Sunday, June 10, 2007

David in Nicaragua #2: Transitastic

I love Managua buses. They’re cheap, elaborately-decorated and loud. They play “Eye of the Tiger” an average of once per bus ride. One of the most interesting things about them is their iconography; each bus is emblazoned with at least one icon, usually above the windshield. Often it’s religious, but just as often it’s an American cartoon character or corporate logo. Disney and Warner Brothers figure prominently, and we drove past a Spider-Man bus. It’s easy to find the right bus to get from the sweatshop to Sabana Grande, you just take the one with two Nike swooshes and a Pooh Bear in the back.

I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, it’s quite creepy to see such corporate imagery next to a shrine to Mary, or Jesus’ face. However, it’s interesting that none of the corporations who “own” these images are profiting from the buses. In fact, the buses operate as a worker-owned cooperative. It’s interesting that US Corporate imagery has been appropriated by Nicaraguans in order to decorate their buses; it’s a kind of indigenous, unauthorized use of this otherwise-colonizing phenomenon. Over and over in Nicaragua, I saw the widespread import of US commercial culture, but at least on the bus, it was imported against the terms of the corporations.
This is particularly fascinating when you view these icons alongside the religious iconography. It seems to be an exact parallel with the way that colonized people all over the world have taken Christianity, the religion of the colonizers, and appropriated it for themselves, adapting it and hybridizing it, finding resources for joy and liberation in what is so often an instrument of oppression.
I suppose there’s a paper there, somewhere. Or at least a blog post.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

As big a fan I am of recycling, I found it somewhat disturbing that the buses were basically American schoolbuses that were too old and unsafe to transport American kids, so now they transport Nicaraguans around their country. I was told that they carry religious icons as protection because the buses were in such bad shape.

How was the plumbing in the area where you were staying?