Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cultural joys and challenges

Thursday night there was a celebration outside the church in Dulce Nombre de Copán to celebrate the patronal feast of the parish on Friday, the feast of the Holy Name of Mary.

The Catholic youth folk dance group, El Questzal, from San Agustín performed. Though they are still amateurs (and maybe that’s best), they are a delight and are full of energy.

A small marching band that is connected with the parish also performed. The drums, trombones, trumpets, saxes, and clarinet were donated and  they are learning without any assistance from a band master, though a young man who knows music is helping them. It was fun to hear them – as well as to see them the next morning. playing at the front of the procession to the church before Mass.

There were two little kids who did a folk dance. The little guy just stood there and the little girl danced around him. She was the star of their act.

But the challenge was the coronation of the Niña Dulce – which literally means the sweet little girl, but which is meant to suggest the name of the parish, Dulce Nombre de María.

Each barrio had a little girl competing for the title. The one who raised the most money won. She was a tiny little girl who looked overwhelmed by the event, though this may have merely been exhaustion since the event lasted until after 9:30 pm. My guess that her bedtime is a bit earlier.

There were the two guys with the swords. Then there were any number of little girls, sometimes accompanied by little boys. There were little girls who were meant to represent the virtues of Mary. And then the niña and her entourage of two other little girls and her “consort.” Almost all the girls were in color coordinated gowns.

The queen was crowned, given a scepter, and clothed with a sash with the inscription – Niña Dulce Nombre 2014.

I just don’t understand this. Yes, I know that Iowa has a pork queen who is, I believe, an older adolescent and I think I can understand that. But little kids in gowns, with crowns.

This morning I was approached twice to share my reflections on the night before. The first was a short interview with the Catholic radio station. Oscar asked me how I enjoyed the last night. With perfect honesty I said I enjoyed the band and the folk dancing. “But what about the Niña Dulce?” he asked. I was diplomatic. I explained this is a new experience for me and it was interesting. He later told me that I was “muy fino” – very genteel or delicate.

Later, over lunch with several people in the parish dining room, a woman from Dulce Nombre asked me for my honest opinion.

I began with an apology for being a little “brusco” (brusque or blunt) and for sometimes not understanding the culture. I honestly said that I liked the dances and the band, but I have problems with the Niña Dulce. I had been thinking about it overnight and so I was ready to explain what I was thinking.

In some cultures, where men are very macho, there are two images of women – either the virgin or the prostitute. But the idea of the Niña Dulce seems to present the image of the woman as princess or queen. The fancy dress, the ladies in waiting, the male consorts present an image of the woman set apart. Is it good to have children absorbing this image of women? What about those who are not chosen – even to run as candidates? What of most women who are not queens?

The reaction of the woman was mixed, though she did note that this was a way to raise money for the parish. I said I didn’t agree. Later, I thought of a harsher critique: Is this using a child for ulterior purposes?

I also mentioned to the group the fact the girl representing the virtue of humility had one of the fanciest gowns. That stuck home and they agreed with me that the message was mixed.

I found out, though, that the gowns are rented. One person told me that his daughter said openly, “Este vestido prestado me pica.” This rented gown itches me.”

What image does this present little girls and young women?

Forgive me if this is cultural insensitivity – but I think that this is something that goes beyond that. Cultures need to be challenged when they harm people or potentially harm them.

So much on this for now. Though I felt uncomfortable I have had an incredible three days, which I will write about soon.

POSTCRIPT: I almost forgot the great fireworks at the end of the Thursday night celebration!

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