Saturday, November 27, 2010

What we're listening to: Calle 13

UPDATE 11/11/2011: Calle 13 has received 9 Latin Grammys for "Entren los que quieran" and several individual tracks from the CD. In addition, Los Tigres del Norte have vowed to share the Latin Grammy they received for Los Tigres del Norte and Friends: MTV Unplugged with all artists who collaborated on the album. That would include Calle 13's Residente...

I think it would be safe to say that as a middle aged Catholic professional woman, I am not a typical Calle 13 fan and, up until now, I wasn't. Then I heard their latest album "Entren los que quieran" and fell in love with this pair of Puerto Rican rappers.

Most of the Catholic readers of this blog are going to be aghast that I am recommending an album with lines such as "no me hablen de carteles ni de Los Sopranos / La Mafia mas grande vive en el Vaticano" ("Calma Pueblo") and "Yo no creo en la iglesia, pero creo en tu mirada" ("La Vuelta al Mundo"). At best, there's the protagonist in "Muerte en Hawaii" who amusingly boasts that, for his girlfriend, he can go to church and sit through the Mass without falling asleep. These guys are militantly anti-organized religion but I think the bigger question is: why are such obviously intelligent, ethically sensitive young people as Calle 13 not able to hear the liberating message of Christ and feel included in the Church today? The shame is on us, not them.

Calle 13

The nucleus of Calle 13 is two stepbrothers who grew up together and kept in touch even after their parents separated. The lyricist, Rene Perez ("Residente") went to live with his mother, Flor Joglar de Gracia, in a house on Calle 13 in a gated community outside of San Juan. Eduardo Cabra Martinez, who writes the music to Perez's words, continued to live with his father but frequently visited his stepbrother at Calle 13. His stage name is "Visitante". Perez has a masters in fine arts; Cabra has a degree in computer science. About a dozen other musicians fill out the group.

"Entren lo que quieran" ("Let those who want to, come in") is Calle 13's fourth album. As they boast in their new album's "Intro", the group's first three albums -- Calle 13 (2005), Residente o Visitante (2007), and Los de atrás vienen conmigo (2008) -- have earned them multiple death threats, censorship on some radio stations and a dozen Latin Grammys.

In the past their lyrics have been relentlessly violent and raunchy (even according to aficcionados of their genre). There are still some sexually explicit verses on this album but much of the violence is gone and the bad boy posturing is balanced with a strong, well-articulated social message.

Clearly Calle 13 is trying to put some perspective on their 2009 Premios MTV Latinoamérica performance in which they took on multiple political leaders either verbally or via T-shirt slogans: linking then Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to the para-military groups, comparing Honduran coup leader Micheletti with the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, praising Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and implying that Argentina's Cristina Kirchner uses Botox. Residente's most scathing words were reserved for Puerto Rico's own governor Luis Fortuño, who had incurred the singer's wrath by firing his mother along with thousands of other Puerto Rican public employees:

"América Latina no está completa sin Puerto Rico y Puerto Rico no es libre. Hoy 15 de octubre los puertorriqueños marcharon contra el desempleo, porque el gobernador de Puerto Rico los dejó sin trabajo y el gobernador de Puerto Rico es un hijo de la gran puta. Yo lo puedo decir porque sé y porque tengo influencia. Hoy los puertorriqueños estamos de pie."

Calling the governor a "son of a bitch" was over the top and Fortuño responded by accusing Residente of demeaning the honor of Puerto Rican women, Residente's mother (her image is one of Residente's many tattoos) defended him, Residente apologized and even offered to mow the governor's lawn if he would do his job right and reinstate the public employees, and the incident provided fodder for multiple news cycles and political pundits throughout Latin America. Several concerts were cancelled in protest.

