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10 Cultural Icons Found In The Last Place You’d Expect
The global economy is truly a wonderful thing. More than ever before in human history—thanks to quick transportation and the Internet—the cultures of the world now mingle and interact. But this has led to some cultural peculiarities, where now we’re finding cultural quirks existing in the last places or with the last people you’d expect.
10 Quaint Little German Town
South American country Venezuela is known for its tropical climate, its Latin roots, and its beautiful jungles. Yet in one northern corner of the country lies a tiny town that is a 100 percent German. Meet La Colonia Tovar—the quaint little town founded by 300 German immigrants who sailed to Venezuela in 1843 and managed to keep their culture and heritage intact for nearly 200 years.
The 300 Germans were called by a colonizing group one day, and they all decided to sail off to the other side of the world. Three months later, they landed on Venezuelan shores and began to set up shop. But instead of integrating into Venezuelan culture, eating Venezuelan food, and having part-Venezuelan grandchildren, the Germans made their own small Germany in an isolated and uninhabited part of the mountainous region of Venezuela.
They continued to speak their own dialect (Badisch), they built their houses and buildings with the same German look, and they continued wearing German clothing and eating German delicacies (although the spices were probably a bit different). They were largely ignored by the rest of Venezuela, partly because the only way to travel to their little town was by a river to Caracas. So the rest of Venezuela probably thought of them as something akin to “those weird white people living in our mountains.”
For 100 years, they were successful and kept to themselves. But when World War II started and the Germans began slaughtering everyone who wasn’t white, blond, and blue-eyed, the Venezuelans thought it was a good idea to start keeping track of their little nest of possible Nazis. The Venezuelan government banned the German language, enforced the teaching of Spanish, and paved more roads connecting the town to everyone else so that further interaction would commence.
In a few decades, intermarriage had become common and many Venezuelans went to La Colonia Tovar as an escape from hectic city life. But there might be something to the cultural preservation of La Colonia Tovar: It’s now one of the most prosperous towns in Venezuela in terms of economy and quality of life. So the next time that you find yourself in South America and pining for a strudel, head on over to La Colonia Tovar.
9 The Grandma Graffiti Gang
Graffiti in urban areas is usually a sign of a bad neighborhood or at least one where rebellious youth have free rein over the streets. Culturally, graffiti can be most attributed to the inner cities of the US, but it pops up all over the world—and we always know that it’s those darn kids who did it. But in Portugal, one workshop is trying to turn that stereotype on its head. Instead of the kids painting graffiti, it’s the grandmas.
Lata 65 is an urban art workshop in Lisbon, Portugal, where senior citizens—mostly grandmas—are taught to appreciate and create their own street graffiti. First intended to be a onetime thing, Lata 65 found so much enthusiasm and attention from the elderly community that the founder, Lara Rodrigues, decided to keep it running until the grandmas got tired of tagging their town (which they haven’t).
Rodrigues emphasizes that age is just a number and wants to use this workshop to defeat the stigma of uselessness attached to senior citizens by letting them speak out against ageism and ageist stereotypes with their own art in the form of graffiti. She wants to use it as a gap to bridge the generations by demonstrating that urban art has the “power to encourage, promote, and enhance the democratization of access to contemporary art.”
The workshop consists of two days of modules. It begins with the history and theory of graffiti art (the theory is grab a spray can, find a wall, and hope the cops don’t show up), and then the grandmas create their own street name and tag their own untagged walls. We cannot say whether any of the grandmas have been arrested or not, but it’s only a matter of time before they’re giving the Bloods and the Crips a run for their money.
8 The Concrete Cowboys
Philadelphia is the city where the tough streets can cause any nice kid to make the wrong choices. But in the middle of the gentrification, the run-down buildings, and the rotting neighborhoods in an urban area that is in desperate need of a tune-up lies a hidden stable where a couple of horses are kept by riders that are known around town as the Concrete Cowboys.
Started by Malik Divers a decade ago when he first found his love for horses, Divers has been keeping a stable of horses in a junkyard in the middle of the city to help teenagers find a hobby they can be passionate about. This is happening in an environment where everything is pushing them to get into the wrong things—the hopelessness as well as the lack of jobs and money puts pressure on young people to join gangs and get into drugs—which ultimately ruins their lives.
As Divers has proved with several teenage cowboys who are now living good lives and are in love with riding their horses, the horse therapy is something that was desperately needed. One cowboy, Shahir Drayton, claims that he’s lost several family members due to random acts of urban violence. But because he was part of the Concrete Cowboys, he never fell into the same sort of crowd that took his brother, uncle, and several friends.
Trotting down the urban streets with their horses, the Concrete Cowboys find a sense of peace and fulfillment that they have no means to find elsewhere. We’re sure that the horses love it, too, even if the scenery may be a little different from the average Western movie from 50 years ago.
