Stay up-to-date with the latest trends and events from around the hemisphere with AQ's Panorama. Each issue, AQ packs its bags and offers readers travel tips on a new Americas destination.

In this issue:
Pelo Malo
Venezuela on film: Junior dreams of emulating his idol, rocker Henry Stephen. Photo: John Marquez

Film Review: Pelo Malo

Rebecca Bintrim

As his mother, Marta, pounds on the bathroom door, nine-year-old Junior stares at himself in the mirror, slicking his hair back with water in an effort to undo his tight curls. Junior’s determination to straighten his hair so he can look like his idol, Venezuelan rock star Henry Stephen, is an ongoing source of tension with his mother—and the axis around which reflections on issues of race, gender, homophobia, and violence in contemporary Venezuela revolve in Pelo Malo, a film by Venezuelan director Mariana Rondón.

Pelo Malo, literally “bad hair,” is a term used throughout Latin America to refer to curly, Afro-Latino hair. Like the term, the relationship between Junior and his mother highlights prejudices in Venezuela. Marta, an unemployed widow, breaks gender norms by persistently trying to convince her chauvinistic ex-boss to rehire her as a security guard, a position generally held by men. Yet she is disturbed by Junior’s obsession with straightening his hair, worrying it is a sign that he might be gay. In the end, the agitation between Junior and Marta culminates in mutual apathy, uncharacteristic of a mother-son relationship.

Since its debut at the Toronto Film Festival last September, Pelo Malo has won 41 awards, including Best Film at the San Sebastián Film Festival in Spain. But the film has also aroused controversy in Venezuela, where Rondón says many viewers are uncomfortable confronting the evolving social awareness of race and sexual orientation in their country. “The realism of the film bothers many viewers,” says Rondón, but that makes it a “good first step in having a concrete discussion.”

View a trailer for Pelo Malo here.

2015 Pan American Games

Angelica Serna

This July, world-class athletes from North America, Latin America and the Caribbean will descend on Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, to compete in the third-largest international sports competition, the 2015 Pan American (Pan Am) Games. Surpassed in size only by the Summer Olympics and the Asian Games, the quadrennial event will feature baseball, wakeboarding, waterskiing, roller skating, rugby sevens, and squash, in addition to the traditional Olympic sports.

The first Pan Am Games were held in Buenos Aires in 1951, where 22 countries participated. This year, more than 6,000 athletes from 41 countries in the Americas will take part. More than just an opportunity for regional bragging rights, the Games, governed by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), will also serve the dual purpose of qualifying athletes in more than 15 sports, such as men’s water polo, gymnastics and diving, for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Cirque du Soleil, perhaps Canada’s most iconic cultural export, will kick off the two-week XVII Pan American Games with a performance on July 10. The Games promise to put Toronto’s culturally diverse population of more than 230 ethnic groups and nationalities on display. “Our plan is to ignite the spirit [not only] through a celebration of sport but also a celebration of art and culture,” says Teddy Katz, the games’ director of media relations.

But the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games go beyond athletic competition and regional culture. According to the Organizing Committee, the event aims to leave a sustainable legacy for the local community. The CIBC Athlete’s Village will serve as a mixed-use neighborhood with affordable housing, new condominiums, a YMCA, and a university dormitory to be enjoyed long after the athletes go home. And of course, there will be plenty of venues for sports-mad Torontonians to enjoy for years to come.

Spreading the Arepa Love

Andreina Seijas

Andreina Seijas checks out a Washington, D.C. eatery bringing Venezuelan flavors to U.S. palettes.

Over the past decade, hungry U.S. diners have increasingly grown to love the Venezuelan take on a popular dish introduced by Latin American immigrants: grilled cornmeal patties called arepas that are stuffed with everything from cheese to pork to fried plantains.

New York City has at least one Venezuelan restaurant serving arepas in each of its five boroughs, and arepa aficionados can now get their fix from Beverly Hills to Miami, but until recently it was absent from the nation’s capital. That is, until the popular food truck ArepaZone made its D.C. debut last spring.

ArepaZone owners Gabriela Febres and Ali Arellano aren’t novices. In 2012, they created Antojitos de tu país, a website that distributes Venezuelan cheese, sweets, snacks, and other food goods nationwide. But the growth of the Venezuelan diaspora in D.C. persuaded them to move beyond cyberspace to the streets. “Food trucks are very popular in Washington these days,” explains Febres, “That’s why we decided to open our own, to begin spreading the arepa love in the city.”

Today, customers from all over the world wait in line for their arepas. “A couple of months into the business, we already felt like Americans were born eating our food,” said Arellano.

The truck also offers fresh corn pancakes topped with cheese, fried cheese sticks, and 13 types of arepas. You can’t go wrong with ArepaZone’s most popular option, the Sifrina, stuffed with chicken salad, avocado and cheddar cheese. ¡Buen provecho!

10 Things to Do: Arequipa, Peru

Sarah Bons

Peru’s second-largest city, Arequipa has been a breeding ground for rebels and intellectuals since its founding in 1540. Among its famous residents is Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. The rich architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage site is worth the long journey from Lima. All prices are in U.S. dollars.

1. Treat yourself to a taste of Arequipa. Queso helado, a sweet dessert made of vanilla, coconut, milk, cinnamon, and cloves, is hard to pass up. The treat gets its name from its cheese-like appearance and is traditionally served by street vendors.

