•May 7, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I wrote this for my Anthropology Department’s blog. Also part of the reason I never got an April post up. Some of it’s redundant, but enjoy!


TARA MCGOVERN, a UIUC junior in Sociocultural Anthropology, is studying abroad in Ecuador’s capital city this spring (’12), at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.
She recently sent us this riveting, breathless account of her cultural immersion in a place that has clearly captivated her, body and soul—a place that has pushed her to think about how to use her anthropological training to make the world a better place.  If you’d like to read more of Tara’s thoughtful and anthropologically informed impressions—of Inca gold, Renaissance paintings, Cortes’ legacy, and more–check out the terrific and aptly-titled blog she’s been keeping, “Claroscuro:
A Gringa’s Perceptions of 21st Century Latin America.”  You can find it at: https://tararaquelclaroscuro.wordpress.com.

El Nuevo Jerusalén, 16 April 2012
    How do I even begin to tell you about this place?  
Every hour of every day is a spectacular montage of light and water and earth…

View original post 1,926 more words



•March 28, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Ancient Ones


When my host brother was six months old, my host parents Lanzo and Gloria (names changed) took him to the terreno (their land) to plow a new chacra (field) ona sunny day in the dry season.  In the middle of the land, they encountered a large stone and decided to move it in order to make plowing easier.  As they hacked with pickahoes at the stiff rocky soil around the stone, Gloria struck and shattered a ceramic piece.  They eventually extracted a giant pot, about a foot high, from under the stone.  The soil around it was soft and not as densely packed as the soil around it, and they could see dozens of other pots hidden beneath.  Gloria and Lanzo had stumbled upon an Inca tomb.

At that moment, a thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere (not an unusual occurrence in the mountains) and drenched the family.  Lanzo wanted to countinue “excavating” but Gloria wanted to go home so the baby wouldn’t get sick.  So they descended the mountain together.  They weren’t ten minutes from the tomb when the sun appeared again.  “Qué raro,” Gloria said to herself, but continued to take her child home.

That night Gloria did not sleep.  She dreamed of a man who brought her dinero, money, gold, silver–but tried to take her baby from her.  He said, “You will be very rich, but you have to give me your child.”  He took ahold of the baby’s hair and tried to wrench him from Gloria’s arms.  She shrieked and cried “I don’t want any money, I don’t want anything, I just want my child, leave me alone!”  She awoke, trembling, sobbing.  Usually the baby slept in between father and mother in their bed, close to their chests–but this time, when she awoke, he was far down near their feet, about to fall off the bed.

Gloria refused to go back to that chacra and insisted that they use a different piece of land for the new field.  She has not returned there since.

There are Inca tombs scattered all over Lumbisí land.  The ruins of the old Inca settlement are a fifteen minute walk up the mountain from the current town.   Gloria explained to me what is apparently common knowledge about the tombs of Lumbisí.  Many tombs are full of dinero, of gold and silver.  On full moons and new moons, the tombs glow deep blue, like an extremely hot flame, because of the dinero inside.  Until very recently, Lumbiseños would go looking for the telltale blue glow of a tomb on full and new moons.  When they found a tomb, they would take out all the dinero and become very wealthy.  However, when you take dinero from a tomb, you have to entregar, or “turn in,” a living person in exchange–for example, a family member would get sick and die afterwards.  Gloria explained the presence of larger and richer houses in Lumbisí as a result of those families taking dinero from tombs–and paying with their own family members.  “We have a good house because we work hard,” Gloria explained, “not because we took the dinero.  I didn’t want any money, I wanted my son.  If we took the dinero out of the tomb my son would have died.”

San Bartolomé de Lumbisí, the place I’m living, has a deep and ancient history that I barely see the tip of despite having lived here for some months.  While I’ve never heard a Lumbiseño self-identify as indígena, or “indigenous,” the community technically has automonous status with its own communal government that meets for long hours every month to make community decisions.  Lumbiseños are among few “indigenous” Ecuadorans that identify themselves as Inca descendants.  Lanzo told me that other Ecuadorians will sometimes refer to Lumbiseños as “Peruvians” because supposedly the original settlement was an imperial outpost of Inca who migrated to the conquered Ecuadorian territory.