On the new album, a quieter but largely unrepentant Residente comes back to the incident. In "Calma Pueblo" he writes: "Es normal que mi comportamiento no les cuadre / Y más cuando el gobernador desempleó a mi madre" ("It's normal that my behavior doesn't suit them / and more so when the governor fired my mother"). And to those who argue that he embarrassed Puerto Rico, he replies in "Digo lo que pienso": "No quiero ser tu artista favorito / Tampoco me interesa representar a Puerto Rico." Residente is not interested in being a favorite artist or representing Puerto Rico. He just wants respect and a freedom to speak his mind that cannot be bought. And yet: "Se equivocaron un par de novatos en la escena / Pero se disculparon no hay ningún problema..." Hey, he says, we were just newbies, we made a mistake and we apologized. OK?

Then, one of the greatest lines on the whole album: "Mis letras groseras son más educadas que tu silencio." My vulgar lyrics are more polite than your silence. For what can be more obscene than silence in the face of injustice? As Residente says: "Conformarse y dejar de insistir / Es como ver a alguien ahogandose y dejarlo morir." To go along with things as they are and stop pressing for change when it's needed, is like watching someone drowning and just letting them die. Residente can't...and we shouldn't either.


I first heard "Entren los que quieran" over National Public Radio and the first track I clicked on was "Latinoamérica" which most people, including Residente himself, think is the best one on the album and, quite possibly, the greatest song Residente has written to date. This expansive musical panorama of the continent could easily have been written and interpreted by the late Mercedes Sosa and it stands in line with the great paeans to Latin America she used to sing such as "Canción con todos" (Armando Tejada Gómez and César Isella). I would even venture to guess that Residente had Sosa in mind when he wrote the song, as the group had collaborated with her in 2009 on a re-make of her ode to Latin America's street children, Cancion Para Un Niño En La Calle, but Sosa died before "Latinoamérica" went into production. The female vocal parts are ably interpreted by a multinational cast including Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca, Colombia's Totó La Momposina, and Brazilian singer Maria Rita, who sings the chorus in Portuguese -- a nod to Latin America's linguistic diversity. This musical portrait is:

  • geographic: "La espina dorsal del planeta es mi cordillera" (the Andes are the planet's spinal column); "El mar caribe que vigila las casitas" (the Caribbean)

  • socio-political: "Soy toda la sobra de lo que se robaron" ("I am all that's left from what they stole"); "soy la fotografía de un desaparecido" ("I am the photo of a disappeared person"); "La operación condor invadiendo mi nido" ("Operation Condor invading my nest")

  • literary: "el amor en los tiempos del cólera" (Garcia Marquez); "los versos escritos bajo la noche estrellada" (Neruda)

  • religious: a geography of faith that runs from indigenous shamanism ("Un desierto embriagado con peyote / Un trago de pulque para cantar con los coyotes") to folk Catholicism and/or santeria ("Haciendo rituales de agua bendita...Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello")
In the song's chorus, we hear strains of theologian Leonardo Boff:

Tu no puedes comprar el viento , tu no puedes comprar el sol
Tu no puedes comprar la lluvia, tu no puedes comprar el calor
Tu no puedes comprar las nubes, Tu no puedes comprar los colores
Tu no puedes comprar mi alegría, tu no puedes comprar mis dolores

You can't buy the wind, the sun, the rain, the heat, the clouds, the colors, my joy, or my pain. Mi tierra, mi Pachamama, is not for sale.

When asked by NPR which line of his song best summed up Latin America, Residente said: "Soy América Latina / un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina." Latin America: a people without legs, but still walking.

La Bala:

Another important song on this album is "La Bala" ("The Bullet"). The song traces the physical trajectory of the bullet from the moment the gun is fired ("El martillo impacta la aguja / La explosión de la pólvora con fuerza empuja...") to the splattering of the victim's blood, lyrically described as "batida de fresa, salsa boloñesa, sirop de frambuesa / una cascada de arte contemporaneo color rojo vivo sale por el craneo." But don't let these rhapsodic comparisons of blood to spaghetti sauce and raspberry syrup fool you. This is not a song that celebrates gun violence.

The chorus makes the connection between poverty and bullets crystal clear:

Hay poco dinero pero hay muchas balas
Hay poca comida pero hay muchas balas
hay poca gente buena por eso hay muchas balas...

