Quispe Collantes made history when she verbally defended and wrote her thesis in Quechua, a language of the Incas. While Quechua is spoken by 8 million people in the Andes with half of them in Peru, it speaks volumes that this hasn’t happened before at the 468-year-old university, the oldest in the Americas.
Quispe Collantes studied Peruvian and Latin American literature with a focus on poetry written in Quechua. The United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages program has Peru a part of a global campaign to revive 2,680 indigenous languages at risk of going extinct. Peru is home to 21 of those languages.
Roxana Quispe Collantes brings Inca culture to her doctoral candidacy.
Quispe Collantes began her presentation with a traditional Inca thanksgiving ceremony. She presented her thesis “Yawar Para” (or blood rain) by using coca leaves and chicha, a corn-based alcoholic beverage in the ritual.
For seven years, the student studied Andrés Alencastre Gutiérrez, a poet who wrote in Quechua, and used the pen name Kilku Warak’aq. For her thesis, she analyzed his mixture of Andrean traditions and Catholicism.
“I’ve always wanted to study in Quechua, in my original language,” she told the Observer.
Quispe Collantes traveled to highland communities in the Canas to confirm the definitions of words in the Collao dialect of Quechua used in the Cusco region.
“I needed to travel to the high provinces of Canas to achieve this translation and the meaning of toponyms that I couldn’t find anywhere,” she said. “I asked my parents, my grandparents and teachers, and [it didn’t prove fruitful].”
Quechua entering the academic discourse can help preserve it.
“Quechua doesn’t lack the vocabulary for an academic language. Today many people mix the language with Spanish,” she said. “I hope my example will help to revalue the language again and encourage young people, especially women, to follow my path. It’s very important that we keep on rescuing our original language.”
Her doctoral adviser Gonzo Espino told The Guardian he believes Quispe Collantes’ thesis was a symbolic gesture.
“[The language] represented the most humble people in this part of the world: the Andeans, who were once called ‘Indians’. Their language and culture has been vindicated,” he said.
It should go without saying but the doctoral candidate received top marks on her project.
Quechua is the most widely spoken indigenous language in South America.
The oldest written records of Quechua were in 1560 in Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Perú by Domingo de Santo, a missionary who learned and wrote the language. Before the expansion of the Inca Empire, Quechua spread across the central Andes. The language took a different shape in the Cusco region where it was influenced by neighboring languages like Aymara. Thus, today there is a wide range of dialects of Quechua as it evolved in different areas.
In the 16th century, the Inca Empire designated Quechua as their official language following the Spanish conquest of Peru. Many missionaries and members of the Catholic Church learned Quechua so that they could evangelize Indigenous folks.
Quispe Collantes grew up speaking the language with her parents and grandparents in the Acomayo district of Cusco. Quechua today is often mixed with Spanish and she hopes that “Yawar Para” will inspire others to revisit the original form.
Peru takes Quechua to the mainstream.
Under the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages campaign, this year, Peru began the official registration of names in its 48 indigenous languages.
The U.N. launched its initiative to preserve indigenous languages in 2019 after the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues determined that, “40 percent of the estimated 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing. The fact that most of these are indigenous languages puts the cultures and knowledge systems to which they belong at risk.”
According to the Guardian, for years, Peruvian registrars refused to recognize indigenous names on public records. They would then force indigenous people to register Hispanic or English-sounding names on government forms while keeping their real names at home.
“Many registrars tended not to register indigenous names, so parents felt the name they had chosen wasn’t valued,” said Danny Santa María, assistant manager of academic research at Reniec. “We want to promote the use of indigenous names and recognize the proper way to write them on birth certificates and ID documents.”
In 2016, Peru began airings its first news broadcast in Quechua and other native languages, ushering into the mainstream.
“My greatest wish is for Quechua to become a necessity once again. Only by speaking it can we revive it,” Quispe Collantes said.
Growing up Mexican I looked forward to the Christmas season yes, tbh mostly because of presents but also because it was the time when mom and I got to go way overboard with our Nativity Scene decorations. If you’re Latino, putting up a nacimiento is just as essential a part of Christmas, as putting up a tree. If there’s one cliche that has proven to be true, time and again, it’s that Latino moms tend to be extra AF in everything they do. The representations of Jesus’s birth vary from minimal, to OTT baroque, to hyper-realistic. There’s one element that remains the most important aspect of the nacimiento across the board, in Mexico at least, the moss and other dense green clumps are usually used to adorn the decoration. So, what if we told you that buying and selling moss is actually illegal in Mexico?