In contrast to the unmitigated glorification of the Inca past in Peru, in Ecuador it’s a bit more complicated.  The Inca only showed up in Ecuador about ninety years before the Spaniards, after a long grisly war with the varied groups of Ecuador.  The Inca, therefore, are not the noble sophisticated characters that dominant literature tends to ascribe to them.  Rather, there is a sentiment in Ecuador that the Inca were just as imperialist, exploitative, and dominating as the Spaniards.  The “indigenous” groups with the most political and economic force here tend to be Amazonian Shuar or Quichua, who do not necessarily claim or want to claim an Inca past.

After Gloria told me that story, I was fascinated, and I’ve started to try to get her to tell me other stories.  I’ve been thinking about what that sort of story might say about the meaning that Lumbiseños ascribe to tombs, work ethic, and wealth.  Clearly the tombs and their ancestors are powerful.  The story made me think of some of the ethnographies of Andean communities that self-identify as Inca descendents (specifically, the work of Catherine Allen).  The idea of machukuna, which I translate as “the ancient ones”–from Quechua machu (elderly) and kuna (plural)–is an important part of Andean cosmology.  The tombs of powerful deceased Inca ancestors are sensitive to the activities of their mortal descendents, and the slightest disturbance of a tomb–even working in a nearby field–can cause illness and sometimes death.  The dry bones of the machukuna are jealous of the healthy bodies of living people, and sometimes curse them or try to steal them.  The prominence of a character with similar qualities in the dream and in the beliefs of Gloria and Lanzo struck me, and highlighted how even these thoroughly modernized “Inca” place a lot of stock in a semi-mythical past.

Hijo de la Luna

•March 4, 2012 • 5 Comments

I would like to take a moment to share one of my favorite songs, Hijo de La Luna.  It’s an old Spanish folk song that tells the story of a lonely gypsy woman who prays to the Moon for a husband and child.  The Moon agrees, but only on the condition that she can have the woman’s firstborn child–the Moon is lonely, too.  The woman protests, but the Moon has already made the deal.  The gypsy woman eventually falls in love with and marries a handsome dark-complexioned gypsy man, and soon bears a child.  The child, however, is pale and blonde, silver as the Moon.  The husband, thinking that his wife cheated, becomes enraged and kills the woman, abandoning the child on a mountaintop.  There, the Moon takes her silver child, and when he cries she becomes a cradle (the crescent) and rocks him to sleep.

I first encountered this song when I was about seven or eight on a Sarah Brightman album La Lune, in which Brightman herself channels the haunting, dangerous, tragic, lonesome beauty of a Moon goddess in her chilling elegant covers of ten folk songs in various languages. Ten years later, I stepped into a cramped Internet café in rural El Salvador only to hear the chilling, enticing melody played on heavy metal guitars and drums.  The Spanish heavy metal band, Stravaganzza, apparently also covered Hijo de La Luna as well, and the harder rock version is apparently quite popular in the Spanish-speaking world.

The song and the story it tells, despite its oldness, resonates with many themes and social struggles of Latin America.  Race is clearly an issue in the song’s story.  The selfish and all-powerful Moon is white–hyper-white.  She is called cara de plata or “face of silver” in contrast to the gypsies, whose darker features are descriptive points in the song.  The darker skinned gypsy comes begging to the white Moon, who makes dishonest agreements that exploit the gypsy’s helplessness and need.  The gypsy archetype–the dark, pagan, immoral Other of old Spain–translates easily to the “indio bruto” archetype–the dark, pagan, immoral Other of colonial Latin America, subject to the rule and whims of Spanish overlords.  One of the more disturbing components of the early colonnial encommienda system, the New World version of feudal serfdom in which indigenous Americans were owned as part of the land they worked on, was the “right to the first night.”  When a couple married, the Spanish lord had the right to rape the bride on the wedding night.  The song makes me wonder about the fates of the victims of this all-too-common system of institutionalized rape–did resentful husbands take out their anger on the mother of a child that clearly half Spanish and not Indian?  What became of these children of the Moon, these first mestizos, and their twice-f*****d mothers, in those violent early colonnial days of Latin America?

