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new internationalist
issue 206 - April 1990


The New Internationalist welcomes your letters. But please keep them short.
They may be edited for purposes of space or clarity.
Include a home telephone number if possible and send your letters
to the nearest editorial office or e-mail to : [email protected]

Killing solution
Cover of the NI Issue 205 We welcome NI's issue on the Philippines (NI 205) but Peter Stalker's travelogue fails to highlight the devastating effects of militarization, which is a major obstacle to development. Last year 35,000 people were uprooted on the sugar island of Negros. Human-rights organizations place the numbers of 'internal refugees' at 300,000 for 1989 alone, and some believe that they number more than a million. Many die in overcrowded, makeshift evacuation centres controlled by the military. Most victims are children. President Aquino has admitted that the forced evacuation of people from their villages is part of the government's 'total war' against communist insurgents. Most alarming about this strategy is its impact on grassroots initiatives, many of which have been disrupted by military operations white relief workers have been branded as 'communist' and killed.

Alice Donald
Philippine Resource Centre,
London, UK

Raincoat boycott
Five months into the lock-out of 1,000 young women workers at the British-owned rainwear factory, Inter-continental Garment Manufacturing Corporation in the Philippines (The Philippines NI 205), many are still camped outside the factory, sleeping under cardboard, without electricity and water. Harassment continues. The company, owned by British garment giant William Baird, is refusing to implement a nationally agreed 70 pence ($1.20) daily wage increase and to pay back wages owing from July to September 1989 when the factory closed down. The union has called for an international boycott of raincoats and jackets made by Baird for subcontractors in the Philippines under the labels Telemac and Canda (C&A), sold in most British high street stores.

Linda Shaw
Women Working Worldwide and Philippines Support Group
Trade Union Committee, London, UK.

Popularity problem
In response to Mrs A H Morley (Letters NI 204), homosexuality is produced by exactly the same things that produce heterosexuality. Also Mrs H asks whether homosexuality is becoming more 'popular'. But homosexuality is not some brand of fizzy drink; popularity is not the right word. Anyway it is difficult to tell whether or not the incidence of homosexuality is increasing; there may just be more surveys nowadays. And now my own question: why is homosexuality a 'problem' Mrs H?

Steve Watson
Brighton, UK

Liberating anger
Please stop insulting your disabled readers (me included). You had the temerity to give the film 'My Left Foot' (Reviews NI 204) four stars for political merit despite the fact that - as the review acknowledged - the Disability Liberation Movement had condemned it for using an able-bodied actor. How dare you!

Merry Cross
London, UK

Ancient name
I am an Aotearoan pakeha (non-maori) and I think Aotearoa is the correct name for New Zealand (Letters NI 203). I also find Frank Hall's reference to 'that stupid name' offensive. He says that the whole world knows Aotearoa as New Zealand, but as an Aotearoan travelling the world, I have found that many Americans, Europeans and Africans confuse New Zealand with New Guinea or Zealand in Denmark. Moreover a large proportion of Aotearoans support the use of the original name, Aotearoa, rather than the English name, New Zealand, which is only a couple of hundred years old.

Owen Gale
Windsor Gardens, Australia

I very much enjoyed your issue on buying green (Green Consumer NI 203), but oh for the opportunity. One's priorities assume a different shape when - like me - you live in a city where flour and sugar disappear from the shops for months at a time and you can never be sure of finding milk, cooking oil or margarine. As for washing powder, Brand A turns all my whites grey, Brand B bleaches all my coloureds and Brand C leaves everything in more or less the same condition as when I started. I have no idea which is the most ecologically sound!

Elizabeth Corrie
Lima, Peru

Cartoon by VIV QUILLIN

Harmony discord
Sue Robson's piece on China's Harmony in abundance (NI 203) must rank as one of the silliest articles yet published in NI. The destruction of most of the forests and much of the wildlife in ancient China is well documented. And the Maoist regime virtually finished the job by draining the ponds, lakes and wetlands. China's forest cover has dropped by 30 per cent since 1949. In Hubei province - 'Kingdom of a Thousand Lakes' - around 80 per cent of the lakes have disappeared. Deserts are on the march. The annual loss of topsoil is estimated at over five billion tons. And rainfall in southern China is even more acidic than in Eastern Europe. All of these problems can only be worsened by China's already over-large population. This hardly makes the Chinese 'the world's ultimate green consumers!'

Sandy Irvine
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Mother's love
I come from a small, rural community where it is very difficult to talk about homosexuality (NI 201) and I very much appreciate NI's special edition on the subject. The information is especially important to me as a mother who is trying to raise her daughters to accept and respect others.

Ruby Reske-Naurock
Sherwood Park, Canada

Goering and gays
You certainly are getting on the 'Nazi Victim Bandwagon' (Homosexuality NI 201). Male homosexuality was outlawed in Germany, but this was not Hitler's invention; it was outlawed even in the very democratic Weimar Republic. When this originally became law I don't know. There were many inmates of the Nazi concentration camps who were classified as 'homosexuals' with a pink triangle, although many of them were not really homosexuals, but Catholic priests and other politically undesirable elements (from the Nazi point of view).

