Writer’s Block airs every Tuesday, at 9 a.m. MST on KFUN/KLVF, streaming live at www.kfunonline.com
Listen to the podcast at http://wbvandermeer.podbean.com/2012/08/11/guest-dr-alvin-korte/
Author Explores Hispano Culture
|DR. ALVIN KORTE|
Alvin Korte has an interesting background primarily centered around education and social work. He has bachelor’s degree from New Mexico Highlands University where he majored in psychology and biology with coursework in sociology. He received his masters in social work from Arizona State University and completed a doctorate at the University of Denver. He also attended a year of doctoral coursework at Washington University in St. Louis. He says he has had many careers in social work.
“I was a school social worker in Phoenix and later in Taos Municipal Schools. was I also a public welfare administrator charged with everything from child welfare to food stamps and everything in between.
He taught for 27 years at NMHU, and has conducted research in aging, developmental disabilities and juvenile delinquency. He has long been an advocate for the elderly and a “…somewhat lobbyist on housing in Washington."
After leaving the university in 1999, he created the first domestic violence program in Las Vegas in 2003, and continued with the program until 2011.
He now spends time doing a genealogy and social study of one family of Bacas and Kortes. I am part of an effort to study some of the German immigrant families in Mora in Territorial Days. He said he is also studying corruption using matrix methods. Last year the Las Vegas City and Rough Rider Memorial Museum published a booklet called Southwest Swastikas, which explains the emblems usage in Native American and other cultures.
In the midst of all that he wrote Nosotros, a book on Northern New Mexico Hispanics, which was the primary topic of our on-air discussion. The following is a summary of our discussion in Alvin’s own words.
Q&A With Alvin Korte:
WB: In what ways is your book, Nosotros, A study of Everyday Meanings in Hispano New Mexico an academic exploration of Hispano culture?
AK: Nosotros is an academic book in that it uses two theoretic perspectives from Sociology. It takes as its theoretical perspective the social philosophy of Alfred Schutz and the ethnomethology of Reyes Ramos and others.
WB: What prompted you to write the book?
AK: Schutz was interested in the way people in everyday life made sense of everyday life. Life is naturally occurring and never given any attention unless conflict causes people to examine the “what’s going on” in this scene. Reyes Ramos was also interested in the way persons in everyday life made sense of their problematic events in their lives. He was an ethnomethologist (ethno meaning folks not ethnics). One other academic besides Ramos in of course Dr. Tomas Atencio. His idea is called resolano, the south side of the houses where old men would collect to ponder the great questions of life. Atencio was interested in collecting this wisdom which he called El Oro del Barrio from people in everyday life. It is academic in that one uses the available literature to open these areas for study. I took classes with Dr. David Franks at the University of Denver. He taught a really crazy sociology class. Sometimes we didn’t if we were coming or going. Dr. Clark Knowlton pushed many of us to study Hispanos way after we had graduated. Both Knowlton and Franks were inspiring teachers. I also hooked into the work of psychotherapist Dr. Rollo May to put these ideas from Existential Phenomenology into use for psychotherapy. I first posed the question of a book to Dr. Knowlton who encouraged me to attempt such an undertaking. I found so much to write about. When I used to have more freedom I taught seminars on this material. It always went well. For many years we had to teach something about “cultural competence” but the books that purportedly were about such competence really sucked.
WB: What audience is the book written for?
AK: I think this book could be useful to people working with Hispanos in a clinical setting but I’m not holding my breath. The book was used by a former student in a cultural counseling class this summer. I don’t know if the book was useful. I didn’t intend this book to be a social problems book. I worked very hard to make the book useful for someone who needed to understand what she or he might be up against, the nature of their problem but little about what do you do about the problem. I just don’t think one can define a problem in terms of its remediation.
As an example, the whole idea behind Mancornado is to describe what happens in situations where the old girlfriend is running around with a new guy and this guy experiencing loss, anger stalking or in many cases lands up in domestic violence class. Presenting the idea as I developed one guy said, “¡Eso me esta pasando a mi!” A lot of the material has applications in so called mental health settings. I would hope that not only should academics read the book, but others. I know of five anthropologists who are reading it
WB: What value is the book as a way to understand how modern Hispano culture is influenced by present day society?
AK: There are huge inroads being made by American culture on Hispano belief systems, values or language. Obviously if one no longer knows how to speak Spanish then one is not in a position to understand some who have better understanding. We can’t communicate with our compatriots. Recently one gal at Walmart in dealing with an older customer apologized to him saying “Ya se me acabo el espanol” (I ran out of Spanish.) Yet one sees elements of culture being remembered, reconnected to its past. If re-membered then it isn’t forgotten. Two weeks ago I saw en entriega de novios. Not only was it well done but people in the party saw something of how it was done in the past. This is a reviving of cultural memory. Some of what we are--what we believe in--has a long history in Spain. The first corrido was written in 1060. Of course they were called romances. The corrido is very versatile. Rosita Alveres is a very old song written in 1910 and yet I still hear some of these songs New Mexico.