2. Visit Arequipa’s oldest resident. The mummy known as “Juanita” was sacrificed to the Incan gods over 500 years ago. Discovered in 1995, Juanita resides at Catholic University of Santa María’s Museo Santuarios Andinos. Call ahead. ($5 admission)

3. Soak up Andean melodies. Head to Las Quenas in the old quarter for traditional Andean music. Open Monday to Saturday, the restaurant offers folkloric dance performances on weekend nights. ($1.50 admission)

4. Get your feet wet. Nature lovers can escape to the Valle de Chilina, 20 minutes outside of town, and raft down the pristine Río Chili. Rapids range from beginner to advanced. ($23 for three-hour trip with Cusipata)

5. Enjoy a world-class meal. Credited with putting Peruvian cuisine on the global map, Chef Gastón Acurio’s local restaurant, Chicha, is the perfect place to sample classics such as adobo and alpaca.

6. Step back in time. The Plaza de Armas has preserved its colonial splendor. Sillar, a white volcanic stone used for many of the buildings,
gives Arequipa its nickname—the “White City.”

7. Step outside your comfort zone. Hike up El Misti, a 5,822 meter (19,101-foot) active volcano, for spectacular views. Caution: high altitude and extreme temperatures can make the climb dangerous. ($130 for a two-day guided tour with Incaventura).

8. Strike a deal. There are 4,000 Peruvian varieties of potato—and you can find many of them in the 134-year-old Mercado San Camilo, Arequipa’s main farmers’ market, open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

9. Explore a city within a city. The most famous resident of the Monastery of Santa Catalina, founded in 1579, was Sor Ana de los Ángeles, a nun beatified by Pope John Paul II. It also houses the Pinacoteca art gallery. ($8 admission)

10. Make your own ceviche. The Casa de Ávila hotel offers cooking courses in traditional cuisine such as ceviche and rocoto relleno. ($21 for a two-hour class)

View a slideshow of attractions from Arequipa here.

Slideshow images courtesy of José Gutiérrez Contreras.

Festivals: Brazil's Boi-Bumbá

Zachary Bleckner

If Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval is the greatest party in the world, then Boi Bumbá (beat the bull) is a close second. Every June, thousands of Brazilians flock to the small Amazonian river town of Parintins, Amazonas—halfway between Santarém and Manaus—to celebrate Brazil’s second-largest annual festival.

Boi Bumbá pits the city’s two samba schools—the Garantido and the Caprichoso—against each other over three nights of dazzling theatrical competition. Both schools reenact a local legend about the resurrection of a favorite ox that was slaughtered to satisfy the cravings of a ranch hand’s pregnant wife.

Although the origins of the Boi Bumbá story are widely disputed, the legend is said to have been introduced to the region by a family of rubber traders who migrated from northeastern Brazil in 1913. Since its inauguration in 1965, the festival—which is best accessed by boat—has evolved into a fusion of Indigenous, African and contemporary Brazilian popular cultures. The competition is played out at the bull-shaped, open-air arena called the Bumbódromo, before an audience that regularly tops 35,000 spectators, participants and a panel of judges. Each team stages a different, three-hour-long interpretation of the legend each night, donning flamboyant costumes, parading giant puppets, launching fireworks, and choreographing dances to booming rhythm sections.

But there are no impartial observers at this celebration. Fans split in support of the two teams—each led by an ox—and play an integral part in the show by dancing, singing and waving handkerchiefs and candles when their team is performing. On the third night, the judges choose a winner based on 22 categories, including best music, audience support and best floats. But it’s on the fourth day that the fun really starts, with the winning team leading a street parade and a city-wide party.

This year, Garantido will defend its crown at the festival’s 50th anniversary, scheduled for June 26 to 29.

From the Think Tanks

Brendan O'Boyle

Inter-American Dialogue, Woodrow Wilson Center, Human Rights Watch

Social spending and tax policy have emerged as two of the most common tools to combat high levels of poverty and disproportionately low access to education for Indigenous and Afro-descendent populations in Latin America. In their report, Fiscal Policy and Ethno-Racial Inequality in Bolivia, Brazil, Guatemala and Uruguay, the Inter-American Dialogue analyzes the effects government fiscal interventions have on poverty and inequality among racial and ethnic minorities. The report finds that taxes and direct transfers have little impact on reducing ethnic and racial inequalities, and offers an in-depth look at country-specific fiscal policies that have arisen as responses to ethno racial divides, such as conditional cash transfers in Bolivia and Guatemala.

The surge in migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the U.S. in mid-2014 highlighted intensifying regional violence and prompted a greater commitment from Washington to address the problem. In Crime and Violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle: How U.S. Policy Responses are Helping, Hurting, and Can be Improved, the Woodrow Wilson Center presents findings from a year-long review of the Central America Regional Security Initiative. The report identifies the successes and challenges of current U.S. policies and recommends implementing a broader security strategy that expands the focus on drug trafficking to include economic opportunity, anti-corruption efforts and institutional reform in the criminal justice and law enforcement systems.

Migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization must undergo a rapid screening process. In their report, You Don’t Have Rights Here: US Border Screening and Returns of Central Americans to Risk of Serious Harm, Human Rights Watch argues that these expedited removal processes fail to adequately review petitions for asylum, resulting in deportation to countries where migrants may face grave threats. The report points to a pattern of negligence by the border patrol in examining asylum claims. It suggests that the U.S. may be violating international human rights obligations, and calls for the Department of Homeland Security to further review asylum claims and cease fast-tracking Central American deportation.

Like what you're reading?

Subscribe to Americas Quarterly's free Week in Review newsletter and stay up-to-date on politics, business and culture in the Americas.