It was easy to pin the homosexual label on these people. They were certainly mistreated and not many survived. But your portrayal of Nazi Germany as opposing homosexuality is wrong. Some of the Nazi leaders were known homosexuals. It was estimated that during the 1930s Germany had about two million homosexual men, many of them in high positions in the Third Reich.

Harvey P Newton
(Buchenwald prisoner No 28418)
Miami, US

Explaining God
The Bible does not condemn homosexuality (NI 201), only the homosexual act. God loves all people irrespective of their race, sex or sexual orientation but abominates sin however great or small. Christians must love homosexuals while deploring homosexual practice; there is no sin in loving someone of the same sex.

J Herber
Bath, UK

Fantastic feet
In societies forever diminished by traffic tragedies and choked by engine fumes, let us reconsider the simple possibilities of human feet (Car Chaos NI 195). These moving parts by which we pivot on the earth are dependable for travelling moderate distances and provide the obvious, clean alternatives to noxious car travel. Our greatest founders conducted themselves by walking. Jesus ministered in sandals through Galilee and Judea; Gotama sought disciples from place to place afoot and Socrates founded a peripatetic school. Most First World citizens have participated in a tragic cycle of smog production that now makes it unpalatable to walk outside. But members of industrial societies must take time to walk - or lose the biosphere.

Roland Teape
Beausejour, Canada

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The views expressed in these letters are not necessarily those of the New Internationalist

Letter from La Paz

Mother tongue, fatherland
Susanna Rance explains why many Bolivians
feel like strangers in their own country.

Why do some children have mummies and daddies who speak the same language?' mused Amaru one day when I went to pick him up from a friend's house. It seemed a natural question for a three-year-old who has spent most of his short life speaking English with me and Spanish with his father. The two languages and cultures are constantly interspersed in my children's lives, though both off-spring insist that England is their country and mark their identity by speaking Bolivian with an English accent.

Being bilingual is no rarity in Bolivia. Over half the population speaks a native tongue as well as Spanish, the official language. It is not uncommon for Bolivians to speak even three languages if they live in areas where one ethnic group borders on the territory of another, or if they migrate to another part of the country. Amaru's godmother Angelica, for example, is fluent in Quechua, Aymara and Spanish. But her introduction to the 'official' language was far from easy.

'I was born in the mining town of Potosi, and we spoke Quechua at home. When I was six, my family moved to the Yungas valleys where the people are mainly Aymara. That was where I started school. Our teacher spoke only Spanish and he used to get out a leather belt to threaten us if we whispered together in our own languages. "Just watch it. the next one of you I catch will get this", he would say.

'It was a very tense situation. I didn't understand a word. It was still the system of rote-learning in those days. They made us repeat and copy things down, and bit by bit, I picked up Spanish. I learned Aymara too, through friends and work - so now I use three languages.'

None of Angelica's three boys speak an indigenous tongue, though she would like them to. They have little practical need for it in their daily lives. They can speak to their relatives in Spanish, so why learn Aymara or Quechua? Schooling, books, popular music, TV, cinemas, public functions and formal life all make Spanish essential for integration in the city.

Those who speak no Spanish at all live in closed ethnic communities of Quechuas, Aymaras, Guaranies or one of some 40 other lowland tribes, each with their own language. It is more common for women to speak only one language; monolingualism is associated with isolation, poverty and lack of education and has come to be taken as a mark of 'backwardness'. The children of such women are more likely to be malnourished and die young than those of Spanish speakers.

Many women in La Paz were brought up speaking only a native language but most now speak Spanish too. The mother tongue is often abandoned by the next generation who drop Aymara and Quechua to 'get educated' and join the urban, Spanish-speaking world. Indigenous cultures are stronger in Bolivia than in many other Latin American countries but still the tendency among the growing ranks of city-dwellers is to leave their ethnic roots behind in their rural communities.

One friend of mine, 45-year-old Bertha Quispe, has never been inside a school. She learned Spanish when she was growing up by playing with other kids. Only one of her children, Estefania, is fluent in Bertha's native Aymara language - and she is the least educated of the children. 'Estefania went to primary school for two years but her aunt said to me: "A girl! What does she need education for? Just to write letters to her boyfriend? All she needs is to be able to sign her name." So Estefania left school and went to live with her aunt as an apprentice pollera maker (polleras are the thick white skirts worn by indigenous women).

'As for my other daughter, Maria Eugenia,' says Bertha, 'She finished secondary school, but she can hardly speak any Aymara. She doesn't want to learn. She says it's a twisted sort of language, she can't get her tongue around it. When my husband and I argue in Aymara, she complains because she can't understand what we're saying. I have to explain to her in Spanish.'

Bolivians from the countryside get treated like foreigners in their own land when they come into town. The nearer the city they get, the fewer people understand their language. They have to struggle with Spanish and get pushed aside for being 'ignorant' of city ways.

My kids, on the other hand, constantly get praised for speaking English as well as Spanish. Teachers get them to 'perform', schoolmates ask for help with homework, taxi drivers, shopkeepers and passers-by stop to listen to them, encourage them and tell them how useful it is to be bilingual in the colonizer's tongue which has now become 'universal'. Meanwhile Bolivia's original languages are relegated to an inferior status. People take little pride in being bilingual in a land where indigenous cultures predominate numerically - but Spanish rules.

Susanna Rance is a writer and researcher who has lived in Bolivia for several years.

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