There is little money, little food, few good people around and that's why there are lots of bullets.

Further along in the song, Residente points out that those who don't have a good education are more likely to resort to violence to make their point ("cuando se lee poco se dispara mucho"). He reminds us that often the rich give the order to kill and the poor pull the trigger. He muses on how different the world would be if a bullet cost the same as a yacht instead of being as cheap as condoms and more plentiful. One would have to be a millionaire to be a mercenary. Finally, Residente highlights the futility of gun violence. He says: "No se necesitan balas para probar un punto / es lógico, no se puede hablar con un difunto." You can't talk with a dead person. His weapon of choice is the spoken word.

Social Content

Two other songs on this album merit special mention for their social content. "El Hormiguero" is an allegorical account of the immigration issue in the United States. The immigrants are the "hormigas" -- individually small and powerless ants, but invincible when they band together. They can defeat the "vaqueros" (the cowboys -- presumably Bush and Cheney) and have them eating Mexican food! It is a nonviolent conquest, waged through hard work and steadfast purpose. It is a vindication of the right to live where one works.

"Baile de los Pobres" brings two people of different social classes together on the dance floor. The similarity of their lives is "microscopic". "Tu tomas agua destilada y yo agua con microbios" (the bottled water of the rich versus the contaminated tap water of the poor); "tu comes filete y yo carne de lata" (steak vs. canned meat). The insistent refrain -- "No tengo mucha plata pero tengo cobre" doesn't just refer to silver and copper but stresses that although the brother may not have much money, he has plenty of hustle. In the end, Residente argues, the good thing about being poor is that "nobody robs us because we have nothing!"

This review only skims the surface of "Entren los que quieran", which will surely bring in more Grammys for Calle 13. I would encourage readers of this blog to step outside of their musical, and maybe even their ideological comfort zone and give these bad boys a listen. You may end up feeling as I do: Estos son nuestros hijos y nuestros hermanos.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Two women, two abolitions?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The rise of women in many countries in the world to the status of heads of state and government is remarkable. It reveals a mutation of consciousness that is taking place within humanity. Starting this transformation was one of the main merits of feminist thought, which is now more than a century old. Women began to see with their own eyes and not with the eyes of men. They found their identity, difference and relationship of reciprocity rather than subordination to men. They produced perhaps the most consistent and radical critique of a culture marked by patriarchy and androcentricism.

Patriarchy refers to a form of social organization centered on power, exerted by dominant men, and subordinating and relativizing everyone else. Androcentrism is characterized by establishing as a model for all, the forms of thought and action characteristic of man. They are the sun, and others, such as women or other cultures, their satellites and mere aides.

Patriarchy and androcentrism underlie the major institutions of modern society with the tensions and conflicts they cause. They are responsible for the emergence of the state, laws, bureaucracy, the division of labor, the prevailing type of science and technology, armies and war. Third World feminists have also seen, beyond cultural domination, the social domination of women, made poor and oppressed by those in power. Ecofeminism denounced the destruction of the Earth carried out by a kind of masculine and masculinizing technoscience, already perceived by the philosopher of science Gaston Bachelard, since the relationship is not one of dialogue and respect, but of domination and exploitation to the point of exhaustion.

Women helped us see that human reality is not made only of reason, efficiency, competition, materialism, concentration of power and exteriority. In it, there is affection, generosity, caring, cooperation, interiority, power as service and spirituality. These values are common to all human beings, but women most clearly live them out. Being a woman is a way of being in the world, feeling love differently, relating body and mind, grasping totalities, thinking not only with the head but with the whole being and seeing the parts as belonging to a Whole. All this enabled the human experience to be more complete and inclusive and opened a path to overcoming the battle of the sexes.

Today, due to the crisis that is ravaging the earth and the biosphere, endangering the future of human destiny, these values become urgent, because in them is the primary key to overcoming it.

This is the context in which I see the presence of women at the forefront of governments, in this case, Dilma Rousseff as president. The dimension of the soul brought within the relationship of command, can bring more humanity and sensitivity to issues related to life, especially of the most vulnerable.