WB: Talk about oral tradition. You include a lot of poetry in the book, which gives a broader sense of the depth of cultural expression.
AK: One of the chapters I didn’t want to write was the second chapter on the oral tradition. The more I got into it the more I appreciated it as a source of meaning. Dichos are highly developed social knowledge. Dr. Aurelio Espinoza from Stanford was collecting dichos, refranes in 1916. I see where they are republishing Dr. Sabine Ulibarri’s stories from Tierra Amarilla. I heard some guys doing hip hop in Spanish. This group was from Milwaukee. I thought at the time that the dicho could be used as a hip hop to teach kids value lessons. It would fit so nicely!
I covered a lot of poetry that I found in a book by Drs. Anselmo Arrellano and Julian Vigil. It is an awesome collection of historical events. There are poems about people leaving Mora to go work as shepherds. One poem tells of the loneliness and brutal dry summer sheepherding in 1932 in Wyoming. Others tell of the 120 Combat Engineers on their way to go fight in Italy in WWII. One gets the sense of the meaning of these events. Additionally our oral tradition was used to provide grieving families with support. Andelica Gallegos would write these recuerdos for her neighbors in Taos.
WB: In the book you have a chapter on mortification. What does that mean and what is its implication in Hispano culture?
AK: We have to suspend what we believe or see in order to take a radical position toward the phenomena we are considering. It is called rendering reality strange (Natonson). I was talking in class one time about family violence. An older gentleman asked me, “Is that an example of mortificacion.” Wow. It caused me to start an inquiry about mortification. It meant that this fellow was creating a hell for his Mexican-origin wife. She was using this word to describe what she was feeling. My folks used to say that my mentally ill sister was a mortification for them (Esta muchacha es pura mortificación, parece que nos pucieron una maldicion). Phenomenology attempts to get to the essence of a thing. The essence of mortification is an experience of the death of a self, as an elderly couple in Questa said. “Junior’s drinking is pure mortificación for us.” They were saying that because of Junior’s drinking they couldn’t be parents to him, support him or give him counsel. They experienced this role as mortification. Schutz gave a nice idea by calling these experiences as typifications. Mrs. Benitez typified her situation as a mortificación. Hispanos have many typifications. I set out to document these typifications on a variety of everyday experiences. A woman dealing with a son-in-law who put a gun to her head experienced mortification. One cannot act in these situations. If one cannot act, meaning dies. This is mortification – a death of the self. This idea the basis of depression, as Ernest Becker taught us.
WB: Talk a little about the chapter having to do with shame, respect and joking around. I’ve been present when what started out as a joke turns into a shouting match.
AK: Carria is a joking exchange and part of the oral tradition. Every morning I hear it at the breakfast table when one of the guys gets ribbed about something he did of failed to do. It is not malicious just good natured ribbing. Carria comes from the carriles (chin straps) on soldiers’ helmets in Spain. Thus carria in a slap on the face. Sometimes these games become vicious. In most cases this goes on all the time where men are working. Cabula is also an insult only it is so abstract that the person getting it is not aware of being insulted. These are skilled philosophers plying their trade. One guy who sold rocks for a living took on an engineer. All of us caught the line he was playing out while the highly educated, credentialed engineer never got it. True cabulla. Face is what we present to the world, for others to uphold or deface. Face is also our cara. Face has a public and a private component. If the private part can be reached the face of the other can desecrate his or her value. We have a name for such persons who disrespect. We call them descarado – literally without face or unable to handle the face or “line” the other has presented in the interaction.
WB: What was the greatest challenge to writing the book?
AK: I suppose the biggest problem was taking phenomenology and ethnomethodology as serious. I was trained in statistical and research methodology. Phen and ethno methods advocate a different approach to research. They value the descriptive and the interpretive rather than the statistical, methodological based on the logical positivist. Gertz, an anthropologist, called it thick description. Some people have dismissed it as philosophy or irrelevant. Next would be the innumerable evaluations and re-writes. I’m sure there are bugs in the text. There were days which turned into weeks when I didn’t feel like writing. Dead spots of non-productivity when nothing productive or positive would occur. Writing is a solitary endeavor. One has to be a fanatic to write. I imagine it is the same problem in painting, or creating music.
WB: Did your research change your perceptions about how Hispano culture has evolved?
AK: This is a difficult question to answer. This was not the goal of my studies. My aim was to look at typifications and attempt of consider issues of social interaction (inter-subjectivity), meaning (which is elusive), intentionality of consciousness, and other ideas from Existential Phenomenology and as found in the Encyclopedia of Phenomenology. In short I also wanted to see how these ideas might be useful beyond the work of May and Becker. One of the ideas I added was the idea of a cultural history.
Nosotros, A study of Everyday Meanings in Hispano New Mexico is available at Tome on the Range in Las Vegas, or at most online retailers.
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