Friday, May 29, 2009

El Acordeon del Diablo

Swiss Director Stefan Schwietert created a documentary based on the life of Francisco (Pacho) Rada. Rada was often confused with Francisco El Hombre, and this confusion was spread when his daughter wrote a book on the subject. However, in reality, the Devil Dualer was really Francisco Moscote. Nevertheless, the movie is a magnificent look into Pacho Rada's life, his poverty -- despite being an icon of Colombian culture, his music, and his legacy. It is available in several languages (Spanish, German, French and English) via sub-titles, and SOOOOO worth the $29.99

It also gives you insight into the culture of the Costa Atlantica or Caribe. I think that it is a must for your collection.

You can also find excerpts of it, in English on You tube. Here is the link to Part #1.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Francisco El Hombre -- The Legendary Man that Started it All

Vallenato seems to have arisen as an art form in the late 1800's, and originally was often used as a way to communicate messages from one town to another. One of the earliest performers is the near mythical Francisco Moscote Guerra or Francisco El Hombre, who was born in 1880. Based on the following incident (and really knowing how much truth is in the Magical Realism of the coast, I would hesitate to call it anything else), Moscote is often considered the founder of Vallenato music.

Here is his story, or should I say one of the variations of the story, for there are many. However, the gist of it is always the same -- Man Vs. Devil:

Moscote was a messenger, who travelled between different villages in what is today the departments of Cesar, Magdalena, and Guajira. Riding a top a burro, he would go from town to town bringing news and messages. Whenever he would arrive in a new village, he would go to the main plaza, take out his accordion, start playing, and he would sing the news and messages sent from one town to another. The people of the town, upon hearing the accordion, would come running to hear what news Moscote had brought. After delivering his news, Francisco would often challenge people or have people challenge him to accordion duels, which he would always win. He had a simply amazing ability with the instrument and with his ability to improvise lyrics.

Apparently, on one of his trips, he was unable to find anyone willing to take his challenge. Frustrated, he left the city saying, "If no one will take the challenge, then perhaps I will have to find the Devil, so that he can take my challenge if HE is not afraid!"

Shortly thereafter, when Francisco was travelling between towns, he felt a hot wind and heard accordion music. Suddenly, he was approached by a skinny, small man who smelled of sulphur and carried a beautiful, shiny, mirror covered accordion. The man challenged Moscote to a duel, saying that if Moscote could beat him, he would win the beautiful accordion. They shook hands and agreed.

The competition began and was fierce, both men playing and singing improvised verse. Francisco played as if his life depended upon it, knowing that if he lost, his soul would be doomed forever. They dueled for hours. Eventually, however, the Devil conceded to Francisco's greater abilities. Francisco had won his duel with the Devil.

In some versions of this story, Francisco's triumph is not based on his superior ability, but rather it is said that he played the Apostle's Creed in reverse, thus rendering the Devil helpless.

Either way, Francisco Moscote became Francisco El Hombre (the man). The legendary man who fought the Devil and won.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about Francisco el Hombre in his master work, "One Hundred Years of Solitude." So, next time you read it, you'll know exactly who he was and the kind of music he played.

The picture is of a monument to Francisco El Hombre which can be found in Riohacha, Guajira, Colombia.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Escalona DVD and CD

In 1991, CARACOL TV hired Sergio Cabrera to direct a Telenovela (Soap Opera) in tribute of Rafael Escalona. In 2007, the entire Telenovela was made available on DVD. Filmed on location, the novela stars Carlos Vives, the 9 time grammy nominee. If you speak Spanish, it would be a must have! (We own it!)

If you do not speak Spanish, but would like to enjoy the music from the Telenovela, you can buy the CD -- a bit pricy now that it is out of print. Or refer to the list of songs on the CD, and download from Itunes or other music sharing service.

Here are the titles of the Escalona songs on the CD.

1. Testamento
2. Molinera
3. Patillalera
4. Almirante Padilla
5. Mejoral
6. Miguel Canales
7. Villanuevero
8. Jamie Molina
9. Arco Iris
10. Jerre Jerre
11. Custodia de Badillo
12. Resentida
13. Golondrina

I really like Mejoral.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rafael Escalona

On May 13, 2009, a Colombian legend died. His name, Rafael Escalona. His profession, composer of Vallenato music.

Rafael Escalona was born on May 27, 1927, in a small rural village in what is now the department of Cesar. He started writing songs at the age of 16, while in High School. His songs told stories, in a troubadour fashion. His first song was dedicated to his favorite teacher who was being transferred to another high school and was called "El Profe Casteneda".

By 1950, he was a well-known composer, drawing on the history and culture of the region to tell stories of love, life, friendship, pain, gossip, etc. Although he was a prolific songwriter, he did not play and instrument or sing.