In our history we had a woman, considered the Redemptress: Princess Isabel (1846-1921). Replacing her father, Don Pedro II, who was on a trip to Europe, in a rather feminine gesture she proclaimed the Free Womb Law on September 28, 1871. The sons and daughters of slaves would no longer be slaves. She financed their freedom with her money, protected the fugitives and plotted schemes of escape for them. During another absence of her father, on May 13, 1888, she made the parliament pass the Gold Law abolishing slavery. To one of her critics, who shouted "Your Highness freed a race but lost the throne," she replied, "If I had a thousand thrones, a thousand thrones I would give to free the slaves in Brazil." She wanted to compensate former slaves with the Mauá Bank resources. She advocated land reform and political suffrage for women. It was the first abolition.

It is now up to president Dilma to carry out the second abolition, advocated years ago by Senator Cristovam Buarque, in a famous book of the same title: the abolition of poverty and misery. She has made "ending poverty" the first priority of her government. This is definitely possible. So far, it's only a promise. If she perform this feat, which would be truly messianic, she could be the second Redemptress.

As citizens it is important to support and claim the promise and keep it from turning into a bad dream. We can be condemned by the powerful, but we can not defraud the poor and oppressed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving Prayer for Priests

Every Tuesday night we recite this prayer for priests, which has been variously attributed to St. Therese de Lisieux and Cardinal Cushing. I like it because it is simple and practical and not weighted down with a lot of sanctimonious language. So I've translated it for Thanksgiving and am offering it for all the many priests who enrich my life. It's always dangerous to name names, but I would like to single out:

  • Fr. Miguel in Peru, who reached out and brought this lost sheep back into the fold;
  • Fr. Joe and Fr. Tim, who guide our little Hispanic community in Arlington and who aren't afraid of diversity, be it ethnic, spiritual, or ideological;
  • Fr. Mike in Chicago, whose words and life give me a model of Christian discipleship to which to aspire;
  • Fr. Evelio in DC, who by sharing prayer, reflections and food with us, teaches a weekly lesson in comensalidad;
  • Fr. Jose Eugenio, por su entrega total a la Renovación en Arlington y a los inmigrantes, aun cuando él estaba sufriendo mucho en su vida personal;
  • Fr. Virgilio, Fr. Juan, and Fr. Allen, who -- separately -- encouraged me to take the Hispanic Ministry Course at MACC in San Antonio, some of the best advice I've ever received. This course continues to be a reference point for me;
  • All the priests who have put their religious careers in jeopardy to stand up to the institutional Church on behalf of women (Fr. Roy, Fr. Larry, Fr. Greg,...) and gay people (Fr. Nicolas) because we need to support them like they are supporting us.

I could name many, many more but I'm going to stop here and I would like to encourage folks who read this post to add comments, mentioning the priests for whom they are giving thanks this Thanksgiving.

¡Un gran abrazo a todos ustedes, padres solidarios, en este Día de Acción de Gracias!

Oh Jesús!
Te ruego por tus fieles y fervorosos sacerdotes,
por tus sacerdotes tibios e infieles,
por tus sacerdotes que trabajan cerca o en lejanas misiones,
por tus sacerdotes que sufren tentación,
por tus sacerdotes que sufren soledad y desolación,
por tus jóvenes sacerdotes,
por tus sacerdotes ancianos,
por tus sacerdotes enfermos,
por tus sacerdotes agonizantes
por los que padecen en el purgatorio.
Pero sobre todo, te encomiendo a los sacerdotes que me son más
al sacerdote que me bautizó,
al que me absolvió de mis pecados,
a los sacerdotes a cuyas Misas he asistido y que me dieron tu Cuerpo
y Sangre en la Sagrada Comunión,
a los sacerdotes que me enseñaron e instruyeron, me alentaron y
a todos los sacerdotes a quienes me liga una deuda de gratitud,
especialmente a...

¡Oh Jesús, guárdalos a todos junto a tu Corazón y concédeles
abundantes bendiciones en el tiempo y en la eternidad!

