Friday, March 22, 2013

A Week to Remember, Thus Far

Last Monday, I finished the first draft of The Season of Stories. This is my first attempt at writing a YA novel.  The years I spent tormenting 9th graders in the classroom inspired me to see if I could write something that would appeal to young, intelligent readers.

The Season of Stories is the shortest novel I’ve written--the manuscript contains 255 pages.  Ironically, writing this draft took more time than any of my previous novels--the manuscripts of which were considerable longer.

The question I’ve been asking myself of late is “Why?”
And the answer I’ve come up with is because of the complexity of the narrative.  That is, there are two separate storylines with a gap of 450 years in between.  One tale follows the life of the indigenous princess with whom Vasco Núñez de Balboa fell in love.  Several Spanish chroniclers who were present during the establishment of the first colony on the American mainland mention the princess’ existence, as well as Balboa’s affection for her.
The tangled circumstances surrounding Balboa’s feat--he was the first European to set eyes on the Pacific Ocean--and his tragic end are difficult to unravel.  Oddly enough, although understanding Balboa’s history is certainly challenging to deal with, this storyline wasn’t entirely responsible for the painfully slow pace of the first draft.  The second tale is mostly to blame for that.
This thread of the novel is set in 1961 and deals with a twelve-year-old boy whose life is about to face drastic changes.  His parents are moving back to their homeland, far away from everything he knows and loves in California, including language.
In writing this part, I navigated blindly.  Whereas with the princess’ story history gave me a blueprint, I never had a firm grasp on exactly where the young man’s story was going next, and only a vague idea where it would end.
Still, in the end, I’m rather excited by the end result.  I now have a little break before tacking the rewrite.

As soon as I finished the rough draft, another mega-project required my attention.  This evening, I leave for Europe with twenty-five students and three colleagues from Balboa Academy.  Although there will be plenty of sightseeing, the main quest of our excursion is to learn more about Art History.  Thus, plenty of time will be spent in the magnificent museums of Madrid, Paris, Rome, and Florence.
The work of being a chaperone is dreadfully hard, but someone has to do it.  (I know, I know, it’s a terrible cliché, but can you blame me?)
This will be my first trip to Europe, so I am definitely excited

Yes, it has been a week to remember, and there are many more memories to build in the days ahead..
To top it all off, when I return home I have a rough draft I am eager to start tackling.
Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Friday, August 24, 2012

When Soccer Was an Immigrant’s Game

The sight of Marilyn Monroe kicking a soccer ball caught my eye.  This photograph accompanied a story about the 50th anniversary of her death, which occurred on August 5, 1962.  In the shot, the Hollywood star performs the ceremonial first kick prior to a contest between the Hapoel club of Israel and the All-Stars US team.  The match took place at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, in 1957.

The thought of Marilyn in the proximity of a soccer game strained my imagination.  What did she know about the sport?  What did her ex-husband, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, think about her presence there?  More importantly, what was filmdom’s most renowned celebrity doing at an event where most of the people in the stands, as well as many of the players, were recent immigrants to the United States?    

When my attention drifted beyond the image of Marilyn, the men surrounding her drew me in further.  The players, their uniforms, the grainy feel of that era transported me back to my Los Angeles childhood—a childhood that included attending countless soccer matches.

My father, an immigrant, was born in Nicaragua.  He spent his adolescence, however, in Panama.  Although baseball was the reigning sport in both countries, in Nicaragua he attended a Catholic school where the priests—most of them Europeans, from Italy and Spain—fomented an almost spiritual devotion to soccer among their students.

A fan of baseball, basketball, and soccer, my father attended as many games as possible—always with me in tow.  For his baseball cravings, we went to Dodger games—first at the Memorial Coliseum, and then at Dodger Stadium.  For his basketball fixes, we frequented the LA Sport Arena to watch the Lakers.  And for his devotion to soccer . . . we drove to the handful of public parks that had soccer fields to catch games from the Greater Los Angeles Soccer League—an organization formed by amateurs who were passionate about football.

A mere glance at a few of the team names gives a clear indication of the league’s cultural diversity: the L.A. Scots, the Danish-Americans, the Los Angeles Saprissa, the San Pedro Yugoslavs, the Los Angeles Armenians, and the Pan-American Soccer Club.  My father’s favorite team was the L.A. Kickers. Originally comprised of German immigrants, the Kickers began the practice of recruiting the best amateur talent—regardless of national origin or ethnicity—and in doing so, they built a dynasty that won the state title for seven consecutive years.