In 1968, Escalona, along with former Colombian President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, and Consuleo Araujo created the Vallenato festival mentioned yesterday (Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata) in Valledupar.

He was a good friend to Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who once told Escalona that his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was just one long vallenato.

You can read more in English here:

or in Spanish here:

Monday, May 25, 2009


In the Department of Cesar, in the section of Colombia known as el Caribe, is a town by the name of Valledupar. Originally, the town was called Valle (valley) de (of) Upar (Name of an Indian Chief). It is from this town and area that the musical genre VALLENATO gets it's name.

Vallenato is definitely native to Colombia, and derives its sound from Native, African and European rhythms and sounds. The Native population contributed to the genre their gaitas (flutes made of bamboo). The Africans provided the drums, and the Europeans offered the accordion.

The music developed and as it did, the traditional Vallenato groups used three instruments: the Guacharaca (see picture), the Caja Vallenata (a drum), and the Accordion. Today, vallenato groups (like Carlos Vives) can be much bigger and include more instruments.

There are four basic vallenato rhythms: paseo, merengue, puya, and son.

Paseo is the most marketed and played type of vallenato. It has a 2/4 time. Son is the slowest type, and also uses a 2/4 time. Puya the fastest, and is played with a 6/8 time. Merengue is often confused with the music of a similar name in the Dominican Republic. It is likely that both have their origins in the same African tribe.

Every year, at the end of April, the FESTIVAL DE LA LEYENDA VALLENATO is held in Valledupar. During the festival, vallenato performers compete to be crowned REY DEL VALLENATO (King of Vallenato). This year's winner was crowned on May 4th. He is Sergio Luis Rodriguez. You can hear him play Puya, Son, and Merengue by going to You Tube. Here is the link to his Puya performance. Just look to the left to see his other performances.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Summer Reading for Middle Readers

Yesterday, we read about San Pedro Claver. In the brief summary, mention was made of his trips to the slave ships, where he was accompied by interpreters. The Negro interpreters were criticaly important to his work among the suffering slaves. One of them, named Calepino, spoke 12 languages. The others were: Andres Sacabunche and Ignacio Aluanil from Angola, Solfo and Yolofo from Guinea; Biafara, Manual, Juan Manolio, and finally Nicols Gonzlex.

Using the story of San Pedro Claver and his interpreters, Julia Durango has created a wonderful book for middle aged readers (ages 8-12). It is entitled "The Walls of Cartagena," it was published by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing in July of last year. Having read the book, I believe that it would help teach your child/ren about this amazing man and the work that he performed in Cartagena.

Here is a website with pre-reading and discussion questions, as well as writing topics, so you can help your child get the most out of his/her summer reading.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

San Pedro Claver (Saint Peter Claver)

When we think about Civil Rights and Anti-Slavery movements from a 2oth century perspective, we think of the bravery of the early Civil Rights leaders. We talk about Martin Luther King, Bishop Tutu, and others. The men and women of Civil Rights movements have always bucked the current. However, it is one thing to do that in the 20th or 21st Century. It was quite another thing to do so in the 1600's.

This is what leads us to the story of the San Pedro Claver (Saint Peter Claver), the man known as a "slave to the slaves.". Whether or not you are Catholic, whether or not you are Afrocolombian, everyone can appreciate the life and dedication of this great, caring, progressive man.

San Pedro Claver was born in Verd, Spain, on June 26, 1580. He became a Jesuit in 1602 and sailed to what is today Colombia in 1610. He became the Priest of Cartagena de Indias on March 16, 1616. Eight years later, he made a commitment that would change his life. On April 3, 1622, he wrote a commitment to God that he signed in the following way: "Petrus Claver, aethiopum semer servus." "Pedro Claver esclavo de los esclavos negros para siempre," or "Peter Claver slave of the black slaves forever." After making this commitment, he spent the next 32 years working to help protect and defend the newly arrived African slaves in Cartagena.

During the 1600's, over 1 million African slaves were shipped to Caratgena. Below, you can read what Pedro Claver wrote about their arrival in Cartagena from his own experience:

"The ship has gone through the Fort of Pastelillo and port movement can be heard. Inside the galleon there is a murmur. Screams of fright, anxious looks. The slaves traders show their softest faces. Only one third of the merchandise has arrived: there is an interest of giving a good impression, 'Smile slaves, smile!' When these Negroes are enslaved, they are put in dirty prisons from where they only come out at the port of Cartagena. Sometimes in one year, 12 to 14 ships come to Cartagena with the repulsive shipment of sad and melancholic Negroes. They have the idea that once in Cartagena they will be killed. One third of the shipment usually dies during the long journey. The slave traders bring these slaves in bunches of six, necks and feet chained. They make the trip in the bottom of the ship where they never can see the sunlight, the place is so dirty that anyone could get sick with only getting in. They are fed every 24 hours, half a plate of corn meal or raw "mijo" and a small cup of water. They received bad words and chastisements. Because of this treatment, the slaves are like skeletons when they arrive. Then they are brought to, and kept in, a corral, or large patio, where many people go to see them, some only out of curiosity, others guided by their covetousness, and still there are some who come out for compassion: in this last group are the missionaries, they usually go running when the shipment arrives, but very often they find many dead".

