Monday, November 30, 2009

Fordham at the School of the Americas Protest

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, I traveled with sixty Fordham students, staff members, and students from St. John’s University in Queens to the School of the Americas protest and Ignatian Family Teach-In in Fort Benning, Georgia. Why did so many of us spend eighteen hours on a bus in order to be a part of this event? Why did countless others travel from even farther?

I knew I wanted to attend the protest when I learned about the School of the Americas in a Latin American History class my sophomore year. Before I was able to, however, I would participate in a Global Outreach project to El Salvador that exposed me to many personal stories of the grave effects of the School of the Americas. When I learned about actions taken by SOA graduates, I was so taken aback that my government could be running such a school and I would never even hear about it.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, though. The School of the Americas, renamed WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in 2001, is a military school in Georgia (previously held in Panama) where the United States Department of Defense trains mainly Latin American military officers in military and law enforcement tactics.

Many military officers, after graduating from the school, have been accused of egregious human rights violations throughout Latin America, and have been linked to countless deaths. Fr. Roy Bourgeois founded the SOA Watch in 1990 to protest the school. In addition to the annual protest, they do legislative work both to close the school and to fight for transparency regarding curriculum, faculty, and graduates. With increased transparency, the school could be held responsible for later actions taken by graduates if they learned those tactics while enrolled there.

For this post, however, I wanted to focus on the events of last weekend. I may still be processing some aspects of the experience. But I wanted to write about it because it tied in so many ideas of inter-American relations and violence, the role of a school like Fordham in an activist movement like the SOA Watch, and the experience of gathering as citizens to demonstrate for policy change.

On Friday night and Saturday morning, we participated in the Ignatian Family Teach-In (a gathering of the Ignatian Solidarity Network and Jesuit schools from across the nation) that focused on the SOA but also featured breakout session on other topics (for instance, I attended a breakout session about Nike entitled “Behind the Swoosh.”) It was so interesting and energizing to see so many groups of students and educators coming together to learn from and with one another on issues of social justice that are so often separated from academics. The Ignatian Solidarity Network has a special devotion to the closing of the SOA because SOA graduates were responsible for the murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador in November 1989.

On Sunday, some of the leaders of SOA Watch led the crowd in a funereal vigil to commemorate all those who have died at the hands of SOA graduates. After each name on a list of hundreds was read, everyone in the crowd responded “Presente.” This was a powerful representation of the vast numbers who have been killed, since the procession itself took hours. Afterwards, everyone placed a cross with the name of a victim either in the fence of the school or at the base of a flag representing countries that still send soldiers to the school, creating a powerful image of the number of people who have united to make a statement against the school. Four were arrested for “crossing the line” (crossing onto military base property to protest the school from within.)

I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in the event, which has left me with many questions but feeling like I have a better understanding of SOA Watch and the Ignatian Solidarity Network. It also has me thinking once more about the university’s relationship to outside society. The university’s role as a social force is an important one.

Additionally, we have been talking a little in our class discussions about what it means to be an engaged citizen, and one moment last Sunday that really stood out for me occurred after the procession, when the somber mood turns lighter as drums play and the crowd symbolically “reenters into life.” It was a very energizing moment, and I heard the chant, “Tell me what democracy looks like- This is what democracy looks like.”

Looking at all the passionate and energized individuals around me, I realized how much I liked that image of democracy.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's A Small World After All

On Tuesday, November 17th, the Gangway Beatz rappers from Berlin, Germany came to Professor Naison’s “Feeling the Funk” class. The Gangway group had been New York City before and had already visited Fordham University. Because it was their second time coming to one of Professor Naison’s classes, they knew some of my classmates he had taught in previous semesters.
This talented group free-styled for our class both with and without hip-hop beats to back them up. Each group member took turns spittin’ verses, building off of the energy from the other performers as well as the positive vibe from the class as a whole. The group asked the class to participate in their performances. We would sing along to the hip-hop chorus, nod our heads, or wave our hands in the air.
It is unbelievable to me how this group could come up with such innovative and insightful rhymes on the spot without having prepared anything ahead of time. While I am somewhat familiar with improvisation from tap dance lessons I have taken from experienced hoofers, I would certainly never be able to do what the Berlin rappers did. I may be able to make my feet move on the spot, yet I could not think quickly enough to create witty, powerful, and entertaining verses flow into one another so brilliantly.
Though none of us in the class could understand what the rappers were saying since they were speaking in German (except maybe our blogger Taylor who lived in Germany for two years), the performers occasionally explained what their raps were about. Much of what they discussed was political. They attempted to raise consciousness about social issues that were particularly important to them. Even when the rappers did not explain what they were saying, our class still loved listening to them.
It is beautiful how music can bring people from all different places together. Music can make the world seem much smaller than we tend to imagine it. People who speak different languages, have diverse life experiences, and who are of different ages can feel united as they experience music together.
Our class took a wonderful picture with the Gangway rappers. This picture is posted on Facebook as well as the Gangway group’s website ( Looking at the picture, you can’t really distinguish who’s a rapper from Berlin and who’s a Fordham student.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guest Blog: Our Great (Gatsby) Evening at the MET