Plata (silver) itself is a complicated material with a horrifying history in Latin America.  Today, the most common expression used to say one has no money is “No tengo plata” or “I don’t have silver” rather than using other words like dinero (money) or oro (gold).  The mountains of silver shipped to Europe with the sweat, blood, and death of millions of Indoamericans was part of the economic stimulus that allowed the Renaissance and Enlightenment to take place with the patronage of monarchs and clergy.  We “Westerners” perhaps owe more to the nameless enslaved miners buried in Potosí than we usually acknowledge.  The infamous silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia, are known even today as “the mountain that eats men.”  Miners literally scrape out a living from the nearly exhausted mines, searching desperately for silver ore while dust clogs their lungs and dynamite threatens to bring down the mountain on their heads.  Like blood diamonds, the silver in the jewelry we give one another as symbols of love may have their origins in pits of misery.

Another dimension to the race-power question is gender.  The “indian” woman, and what she ought to be, is central to discourses of race in Latin America, whether it be indigenismo (idealization of “pure” indigenous cultural roots) or mestizaje (idealization of the “mixing” of indigenous with Spanish blood and culture).  The Latin American woman is supposed to reproduce not only physical bodies but also culture and values, is burdened with a lot of responsibility.  In the song, she tries to break out of her assigned role and exhibit agency with the simple desire of a husband and child, but the larger powers of the cosmos (the moon) and patriarchy (her husband) rob her of her voice, her agency, her child, and her life. Punished for her aspirations, she is used and destroyed.

The gender-culture-power question presented in Hijo de La Luna also reminds me of my favorite historical figure, La Malinche.  She was born around the year 1500 to a royal family in a Nahuatl-speaking area of what is now southern México; however, her father died when she was still young.  When her mother remarried and bore a son, she was sold into slavery because her existence threatened the inheritance of the male child.  She was taken as a slave to a Maya ruler in what is now Tabasco, where she learned to speak that variety of Mayan.  It was there that the conquistador Hernán Cortés landed on his way to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (now México City), and the Maya ruler gave her along with nineteen other young women as gifts to Cortés and his men to help “grind corn.”  Cortés quickly discovered that she spoke both Nahuatl, the laguage of the Aztecs, and Mayan.  Working as both a translator and cultural intermediary, La Malinche enabled Cortés to negotiate alliances with the many enemies of the Aztecs.  She appears prominently in many drawings and records of the time.  She also bore Cortés a son, the mother of the first mestizo (a person of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent).  La Malinche is a contradictory figure; in popular Mexican nationalist thought, she is considered the Mexican Eve, the whore who sold her people to the evil Spanish.  Feminist Mexican and Chicana scholars have battled against this rather sexist and unfair portrayal of a historical figure who, more than likely, saved lives by using verbal negotiation rather than armed conflict; what’s more, the Aztecs were not the most gentle empire-builders and their subjects had many reasons to resent and overthrow them.  I myself find her heroic, having survived the emotional trauma of her early life, then having the cool-headedness to be the primary person responsible for countless dangerous situations in which a slip of a word in three languages could end her life, then bearing the child of the world’s most famous conquistador. And then, after all that, she is defamed for the rest of her country’s history.

The third time that Hijo de La Luna banged me over the head with significance was one night with my host family in El Salvador.  I was sitting in the kitchen, taking fieldnotes and playing with the beautiful four-year-old daughter.  The father arrived and went to talk to the mother in the only other room in the house.  It wasn’t long before they started one of their long, bitter arguments.  I’m still not entirely sure what they argued about–the father would tell me one thing, the mother another–although mutual distrust, finanicial insecurity, and suspicion of infidelity were common themes.  Both of them were only 23, hardly older than me.  Their rapid heated voices raised steadily for an hour until the mother started to sob, and the father left and came into the kitchen.

He sat across from me at the table. I was still pretending to write fieldnotes, terrified to show any reaction.  The mother told me he had been violent in the past.  He gave me a deep, sad look, the saddest face I have yet to see on a human being, and then scooped up his sleepy daughter.  He plopped into the hammock in the kitchen, cradling her in his arms, and took out his old janky phone-mp3 player.  What song did he choose? Stravaganzza’s Hijo de La Luna.  He played it over and over again, it must have been thirty times in a row.  Finally, when the mother’s sobs ceased and became slow sleeping breaths, he carried his daughter to her bed, bid me goodnight, and walked out of the house into the rainstorm.  It was about one in the morning.

Hijo de La Luna.  It’s the story of racism, of exploitation, of greed, of desperation, or jealousy, of unjust vengeance.  The characters are ancient and immortal and universal; immoral but sympathetic in their imperfection.  Here in Ecuador, I hear the mournful song occasionally on the radio, and when I sit down to write I put it on repeat.  It helps me remember the complexity of personal life, in a culture or set of cultures that I still don’t and probably never will understand.

