Rhythm And Blues: Despite The Pandemic, Musicians Find Novel Ways To Reach An Audience

Rhythm And Blues: Despite The Pandemic, Musicians Find Novel Ways To Reach An Audience

The pandemic has wreaked havoc in many industries, including music.

Many guitarists, pianists, violinists, drummers, and even singers, lost their livelihood as their income depended entirely on live performances.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak has generated a wave of unemployment at an unprecedented global level, it has also allowed thousands of people to demonstrate their ability to adapt.

Despite obstacles to overcome, musicians have not stopped playing, using their creativity to continue their artistry.

Some share their talent through social media. Some offer private concerts by video call, charging a lower fee than live events. Others keep practicing, so they do not lose their ability or desire to play. Their neighbors, who are also isolated, get to enjoy their afternoons with music in the air.

But the struggle has been difficult, despite the optimism and perseverance.

“Our presentations plummeted and with them, our income. Even so, we have not wavered,” said Rafael Santos Zamorano, director of the ‘Quinteto Mocambo,’ a Mexican group whose music has enjoyed national and international recognition.

Members of Quinteto Mocambo serenade the Virgin of Guadalupe in December. They say the frequency of their performances has plummeted. (Christian Valera Rebolledo/Café Words)

Music: a ray of light during tough times

The pandemic has been a hard blow for many, who have had to change their plans suddenly.

“There is no doubt the pandemic has hit us hard, we have been able to do so little work, and from there, we have had to reflect on our future,” said Santos Zamorano.

To survive, musicians of all kinds have shared their talents through YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok, going viral with fragments of popular songs or original pieces.

Another option is to share covers, since it shows respect for old songs, reinventing old classics for newer generations. For some, having new versions of their favorite songs can be enriching.

In neighborhoods around the world with terraces or balconies, artists choose certain times each week to rehearse. People do not ask them to leave. On the contrary, they ask them to continue to play, as they bring normalcy to a troubled world.

Musicians have had to find creative new ways to make it through the pandemic. Some play to keep people in good spirits. (Carlos Coronado/Unsplash)

In Mexico, people have made videos where they sing, at the top of their lungs from their rooftops, songs like ‘Ramito de Violetas,’ or ‘Resistiré México,’ as an anthem of resistance, strength and power.

Despite the struggle, many musicians continue to foster their talent. They know they can entertain and transmit peace to society through their lyrics and music.

Hundreds of festivals have been broadcasted online to remind people they can still enjoy performances without fear of crowds and contagion.

Musicians accept that sacrifices are sometimes necessary for the good of all.

“We have hope nowadays with the vaccines, but it is coming at a slow pace. It is a survival situation where we must all take care of ourselves, even if it entails losses,” said Santos Zamorano.

Several groups managed to organize and raise awareness about the importance of staying at home, with songs or positive messages from their digital profiles.

Musicians in Cuba, Spain, Mexico and Canada have set the example with new compositions and projects that capitalize on creativity, talent and the desire to make music.

They have produced their new songs at home, creating simple videos of excellent quality to sustain their art.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Fern Siegel.)



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Internet-Based Education Suffers Due To Lack Of Access

Internet-Based Education Suffers Due To Lack Of Access

As the global coronavirus pandemic hit and school classes moved online, economic disparities became evident in education access. With almost 7 percent of its population living on less than $3.20, Mexico bears witness to the gap.

“The university had the possibility of launching the virtual system through platforms such as Zoom, Moodle and Classroom,” said Mariana Hernández, a law school graduate from the Villa Rica University and a professor for seven years. “Even so, it was too much pressure because the teachers weren’t trained. We carried on with it regardless.”

More than 30 million students in Mexico, at all educational levels, were forced to take classes online during the health crisis, according to the National Institute for the Evaluation of Education. It was a great challenge, partly because Mexico does not have the necessary infrastructure to provide remote education.

Both teachers and students had to switch to online learning tools, with very little preparation. *** Tanto profesores como alumnos tuvieron que adaptarse a herramientas de enseñanza en línea, con muy poca preparación. (Lucas Law/Unsplash)

School principals across the country hired premium services on platforms allowing teachers to host unlimited video conferences with their students. But this solution was not at hand for everyone and did not solve all the problems.

The emergency has underlined the country’s inequality. High levels of poverty in Mexico are reflected in access to technological tools, making public school teachers and students disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“My respects go to teachers at public schools,” Hernández said. “For many students, distance education is difficult or impossible. Several families do not have computers or Internet access, and many parents or guardians are unemployed and cannot pay for an online connection.”

