Editor's Letter: Global Transformation of Latin American Culture

By June Carolyn Erlick

We were little black cats with white whiskers and long tails. One musical number from my one and only dance performance—in the fifth grade—has always stuck in my head. It was called “Hernando’s Hideaway,” a rhythm I was told was a tango from a faraway place called Argentina.

The beat imprinted on my imagination, as did the lyrics: “I know a dark secluded place/a place where no one knows your face/a glass of wine a fast embrace/It’s called ...Hernando’s Hideaway...”

So while I was preparing this issue on dance, in tribute to Harvard’s Humanities Center conference “Tango! Global Transformations of Latin American Culture,” I decided to google the words to the song. Much to my surprise, I found the decidely non-Argentina word “olé!” A reference to castanets—normally associated with Spanish flamenco—led me to investigate the pan-Hispanic imagery. It turned out that “Hernando’s Hideaway” was from the Broadway musical—later a Hollywood film—“Pajama Game.” My childhood Latin dance associations—also including Ritchie Valens’ rendering of “La Bamba” and Desi Arnaz as the Cuban orchestra leader Ricky Ricardo in “I Love Lucy”—were inspired global transformations of Latin American culture.

Many of the authors in this issue have also touched on their childhood experiences with Latin dance. Homi K. Bhabha recalls listening to his father’s scratchy tango records; Doris Sommer brings us back to her Brooklyn childhood and how master pianist Larry Harlow inspired “inter-ethnic bridges so wide that everyone is invited to dance.” Alba Barbería confesses, “My life probably started with a tango,” and Claudia Pineda relates how dance performance connects immigrant youth with their home culture and helps them adapt to their home society.

In his article “Colombia’s Broken Body,” Álvaro Restrepo Hernández perhaps provides the explanation for this unintentional theme: “Children are masters of a powerful and unique instrument that is their body, their being, with which they can play, create, enjoy, transform and be transformed.”

Dance is a truth engraved in the body: as Restrepo notes, “Everything passes through the body.” Thus, dance has the power of transformation and communication, linking the self and the other. Suddenly, I understood why it has been so hard for me as an editor to decide which articles went in which section in this ReVista. How we conceive of ourselves in terms of societies and religions—shaping identity—is intricately related with how we project ourselves as people—“beyond the tourist gaze.” These relations exist whether at home or abroad, as seen through dance in the diaspora, and in how we transform ourselves as individuals and cultures.

Dance has the consistent ability to change, to mutate and to express. This issue was intended to be in black and white, drawing its strength for the power of dance movement. But as ReVista designer Kelly McMurray of 2communiqué and I worked with the vibrant images in this magazine, we found it mutating into color.

From time to time, ReVista will now be published in color, not every issue, but at least once every academic year. We celebrate the tango conference and the dance theme with color—a joy, a surprise, a dance itself. Enjoy!