In his work, Pedro Claver would enter into the dark, damp, putrid holds of the slave ships that arrived in the harbor. Typically, over 1/3 of the slave cargo would have died en route, and those that had survived the journey, typically would be suffering from some kind of aliment. Upon entering the ship, Father Claver would try to calm the fears of the desperate Africans, most of whom were certain that they would be killed at any moment. Unable to speak to them in their native languages, Father Claver would embrace them, kiss their wounds, and use interpreters to explain that he was there to help them. In addition to his healing work among the newly arrived slaves, he evangelized and baptized many Negroes.

He died, after a long debilitating illness, in Cartagena, on September 8, 1654. He was beatified on July 16, 1850 and canonized on January 15, 1888. His feast is celebrated by Catholics on September 9.

If you are lucky enough to visit Cartagena while in Colombia, might I recommend a trip to the
The Cloister, Museum and Church of Saint Peter Claver (1580-1654) in Cartagena, Colombia.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

158 Years of Freedom -- Día de la Afrocolombianidad

One hundred and fifty-eight years ago, on May 21, 1851, a law was passed by the Colombian government that would change Colombia forever. The law, #725, recognized Colombia as a pluralist and multicultural society. The Law itself recognized that Afrocolombianos had the right and necessity of "regaining their historic memories (their roots)" and abolished slavery.

Tomorrow, celebrations are planned throughout Colombia in recognition of this historic and important day in the lives of Afrocolombians.

If you are the lucky parents of Afrocolombian children, why not do something special to celebrate with the other millions of Afrocolombians.

Here are some resources:
In Spanish:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Call for Stories

I have gotten some wonderful e-mail about Jane's posts on her older-child adoption wisdom.

So, I would like to publish some stories about your adoption experience -- be it older child, sibling group, pre-schooler, toddler, infant.

Was there something special about your experience that will give encouragement to those that wait? Do you have grains of wisdom that you would like to share with other adoptive parents worldwide? For our European readers, I can take your comments in Spanish, Italian, or French -- I might also have help with Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and German. So, please don't let the language barrier stop you from sharing.

Please send your adoption stories, comments, or ideas for future blog topics to me at:

colombiansadoptcolombians @

Please remove the spaces before and after the @ symbol before sending.

And before I forget, no one pays me for this blog, so I can't pay you. Know that your stories are appreciated and are posted here with no hope of economic gain now or in the future.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Perfect Family -- More thoughts from Jane

Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect family! Or, to put it another way, perhaps ANY family is the perfect family for a child who has none. We know single moms who have adopted, a single dad who has two adopted siblings, and families whose adopted teens are "only children" in their new family group. However, after three years of socializing with these parents, hearing their stories and observing outcomes, John and I are in agreement about one thing: older parents who have already raised their children make pretty good adoptive parents of an older child. So my observations are those of an older mom whose biological children have flown the nest.

Our older adoptive child exhibited two kinds of behavior: the universal adolescent and the "red flag". Being able to recognize the difference between the two and responding appropriately was HUGE in building our relationship with our adopted 14 year old.

We had raised two biological children and sent them off into the world. We had been through the teen years and survived them, learning a lot along the way. Parents of children who have flown the nest will be more than familiar with the teen statements: "I didn't ask to be born" or "I wish I was anywhere but here". Or how about, "I can't wait to leave." All part of growing up.

When our Colombian daughter had her "meltdown" (the crisis that will happen after the initial "honeymoon" period is over), we weren't shocked to hear: "I want to go back. I don't want to stay here any more." It was rough, but it didn't hurt our feelings: we kind of knew that was coming eventually.

The adopted infant or toddler won't present his new parents with these announcements. But the adoptive parents of a preteen or teen need to be ready for this unique challenge. Personally, we used it as an opportunity to reassure our daughter that we loved her and that she - and we - had no choice but to figure it out. She wasn't going to be returned to Colombia --EVER! In good times and bad, she was now part of our family -- forever.

"I don't want to be here" was an opportunity to say, "You have no choice. You are a part of this family and you can't leave." It was also a challenge from her to us: would we reject her and send her back because she isn't perfect? What would happen if she said she wanted to leave?

