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A Glimpse of Cartagena

May 8, 2015

During assembly on Friday, May 8, Spanish teacher Andranique Scott talked about her self-guided cultural tour of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. "If I were to choose a city that you all know and that would be comparable in beauty, mystery, history, diversity of cultures, and sensorial captivity, I would choose New Orleans. Like Cartagena, this city has provided many of its own literary influences and also receives scores of outsiders seeking to experience the 'magic' of the city."

She began by demonstrating currulao, a dance common to the Pacific Coast of Colombia (see video clip below), which she learned in St. Louis before her trip last summer. "Currulao ... is a principal folkloric dance, song, and music style with a very pure mix of African, indigenous and European influences. ... Outside of professional dance troupes, the Colombians you would find dancing, singing and playing currulao are Afro-Colombians. ... Afro-Colombian communities ... were founded by los cimarrones or escaped slaves who created free and independent townships.... While adjectives to describe the current state of Afro-Colombian communities are marginalized, invisible and impoverished, the strength the fight, the endurance, the resourcefulness, the sense of community and an acquired inner contentment or ability to maneuver through life in the face of daily adversities are, I believe, at the heart of those cimarrones of Colombia who began establishing [townships] towards the end of the 1600s. These qualities and an inherent pride yet permeate the Afro-Colombian communities."

She showed a brief video showing some of the places she visited —  the Walled City; the tunnels of Castillo; a volcano (where she went mud dipping) — as well as candid interviews she had with Cartagenians.

Scott said Cartagena was founded in the early 1500s and soon became a main port for slave ships, many coming from Angola, the Congo and Guinea. She talked about San Pedro de Claver, a Catholic priest from Spain, who became the apostle of the slaves, and showed art displays from the Church of Saint Peter Claver. "The physical position of San Pedro with respect to the slaves was always San Pedro above and the slave beneath, even in the the painting of San Pedro lying on his sick bed. I would liked to have thought that the relationship was also horizontal and one of solidarity versus only a relationship between the helper and the helpless."

She showed photos from a youth contest which depcited Cartagena home life and landscapes. "The landscapes were beautiful, but the home life depicted shanty houses, albeit houses where happiness yet abode. I thought to my self 'The Afro-Colombian is no longer in physical shackles but approximately 400 years later, socio-economic constraints and the institutional shackles of racial discrimination masked as classism yet remain.'"

Scott continued to discuss the pervasiveness of social strata and stereotypes and the importance of understanding cultural nuances, especially with respect to language.

She concluded saying, "I left with more queries and increased motivation to continue my studies and to one day create a course focused on Afro-descendants in Latin America."