Whenever, Wherever We Might Just Need “The Other”

Ramon Giron-Melendez
February 19, 2013

So I’m thousands of miles away from the United States, even further away from Latin America and immersed in a Goulash of leagues of European Culture, swimming and walking gleefully in the illustrious Central European capital of Prague, bent on discovering the treasures and charm of the “old world.” Yet, to my surprise, my ears pick up Andean flutes and Latin rhythms, and all of a sudden I hear my brain shout that indeed I am listening to Colombian superstar Shakira, in the middle of Central Europe! Containing in my bewildered self, I shuffled along with my group, yet after only moving a couple of steps down the road, my ears perked up again, this time to communicate to my brain that there was still another Colombian Latin star singing his heart out on European radio. Indeed, I heard Juanes’ voice riding the Czech airwaves.

It is often said by anthropologists that immersing oneself into a culture that is radically different from your own, will surprisingly lead to a better understanding of who you are. When we spend time in foreign cultures, we might experience discomfort, annoyance and even arrogance, but anthropologists argue that we eventually begin to receive a clearer picture of our own selves and ultimately our own societies. Back in the States, although instilled from birth to always be on the prowl for any sign of Latin culture in mainstream society, Shakira and Juanes due to their familiarity to me, would have probably been white noise. Yet, as some psychologists might theorize, because I was totally surrounded by a foreign environment, my mind had acquired a new level of self-awareness and consequently a heightened appreciation for my own Latin culture had emerged. I think they’re right.

I’ll be honest, I was surprised to hear Latin music on European airwaves, I mean, other than the occasional Spanish (from Spain) pop song, I was expecting to either hear music in English or from the native European music industry. Yet, after the initial shock of deja vu and experiencing an unexpected musical soundscape a new thought sung itself into my mind. Perhaps I myself was harboring stereotypes regarding Central Europe and these biases were finally showing up and being challenged. I have always believed in fighting stereotypes and assumptions, indeed, prejudices only lead us to a myopic view of our world and deprive us of discovering the richness that human personality can entail. Tragically, I began to see my own triteness and biases towards this beloved region. My stunned reaction had really stemmed from an outdated understanding that Central Europe was not as international as it used to be under the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It seems that hypocrisy had quietly reared its head, but fortunately anthropological reasoning pushed it into the sunlight to be exposed and addressed.

Although it was surprising to hear Latin music in Prague, it is perhaps even more surprising for me NOT to expect internationalism and globalization in all parts of Europe. Czech’s true appreciation for cultural variety was exposed and a new picture of the nation began to emerge in my mind, something a more open-minded Ramon should have seen coming. After all friends, countries every year spend thousands of Euros, Rubbles, and Pounds presenting a thoughtful image of who they are in the Eurovision Song contest. In this international music competition each nation tries to show itself in the best possible light, whether that be by presenting a national image of modernism, racial diversity, or economic strength. In the end, Nations, like people, are constantly evolving, and like any community, we are responsible for appreciating the continuity within each country, following their change over time. If the Czech lands historically have already been gravitating towards an international center like Vienna, why assume that a centuries-old extravagant imperial legacy could so easily be forgotten and erased from the national psyche? Did the German citizens of the GDR lose their desire to be reunited with their western brethren after decades of communist rule? Of course not, so why should I, or anyone, assume that Czech radios would not want to blast international artists like Shakira?

It might seem that college students with our traveling, constant reading, and creativity would be the last demographic to fall victim to shortsightedness. Nevertheless, I found myself putting the Czech society in a box, eliminating the possibility for the nation to show themselves in their entirety. Unfortunately, as an individual, I could not detect my own biases towards the Czech republic until Iwas immersed in its world. However friends, as most anthropologist have discovered there is hope. Through observing our own reflections in ethnically foreign-framed mirrors, our identities have the chance to be revealed, eventually clarified, and if we’re really lucky, fully polished through the eyes of “the other.

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Ramon Giron-Melendez

<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Ramon, originally from Boston, MA, is a Junior currently studying History at Columbia College. Specializing in Eastern European history with a focus on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, he hopes to deepen his understanding of the fundamentals of the dual monarchy during his time in Vienna. Through comparative research of geo-politically marginalized regions, he aims to find new ideas to aid development in the 3rd world. Strongly believing that everyone has an inner child, he actively works to raise awareness on the rights of children worldwide through is involvement as co-president of the Columbia Child Rights group. However what most captures Ramon&rsquo;s imagination is his admiration for one of Europe&rsquo;s greatest institutions, The Eurovision Song Contest itself! Eagerly following year round developments, Ramon enjoys watching how countries choose to represent themselves to the world and how they project their national identities unto this unique international platform. A passionate fan of music, he spends as much time as possible following the music industry. He can usually be found reading Rolling Stone magazine, keeping his eyes peeled for new emerging music genres, and eagerly looking out for new artists on the rise!</span></div>

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