Respect the pain, but make it clear that no matter what the child does or says, he is part of the family group now and solutions to problems need to be found together.

Most of these older children haven't had to learn how to be a part of a family. There hasn't been significant emotional attachment to anyone. Our daughter told us that girls in the orphanage wanted to be adopted because "THERE WEREN'T ANY RULES IN A FAMILY", unlike in the orphanage where rules were strict! What a shock for her to find out that families have rules and that it's harder to skirt them when you're the only kid in the house!

So realistically, your new older child will need as much nurturing as an infant. In fact, she might revert to childish behavior such as baby talk. When this happened, we knew that our daughter was under stress and that she needed extra TLC. It happened less and less, the longer she was here with us.

Every child is different and there are all kinds of signs of stress. During one visit of older orphans in our city, a potential mom (who had no biological children) and I were watching one of the visiting kids interact with his host family. He was giving away the presents he had received. The host mom's comment was, "Oh , isn't he just the most generous boy!" My thought, having raised two kids already, was that this was a red flag behavior: the child thought that he needed to buy love and attention. My biological kids would never have thought of giving away presents they had just received: having that comparison is really helpful.

We also learned not to bring up our child's past, but to be open to discussing it in a matter of fact way when the topic did come up. Couching responses carefully and in a nonjudgmental way was a challenge. Helping your child to forgive, but not forget, is part of your job.

Lastly, one more observation. When our child was finally awarded to us, she said she wanted to change her birth surname, which we insisted she keep as her middle name. We told her that, even though her life was about to change, she didn't need to change her identity: that it was important for her to keep her Colombian last name and to be proud of it. You can change the name, but that doesn't make the past go away. So our daughter kept her last name as her middle name. However, she has recently asked if she can take my first name as her second middle name. Of course, I said yes: it's a pretty good feeling.

Learn More about Jane's efforts to help other older Colombian orphans at:

Friday, May 15, 2009

La Muñeca Azul

This is a classic children's song. Again, there seem to be word variations in the lyrics depending on which Spanish speaking country you are from. However, this is the version that was taught to me by my Colombian relatives.

Tengo una muñeca vestida de azul (I have a little doll dressed in blue)

Zapatitos blancos, delantal de tul (Little white shoes, an apron of tulle)

La llevé a paseo, Y se me constipó (I took her for a walk, and she got congested)

La pusé en la cama con mucho dolor (I put her in bed in a lot of pain)

Y esta mañanita me dijo el doctor (Early this morning the doctor told me)

Que le el jarabe con un tenedor (To give her cough syrup with a fork.)

Dos y dos son cuatro (Two plus two is four)

Cuatro y dos son seis (Four plus two is six)

Seis y dos son ocho (Six plus two is eight)

Y ocho diez y seis (Plus eight is sixteen)

Y ocho vienticuatro (Plus eight is twenty-four)

Y ocho treinta y dos (Plus eight is thirty-two)

Ánimas benditas, me arrodillo yo. (Holy souls, I better kneel down.)

Here is a pretty good version, there are a few lyric changes, but it is pretty much how I learned it from my family.

You can see the Spanish -- as in Spain -- version of this song. The tune is the same, but as I mentioned above some of the words are different.

Yet another version with differing lyrics.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Abuelita Carmen's Limonada

My favorite Colombian drink is not coffee. It is Limonada. As summer rears its HOT head, here is a slushy refreshing way to cool down. This recipe straight from Abuelita Carmen. It serves about 4 - 5 slushy 8 oz. limonadas.



Step #1 -- Take 3 whole limes, wash, and cut off only the tips. Then slice the limes in half and place in your blender (peel and all).

Step #2 -- Add about 3 cups of cold water.

Step #3 -- Blend for about 15-25 seconds -- do not blend longer or the limonada will become bitter. You will know that you have blended enough when the limes are chopped up in pencil eraser size pieces.

Step #4 -- Take a good strainer and strain the water/juice into a container. Let all of the water strain out ---I use the back of a spoon to push the juice through the strainer. Then, dump the pulp in the garbage disposal (it makes for a great scent when you flick it on).

Step #5 -- Rinse out the blender so it is clean. Put the juice back in with about 3-4 heaping Tablespoons of Sugar (sometimes you need a little more depending on how bitter the limes are) and a bunch of ice (2-3 cups). Then blend. Makes a delicious slushy limonada.

You can put in less ice if you want it more like a drink, but you will have to offset with more water to taste.

As with any Abuelita Carmen recipe, it is not an exact science. A handful of this, a pinch of that, and her daughter-in-law trying to figure out the non-metric equivalents for everything. But, we do make this at home all the time in the summer, and I think that this is closest thing you'll get to a recipe. ENJOY!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Colombian National Holidays

Many an adoptive parent has been set back a few days by the observance of one of the many Colombian holidays. Here is a list of the official national holidays. This list was esablished by Law #53 in December of 1983. On these days, courts close, ICBF offices are closed, and many tourist attractions also close. So, if you will be in Colombia on these days, be forewarned.

