A British-American bluestocking living in the UK writes about politics, pop culture, and emerging new paradigms as they unfold on both sides of the Atlantic. (New content.)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Miners are Rescued (Chilean Style)



Mario Sepulveda, rescued miner, leads a cheer for Chile
Living in Britain, I have often found myself "curbing my enthusiasm" for anything and everything. As a former cheerleader, a Hispanic-American and someone who was raised in a family that had a great sense of humor, I often find myself holding back and being quiet, when it is not my nature. Americans are viewed as "loud" here, when what they are really "enthusiastic" about mostly everything. So when you add that to my ancestral heritage...well, it's a double whammy. This enthusiasm among Hispanics (that would include Spaniards, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, all of South and Central America and Mexico) is infectious. And we saw that in the never-faltering enthusiastic support of Chile for its miners.

Over the weeks, I have followed (as most of the world has) the unfolding drama of the trapped miners in Chile. I heard the stories of the miners wives who, on top of the deep grief they felt, had to contend with their husband's mistresses who also showed up at the mines to express their own sorrows. This led to a series of very heated exchanges. I am sure that the was at least one miner that wished he had not been rescued. He decided to ask both women to come. (What largesse!) The wife, maintaining her dignity declined saying basically, "She can have him." further stating that appearing on such a public site in such a degrading position would be harmful for her children. She didn't want a spectacle. Hats off to her.  It was farcical yet sad, really, much like the plot of a typical Mexican "novela" (soap opera). There is always a wife, and a mistress and a louche of a husband. Eventually, the louche riddled with guilt, redeems himself with lots of gifts and tears and songs.Or not. (It's still too early to say what will happen in this case!)  I think that being trapped in a mine is a way to get your priorities straight. May the best woman (for him) win.

Then, there were pictures of the miners families encamped, praying fervently and there was music. Lots of music. And when it became clear that they were still alive...added to the music, was a lot of dancing, and big belly laughter and storytelling as the waiting miner's families began to camp out at the site. The miner's families become one big family..."una familia unida." And I was touched as I watched them and their show of unity. Perhaps I felt homesick. There is nothing like being with a group of Hispanics when they are gathered somewhere...even at funerals, we always find something incredibly funny. When my father died, my brothers and I had to choose a casket. As we stood in the gloomy backroom of the funeral parlor, with tear-stained faces, my younger brother gazed at the selection and said, "Do we get dad the Ford version?" He pointed to a sad nondescript coffin in the corner. "Or the Cadillac?" And he pointed to the shiny hunter green casket with the brass handles. We started giggling and then guffawing knowing that dad would have found it all just ridiculous, too. And then there was the lady who came through the receiving line at the wake and wanted to know in the midst of our sorrow and tears: "Who made the arrangement on the casket? It's lovely. When I go, I want one of those." Not exactly Miss Manners, was she?  By the way, we got the "Cadillac" and my dad went out in style with a Spanish song I wrote and lots of great Mexican foot-stomping music. Our dead don't "go to heaven", they dance all the way to the pearly gates.

I watched the Chilean miner rescue operation on Fox News which is readily available here in the UK. They had the worst reporter on the scene. He was absolutely butchering the Spanish language, but even worse than that was that he was interviewing the miner's families as they waited for the first miner to come up. His translations were a debacle. Some of it was just gibberish. (If anyone at Fox reads this, yes, I'm available. Hire me. I know the language. I realize that you don't think there are any educated Hispanic journalists except for Geraldo, but there are. I promise I won't try to open Al Capone's vault, but I can translate correctly and I'm also blonde which seems to be a requisite for working at Fox.)