Stravaganzza’s Version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBDaBWsgJaU

Sarah Brightman’s Version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2E49-xwTKw

Lyrics (from http://www.lyricstime.com/stravaganzza-hijo-de-la-luna-lyrics.html):

Tonto el que no entienda
Cuenta una leyenda
Que una hembra gitana
Conjuró a la luna
Hasta el amanecer.
Llorando pedía
Al llegar el día
Desposar un calé.

Tendrás a tu hombre
Piel morena
Desde el cielo
Habló la luna llena
Pero a cambio quiero
El hijo primero
Que le engendres a él
Que quien su hijo inmola
Para no estar sola
Poco le iba a querer

Luna quieres ser madre
Y no encuentras querer
Que te haga mujer
Dime luna de plata
Qué pretendes hacer
Con un niño de piel
Hijo de la luna

De padre canela
Nació un niño
Blanco como el lomo
De un armiño
Con los ojos grises
En vez de aceituna
Niño albino de luna
Maldita su estampa
Este hijo es de un payo
Y yo no me lo callo

Gitano al creerse deshonrado
Se fue a su mujer
Cuchillo en mano
¿De quién es el hijo?
Me has engañao dijo
Y de muerte la hirió
Luego se hizo al monte
Con el niño en brazos
Y allí le abandonó

Y en las noches
Que haya luna llena
Será porque el niño
Esté de buenas
Y si el niño llora
Menguará la luna
Para hacerle una cuna
Y si el niño llora
Menguará la luna para
Hacerle una cuna

Madrugada (Sunrise)

•February 2, 2012 • 1 Comment

SUNRISE in the Andes.  There is nothing more mystifying for a Midwesterner.

A sweeping vista of emerald mountains clothed with translucent silver clouds greeted me on my first morning in Ecuador.  I woke up too early, as I am prone to do when I arrive somewhere new, and pushed aside the window curtain to see the image above.  The clouds curl and sway and shimmer, as though the mountains peacefully inhale and exhale moist purple, blue, and gold breaths.  It hardly requires imagination to see angels descending, demons encroaching, and virgins ascending among the sculpted clouds and gilded mountaintops.

As several of my companions have said, cameras just don’t do it justice.

This is my third extended trip to Latin America in the past two years.  In the summer of 2010, I traveled to Belize on an archaeological field school to try my hand at what I had dreamed of doing my entire life: excavating Maya ruins.  After six weeks of digging in the Belizean jungle during the rainy season and writing a chapter of the field season’s report, I decided my humanities-oriented mind was better suited to the writer-friendly subjectivity of cultural anthropology than the technicality and precision of archaeology.  So, the next summer (2011), I conducted an ethnographic research project in El Salvador on organization and political consciousness among young descendents of guerilla fighters from the nation’s violent civil war.  Although both my trips to Belize and El Salvador were considerably successful in terms of advancing my academic career, they were overwhelmingly draining on emotional and intellectual levels.  For complex personal and ethical reasons, I experienced severe disillusionment with anthropology and my career goal of becoming an anthropology professor.  Several times I came very close to cancelling my plans for Ecuador for fear of a third round of internal crises.  And, ohdeargod, I am so glad I decided to come here after all.

The first two weeks here have been a swirl, an upwelling, a sigh of relief.  To my gringa eyes, I recognize with some comfort pieces of Ecuador that look like pieces El Salvador and Belize, pieces that I do love and miss.

You know what I miss about Latin America?  Roosters.*  Roosters, crowing at the most unnecessary moments.  Like 2 AM.  They loiter around front doors, in backyards, beneath windowsills.  Latin Americans don’t look twice at them.  Once I was having a conversation with my host-mom when a rooster, oggling stupidly at me from the front door, let loose a blood-curdling shriek about once every five minutes that sent me jumping out of my chair.  My host mom, however, continues speaking without the slightest acknowledgement of the long drawn-out cry that made her speech incomprehensible to me.  Roosters.  I like them.  I like being reminded that something very close by is just as alive, angry, and full of spirit and hot air as I am.