In collaboration with television stations, the Mexican government launched a public education program covering preschool to high school, but many believe that students do not take advantage of it.

Students attending online classes with their teachers and classmates have been feeling discouraged after moving to remote education.

There is concern that many children do not have access to Internet or even a computer, and many live in poverty in very rural areas. *** Preocupa que muchos niños no tengan acceso a Internet o una computadora siquiera, y muchos viven en la pobreza en lugares muy rurales. (Aaron Burden/Unsplash)

“I do not want to imagine what education our children and young people following the television classes can get,” said Hernández, who also has a master’s degree in education.

Hernández thinks the problem is not exclusive to Mexico, although its inequality further complicates the challenge.

“Without question, the educational quality in our country collapsed, both in public and private schools,” she said.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker.)



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Childhood’s End: Quinceañera Parties Are A Major Milestone in Young Latinas’ Lives

Childhood’s End: Quinceañera Parties Are A Major Milestone in Young Latinas’ Lives

It’s one of the most important celebrations for millions of Latin American girls.

Various versions of the quinceañera celebration’s origin exist, but the most likely one comes from the Aztecs’ pre-Colombian traditions.

This ancient culture marked the entry to womanhood and the new responsibilities of adult life. When young women turned 15, they left their families for the Telpochcalli schools, where they learned history, traditions and other subjects to help ready them for marriage. When they returned home, they celebrated their quinceañera party.

The Aztecs lost many of their traditions when the Spanish conquered them, as they changed their beliefs to Catholic ones.

How has the tradition changed?

“The celebration that we see today, with the large dresses, makeup and slippers, differs greatly from the origin that this celebration had,” said Gilberto Pérez Argüello, a professor of history and graduate of the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. “According to some historians, cultures such as the Aztecs and the Mayans performed various rituals to indicate that girls were entering adulthood, so when they turned 15, they had to be stopped being treated as girls, and they were ready to be married.”

“When girls turned 13, they were taken to different schools to be prepared for marriage. However, the violent arrival of the Spanish brought with them an imposition of Christianity, which was not able to eliminate the cultural practice of this solemn event,” said the professor. “It later mutated, becoming a matrimonial agreement between families.”

By the 19th century, Emperor Maximillian, and his wife Carlotta, introduced the waltz and elegant dresses in Mexico. The dresses became part of the celebration, as the first dress that a girl uses when stepping into womanhood.

Many times the girls look for beautiful settings to take pictures. *** Muchas veces las jóvenes buscan sitios hermosos para sacarse fotos. (Diego Caceres/Unsplash)

The ceremony begins with a Mass, where the young woman receives blessings from the priest and God. The celebrant then expresses gratitude for her childhood experiences and asks for spiritual guidance for the future.

In 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a specific liturgy for the quinceañera celebration. Moreover, they started to consider girls who reached the age “adult person, entitled to receive a blessing that includes: the commitment of the quinceañera with God and the Virgin Mary, living a life according to the teachings of Christ.”

After the Mass ends, attendees go to a party, which begins when the birthday girl dances a waltz with her family and friends.

The innocence of girlhood is left behind, making way for the woman. *** La inocencia de la niña queda atrás, dejando lugar a la mujer. (Lala Abdinova/Unsplash)

Later she does one or more dances alongside a group from 1 to 15 people of her choosing. Many times, she changes dresses for each dance. Afterward, she typically gives an emotional speech, and all then enjoy lunch or dinner and more dancing.

Upon reaching the age of 15, an adolescent has more responsibilities and privileges than before. These celebrations are usually expensive and, in many cases, exceed the budgets of the families involved. However, to prepare for those costs, many decide to save up for it one or two years in advance.

Many Latin American girls look forward to turning 15 and having their party. However, in recent times, more and more young women are opting to take a trip instead, which represents another cultural twist in this Latin American tradition’s long history.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Matthew B. Hall)

 



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Twice As Mexican: Charro Beans

Twice As Mexican: Charro Beans

Charro beans are one of Mexico’s most appreciated dishes. Charros, or traditional Mexican horsemen, bequeathed their name to the plate.

The charro figure goes back to the 19th-century rural noblemen who raised cattle in ranches. Charros had a set of values, including bravery, fraternal sentiments and honor. They have always been very proud of their clothing, including big, decorated sombreros.