1st January New Year's Day
6th January* Epiphany
19th March* St. Joseph's Day
1st May Labour Day
29th June* St. Peter & St. Paul
20th July National Independence Day
7th August Battle of Boyacá
15th August* Assumption Day
12th October* Columbus Day
1st November* All Saints Day
11th November* Independence of Cartagena City
8th December Immaculate Conception
25th December Christmas Day
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday
May or June* Corpus Christi
June* (third Friday) Sacred Heart of Jesus
Ascension Day* 40 days after Easter

* When these holidays do not fall on a Monday, they will be observed the following Monday. This is called a PUENTE or bridge.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

World Cup Under-17

Now, I know that our European readers are well aware of the World Cup (that's the soccer World Championship for us here in the U.S.). This giant soccer (football) tournament is held every four years, and in Colombia pretty much everything stops while the games are played.

There is also a World Cup U-17, for players Under 17 years of age. It is going to be held this year in Nigeria from October 24 to November 15. Rather than every four years, the tournament is held every two years.

The process to decide which teams will be represented is rather long and hard fought. It pits all the teams of the CONMEBOL (South American Football Association -- one of FIFA's 6 continental confederations) against each other. The CONMEBOL includes some of the world's top football (soccer) teams like Brazil and Argentina. It also includes heavy competition from Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

The exciting news had in Colombia this weekend is that Colombia has qualified to participate in the tournament. THIS IS BIG NEWS!!

The best showing that the Colombia U-17 (Sub-17 in Spanish) team has made was in 2003 taking 4th place in the tournament.

Learn more about Colombia's Qualification for the tournament, or just look at the pictures, by reading the following newspaper article from El Tiempo.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Marta Gomez -- Manos de Mujeres

This is the last of the Mother's Day stuff. Today, I would like to focus on a singer and a song.

On April 16, 2009, Public Radio International's program, The World, featured Colombian born singer/songwriter Marta Gomez. She sings a more folkloric type music and has a beautiful, lyrical voice. Her latest CD is entitled "Musiquita". You can hear the program and some of her music at the following link.

One of the songs featured in the report is a wonderful song about the average Colombian woman. These are the women that make the country work. The song is called "Manos de Mujeres" -- Women's Hands. Here are the lyrics:

Mano fuerte va barriendo, pone leña en el fogón -- A strong hand sweeps and puts wood on the fire

Mano firme cuando escribe una carta de amor -- A firm hand writes love letters

Manos que tejen haciendo nudos -- Hands that knit making knots

Manos que rezan, manos que dan -- Hands that pray, hands that give

Manos que piden algún futuro -- Hands that ask for some kind of future

Pa` no morir en soledad ay… -- So as to not die lonely.

Mano vieja que trabaja va enlazando algún telar -- Old hand that works tying up a loom

Mano esclava va aprendiendo a bailar su libertad -- Slave hand that learns to dance its freedom

Manos que amasan curtiendo el hambre con lo que la tierra les da -- Hands that knead curtailing the hunger with what the earth provides them.

Manos que abrazan a la esperanza de algún hijo que se va, ay… -- Hands that hug the hope of some child that has gone.

Manos de mujeres que han parido la verdad -- Women's hands that have born the truth

Manos de colores aplaudiendo algún cantar -- Colored hands applauding some song

Manos que tiemblan, manos que sudan -- Hands that tremble, hands that sweat

Manos de tierra, maíz y sal -- Hands of soil, corn and salt

Manos que tocan dejando el alma -- Hands that touch leaving their soul

Manos que sangre, de viento y mar -- Hands of blood, wind and sea

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Role of Foster Mothers -- Mother's Day extra

Many adoptive parents can thank ICBF's great foster mothers for helping to raise their little ones prior to placement. On this Mother's Day, I wanted to share these articles from El Tiempo about the role of foster mothers in the ICBF program.

If you can read Spanish, I highly recommend it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Celebrating the Average Woman -- Abuelita Carmen

Today, I want to honor the millions of Colombian mothers who never achieve fame. Their pictures will never appear in a museum. There are no statues of them. They seem, apparently, to leave no footprint in the world. Their lives pass practically unnoticed as they diligently fulfill their roles as mothers.

One such woman is the author of many of our recipes -- Abuelita Carmen.

Abuelita Carmen was born in a very small village in Boyacá. She was the youngest of 9 children -- the only surviving girl. Her mother's husband had abandoned the family, and Visabuela Brigida -- who didn't have the best parenting skills -- was doing the best she could to raise her children on a small plot of land where she raised beans, corn, potatoes, and arracacha.

