HéCtor FErnándEz L’HoEstE
and PabLo ViLa
Like intelligence, education comes in many packages. Growing up middle
class in Latin America, I was educated not only at home, in school, and at
church but in the most unexpected ways and locations. At home, aside from
what I may have learned from my relatives, a good chunk of my education
took place in the kitchen, where I worked on my homework while women
like Elena Cogollo and Beatriz Escorcia prepared our family meals. Always on
in the background, tuned to their preferences, clearly indicating who ruled
in the kitchen—most definitely, it wasn’t my mother—was the radio. Those
radio stations, in most cases, led me into a world despised by some of my
more snobby acquaintances, but I found them strangely gratifying. In a world
populated by characters like Arandú, Prince of the Jungle, and Toloamba, his
black companion, and Kalimán, the Incredible Man, and Solín, his Egyptian
sidekick, the soundtrack was incontestably cumbia and vallenato. While my
instructors at school Anglicized me and revealed the complexities and joys
of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Supertramp, at home Elena and Beatriz re-
minded me how to be a “true” costeño (a coastal person), that is, an inhabitant
of the Colombian Caribbean. And being costeño was, without a doubt, linked
to more than the nasally Caribbean accent of my Spanish, quite different
from what is habitually identified as Colombian Spanish: the various dialects
of Andean provinces. In this sense, my culture was closer to Cuba’s or Puerto
Rico’s than to those from the inner provinces of the country.
Like most cultures, food and music incarnated sizable factors in the opera-
tion of costeñidad (coastalness). Food incarnated a liking for arepas con huevo,
bollo, mote de ñame, and alegría. In terms of music, though, Elena and Beatriz
made sure that I knew what being a costeño was all about. Instead of the
fancy, middle- class diet of U.S. and U.K. tunes played by some local radio
stations, the radio in the kitchen was invariably tuned to frequencies that
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