This took place, of course, before the advent of youth soccer leagues, which have been instrumental in introducing the sport to new generations of Americans.  Back then, however, the players and fans were, almost in their entirety, immigrants.  At the games, the vibrant spectrum of languages fascinated me, with English—spoken in a colorful array of accents—serving as the lingua franca for folks who wished to communicate across cheering sections. 

The majority of those in attendance were there to enjoy a respite from the stress of having to adjust to life in their new homeland.  For the crowd, those soccer weekends were comfortable and familiar.  Those outings also provided the unifying experience of sharing their enthusiasm for a game that transcended national, ethnic, religious, and linguistic boundaries.

Marilyn Monroe may have noted the respect that fans had for “the other” on that day.  She may have seen that what divided them was insignificant at such events.  And she may have even marveled that a sport of immigrants could bring people together not only as fans, but also as new Americans.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Tender Postmortem

Until November 23, 1974, Nicaragua had never had a world champion—in any sport.  This changed that evening, when, at the Inglewood Forum, Alexis Argüello knocked out Rubén Olivares in the thirteenth round to win the WBA featherweight crown.  For Nicaraguans everywhere, it was a glorious moment that still, almost forty years later, stands near the pinnacle of national pride.

That fight also marked the beginning of Argüello’s long reign in the boxing world—twelve years in which he also won the super-featherweight and the lightweight titles.  Although only true boxing fans remember him today, Nicaraguans everywhere carry Alexis in their hearts.
Christian Giudice's Beloved Warrior: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello, does a splendid job of chronicling the Nicaraguan’s boxing career.  The task of providing an account of each of Alexis’s bouts—there were sixty-three of them—represents a formidable trial for any writer.  Falling into the abyss of repetitiousness is an ever-present danger.  But Giudice rises to the challenge, describing the circumstances surrounding each contest in prose so lucid that flurries of punches often jump off the page.

Those who followed Argüello’s career closely, however, know that he was more than just a boxer.  As the author reveals, Alexis, the consummate professional both in and out of the ring, was a luminous icon.  His appeal was universal.  In a sport where competitors frequently engage in boorish, macho behavior, Argüello stood out for always being courteous and compassionate. Because of these traits, he became a treasured role model, and this aspect is bound to hook readers who would normally shun books about a fighter. 

Beloved Warrior explores Argüello’s humble beginnings in Managua’s Barrio Monseñor Lezcano, his boxing apprenticeship, his gradual rise up the ranks, his first title bout, and then the boxer’s long tenure at the top of his profession.  More importantly, Giudice wisely recognizes that the story gains momentum after his subject retires from the ring.  The reason? It is virtually impossible for a Nicaraguan to remain on the fringes of the country’s politics.  Sooner or later, every citizen is drawn into the vortex—and Alexis Argüello, as the nation’s most idolized icon, was dragged deep into those dark, turbulent waters.
The instant he became a beloved sports hero, politicians began to exploit him.  First, sympathizers of the dictator, Anastasio Somoza, appropriated Alexis’s winning image without his consent.  In response, when the Sandinistas assumed control in 1979, one of their earliest decisions was to expropriate the boxer’s properties and financial assets.  Eventually, the revolutionary government declared him a persona non grata, prohibiting him from returning home.  In frustration, at the conclusion of his boxing career, Argüello joined the Contras—an event this organization also exploited for their own purposes.

When the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections, Argüello returned to his homeland with the hope of recovering his properties.  At this point, the true story behind Beloved Warrior begins to provide enough pathos for a well-conceived film script.  Alexis Argüello’s addiction to alcohol and drugs has taken control of his life and, over time, the former world champion hits rock bottom.  He awakens to his dire reality, enters a rehabilitation center, and it is here that the tale takes another surprising turn.  Through the intercession of the center’s founder, Argüello and the Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega meet and agree to work together for the good of Nicaragua.

Argüello’s abrupt shift in political allegiances confounds many Nicaraguans to this day.  Beloved Warrior, however, convincingly makes the case that the politically naïve Alexis did so because he truly believed that through this partnership he could help the impoverished among his fellow citizens.