O Jesus!
I pray for Your faithful and fervent priests,
Your lukewarm and unfaithful priests,
Your priests who work close by and in far off missions,
Your priests who suffer temptation,
Your priests who suffer loneliness and distress,
For Your young priests,
For Your old priests,
For Your sick priests,
For your dying priests,
For those who are enduring Purgatory.
But above all, I commend to You the priests
who are dearest to me --
the priest who baptized me,
the one who absolved me from my sins,
those whose Masses I attended and who gave me Your Body
and Blood in Holy Communion,
the priests who taught and instructed, encouraged and
counseled me,
all the priests to whom I owe a debt of gratitude, especially...

O Jesus, keep all of them in Your heart and grant them abundant blessings now and in eternity!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Women's Ordination: The Church of Yesterday or the Church of Tomorrow?

Two statements -- two diametrically opposed positions on women's ordination -- have come out this week and they make us ask what the future of our Church will, or should, be.

The Church of Yesterday

This is what Pope Benedict XVI had to say about women's ordination in the latest collection of interviews with him -- the one that is lighting up the mass media more for his remarks on condoms. L'Osservatore Romano, 11/21/2010, published this excerpt in Italian and we have translated it into English:

"The wording of John Paul II is very important: 'The Church does not have the right to confer priestly ordination on women in any way.' It's not about not wanting to, but not being able to. The Lord gave shape to the Church with the Twelve and then with their own succession, with the bishops and presbyters (priests). We were not the ones who created this form of Church, but rather it was constituted by Him. Following it is an act of obedience, perhaps one of the toughest acts of obedience in the present situation. But this is important, that the Church show it's not an arbitratry regime. We can't do what we want. Instead, there is God's will for us, which we follow, although this is tiring and difficult in the culture and civilization of today.

"Among other things, the responsibilities entrusted to women in the Church are so big and meaningful that one can't talk about discrimination. It would be so if the priesthood were a kind of domination, while on the contrary it should be completely service. If you take a look at the history of the Church, then you realize that the significance of women - from Mary to Monica up to Mother Teresa - is so prominent that in many ways women define the face of the Church more than men.

I was almost prepared to believe that Benedict XVI really wanted to ordain women but felt his hands were tied until I got to the point where he dismisses the importance of access to the priesthood by saying that it's not about domination, it's about service. O.K., Your Holiness. So when are we going to see nuns be able to become bishops and cardinals and popes? The entire leadership structure of the Roman Catholic Church is not accessible unless you are born with male genitalia. Not about domination? Who has the last word in a parish? I can't think of a single parish where it's a woman. If women "define the face of the Church", perhaps it's time to consider allowing them to BE the face of the Church!

The Church of Tomorrow

The Pope thinks the Church is powerless to ordain women, but a brave priest in Australia, Fr. Greg Reynolds, pastor of three parishes in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, not only believes the Church can ordain women but, in a homily to his flock two months ago which he mailed to his Archbishop, he argues that the time has come.

"I am convinced in my heart that it is God's will that we should have women priests...I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit to share my position publicly, and yet very reluctantly...I believe certain women are being called by God to the ministerial priesthood, and our official church is obstructing the work of the Holy Spirit. I feel I can no longer sit back and remain silent."

Fr. Reynolds, who has been a Catholic priest for 30 years, was told by Archbishop Denis Hart that he risked being dismissed if he went public with his position. Fr. Reynolds is expecting this outcome, but says that he believes in loyal dissent and that the Church needs people who will speak the truth. "Generally I feel at peace and right about what I am doing," Fr. Reynolds said.

What continually amazes me about these cases in particular is: Here is a man who has not made any waves for thirty years. He has just been a quiet, hard-working parish priest. And yet he is willing to risk his entire livelihood to stand up for justice for women. That's why we should keep Fr. Reynolds in our thoughts and prayers and also pray for the Catholic clergy we know who support women's ordination -- that they will have the courage to go public as Fr. Reynolds has, whatever the cost.