Were it an ordinary evening, I would not normally expect to be asked, “Mike, is my flapper dress straight?” or “Do my linen pants match my shoes?” Then again, this was no ordinary evening—several (about 40) of my friends from Tierney Hall and I were getting ready for what would prove to be the perfect inauguration to our lives as college students living in New York. Straight out of the 1920’s, we excitedly set off for a lavish evening soirĂ©e after-hours at the MET: “The West Egg on the East Side: A (Great) Gatsby Party in the New American Wing,” popularized in the American Studies Newsletter.

After missing the Ram Van and receiving an odd glance from my Philosophy professor as we dashed to the Metro-North (apparently white pants are unacceptable in October…), we arrived at the MET a bit late, but certainly in style. We were awestruck by the Temple of Dendur, which was beautifully lit up with purple and blue lights, the upbeat Jazz music and chocolate-covered strawberries setting an elegant atmosphere for the evening. However, we had yet to explore the main attraction—The New American Wing.

The new wing at the MET was breathtaking—from a large circular room built around a panorama of Versailles to ornate, meticulously designed recreations of 1920’s salons, the art truly was truly fitting to the occasion. Of course, the MET was unafraid to incorporate some elements of modernity such as touch-screen computers showcasing each element of the salons, but the museum certainly created a wholly immersive exhibit that complemented our Gatsby-styled evening superbly.

Overall, our evening at the MET was certainly educational and interesting, but also quite fun. Dancing the Charleston under an Egyptian temple, taking interior design tips from 1920’s high society women, and addressing each other as “old sport” all made for an unforgettable evening, the ultimate beginning to our Freshman year.

For those interested in other events by the MET’s College Group (who officially hosted the event), visit

Mike Rametta

Freshman and possible future American Studies major

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Imagining" Salsa

Taylor’s intriguing, and well-written, blog has inspired me to elaborate on the theme of “imagined communities.” Taylor discusses Stalter’s article about the Third Avenue El Train. Because the train ran so close to apartment buildings, it seemed to bring the people of the city closer together. The train “reinforced urban community” and created an “imaginary connection” between people” (323).
Benedict Anderson coined the phrase, “imagined community,” when discussing the concept of a nation. He believed that a nation was ultimately a socially constructed community. While the people of a nation are extremely diverse and have no real interaction on a regular basis, they feel unified with one another and believe they are part of a collective.
When thinking about this more, I realized Anderson’s ideas relate very much to themes I am exploring for my thesis. My thesis deals with salsa during its heyday, from the late 1960s throughout the 1970s. Salsa music has ultimately fostered “imagined communities” among Latinos residing both within, and outside, the United States.
Many working-class Latinos in the US lived in New York City (particularly in “el barrio” or the Bronx) during the time period. While Puerto Rican immigrants (or “Newyoricans”) comprised a large portion of these Latinos, there were many other migrants in the city from other parts of the Caribbean. All Latinos, regardless of where they originated geographically, struggled with similar social issues. They could not receive high paying jobs, they lived amidst much violence and poverty in urban neighborhoods, and they often struggled with their identities.
While it is true that many Latinos dispersed throughout New York did have direct contact with one another when they went to salsa clubs and danced together, obviously not all Latinos could know, or communicate, with one another. However, simply listening to salsa records alone in their homes fostered an imagined sense of communion among themselves and other Latinos.
Some of the greatest salsa songs aroused social consciousness for all urban Latinos. Drawing upon inspiration from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, salsa artists made Latinos aware of their marginalized social position and called for unification. Lyrics to particular songs described living conditions in the barrio and the struggles people faced on a daily basis.
Not only did salsa music appeal to Latinos in the US, but it was also enjoyed by Latinos living in other countries. Salsa became extremely popular throughout Latin America. For instance, Conjunto Libre’s song, “Imagenes latinos,” called for pan-Latino solidarity among working-class Latinos of all races. Some of the lyrics are: “Indians, Hispanics, and blacks, we’ve been mixed into a blend, with the blood of all races to create a new future;…We’re Latin American, from the center, north, and south, with a present of struggle and a future of light.” People of Latin heritage living all over ultimately saw salsa music as a link to their common roots. Therefore, the music forged a kind of imagined, transnational community. It was the essence of the Latino soul.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Museum of the American Indian

While most New Yorkers headed to the annual Halloween parade in Greenwich Village, trick-or-treated in the streets, or simply slept in from the night prior, I, along with Lynne Rowan (an American Studies minor and a good friend), traveled downtown to the Museum of the American Indian. Located in the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, the museum contains artifacts and art from some of America’s indigenous groups.

