does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mi Lamento Borincano - Part 2

In a comment to my previous post, A Cuban in London wrote that hearing the song Lamento Borincano “got to my very core …. it expresses pretty much the sentiment that underlines Latin American identity.”

Since his comment, I have not stopped thinking about why this song also seems to reach into my deepest self; unsettling me, sometimes with joy, sometimes with tears. This is a song about a Puerto Rican peasant, a jíbaro (hee′ bah roh), who sets out joyfully for the market with his products, only to find the market desolated, with no buyers because of harsh economic conditions. He wonders what will happen now to his family and to his country.

When I was a child, one of the worse things others could call you was a jíbaro, meaning a country bumpkin. If they then found out your family was also from the rural mountain town Lares, which mine was, you were really in trouble. Never mind that Lares holds an exalted place in Puerto Rican history for being the cradle of its independence movement. The terms jíbaro and Lares somehow conjoined in the image of the Puerto Rican version of the rube; this time, wearing a straw pava hat.

Ironically, the term jíbaro has become iconic as a positive sentimental symbol of "the roots of the modern Puerto Rican people, and symbolizes the strength of traditional values of living simply and properly caring for homeland and family."

This evolution in the public’s perceived worth of the jíbaro is in some ways representative of my own. In the heady days of my business career, it was tempting to be swayed by the trappings of privilege and power. I hope I have since learned the difference between gloss and gold and that, in my novel about Angélica Miranda, I succeeded in portraying her and her humble family with both realism and respect.

Check out The Bronx Latin Jazz All Stars and other artists performing the song Lamento Borincano. If anyone has a good rendition by a female vocalist, please let me know. I prefer one in the música típica tradition rather than in the operatic vein, if you know what I mean.


Sun Singer said...

In the States, the South is generally portrayed as second rate, a place whether the accents are odd and the point of view odder and bumpkin like. I often think that the truly odd thing is that what people are making fun of is heritage--some of the very groups of people who have made the country strong.


Ann Victor said...

An interesting insight into Puerto Rican life.

In South Africa, of course, there are so many layers to our society and the various insults.

In the white culture, the schism created by the two Boer wars (in which the English under Lord Kitchner put the Boers into concentration camps and implemented the scorched earth policy) is still responsible for much underlying tension.

For an English-speaking South African to be called a "rooinek" (the English soldiers with their pale necks got burnt red in the African sun) or an Afrikaans-speaking South African to be called a "rock-spider" (the Boer guerilla fighters hid amongst the rocky outcrops of the bushveldt and ambushed the British)are both considered insults.

Judith Mercado said...

I was so glad to read the comments from Sun Singer and Ann Victor, readers vastly separated geographically, and to find that what I described is a common human experience, transcending culture, time, and distance.

A Cuban In London said...

Thanks for mentioning my blog. I loved this second part because I can now expand on why that song got my very core and also why it will be part of a future post I will be writing soon.

Puerto Rico and Cuba have always been very close. Not only do we share the same flag design, though with inverted colours, but also a similar accent. In fact I have often been confused with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Venezuelans or Colombians when I open my mouth here in London. So we have a lot in common.

Lamento Boricano is a song I had not heard for many, many years and if my memory serves me right it was a wonderful version by Danny Rivera I heard the last time. Or was it Lucecita? I cannot remember, I think it's been covered so many times, including by Cuban singers that I have lost count.

The word 'jibaro' in Cuba means 'wild boar'. However used as an adjective, it has a similar meaning to that in Puerto Rican culture. And I believe Celia Cruz had a hit in the 50s or 60s with a song whose title was something like ' Sube la Cuesta Jibarito' or thereabouts.

Many thanks for such a beautiful post. You have combined expertly language, history and culture. My column will be coming out in December and I will be discussing how music affects our feelings and emotions and why, one those themes about which I am very passionate.

Greetings from London.

Judith Mercado said...

Cuban, combining language, history and culture is something you do extremely well. I very much look forward to your December post. I am sure it will be, as always, insightful. On this topic in particular, it is bound to also be illuminating.

Sheila Deeth said...

Moving around has such an interesting effect. Partly you put yourself where other people's preconceptions will get in the way of their meeting you, and partly you start seeing your own preconceptions differently. I love reading your blog because it makes me look deeper into my own heritage.

Nevine said...

In Egypt, which I call home, there is a very sharp division between northern and southern culture that is more than just palpable. In fact, the southern Egyptians are the butts of jokes that would make a person with no feelings cringe. I am a Cairo native, but I always wince when I hear such jokes, especially when they are said right to the face of a southern Egyptian. The bottom line I always think about is that a person's worth is not measured by where he comes from or how much education or wealth or supposed experience he has acquired, but rather by his appreciation and respect for his fellow humans and, in turn, for himself. I have a deep-seated feeling that people who ridicule others who are "different" only do so because they have insecurities with themselves that they have not quite resolved.

Judith, thank you for joining me in my place. I just wanted to drop in and tell you that, and to also tell you that I look forward to reading more of you and about you, and to getting to know you better.


Judith Mercado said...

Sheila, from the start you have grasped the spirit of my writing. Thank you.

Nevine, thank you for the really interesting information on Egyptian experience. When I visited Egypt, I was not aware of this. You confirm, as have the others who commented, that what I described in my blog post transcends national borders.

Kathryn Magendie said...

My VK character worries about being seen as "a hick" - a WVA hillbilly --as "see through" - a mountain girl...but, she doesn't change, and in fact, refuses to - I'm glad.

Judith Mercado said...

Kathryn, again another confirmation that this propensity to disparage groups of people transcends geography. I wonder what that says about human nature.