With laudable objectivity, Giudice explores how, with Alexis as a drawing card, Ortega was able to work his way back to the presidency.  Running on the Sandinista ticket in the 2004 municipal elections, Alexis becomes vice-mayor of Managua.  In the 2008 municipal elections, he wins the mayoralty.  Charges of fraud, however, taint the results and Argüello, who had grown accustomed to winning cleanly and decisively in his boxing career, is genuinely hurt when many of his compatriots accuse him of collaborating with a corrupt government.

Then, tragically, on July 1, 2009, the boxing world in general, and Nicaraguans in particular, wake up to the devastating news that Alexis Argüello, the adored hero, had committed suicide.  Giudice dispassionately examines every angle of this incident—an incident that remains shrouded in unanswered questions and fraught with the suspicion that the Sandinistas murdered Argüello because he intended to hold a press conference to denounce the party’s manipulation of the electoral process.

Three years later, Nicaraguans still mourn the loss of their greatest sports hero and of an extraordinary person.  Christian Giudice writes on his website: “In Beloved Warrior, I hoped to remind people—in Nicaragua and the U.S.—why they loved Alexis Argüello so intensely. I hoped to remind them of each moment that Alexis treated them like family. To me, that kindness was his legacy. No matter who you were, he made you feel like you meant something. It was never pretense; with Alexis, it was always real. I hope, for you the reader, that Beloved Warrior will recapture Alexis’s moments of glory and, once again, remind you why you never stopped thinking about him.”

In this tender postmortem, the author achieves his stated goal, and admirably.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Hero from a Golden Era

The Coliseum is Wally’s park.
Vin Scully (who also coined the term Moon Shot)

“Why Wally Moon?” my wife asked.

In the seventeen years I’ve known her, including the thirteen we’ve been married, I must have mentioned Wally’s name five-hundred times, easily.  This marks the first occasion, however, in which she actually wants to understand my mania. 
Her sincerity startles me and, to be honest, for a moment my ego feels a bit deflated.  During all this time, have I been talking to the wall about my admiration for Wally Moon?  The disappointment only lasts a couple of seconds, though, because this benign obsession is one of my favorite topics of discussion.
As I prepare to answer the question, my mind reaches back to another era and place: the Dodgers’ arrival in California and their years playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
My first memories of baseball date back to 1958, but my recollections as a four-year-old only involve the rich aroma of cigars and the sight of a grayish-blue cloud of smoke hovering above a sea of fedoras as the Dodgers play on a lush green field below.
My family lived within walking distance of the Coliseum, where the Dodgers played during their first four years on the west coast.  General admission—the seats furthest away from home plate—cost $1 for adults and .25 ¢ for children.  Overnight, my father, a baseball fanatic, thought he had gone to sleep and woken up in heaven.  We seldom missed a home game, and although at that young age I didn’t have a clue as to the drama taking place on the field, I enjoyed the atmosphere and the reactions of fans.
With each passing game, however, my passion for baseball and the Dodgers grew.  Within a couple of years I had learned the names of all the team members and, as a faithful collector of baseball cards, I had memorized their statistics.
My favorite Dodger, by far, was Wally Moon.
Why Wally Moon?
A lot of it has to do with place.
Wally, the 1954 National League Rookie of the Year, played his first four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals before they traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers, in 1959.  In his first year as a Dodger, he became the spark the team needed to take the team from a dismal 1958 season to 1959 World Champions.  But what made me a diehard fan—and created thousands of others as well—were his Moon Shots.  These gravity-defying launches off Wally’s bat made the Coliseum his park. 

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, constructed to host the 1932 Olympics, is ideally suited for football and track and field.  Baseball, however, is an awkward fit.  The stadium’s unyielding oval shape placed the left field fence at only 251 feet from home plate. A 42 foot-high screen had to be raised to stop every fly ball from becoming a home run.  (To compare: the Red Sox’s legendary Green Monster is 310 feet from the plate and the wall stands at 37 feet.)
A left-handed hitter, as well as something of a scholar, Wally assessed the situation as soon as he learned of the trade and, following the advice of Stan Musial, his close friend and former Cardinal teammate, he modified his swing to one he describes as “inside-out.”  Although he was hitting against the grain in going to the opposite field, he soon mastered the Coliseum’s odd physical arrangement. 

