On a vacation trip to Argentina and Brazil 3 years ago or so, I
noticed I could spend a week in Paraguay with no additional airfare.
Never having been there, and wondering how the country was faring
post-Stroessner, I decided to visit Barrios' homeland.
It was very pleasant. Democracy was in full swing with a variety of
newspapers. Political candidates ranged from former Stroessner
generals to decided left-wingers. An sizable bookstall on a secondary
square in Asuncion represented a broad spectrum of world literature,
economic, political and philosophical thought and the performing arts.
Still, the dictatorship had throttled economic devlelopment enough
that the capital was rather like a Mexican or Argentinian provincial
capital in the late '50s. Not choked by traffic, not overrun with
modern architecture, and with a moderate pace of life. I'm sure the
Paraguayans are doing everything they can to correct these
Paraguay has two official languages, Spanish and Guarani. Much is
made of the bicultural aspect of the country. At the corner of the
town square in Asuncion is a restaurant with most of the seating at a
serpentine counter. I was taken in hand by two waitresses of a
certain age, one an ample blonde, the other a rather olive skinned
woman I took to be mestiza or Guarani. They dictated my evening meals
to me when I ate there, giving me a good tour of the menu: a firm
white fish from the river, in a tasty cream sauce; meat and cheese
pastries deep fried in fat so hot they came out dry, with no grease at
all, and so on down the menu. They conversed with me in proper
Spanish, between themselves in Spanish and Guarani, and with regular
customers in both languages, dropping in and out. It is the only
place in Latin America where I have heard an Indian language spoken in
an urban middle class situation, and the only time I have ever heard
an average citizen of obvious European descent fluent in an Indian
language (except for anthropologists and the like). My culinary tour
guides assured me that everybody spoke both languages. It seemed to be
the case, as I wandered about the city and the country.
About the only place I heard no Guarani was in the dining room of what
may have been the best hotel, also on the town square. The
accommodations were a bit modern, but the dining room was run on
traditional lines. One Sunday afternoon I was enjoying a solitary
comida, when five ladies in their sixties, well dressed in Paris
fashion and wearing nice antique jewelry were seated at the next
table. I was glad I had put on a suit. By and by a group of men came
in. They were seated nearby as well. One of them, whose suit and
shoes were off the rack, not bespoke like the rest, had a cell phone.
He appeared to make a call at the direction of one of the others. The
ladies frowned at the maitre d', who went over and spoke to the cell
phoner. He signed off. Things progressed in decency and order, until
about a half hour later the cell phone rang. Its bearer engaged in
conversation. The ladies frowned at the maitre d'. He advanced on the
men, and gestured for the cell phoner to depart. Two of the men
dissented. The maitre d' promptly ejected the lot of them.
Seeing the ladies had progressed to coffee, I ordered a round of
Cognac for them and myself. Lifting the glass a half inch above my
lips, I saluted their assault upon the decline of civilization. They
nodded and smiled politely, taking ladylike sips.
Back to Barrios' Indian masquerade: It seemed to me that in Paraguay
the attitude toward Indians, mestizos and Indian culture was very
different from what I have seen elsewhere in Latin America. The
Paraguayans attribute it to historical circumstance. An attempted
colony at the present site of Buenos Aires was fiercely repulsed by
the Indians. The would be colonists made their way up to the wide spot
on the river at the site of Asuncion, where they were welcomed and
assisted by the locals.
Barrios was from a prosperous family, and had a decent education, both
general and musical. In some other parts of Latin America the Indian
act would have been nearly inconceivable, but in Paraguay it might
have been an acceptable novelty. Taking it on the road would have
been dicey in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Salvador, Guatemala, or Mexico
before the Revolution. (After the Revolution, the Mariachi Vargas de
Tecalitlan became the decidedly mestizo semi-official band of the
PRI.) Probably the Indian act was seen as an entertaining novelty in
Brazil. Indeed one wonders whether Barrios was trying to spread, or at
least to represent Paraguayan racial attitudes.....I guess you would
have to have been there.
Post by Sarn Dyer
I'm told that the prejudice against 'mestizos' was fairly general in
Spanish-speaking SA. Native Indians were regarded as poor, ill-educated,
uncultured by European standards and probably worse. There was no
prestige in a mixed marriage.
It's difficult to say what the totality of Barrios' motives were. He
appears, idealistically, to have taken the bull of prejudice by the
horns, presenting himself not only as a full-blooded Indian of noble
lineage, but also as one of culture ('The Paganini of the Guitar from
the Jungles of Paraguay').
I wonder how far he took this role - apparently he spoke Guaraní. In the
event, the whole episode seems to have backfired, probably appearing
more as a promotional gimmick than as reflecting any well-intentioned
but naive idealism on Barrios' part.
Post by thomas Post by Sarn Dyer
And then there was the hostility: the Indian blood, the
steel strings, the famous eccentric costumes of one period. He was an
original, and, like so many originals, an 'outsider' and to some extent,
his own worst enemy.
Who was hostile to him because of "Indian blood"?
He engaged in playing Indian because he thought it
was helpful to his career, no?