Favorite Things: Emma Grrl and the Duke University Later American Readers

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Emma Grrl is a touring musician who writes and records with the punk rock group She/Her/Hers. Recently returning to college to study Latin American history, Grrl has been relentlessly studying the culture of countries such as Chile and Ecuador. 

I picked out my complete collection of the Duke University Press “Latin American Readers,” which are all primary source documents for different countries in Latin America. I have 17 of them. 

When I started to go back to school once the pandemic hit, music fell apart and I didn’t know what to do with my life. I thought about the things I was interested in and what I loved to learn about. I thought about growing up in San Diego and being surrounded by this multicultural, primarily Hispanic, community and how important that was to me growing up. I decided that I wanted to go back to school for Latin American history.

I kept coming across these books and seeing them recommended. I bought one of them and thought it was incredible, so I ended up buying every single one of them. Sometimes I’ll just pick one up and read the collections in it. It is incredible, the amount of diversity you see in Latin America. 

There’s this whole continent that in America, we kind of smush together and just think about Mexico because we’re more familiar with it. But it’s a super diverse area with all these different indigenous communities with different histories. It’s been amazing to come to slowly understand over the course of this past year the huge diversity of culture and history in Latin America. 

But the books aren’t just history, a lot of the content is poems, selections from novels and food recipes — all of this culture tied together and made to fit into a broader narrative. “What is Chile like?” “What is Ecuador like?” I didn’t know anything about Ecuador and now I’ve learned a lot about it, and it’s really interesting. 

There’s a section about Chile that I thought was really fascinating for a couple of reasons. During the late-’60s and early-’70s — when Salvador Allende was still president, before he was overthrown by a U.S.-backed coup — there was something called the New Song Movement, which was protest folk music mixed with indigenous Latin American music. There’s an interview with a band called Inti-Illimani about socialism, and they talk about the ways that American rock ‘n’ roll, protest music and jazz came to Chile. 

They discuss how those things mixed in with indigenous music, and what it was like to experience cultural imperialism through American music coming into the country and taking over the airwaves and pushing out classic Latin American music. But at the same time, young people took this radical new music and mixed it in with their own culture and came up with their own protest music. They took one of the primary tools of imperialism and turned it on its head. 

What I like about these books is that it’s an opportunity for me to share in their culture, as they have shared so much of American culture. We don’t often get exposed to the cultural side of Latin America, even though it’s right there and there’s probably people in your community that know all about this stuff. Learning about this world is so important and interesting. 

Interview edited and condensed by Skyler Ashley. If you have a suggestion for Favorite Things, please email Skyler@Lansingcitypulse.com

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