Currently, the Museum of the American Indian features artwork from Annie Pootoogook, an Inuit, and Andrea Carlson, an Anishinaabe, and an excellent exhibit on the role of women’s dress in native cultures. This particular exhibit really held my attention, for a variety of reasons. After taking Native American Philosophy with Professor Green, I began to develop a great interest in Native American life. Because clothing is such an integral aspect of indigenous cultures, this exhibit displayed so much more than just dresses and beadwork. Clothing and accessories serve as both a means of identification for Native American tribes and a way of preserving cultural traditions. It was particularly fascinating to see items that were worn during the Ghost Dance in 1890, which was an extremely rare opportunity. My other primary interest lay in the actual pieces themselves. As a fairly dedicated follower of fashion, I noticed that certain items, such as the tall beaded moccasin boots, looked surprisingly similar to trends popular in the modern day.

Lynne and I were also able to participate in the museum’s Day of the Dead celebrations. We watched dances and made various arts and crafts. It was definitely a less conventional way to spend a Halloween, but we had a really fun time. I would encourage others interested in Native American culture to visit the museum as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Busy Week

So...I've had a busy week. For those that don't know I'm am heavily involved with theatre at Rose Hill. I usually Stage Manage the shows for the Mimes and Mummers (a group whose ranks include Allen Alda and G. Gordon Liddy) but I was offered the position of stage manager for the FET (Fordham Experimental Theater) production of "The Twilight Zone" and I couldn't resist.

As a result, I have been unable to attend any campus activities in the last two weeks because I have been at rehearsal making sure everything was ready for opening night (which was tonight).

For those of you who don't know (and that's probably many since I've only made about three blogs (and this is a lot of parenthesis for one blog)) I am something of a theatre fanatic. I have worked as a technician or stage manager in a number of theatres (college, corporate (Anheuser-Busch) and Off-Off-Broadway) in my career. Whether or not this becomes a part of my "real"-life I do not know, but it is certainly one of my more enjoyable hobbies (I designed the lights and ran the lightboard for fellow blogger Sara Devany's dance performance once).

As a result of this fascination I recently purchased and began reading a history of the Theatre of the Absurd. This particular genre of theatre is unique because it focuses not on characters or on plot but on the interaction of characters and often it focuses on the inability of human beings to communicate.

In the case of Samuel Beckett and Eudgene Ionesco the issue of communication orthe futility of human interaction is often a theme. In an abstract way this is also the theme of Sunny Stalter's article about the Third Avenue Elevated Train and its eventual demolition.

In this article Statler discusses how people in New York felt a nostalgia for this elevated train because it let them see into the lives of others whom they could see through the windows they passed while riding the train. As we discussed in our Approaches to American Studies Seminar, however, this was only an imagined community because it was not reciprocal. The people in the windows did not have a glimpse into the lives of the train riders in the same way that the train riders had a glimpse into the lives of the apartment dwellers.

This got me thinking, what is an imagined community and what is a real community. People of the Third Avenue El felt they were in an imagined community with all of the people whom they passed while riding to work, people from the same state feel they are part of the same community of others from the same state (Kurt Vonnegut calls this the greatest of granfalloons). So what exactly constitutes a real community, and real communication as the Absursist authors wanted to know.

To be honesy and fair, I don't know. Its know living in the same state, its not liking the same music or the same beer at the bar. It seems that the only undeniable community is that of blood relation, but if that were the case then communities would be very small.

So, community, as I believe it (and as the absurdist playwrights believed it couldn't exist) is in effective communication. The communication of truths, whatever these truths are about. Two people on the D Train are members of the same community if the train stops midway between two stops and they look at each other in frustration, thereby communicating their feeling, two people are also members of a community if they have watched the same movie and laughed at the same moment, thereby communicating the feeling of happiness. Community and truth are both ethreal experiences that often transcend colloquial language but can be exposed through a ride on the subway or through a play of great merit.