You know what else I miss about Latin America?  Public transportation.  Its complete and utter insanity, its intimacy, its madness, and its method. I take the bus from my semi-rural community of Lumbisí into the suburb of Cumbayá, where the university is, every day for class.  Where to find the bus in the morning is always a fun quest.  Sometimes it sits next to the park for twenty minutes waiting to fill; sometimes, especiall if it’s raining, it zooms through the twisted cobbled streets of Lumbisí on a somewhat unpredictable path without stopping.  Sometimes it takes odd detours on streets I didn’t know existed.  Sometimes it leaves every ten minutes, sometimes every forty.  Once on the bus, I sit awkwardly in an aisle seat.  You’re not supposed to sit next to a window, because the person who slides in next to you could pull a knife on you and you’d have no where to go.  If there aren’t seats, I cling to the bars on the ceiling while attempting to protect my purse from potential pickpockets and avoiding falling on somebody else.  There’s a joke about Quito buses: “How many people can you fit on a bus?”  The answer: “Fifteen more.”  The bus careens down very narrow roads through ravines and along cliffsides, lurching to a halt every thirty seconds to pick up more people.  Buses have a 2-person staff: the driver and the cobrador, or the guy who does everything else.  At every stop, the cobrador leaps out of the doors while the bus is still moving shouting the bus’ destination in an impressively clear monotone: “¡Suba, suba, Quito, Río Coca, Quito, Río Coca, suba, suba!”  Suba means “get on.”   Men in business suits, women with babies tied to their backs, high school students, gringo volunteers, people of every ethnic-racial composition mash and press against each other in the lurching ebb and flow of the bus.  At some point, the cobrador will make his way down the aisle, demanding “Paisajes, ¡por favor!” bracing himself against seats and other people as he collects the 25 cents from each passenger.  Occasionally someone will give him a twenty dollar bill, and he glares at them and attempts to make change as the bus hurtles around corners and dodged potholes.  Finally, when I’m a block away from the hectic six-street roundabout that comprises my bus stop, I stumble up to the driver and tell him “¡Gracias!” firmly.  Stops are not announced (how would that be possible?) and if you want the driver to let you get off you sometimes you have to yell gracias several times.  I’m getting good and jumping off while the bus is still moving.  To get home, I stand at the same roundabout peering at the dozens of bright green buses, looking for the one that comes every half hour with a little sign that says Lumbisí in the front window. Don’t ask me why, but I love the buses.

I miss lots of things.  I miss telenovelas.  I miss men with fauxhawks.  I miss Mass in Spanish.  I miss the sleek clean tiled floors–wood would rot in a second with the dampness here.  I miss the merry lilted folk music juxtaposed with heavy reggaeton on the radio blasting out of homes.  I miss the elegant texture of Spanish trilling off the tongues of native speakers.  And this time around, I understand them much better.

Although the similarities between Central America and Ecuador are comforting, the differences are perhaps more comforting.  Overall, what I have seen and experienced of Ecuador in the past 2 weeks indicates that Ecuadorans are considerably less jodidos (f*****d) than Central Americans.  The first thing I noticed was that machismo seems to be less of an issue in Ecuador than in Central America.   Although domestic abuse and alcoholism are far from uncommon, they appear to be more frowned upon and less taken for granted, especially in this unique indigenous community where I live.  Division of labor is certainly less strictly gendered.  I was shocked when a young female cobradora collected my bus fare–in El Salvador, a female transportation worker would be unheard of.  My host-brother, a 20-year-old engineering student, regularly cooks dinner, cleans dishes, washes his own clothes, irons them, and shows considerable affection towards his mother and sister.  Never in my life did I ever expect to see even the most metrosexual European man to exhibit such habits with such consistency.  I thought that my brother might be an exception, but his father turned out to be the same way.  Even the structure of the lavadora (cement construction for washing clothes) reflects duality of labor.  Ecuadorian lavadoras have two cement slabs at each end of the water tub, so two people–husband and wife, mother and son, etc.–can work side by side washing clothes.  I’ve seen men and women working together on laundry several times, in multiple households.  Salvadoran lavadoras, on the other hand, only had one space for one person to clean clothing, and men never ever  did women’s work, least of all side-by-side.