Abuelita Carmen lost a brother to the Violencia in Colombia, and she watched as most of her older brothers left the village to find their fortune in other places (Bogotá, Mesitas del Colegio, Sogamoso).

Abuelita Carmen loved to go to school, unfortunately, she only went to school until the 3rd grade (age 10). This is when her oldest brother convinced her mother that educating a girl was a waste of time and money. Shortly thereafter, Carmen was sent to live with that brother, who owned a boarding house for steel workers in Sogamoso. There, she was expected to cook, clean, wash clothes, and otherwise do the bidding of her brother and his wife -- think Cinderella.

She felt alone and depressed. Her dreams of studying anything had vanished. She felt almost like a slave. Then, one day, at the ripe old age of 15, she met one of the boarders -- a man twice her age. He promised her the moon and the stars and most importantly, her promised to take her away from the boarding house. They married when she was 16.

A year later, she welcomed her first child -- a son. Two years after that a little girl was born, Magda. When Magda was just 9 months old, fat and beautiful, she contracted bronchitis. There was no money for doctors or medicine, and so Abuelita Carmen watched as her baby became weaker and weaker. She cried as she watched her beautiful baby gasping for breath. Then, in the stoic way of Colombian mothers, she sealed up her heart when the struggling child lost her battle and slipped from this life. So strong is the seal, that Abuelita Carmen never even counts Madga when she numbers her other 8 children. If you ask, she only had eight children -- not nine.

This same stoic woman, at the age of 43, prepared lunch for her 7 children, left food cooking for their dinner, gathered a few things, and then walked about 3 miles to the hospital -- all the while in labor -- for the birth of her last child.

Abuelita Carmen has suffered much because of lack of money and support. At one point with her first six children in school, it was time to come up with the money to send her seventh child to school. The money was not there. Her husband told her that this little boy simply could not study. So, she began making empanadas and rellenas (blood sausages). Then, walked door to door to sell them in order to raise funds to send her son to school. Her diligence and perserverance paid off, and today that son has degrees from 3 American universities.

This same woman, raised eight wonderful children. Six are college graduates, two of them with advanced degrees. They work in all walks of life: welder, head of city planning, regional supervisor for multi-national company, surveyor, anesthetist, computer science, and homemaking.

She is a woman of strong faith, strong opinions, and just plain endurance. She has a love for others. She is kind. She is friendly, and she is always helping someone. "There has always been someone more needy than me," she told me once. "So, I have a duty to help them. Maybe it is food, maybe a little job, but there is never a beggar than comes to my house that doesn't leave with something. It could have been me. My God is very Great!"

Abuelita Carmen emblemizes so much of what is right with Colombia. NO, she is not perfect -- no one is. But, she has left her mark. She has raised her kids to love and respect her, and their community. Each one has a good heart, and isn't that the measure of a successful mother.

So, to all of the wonderful Colombian mothers, and the wonderful adoptive mothers of Colombian children, Happy Mother's Day! Remember that NO SUCCESS IN LIFE CAN COMPENSATE FOR FAILURE IN THE HOME.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Georgina Fletcher -- Women's Rights Activist

Though Georgina Fletcher is considered a Colombian heroine, she was actually born in Spain. However, she spent almost her entire life in Bogotá. She was a writer, artist, and educator. In 1924, she was chosen as the Colombian representative to the International League of Iberian and Hispanic American Women (Liga Internacional de Mujeres Ibéricas e Hispanoamericanas) and to the Crusade of Spanish Women (Cruzada de Mujeres Españolas). After attending the international meetings of these two groups, she organized a Colombian association of the League.

She went on to participate in the Second Pan American Women's Conference (Conferencia Panamericana de Mujeres) which was held in Lima, Peru (1924). In addition, she attended other International Women's conferences and was in correspondence with other Latin American suffragists and feminists. She tirelessly spoke out for women's rights, though little of what she said found an accepting audience and most politicians were vehemently against extending any rights to women.

In most countries, women historically were not allowed to own property. This was true in Colombia also. In an effort to change this, a group of women, lead by Georgina Fletcher, presented a request to change Colombian law with respect to this issue. The group hoped that by changing the law women would be allowed to administer their own material affairs, rather than relying on a husband, father, brother, or male guardian to do so for them.

Their request, known as the Régimen de Capitulaciones Matrimoniales (Rules for the Articles of Marriage), was presented to Colombian President (1930-1934) Enrique Olaya Herrera in December of 1930 by Ofelia Uribe de Acosta. It was immediately rejected and criticized by the newspapers and leading congressmen of the day.

