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Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste and Pablo Vila Introduction Héctor Like intelligence, education comes in many packages. Growing up middle class in Latin America, I was educated not only at home, in school, and at church but in the most unexpected ways and locations. At home, aside from what I may have learned from my relatives, a good chunk of my education took place in the kitchen, where I worked on my homework while women like Elena Cogollo and Beatriz Escorcia prepared our family meals. Always on in the background, tuned to their preferences, clearly indicating who ruled in the kitchen—most definitely, it wasn’t my mother—was the radio. Those radio stations, in most cases, led me into a world despised by some of my more snobby acquaintances, but I found them strangely gratifying. In a world populated by characters like Arandú, Prince of the Jungle, and Toloamba, his black companion, and Kalimán, the Incredible Man, and Solín, his Egyptian sidekick, the soundtrack was incontestably cumbia and vallenato. While my instructors at school Anglicized me and revealed the complexities and joys of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Supertramp, at home Elena and Beatriz reminded me how to be a “true” costeño (a coastal person), that is, an inhabitant of the Colombian Caribbean. And being costeño was, without a doubt, linked to more than the nasally Caribbean accent of my Spanish, quite different from what is habitually identified as Colombian Spanish: the various dialects of Andean provinces. In this sense, my culture was closer to Cuba’s or Puerto Rico’s than to those from the inner provinces of the country. Like most cultures, food and music incarnated sizable factors in the operation of costeñidad (coastalness). Food incarnated a liking for arepas con huevo, bollo, mote de ñame, and alegría. In terms of music, though, Elena and Beatriz made sure that I knew what being a costeño was all about. Instead of the fancy, middle-­ class diet of U.S. and U.K. tunes played by some local radio stations, the radio in the kitchen was invariably tuned to frequencies that 2 Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste and Pablo Vila blasted the latest in tropical music, appealing to the working-­ class sensibilities of my kitchen educators, who were bent on making me more than the spoiled brat that so many of my school acquaintances represented. In the eyes of Elena and Beatriz, this task involved making sure that, just as I could enjoy the sagas of many radio series, I could distinguish between the various versions of “La creciente” (The Swell), a local vallenato hit, and that I could judiciously discriminate between the contributions of Pacho Galán (a local hero) and Lucho Bermúdez (a costeño who had sold out to the cachacos, the inhabitants from the interior of the country). Being musically literate—in particular, with respect to anything related to música costeña—was a big part of this facet of my education. Genotypically speaking, as the darkest member of my family, I felt a certain kindred for the cultural products that both of these women defended with such fervor. While they ironed clothing, the radio would play radionovelas and music from all over the Caribbean, teaching me to distinguish between Dominican merengue, Cuban son, and cumbia soledeña. One thing, though: beyond Elena’s and Beatriz’s coaching, I still treasure rock. (Lately my son has learned about the complexities of Breakfast in America; so much for siding with music of the subaltern.) In fact, true to my generation, I see very little contradiction in this eclectic disposition. I’m quite sure that my love for tropical music nourishes my appreciation for rock and vice versa. In the end, it’s a matter of acknowledging and embracing multiple identities and hoping they will contribute to a more enlightened reading of experiences. Many years later, the memory of Elena and Beatriz still haunts me. To them I owe—I can see clearly now—my ability to consume and enjoy Latin American cultural products with a relatively open mind, paying close attention to the social, racial, and gender aspects explored in their content, though never forgetting that their ultimate object is, most surely, to entertain , to lighten one’s heart, soul, and mind. As I grew in Barranquilla during the 1960s and 1970s, how was I to know that I was witnessing the evolution of...


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MARC Record
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