The Moon Shot was a work of art, and I had the great fortune to witness many of them.  I can still recall, and vividly, that when Wally stepped up to the plate, with the exception of the occasional fan demanding a Moon Shot, a reverential stillness would spread through the Coliseum, everyone hoping to see Wally loft the ball over the screen. 
I’d block out all distractions to concentrate on every pitch.  What was fascinating to observe was Wally’s ability to decide, in a fraction of a second, whether to go for a home run to left field or not.  When he did go for the screen, the arc of his swing was discernibly different, and when he connected well, the fans would hold their breaths as they watched the ball rise up and up, like a pole-vaulter steadily ascending toward the top of the bar.  Then, as the ball cleared the barrier, the crowd would erupt in thunderous celebration, and I can still see myself leading the cheers. 
That, to an extent, answers my wife’s question.  To watch a Moon Shot was a wondrous experience—as close to rapture as there is in sports.  What’s more, today I only have to close my eyes for a moment and, once again, I’m a boy seated in the Coliseum stands watching a baseball come off Wally’s bat, climb toward the heavens, and then gloriously descend on the other side of the screen.

*  *  *  *

Most novelists are touchy when discussing future writing projects.  I include myself among their ranks.  We have a deep-seated fear, one that borders on superstition, that if one speaks too much of a tale that has yet to be written, its essence, like a genie whose bottle has been carelessly uncorked, will vanish into an wraithlike realm of lost stories.  It is better to keep the cork on until the novel is well underway or, preferably, until it’s approaching the final draft. 

What prompted my wife to ask “Why Wally Moon?” was my evident excitement over reading Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life. (Click on title for purchase information.)

Moon started to write his memoirs at the urging of his children and grandchildren, who wanted his story recorded for posterity.  With the assistance of co-author Tim Gregg, Wally completed the Herculean task of documenting his life from the beginning, in Bay, Arkansas, to the present.  Like a seasoned storyteller—his Masters in Education from Texas A&M pays off handsomely here—he escorts readers through his college years on a joint basketball and baseball scholarship; his unorthodox rise through the minor leagues; and his twelve years in the majors with the Cardinals and the Dodgers.  Moon’s accounts of playing alongside many immortals now entrenched in baseball’s pantheon make for fascinating reading. Moreover, although the tone of his narrative always remains respectful, his candor about the issues and people in baseball—then and now—is remarkable.

Moon also writes about his years beyond the sport, giving readers a rare glimpse into the choices a former major-league player of his time could make once his days on the baseball diamond have ended.

Moon Shots: Reflections of a Baseball Life will delight every baseball fan. Followers of the Dodgers will be especially thrilled to get a first-hand account of the team’s early years in Los Angeles.  More important, however, will be the comfort one gets from reading the tale of a man of great character: as a professional ballplayer, Wally took his responsibility as role model for my generation seriously, and he conducted himself accordingly.  Considering today’s tormented world of sports, this book will reassure readers that in spite of the temptations of celebrity, heroes can remain noble, unspoiled persons.

At the peril of jinxing the novel I hope to begin writing sometime next year, I will share this: Moon Shots: A Reflection on a Baseball Life is a godsend for me.  For close to twenty years I’ve toyed with a storyline for young readers that involves growing up in Los Angeles during the 1961 Dodger season, their last in the Coliseum.  I will not say what the novel is about (in large part because I’m not quite sure myself at this point), but one thing is certain: Wally Moon will be an overarching presence from beginning to end.  Thanks to Moon Shots, I can now get the story straight.

Friday, September 30, 2011

An Encounter with Omar’s Spirit

An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.
Charles Dickens

I had no desire to go on this excursion. My wife, however, as High School Principal of Balboa Academy, needed to scout an experimental farm in the province of Coclé as a possible site for student retreats. The farm, I was told, was located beyond the town of La Pintada, a community I love to visit—it’s where my beloved cigars are made.

On this occasion, however, to see La Pintada again, if only briefly, was not enough of an enticement. I knew the trip would take an entire day, and after an intense week of rewriting a novel I’ve been working on for years, this Saturday I wanted to piddle around the house. But my wife can be supremely stubborn, and when she’s made up her mind, I am doomed.

One of the biology teachers at Balboa Academy had made the arrangements for the visit, and we were scheduled to meet her in the city of Penonomé. As anyone can imagine, during the two-hour drive there I failed to be pleasant company.