Georgina Fletcher was identified as the leader of the group and as such, she was highly criticized and persecuted. In the face of extreme persecution, she isolated herself from society and died a few years later in a state of extreme poverty, having lost everything in pursuit of her dream.

Fortunately, despite the hatred people felt toward Georgina, when the initiative was again presented, just two years later, in 1932, it was passed into law (Law #28 of 1932). Once this law passed, there was, in the ensuing years, a cascade of pro-women's rights legislation, and many of the rights and liberties that Colombian women enjoy today have their roots in the efforts of Georgina Fletcher.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

María de los Angeles Cano Márquez

María de los Ángeles Cano Márquez, known as the La Flor del Trabajo (the Flower of Work), was born in Medellín in 1887. She grew up exposed to very liberal, if not radical, thoughts from her childhood.

María Cano was greatly influenced by the feminist authors of her day (Agustini, Storni, Ibarbourou & Mistral). In 1923, she helped write El Correo Liberal (The Liberal Mail). Then, together with María Eastman and Fita Uribe, she tried to start a Colombian feminist literary movement. She, herself, helped to found the Cyrano magazine in 1921 -- her effort to bring access to literature to the masses, and particularly to lower class workers. Most of the magazine's authors were political dissidents, sympathetic to the Russian Revolution.

In 1924, her efforts to bring literature to the people included establishing a Public Library -- known as the Biblioteca Municipal. At the library, she offered to teach the illiterate to read.

The more common people she met, the more interested she became in worker's rights. She became aware of a group of Oil workers that had been transferred from Barrancabermeja to a jail in Medellín. At news of this, she formed her first public protest, demanding justice for social prisoners. Then, she went on to work tirelessly to eliminate the country's Death Penalty.

In 1926, she helped organize the third National Workers Conference, and at the conference she was instrumental in the founding of the Partido Socialista Revolucionario or PSR (Socialist Revolutionary Party). Her efforts at the conference were then followed by a tour of Colombia -- where her speeches drew large crowds and many supporters. However, in many places, she was also met by those opposed to her efforts. She was detained, followed, and threatened.

In November of 1928, she participated in the Banana Strikes against the United Fruit Company. (For those of you that have read 100 Years of Solitude, you'll remember García-Márquez's description of these events). These strikes ended in the massacre of hundreds (if not thousands) of Colombian banana farm workers in Ciénaga, Magdalena, on December 6, 1828. Though María was no longer in the area at the time of the massacre, she was arrested in Medellín for her participation in the strikes which lead to the massacre. These events, together with the economic down turn of 1930, lead to the abolishment of the PSR.

After this, María became a public worker in Medellín, where she worked peacefully until 1947. During that time, she did support a Rail Worker strike in 1934 and in 1945, she supported a failed Suffragist movement.

She died in 1967, and is considered a heroine of Colombian workers today. In Medellín, Avenida 33 carries the name María Cano.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Soledad Acosta de Samper

Soledad Acosta de Samper is considered Colombia's most important female writer of the 19th Century. She was born in Bogotá in 1833 -- the only child of colonel Joaquín Acosta y Pérez de Guzmán, a patriot in during the Colombian War for Independence, and Caorlina Kemble Rou -- a Scottish woman.

From her youth, she was exposed to different countries, languages and ideals. At 12, she left Bogotá to spend a year with her maternal grandmother in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. A year later, she moved with her parents to Paris, where the family lived for four years. While in Paris, she accompanied her father to many literary and scientific meetings -- an opportunity which helped her form many progressive opinions.

She returned to Colombia at the age of 17, and at the age of 22, she married José María Samper Agudelo in 1855. Three years later, she returned with her husband to Paris, where she began to publish under various pseudonyms. Then, she became a foreign correspondent for the "two most important literary magazines" of the day El Mosaico and La Biblioteca de Señoritas.

By 1862, when the family moved to Lima, Peru, Soledad & José María were the proud parents of four daughters. José María had been offered a job as editor-in-chief of the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio. Within a few years, the family returned to Colombia, where José María became a member of Congress -- where eventually, he turned out to be extremely influential (a story for another day).

During this time, Soledad became more outspoken about the rights of women in society. And, in spite of the prejudice against women writers, she was one of the first women in Latin America to become a successful, professional writer. Amazingly enough, her very successful husband, flying in the face of the traditions of the day, supported her efforts.

Her first book (1869), Novelas y cuadros de la vida Suramericana (Novels and Sketches of South American Life), was a collection of her previously published material. Two of her essays from this collection are often still read today and are used as model texts for the exploration of "women's struggles for self in unequal societies."

Next, she wrote a historical novel about José Antonio Galán (1870). Then, from 1878-1881, she founded and published a bi-weekly women's magazine, La Mujer (The Woman). In 1883, she won an award for a history book that she wrote called Biografía de General Joaquín París. In 1884, she published a play and started a new monthly magazine called La Familia.