Most importantly, social mobility here seems much more widespread.  My host mother, for example: she was orphaned at age three and then raised by an aunt who already had eight children.  Needless to say, she had to quit school and start working at age nine, milking cows and performing other agricultural labor.  When she was fifteen, she moved here to Lumbisí with her sister to work in a textile factory.  For 24 years she worked in the textile factory until it closed about ten years ago, and then she worked in a women’s association in Cumbayá for the next eight years until arthritis took over.  She then spent two years healing herself with indigenous herbal remedies, and now she says she is completely healed.  At the same time, she raised three children, the youngest of whom is disabled.  Her husband, while quite supportive, usually stays at his far-off workplace during the week and is only home on weekends. She says she would like to go back to work but her family suggest that she rest for once in her life.  Now, she busies herself with a half dozen community projects–she is the treasurer of the women’s organic garden, she has been very active in the community’s independent government (Lumbisí has a special independent status as an indigenous community) and she works her own mountain fields of corn and potatoes.  I sit and talk with her for hours at a time, and sometimes she gives me another profound story about her life which impresses me deeply, but she seems to shrug off.  She is the sweetest, most nurturing woman I have ever met, but somehow at the same time unfazed by the most tragic life events, and quite unsurprised at whatever odd gringa idiosyncrasies I bring to the table.

I wrote on the first night here about how the beautiful little apartment where I’m living already felt like home.  It’s part of a six-apartment complex built into the sharply-sloping mountainside.  My host-parents built the entire place themselves–my host-father is a construction worker, and apparently an amateur architect as well.  My host-mom is the owner, and rents the other apartments to her married daughter, her niece, and a few migrant families from remote regions of Ecuador.  It baffles me that my host-mom went from impoverished orphan to a well-respected landlady.  The apartment is full of mirrors (an expensive luxury in Latin America), with tasteful tile floors, and matching furniture.  Small daily-praxis indicators of higher abundance of capital stick out to me–my family feeds their two dogs soup, more or less the same soup they eat, with regular purchased dog food; not a single Salvadoran family I met would even think of wasting food fit for humans on dogs, let alone buying special dog food.  My family has a washing machine, also rarely seen in El Salvador; they run a mini-store out of their house, in which they buy basic food commodities wholesale from a market and then sell in small portions to neighbors.  They partake in national tourism, setting aside small chunks of time and money to visit tourist towns like Baños on the weekends. Heck, they own an apartment building! The fact that they casually and regularly have access to the kind of capital all of these simultaneous endeavors requires, on a construction worker’s wage nonetheless, both surprises and relieves me.  Although I have no idea how representative they are of Ecuadorians in general, it gives me hope.  The high number of hand-to-mouth type household economies I observed in El Salvador did not provide me with an optimistic first impression of what I imagined the average Latin American to be.

A wise advisor told me, “Don’t go to Latin America to study Latin America, go to Latin America to live in Latin America.”  This slightly different mentality, I think, is the key to making this third round of Latin America work out a little better.  While I’m constantly reminded of and comparing Ecuador to El Salvador and Belize, I’m not here solely to analyze it, to anthropologize-all-over-it.

What is it about Latin America that entices me so?  Why do I keep coming back, again and again?

Spend any amount of time with anything anywhere, and it becomes precious to you.  It becomes a part of you.  You have a relationship with it, for better or for worse–or for both–for a claroscuro.  For better or for worse or both, I have a relationship with Latin America.  A relationship itself is a claroscuro, full of brilliant splotches of light amid deep dark shadows, the grit and chaos of everyday reality creeping up upon and sometimes obscuring the brief fleeting moments of romance and beauty.  I’m back, to continue this odd relationship, wherever it brings me in the end.



•January 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Claroscuro literally means “light-dark,” a mash-up of the Spanish words claro and oscuro.  In artspeak, claroscuro (or Italian: chiaroscuro) refers to a painting technique associated with the later Renaissance and Baroque periods that involves the contrast and layering of very dark pigments and very light pigments, exaggerating the presence and absence of light.  The darkness of claroscuro paintings, however, is not a flat, monstruous void;  rather, painters worked ferociously to create depth, layers, complexity, and texture in shadows outside of the spotlit holy faces.  Here in Quito, claroscuro dominated artwork for several centuries and left its traces in artwork and otherwise all over the city.  Beyond the world of art, however, I see the paradoxical and simultaneous occupation of light-with-dark reflected also in Precolumbian art, contemporary Latin American literature and philosophy, conceptions of race and gender, and even the mountainous misty landscape.  I chose Claroscuro as my title not only for its historical, aesthetic, and intellectual resonances, but also because it embraces my own confused and bedazzled relationship with Latin America itself.