It was interesting to see the reporters both on the ground and in the US report with all the problems that the miners would face in this rescue operation. They went on and on how the miners would be broken and weak. As the first miner was pulled out of the elevator capsule, everyone broke out in cheers. And the miner smiled and walked out jubilantly and hugged his wife and children. The second miner came out and hugged his wife briefly and immediately started joking with the President and hugging all the officials who had helped. He brought out gifts (we Hispanics are big on gifts). He had a bag filled with objects (they looked like rocks) and handed them out to the officials laughing and joking the whole time. Then, he ran to the crowd that was watching and led them in one big cheer for Chile. It was raucous and happy and joyous...and yes, it was loud. The reporters from the US seemed a bit shocked. "Why aren't they wasted away? Don't they have too much energy?"

How did this happen? How did these guys come out looking not worse for wear? You have to understand the Hispanic sensibility. When I was a child, I watched my father with his closest buddies. They would congregate at the house on warm Saturday nights and sit outside around the bar-b-que and regale each other with stories and huge belly laughs would emanate from the semi-darkness. Then, they would get quiet and share serious things, but someone would find some bit of wit even in the saddest story and they were laughing again. When there was a crisis with one of his friends, my father would don his jacket and go quickly to see what he could do. There was never any one-upmanship. It was egalitarian sharing. On some of those evenings someone would get out a guitar and then the men were singing. My father had a beautiful voice. When he was a young man, courting my mother, he used to come with his friends to serenade my her in the wee hours of the morning. They would stand outside her window with a guitar and sing Mexican love songs. Most young men in the community back in the 40's and 50's were always seranading their girlfriends at two in the morning. My mother once said that the worst thing was to have your boyfriend show up at your house and you went to sleep with hair curlers and cold cream on your face. You were really special if you got a "serenata" outside your window. Even the neighbors enjoyed it. Today, in Great Britain, if anyone stands outside your window to sing at two in the morning, you will get an ASBO (an anti-social behavior order) and get hauled off by the police. Unless you are Sting, I suppose or Chris Martin.

So, when I sat on my sofa, half a world away, watching man after man being brought up from the earth, I thought of my father, his great sense of humor and the deep male friendships that he shared. Yes, there will be after-effects and there will probably be chemical toxicity with these miners. But when the media and the pundits are spinning out of control about "Why do they look so well? And why are they so full of life? We thought they would be really sickly." There is an answer.

They are Chileans...they are Hispanic...they are Latino...and they talk, they laugh, they have the indigenous blood that remembers how to survive and share...stories, laughter, leadership. They worked out a system. They gave everyone tasks. One of them was assigned as a counselor, one was designated "the poet". Most Hispanics are selfless when it comes to their friends and family. And they are a creative bunch.  I saw it time after time with my father and with my mother. And Hispanics even know how to talk about love and feelings. Sometimes, it can be too much for other people who are more reserved.  Like New Englanders or the British. But for us...well, that's just our way of life.

The experts will say that it was an elevator, engineering and sheer luck that saved the miners. But I know that it was the deep spirit of camaraderie, the support of men who talked and laughed and shared and probably cried a lot, too. They wrote beautiful or simple letters to their wives (and their mistresses).  But most of all,  they made sure that they worked as a team. What a testament to the human spirit. No, this isn't something that only happens in the Hispanic culture. That's true. But, Hispanics have a way of laughing even through deep despair, even when we are" boo-hooing" in big ways. We aren't stoic. We cry hard. We laugh hard. And then we sing about the betrayals, we write about them, we find a way to do something cathartic and artistic with it. Just read Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Pablo Neruda or Isabel Allende (Chile's literary diva). To another culture, we are " too emotional". But to each other, we are just right.  No matter what post-traumatic effects these men may exhibit, for 69 days, they knew that laughter and stories, poetry and talking were the way to survive. And I'm sure there was a bit of singing, too. Probably a lot of singing and storytelling in the dark.

Chileans (and Hispanics) are people that don't shun the darkness, they embrace it and then they use it as fuel to light new fires to find their way out. And with fire in the heart as a lantern, the dancing always goes on. Even in despair, the dancing goes on.

(This blog was posted after the third rescue.)