My attitude changed completely, however, once I learned that the farm itself—La Granja Alternativa—was located in the village of Coclesito. Over the years, Coclesito had acquired a mythic quality in my mind because of its association with General Omar Torrijos—a Panamanian leader who enjoys legendary status among many of his compatriots. Omar was deeply in love with this isolated village and its inhabitants. He visited Coclesito frequently. (In fact, on July 31, 1981, he died in a plane crash—under conditions that remain shrouded in rumors of conspiracies—en route to Coclesito. From the village’s higher ground, one can clearly see the upper rim of the steep valley, between two mountain peaks, where the craft fell.)

General Omar Torrijos loved Coclesito so much that he built a home here—which today is a museum. He would invite select guests so they could see, firsthand, the impoverished conditions in which Panamanian campesinos lived. Among the visitors were Walter Mondale, George McGovern, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Graham Greene. More importantly, it was in Coclesito that Torrijos started to implement his vision of how cooperatives should work. It was a model he proposed to spread throughout Panama to help make his idea of a revolution of the poor a reality.

I had always dreamed of visiting Coclesito, but reports about the horrendous road conditions dampened my enthusiasm. On this trip, however, we were thrilled to discover that the road is currently undergoing preparations to be paved. And although the thirty-kilometer dirt path between La Pintada and Coclesito was a bit bumpy, we managed just fine.

This visit to Coclesito excited me because Omar Torrijos has been a formidable presence in my imagination as of late: he’s an important character in the novel I’m revising. But within the manuscript pages General Torrijos has been flat—a poorly rounded-out character. To write realistically about Omar, the prototype of the “benevolent dictator,” was proving to be a frustrating task. I could clearly see the shortcomings of the Panamanian leader, but his virtues, particularly in his dealings with campesinos, remained hidden.

My experience in Coclesito changed all that, however. Here, more than anywhere else in Panamá, I’ve felt Omar’s presence. I’m still sorting out exactly what I saw in Coclesito, but the beauty, orderliness, and obvious love the residents feel for their departed leader—evident in the monuments and memorials that abound throughout the village—left a vivid mark on me. And this, as a writer, has been a blessing because my encounter with General Torrijos’s spirit in the mountains of Coclé should help me breathe life into his character.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Need to Preserve Cultural Heritage: The Case of Las Tablas

A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up our inner distance.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Last June my wife and I visited the province of Los Santos. After living nine years in Panama, we figured it was time to do so. What we saw delighted us. Long acknowledged as “The Cradle of Panamanian Culture,” the province lived up to its reputation.

Indeed, to spend time in the more noteworthy communities of Los Santos is to step back a few centuries. The prominent features of these towns—the architecture of the buildings that surround the plazas, the layout of the streets, the sedate pace with which people move about—represent vivid testimonials to a colonial past.

La Villa de los Santos and Guararé are two municipalities that hark back to an era when the Spanish Crown still ruled the region. To stroll about, visit the main churches, gaze at the plaza, and tour the museums is, indeed, an illuminating experience for anyone who’s interested in the history of the isthmus. The residents I spoke to in these towns were proud of their cultural legacy. What’s more, they’re acutely aware of their contribution to Panamanian national identity—a subject they’ll discuss at length with any visitor who’s willing to listen.

Oddly, the city of Las Tablas, the community most Panamanians consider the cornerstone of the nation’s cultural heritage, offered a different experience. Here we found that locals were focused on the present and worried about the future, their gazes set northward, in the direction of the city of Chitré. The Tableños mentioned—without our prompting and with traces of envy—that the commercial development of the provincial capital of Herrera, located thirty-four kilometers away, is vastly outpacing that of Los Santos. The fervent wish of Tableños is to catch up to and then surpass Chitré’s economic boom. What's more, they seem intent on accomplishing this as soon as possible.

When one drives through Chitré, the commercial success of the city is evident. Several modern hotels and a large mall are currently under construction. In Las Tablas, however, the urge to compete is already taking a cultural toll. The plaza, the heart of this city, no longer reflects its colonial past. Instead, the emphasis of its current design is on modernity, rather than on history and tradition. In short, Las Tablas’ plaza is a sterile sight to behold.