In all, she went on to publish "29 novels, almost 50 other narrations, and hundreds of articles on various themes."

You can read one of her most famous essays -- in English -- by going to the following Google Books link. The title is "The Mission of the Woman Writer in Spanish America." It comes from a book she published in 1895 La mujer en la sociedad moderna.

* Information for this post came from 2 books
Rereading the Spanish American Essay by Doris Meyer
Nineteenth Century Nation Building and the Latin-American Intellectual Tradition by Janet Burke

* Photo by Cultura Banco de la Republica

Monday, May 04, 2009

Policarpa Salavarrieta Ríos

Policarpa Salavarrieta Ríos is without a doubt the most famous, the most popular, and the most beloved Colombian heroine of all time. Her name is associated with the great heroes of the Colombian war of Independence and would easily come to the mind of any Colombian when asked about female heroines of Colombia.

Policarpa was born somewhere between 1793 and 1796, in Guaduas, Cundinamarca, Colombia. The exact date she was born is unknown and actually so is the place, though her siblings were born in Guaduas. In reality, even her exact name is unknown -- her father called her Polonia, her friends Georgina Apolinar, and some even just Pola. However, it is under the name Policarpa that she became famous and so that is the name that has stuck.

She was born, the fifth of nine children, to an upper class family that lived comfortably. (Today her home in Guaduas is a museum -- Casa Museo Policarpa Salavarrieta.) In the early 1800's, the family moved to Bogotá. There they suffered a family tragedy when in 1802 her father, mother, a brother, and a sister all died of smallpox. This left the large family orphans. So, the two oldest brothers became monks. Two other brothers went to work on a farm. After suffering alone for nearly two years, Policarpa and her oldest sister (then only 13) went to live with the sister's Godmother in Guaduas. There she remained until her sister was married and she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law.

Little is known about what happened to her during those years, however, it is clear that she learned the trade of seamstress during this time. It is also clear that her family became involved in the anti-royalist movement -- her brother-in-law was killed and her youngest brother wounded while fighting with Nariño in Southern Colombia in 1815.

By 1817, Policarpa had moved back to Bogotá with her younger brother. This time under assumed names and with hidden letters from two of the leaders of the Revolution, this allowed her to become part of the patriot movement in Bogotá. Unknown to the royalists in Bogotá, their seamstress, Policarpa was a revolutionary spy. As she labored in their homes, she would hear information about the war, troop movements, etc. and would pass this on to rebel leaders. She also passed messages to and from the rebels in the Llanos and was instrumental in buying weapons and recruiting young men to join the anti-royalist movement.

She probably never would have been caught, except that in September 1817, two brothers, carrying compromising documents that implicated her in rebellious activity were captured by the royalists. This was followed by the capture of Alejo Sabaraín who was found to have long lists of the names of royalists and rebels that Policarpa had written. Her connection to the rebels was confirmed and she was arrested and then condemned to death.

In a last effort to save her life, a priest was sent to her so that she could confess her wrongs and be forgiven. However, Policarpa refused to admit that what she had done was wrong. She spoke of liberty and the establishment of a free society instead.

At nine o'clock on November 14, 1817, Policarpa marched toward the firing squad, flanked by two priests. She would not be silenced. She began to yell to the gathered crowd about her hatred for the Roayalist rule, her desire for freedom, and that her death should be avenged.

Though several women were executed for treason in Colombia during this time period, something about Policarpa resonated with the people. Some people wrote poetry about her, others plays, there was even a popular anagram of her name that was circulated. The more people learned about her, the more the general populous became enraged at the royalists. Her death galvanized the patriot movement.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, November 14th is, by and act of Congress in 1967, the DAY OF THE COLOMBIAN WOMAN in honor of Policarpa.

* Photo Cultura Banco de la Republica

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Honoring Famous Colombian Women

This upcoming week, in anticipation of Mother's Day, I will be blogging about famous Colombian women. Each comes from a different walk of life, and each has contributed in her own unique way to the Colombian Society. I hope you will enjoy this special week.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Colombian National Tree

The Palma de Cera (Wax Palm) with the scientific name of Ceroxylon Quindiuense is Colombia's national tree. This species of palm tree is found exclusively in the Colombian Andes, growing mainly in the Province of Quindío. The tree itself grows at altitudes of over about 3,200 feet (1000 meters).

This tree is the tallest palm in the world and are a prominent feature in the emblem of the National Parks.

In preparation for the Third South American Botanical Congress, held in Bogotá in 1949, a Preparatory Commission selected the Palma de Cera as Colombia's national tree.

In 1985, under Law # 61, it was officially adopted as a national symbol.
* Photo by dfinnecy