Charros became an emblem of Mexico in the 20th century. Beans are one of Mexico’s most important crops. So, Mexicans consider charro beans to have a double Mexican heritage; they are “twice as Mexican.”

Working in a land that experienced periods of intense heat and drought, charros sometimes had to improvise at mealtimes. Legend has it that they once mixed leftover vegetables, spices, peppers and beans into a stew that had to feed a whole ranch. This dish came to be known as charro beans.

To prepare charro beans, Mexicans cook together kidney beans, peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, sausages, bacon, chorizo, ham and pork rinds. Some people add other types of cold cuts. These days, it is easier to prepare the dish in a slow cooker.

 

Charro beans are served as a side dish to tacos, along with a Sidral Mundet soda, a very Mexican meal. *** Un plato de frijoles charros se sirve con tacos y un Sidral Mundet, una delicia muy mexicana. (Sidral Mundet/Unsplash)

“Charro beans are a dish that is, as people say, hearty,” said Gilberto Lara Ochoa, a gastronomy graduate from the Universidad de Oriente, in Veracruz. “Having so many ingredients, charro beans are considered an entrée with a very intense flavor. Depending on whether you add avocado leaf or cilantro, the flavor will be more intense.”

Through trade and travel, the charro bean recipe spread throughout the country, and today different states serve variations of the stew. In Jalisco, people let it dry and top the dish with salsa ranchera (made with tomato, chili and onion.) In the center of the country, Mexicans enjoy their beans with broth and serve them as a side dish with carne asada or tacos.

Chorizo and other meats are cut into slices or cubes and added to charro beans, giving them their unique flavor. *** El chorizo y otros tipos de puerco se cortan en rebanadas o cubos y se agregan a los frijoles charros, para darles su sabor único. (Shawn Olivier Boivin Blanchard/Unsplash)

“I usually make them for meetings or parties. It is a stew that adapts very well to [different] meat cold cuts,” said Guadalupe Ramírez Jácome, a housewife based in the city of Boca del Río, Veracruz. “However, I also add pork rinds. My friends really like that I serve them as a starter before carne asada. People get a little full, and they don’t just eat meat.”

Cooks from the Coahuila area in northern Mexico do not prepare their charro beans with kidney beans, but instead with mayflower beans. Meanwhile, in Monterrey, people use canary beans. In addition to the original ingredients, they add pork skins, which they consider the dish’s outstanding element.

All the varieties bear witness to how essential charro beans are to Mexican cuisine.

“It is one of the favorite dishes of all Mexicans,” said Lara Ochoa, and Mexicans all over the country might agree.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Carlin Becker and Melanie Slone.)

 



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Strike! Rio Blanco Uprising Was The Opening Shot Of The Mexican Revolution

Strike! Rio Blanco Uprising Was The Opening Shot Of The Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution was grounded in the overthrow of a dictator and a fight for workers’ rights.

And its genesis began in Veracruz.

Workers at the Rio Blanco textile and yarn factory in Orizaba, in the state of Veracruz, went on strike in 1907. The strike soon spread to other factories in the city and was a precursor to the Mexican Revolution, which erupted three years later. However, the strikes had a dire consequence: the execution of all participants.

The city of Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico. *** La ciudad de Orizaba, Veracruz, México. (Urvashi Makwana)

The movement started with the creation of the Sociedad Mutualista de Ahorros, two years before the strikes, with the formation of the Gran Círculo de Obreros Libres, in 1906. José Neira Gómez and Juan Olivar, delegated promoters of the Mexican Liberal Party, were the masterminds behind these organizations.

The goal was to oust the stranglehold of Mexico’s president, Porfirio Diaz.

The Mexican Liberal Party’s upper echelons had secret meetings with the Revolutionary Board’s president Ricardo Flores Magón. Flores Magón had based his Board in San Luis, Missouri, as Diaz had exiled him. These groups sought to remove Díaz from his almost three decades of power.

Workers protest outside the main door of the Hilos de Río Blanco Factory in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, during the Río Blanco Lockout on January 7, 1907. CTM photo archive. *** Obreros amotinados protestan frente a la puerta principal de la Fábrica de Hilos de Río Blanco, en Orizaba, Veracruz, México, durante los sucesos de la Huelga de Río Blanco el 7 de enero de 1907. Archivo Fotográfico CTM. (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

What happened in Rio Blanco?

Rio Blanco was not the first strike in the country.