The center of Las Tablas reveals the city’s craving to become the undisputed commercial center of the peninsula of Azuero. Las Tablas, I was sad to observe, is quickly losing its historical character. An example is the museum that honors Belisario Porras, the Panamanian president who is credited with ushering the nation into the 20th century. This building, next to the plaza, is a modern, air-conditioned granite edifice that fails to reflect, even remotely, the home where Porras was born and raised.

With its sights set firmly on its commercial expansion, the city of Las Tablas is missing the opportunity to teach the rest of Panama the virtues of preservation. Absorbed in its competition against Chitré, the leaders and inhabitants of this city are relinquishing the guardianship of national cultural identity to La Villa de los Santos and to Guararé.

The visionary choice would be to retain—or as now is the case in Las Tablas, to restore—the city’s colonial heritage. To seek to match Chitré’s hard-earned prosperity will ultimately render Las Tablas a carbon-copy of Santiago, David, or Chitré itself. That is something the city of Las Tablas neither needs nor wants.

To restore and preserve Las Tablas’ colonial legacy will pay bigger dividends in the long run. This investment is the wisest of all—as many Latin American cities that have chosen to honor their architectural past have learned. Today, they reap the benefits of visitors who have traveled from near and far to experience the pleasure of strolling through the streets of a cultural icon.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Intricacies of Art, Religion, and Rebellion in Colonial Panama

Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.
Albert Camus

My family moved to Nicaragua—from Los Angeles—when I was eleven. Unable to afford the steep tuition of the American-Nicaraguan School, my parents enrolled me in the Colegio Salesiano San Juan Bosco instead, an all-boys Catholic school in the city of Granada.

Beginning the day I uttered my first word, I think, my mother and paternal grandmother made sure that I became well-indoctrinated in the precepts of Catholicism. Yet, in spite of their diligent groundwork, I wasn’t prepared for the demanding experience that awaited me: all students in my new school were obligated to attend mass every morning before the beginning of classes.

Notwithstanding my youth, I had considerable respect for Catholic rituals, but, at the same time, there was only so much worship that I—a restless boy on the verge of adolescence—could tolerate. It’s not surprising, then, that before long I started to succumb to perilous boredom during the daily services. To alleviate these bouts that could potentially lead to trouble, I’d stare at the religious images and at the intricate, quasi-gothic artwork inside of the school’s chapel.

Without a doubt, my fascination with religious art began back then. To this day I find the interior of Catholic churches, particularly the iconography—that is, the pictorial use of symbols to invoke the stories behind the images—spellbinding. What’s more, my experiences in Catholicism have become an integral part of my craft: in every novel I’ve published so far the Church and its teachings have played key roles.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that on a recent trip to the provinces of Coclé, Herrera, and Los Santos—in the Republic of Panamá, where my wife and I live—we spent much of our vacation time visiting colonial church buildings. Our first stop was in Natá. The historical gem in the center of the town was built in 1522. It remains the oldest church on the American mainland to be still in use.

Throughout our church tour I indulged myself, taking as many photographs as possible of the religious artwork within the buildings. One of the leitmotivs I found mesmerizing was the portrayal of cherubs on altar columns. Historical records of the Spanish Colonial era describe that master artisans were brought to the New World to oversee the design and construction of temples. To help spread the faith, the more artistically-inclined among the indigenous were trained—some unwillingly, of course—to conduct the bulk of the labor. For the interior artwork, the master artisan taught the natives how to carve and create the countless countenances that adorn these churches.

A common feature of this work, as well as an interesting outcome, is that in many temples the more graceful cherubs have indigenous features with long, flowing tresses and beatific, kindly expressions.

On the other hand, the cherubs of European features often are rather sinister in appearance.

Or, in the more extreme cases, their tongues are distorted, sometimes even forked, implying that in the estimation of the artist, or artists, Spaniards were incapable of speaking the truth.

What is clear upon considering these acts of rebellion is that the indigenous artists counted with the complicity of the master artisan. What’s more, it seems inconceivable that such items could be included so close to the heart of worship space without the approval, albeit tacit, of the parish priest, who more than likely pretended to look the other way. The seditious artwork within colonial churches suggests that the parties involved—the native artists, the master artisan, and the clergyman—had an unspoken agreement that the indigenous laborers could leave a historical trace to tell future generations that their submission to the mighty sword and cross that lay behind Spanish authority would never be complete.