7 K-Pop Lovers
India has long been held as a smorgasbord of cultural artifacts—ancient India as well as modern India, with Bollywood becoming almost as popular as Hollywood in many parts of the world. But one part of India disagrees. The northeastern Indian state of Manipur has a long history of conflict with the rest of India.
Those of Manipur are lighter skinned and more Mongoloid than the rest of India and are thus considered lesser than those of central India. Tension due to racial discrimination created a feeling of alienation in Manipur. In 2000, this led a powerful local group called the Revolutionary People’s Front to ban all Bollywood and Hindi films and channels to “stamp out Indianization.” Because of the sudden lack of material to broadcast, stations and theaters in Manipur were at a loss—until South Korea stepped in.
Smuggled through channels connected to Myanmar, Korean music, movies, and TV shows became a cultural hit in Manipur. Over the last 16 years, they have been the greatest source of entertainment for the Manipur youth. They watch marathons of Korean shows, with subtitles in English, on the few nights a week that they have electricity. Also, because they share the Mongoloid race with Koreans, they identify more with South Koreans than their own countrymen in the rest of India.
From the music, movies, and shows, the Manipur youth copy Korean hairstyles, Korean clothing, and even the Korean language. The more remote the area, the more prevalent the love for K-pop as the lack of theaters caused home viewing of cheap $1 Korean shows to be the greatest source of entertainment.
In New Delhi, Manipur youth have been beaten to death simply for being different. However, this isn’t entirely surprising in a country where a part of the caste system is known as the untouchables. Manipur Indians find discrimination when they go farther south in India, but they’ll always find happiness in the Korean culture.
6 Money Burners
African-American hip-hop has the stereotype of living the high life. To live the high life, one has to spend money like it’s hot on clothes, hot girls, fast cars, and anything and everything the person wants, simply to show that he can. Although American rappers can afford to do this because they’re stinking rich, you wouldn’t expect one of the poorest countries in the world, where over half of those aged 18–25 are unemployed, to mimic the lifestyle.
Yet that’s exactly what’s happening with a subculture in South Africa. Meet the Izikhothane: young South Africans who have no jobs and hardly any money but scrape up all the cash they can find from their parents and elsewhere to buy expensive designer items that they can’t afford. These include Italian designer fashions, branded booze such as Hennessy and Jack Daniels, and rich cars with custom designs.
The Izikhothane go out to the streets with their friends and have dance battles with each other. (Someone’s been watching too much Step Up, we think). They also buy expensive food and spread it across the streets as a display of their wealth. Apparently, the logic is that the more they can waste, the wealthier, the more powerful, and the smarter they are.
Of course, the older generation hates it. Many of the parents of these kids feel hopeless that the first generation born in post-apartheid South Africa has shown such a severe lack of discipline.
But instead of holding back the cash that their children burn, the parents let the kids have the money, thankful that at least the kids aren’t doing anything worse with their lives, such as drugs. But when your life consists of buying incredibly expensive clothes and booze just to impress your friends and then you feel proud of that, we can’t see alternatives that are much worse.
Brazil is well-known for being a cultural hub of South American life with its unmatched love for football, its fun and sexy dances like the samba, and its Latin people. Almost on the other side of the cultural spectrum, you would find something like the Confederate States of America in the 19th-century South. So what kind of fiction do you have to invent to combine the two and make them fit?
No fiction at all because that’s exactly what happened in Americana, a municipality of Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the residents call themselves the Confederados because they are descendants of the 19th-century residents of the Confederate States of America. The Confederados carry on the cultural artifacts of the Confederacy, including the Confederate flag, Confederate army uniforms, and Confederate-style dancing with its own Brazilian flair.
So how did this come to be?
When the Civil War ended in 1865, many Southerners felt that they no longer fit in the United States and decided to go to a place where they could find cheap land to build new lives. That place was in Sao Paulo, Brazil, as Emperor Don Paulo II of Brazil had sent recruiters to the United States to try to get new farmers to teach their ways to the Brazilians.
Though General Robert E. Lee discouraged them from leaving, around 10,000 Southerners set sail for Brazil, the only time in American history where people left the country in large numbers for another one. It also helped that Brazil was the most tolerant country when it came to owning slaves. In fact, it was the last country to ban the practice in 1888.
Many of those who went to Brazil eventually sailed back to the US because building a new life is surprisingly hard. But 94 of the original American families remained, and they became rich from growing cotton and sugarcane. They are also the people from whom the modern-day Confederados are descended.
This group refused to learn Portuguese, built Baptist churches and their own schools, and made their own traditional meals like biscuits and gravy, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas. Over the last 100 years, the original Confederate bloodlines were slowly diluted, resulting in today’s part-Spanish, part-Confederate descendants who speak mostly Portuguese but also speak English with a Southern drawl.
4 Fortune-Telling Robots
As futuristic as today’s society may seem, robots are still a rare sight in the outside world. Beyond labs and the many worlds of science fiction, humanoid and bipedal robots that act as functioning members of our society are still few and far between and probably will take another decade or three before they become something that we see every day.