Several workers in the states of Tlaxcala and Puebla had already gone on strike in 1906, seeking to improve their work environment. In response, the owners went on lockout and stopped paying salaries to the workers.  Desperate, they appealed directly to Diaz, who ordered a renewal of activities on January 7, 1907, but did not decree an improvement in working conditions. The workers, once again, protested and demanded both freedoms of the press and association.

“The strike sought to enforce workers’ rights, their working conditions, and a salary increase,” said Salvador Rodríguez, a historian from Veracruz. “These protests, although considered rebellions, were peaceful until the president turned his back on the workers to give more benefits to the owners.”

The Rio Blanco workers’ response was to reject the president’s resolution, as 1,000 workers started a riot outside the factory. The burned and looted property belonged to Victor Garcín, a businessman who owned the factory and two warehouses. The workers then ran to the local jail to free the inmates.

“The workers were in the right,” said Rodríguez. “They worked in precarious and inhuman conditions. The working hours, at a minimum, were 14 hours a day. They were barely given any time to eat or rest, and the salaries were quite low. They were paid only 35 cents per day of work.”

Soldiers opened fire against the workers, who managed to escape and flee to a nearby city, where they looted a store, stopped the city’s tram service, cut off the city’s electrical power, and robbed the wealthy. The federal forces executed all those who had tried to flee — men, women, and children.

There was no exact record of how many people died that day, as neither the state nor the Díaz Government released any official statement. However, it is believed that between 400 and 800 workers lost their lives. Witnesses claimed they had seen bodies loaded into trains so the government could pretend as if the riot had never occurred. Further, about 240 workers were locked up in prison.

Díaz then offered a dinner to foreign businessmen to quell their fears of further rioting and, by doing that, turned his back on his people. That indifference fueled the Mexican Revolution in November 1910. Though despised by workers, many Mexicans laud Díaz as the man who brought “modernity” to Mexico.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez. Edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel.)

 



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Pomegranates Play Pivotal Role In Patriotic Mexican Dish

Pomegranates Play Pivotal Role In Patriotic Mexican Dish

Chiles en nogada is an iconic Mexican dish, and pomegranate seeds are essential in its recipe.

Chiles en nogada is a quintessential part of Mexican identity, because, when served, it features the colors of the Mexican flag: green (poblano chiles); white (creamy salsa); and red (pomegranates). Mexicans traditionally enjoy chiles en nogada in September, the month their country celebrates its independence from Spain. They love this dish because it blends the poblano pepper’s spice and a sweet twist brought by the mix of nuts and pomegranate.

“Without question, I could say that pomegranates are highly remembered because of this dish,” said Mariano Escamilla Duran, a professional chef in Veracruz, Mexico. “Their color contributes a lot when it comes to serving chiles en nogada. The dish wouldn’t be the same without the seeds on top of the pepper dipped in cream, in addition to their peculiar flavor.”

“Pomegranates are a very rich fruit in every way. However, Mexicans consider them seasonal fruits. Their consumption is low and the season to find them is very short,” he said. “A kilo may cost between 40 and 50 pesos ($2 to $2.50).”

Mexicans can buy pomegranates from August to October. As ubiquitous as pomegranates may be in Mexico, they are not endemic to this country, but the Middle East.

People already enjoyed pomegranates in ancient Persia, now Iran. Phoenicians transported them in trips through the Mediterranean, seeking after them so much that they almost made the fruit extinct in the Middle East, Northern Africa and Southern Europe.

Pomegranates eventually arrived in the Americas, with the Spaniards bringing them to Mexico in 1769. Soon after, the first crops grew in the central states of Colima, Michoacán and Jalisco.

Thanks to their flavor and color, pomegranates soon became an ingredient of chiles en nogada. Born in Puebla to please Mexican emperor Agustín de Iturbide, chiles en nogada include poblano peppers stuffed with pork meat and fruits, covered with a creamy walnut sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate is used to decorate and sweeten chiles en nogada. *** La granada se usa para adornar y endulzar los chiles en nogada. (Marymar Alvarez Coba/Café Words)

“People do not know all pomegranate’s properties and how good the fruit is for their health,” said Escamilla Durán.

For one thing, pomegranates are an antioxidant. They can contribute to preventing cancer and respiratory diseases, as well as lowering cholesterol and serving as an anti-inflammatory. Drinking its juice is good for kidney health, as it prevents the formation of stones and helps fight infections.

In addition, eating pomegranates increases testosterone levels. So, some people consider them aphrodisiac.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Matthew Hall)

 



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