Nacimiento, Pesebre, or Belen, are the names that different Latin American countries give to the traditional Nativity Scene representation under the Christmas tree.
The representation of Jesus’s birth, known as nacimiento in Mexico, pesebre in Colombia and other South American countries, or Belenin Spain, is a centuries-old tradition in the Catholic world. All you really need to tell the story are three basic figures: Virgin Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. But why limit yourself?
You could make the case that the three wise men and the star that guided them to the newborn baby are also essential. Jesus was born in a stable because there was no place at the inns in Bethlehem, so naturally, there should be farm animals around, and hay, and moss —and why not a stream made of cellophane, while you’re at it?
Nativity Scenes are usually elaborate, over the top extravaganzas that families work tirelessly on for the holiday season.
In Mexico and many other countries of Latin America, nacimientos can turn into elaborate extravaganzas, populated by all manner of animals and plants that you would never find side by side in the real world. Some scenes display pump-operated rivers with real water, others feature waterfalls and ponds. Some include whole cities built around the manger where Jesus was born. The creative license extends to the characters, which range from unrelated biblical figures such as Adam and Eve to random shepherds, farmers, and the devil. It’s clearly not an exercise in authenticity, but it’s festive and fun.
Part of the fun is the use of moss and other types of grass to add to the ‘look’.
Moss is used to decorate the scene, but it also has a special symbolism. Spanish moss is of particular importance in the catholic representation of baby Jesus’s birth. A little patch of the gray grass is always placed underneath Satan —to highlight his presence and set him apart from the rest of the crowd. According to tradition, Satan should always be present in a nacimiento to remind us that although the birth of Jesus offers love and the possibility of redemption, sin and evil are always present in the world —and moss plays a big part in his representation.
As soon as November starts drawing to an end and December is around the corner, every mercado in Mexico is flooded by vendors who sell the coveted greenery of the season.
Every city and town has a market where, for about a month between the end of November and the first week in January, a large number of vendors offer items, especially for Christmas. Some larger cities, like Mexico City, Guadalajara, Morelia, and others, offer several tianguis navideños (Christmas markets) where literally hundreds of vendors set up shop, to sell the infamous moss.
But as it turns out, selling and/or buying moss is illegal.
This type of grass is essential for the survival of Mexican forests. The species is protected by the country, which makes its trade ilegal —and you might want to think twice before you buy it.
Mosses are actually essential for the health and wellbeing of many ecosystems and all the organisms that inhabit them.
The term moss encompasses any of at least 12,000 species of small land plants. Mosses are distributed throughout the world except in saltwater and are commonly found in moist shady locations. They are best known as those species that carpet woodland and forest floors. Ecologically, mosses capture water and filter it to underground streams, or substrata, releasing nutrients for the use of more complex plants that succeed them. They also aid in soil erosion control by providing surface cover and absorbing water, and they are important in the nutrient and water economy of some vegetation types. Essentially, they are the pulse of forests and ecosystems everywhere.
Protection and conservation are relatively novel concepts in Mexican bryology, the branch of botany that studies mosses.
Mexico is home to more than 900 recorded species of moss —and much of the country’s territory is yet to be explored thoroughly for more flora. However, local mosses face habitat destruction and over-harvesting as their major threat.
In 1993, a diagnostic study of mosses that required protection Mexico was conducted, and supported by the federal government as well as other international agencies. At the time, six species were recognized as ‘rare’ or ‘endangered’ and were placed under official protection.
The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources of Mexico regulates the extraction and trade of moss.
In order to extract moss from its natural habitat, and furthermore, to commercialize it, vendors must follow strict requirements in order to attain a license. According to Mexican Forest Law 001 expedited by SEMARNAT (The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources of Mexico), the extraction of moss is only permitted when the plant is in a mature state and ready for harvest, other conditions require that moss must be extracted in parcels of no more than 2 meters of width and that only 50 percent of each patch of moss may be extracted, etc.
During this time of year, Mexican police are on high alert.
Around the holiday season, police in Mexico double up on their patrolling. Authorities will be on high alert, inspecting those establishments who are authorized to sell moss and searching for those who aren’t. The Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources and the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection will be watching —so you might want to tell your mom and tias to avoid shopping for moss in Mexico this year.