But in one poor market in Bangalore, India, where farmers sell their wares to others who can hardly afford a car, let alone a a robot, the residents have combined India’s love for fortune-telling and horoscopes with cheap, retro-style robots. However, “retro” probably wasn’t the intended design theme of these robots when they were made. It’s just that “these were the only parts we had.”
After paying five rupees, a customer plugs headphones into one of these robots to hear a prerecorded voice reveal the customer’s fortune. Apparently, these robots are popular enough that several can be found in the marketplaces of Bangalore. The customer can pick one of four languages—Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, or Telugu—and then listen to his daily fortune, whether it’s a prediction that he’ll win the Indian lottery or finally realize that he’s paying for the 21st-century version of a fortune cookie.
3 Wild Parrots
Colorful and loud wild parrots are the kind of thing that you’d expect to find in South America in countries like Argentina where they’re native. As for the United States, the only parrots you’d find there are those that are bought and sold by pet stores. Yet in one part of Brooklyn, New York, that assumption is incredibly wrong.
Why? Because a thriving community of wild parrots has figured out how to grow a population in the trees of the hard streets of New York. The wild parrots of New York are one oddity that New York’s tourists don’t expect to see. Sparrows and pigeons, sure—dirty, dark, city birds that you can feed at the park. But colorful, light green parrots that scream at each other more than they peck bread out of your hands can also be seen in the branches of trees situated between streets.
How did they get there? Some speculate that there was a problem at JFK Airport many years ago and an entire crate of parrots broke open, leaving many of the refugee birds to fly free and establish new homes. Others claim that their story is much less spectacular, with a mixture of careless pet owners and pet stores accidentally letting their parrots free. The birds then found other parrots to live and mate with.
Nowadays, the community of wild parrots seems to be right at home in New York, which is also known as the cultural melting pot of the world. So the next time that you’re in New York catching another musical or begging for a few coins (we don’t know your financial condition!), try to look up at the skies every now and then and you might see a light green bird flying around and chasing the pigeons away. You can join a group of wild parrot watchers in Brooklyn for this particular event.
2 Nazi Chic
Asians and Nazis are two things that don’t really go together like yin and yang because there’s no way that they’d fit together to create a single perfect shape. And yet, Nazi chic is a thing, and unfortunately, a very popular thing.
Over the last decade or two, groups of young people in Asia have discovered Nazi clothing and paraphernalia. Apparently, they’ve also decided that “hey, this is pretty stylish, I wanna look like this!” without realizing that they were connecting themselves to the propagators of the Holocaust and, you know, the entire World War II thing.
The latest example of this incredibly strange fashion style happened with the pop group Pritz, who performed in public in 2014 while wearing dark clothing and symbols that were unmistakably inspired by the Nazis. Although they apologized and claimed that they didn’t know what they were doing, examples of subtle Nazi love are found in several Asian countries.
In Thailand in 2007, students held a Nazi-themed parade, and another school held an SS sports rally in 2012. At a top Thai university, students painted a giant mural depicting Hitler with other superheroes, while some students delivered the sieg hiel salute. Nazi-themed pop groups are also popular.
In South Korea, there are Nazi-themed bars, and in China, it was fashionable to dress up like Nazi officers for wedding photos. Whether there’s an extreme case of “lost in translation” going on here or whether Asians just think that style takes precedence over historical tragedies, we’re not sure. But one thing’s clear: If you’re planning to go abroad, try to leave your offended and outraged pants back home because vacations are for de-stressing, not clawing your eyeballs out in horror.
In the broadest sense of the word, cholos are Mexican gangsters with their own music, their “gang” lifestyle, and their way of dressing with big, loose shirts and jeans, bandanas, dark sunglasses, and multiple tattoos. Usually, these gangs are violent and come from the rough sides of town. So if you had to emulate any kind of group, cholos would seem to be one of the last groups that you’d try to be.
But apparently in Thailand, this is an existing trend. Young Thai men come together from all walks of life to hang out and be cholos. They dress up like cholos, listen to cholo music, and hang around public streets engaging in acts of mayhem. (Not really. Mostly, they just stand around looking cool before they get bored and go find a place to drink.)
These Thai cholos come from various backgrounds, including government bureaucrats, university teachers, bank employees, and even cops—which is strange considering that their main song is “F—k the PoPo.” So how did this happen?
According to the cholos, it happened because of Youtube videos and music and the fact that Mexicans—unlike black rappers and white rappers—kind of look like Thais. So they were the easiest to relate to. It also helped that the loose clothing that is popular among cholos is great to wear when you live in a scorching hot country like Thailand.
Fortunately, the only thing that they seem to be emulating is the clothing and brotherhood aspect of the cholos. They seem to find a sense of peace from knowing that they have brothers who’ll look out for them because they’re part of the same gang. Luckily, they forgot to include the being-a-public-menace part of the word.
Dennis is part of a professional writing and editing services site, with better rates and turnaround times than other editors, called The Quill Ink. Find them at www.thequillink.com.