Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yet Another Awesome Paraguayan Holiday

September 21st, 2009

Dia de Juventud Festival (Parade, Beauty Pageant, and Concert)

So I was totally caught off guard by what took place on this holiday.

It was Dia de Juventud (Youth Day) and all day people had been wishing me “Felicidades.” The closest translation I can come up with for what they were saying is, “Happy Youth Day.” On this day, Paraguay celebrates its Youth and parents buy their kids gifts. Depending on where you live, there could also be a whole host of festivities associated with the holiday.

I was plugging away at my laptop in my office at the cooperative at about 3:00 PM in the afternoon when I started hearing bombs and tons of people gathering outside. Then some of my coworkers told me to come to the window to watch the parade. “Oh, another parade,” I thought to myself. Having seen many “parades” before, I thought this would be your typical line of cars and motos (mopeds) driving down the street honking horns and playing music. Much to my surprise when I went to the window I saw decorated floats full of smiling youth. The floats represented different schools and organizations and each featured a Queen, who had apparently been elected to represent their organization for the day’s festivities.

At around 4:00 PM, I left the Cooperative, and rushed home to get my camera. I quickly returned and managed to snap a few shots before the parade was over.

By this point, everyone was gathering in the plaza, and I noticed a big stage in the middle of the plaza. I walked around talking to people I knew and snapping photos. Then I went home to change out of my work clothes and returned for the rest of the festivities, which included a beauty pageant and a concert by the hottest band in Paraguay at the moment.

The beauty pageant featured around 16 or so girls who each answered 2 questions and walked down the runway. Hearing their answers to the questions raises both an educational and cultural point. Each girl was asked to give a brief speech to the youth. Every girl said almost the exact same thing in almost the exact same way. Culturally, this is totally acceptable. In one of my earlier blogs I mentioned the lack of individuality, creativity, and critical thinking within the educational system. I also mentioned how Paraguayans always copy each other. Every dispensa is almost exactly like every other dispensa. They all serve the same things, prepared in the same way. There is a real lack of creativity and individuality. I’m not judging whether that is good or bad but rather stating an observation, though if I were to judge it from my US perspective, it is less than desirable.

So the first girl started with warning about doing drugs, respecting parents, and the importance of enjoying your youth, and each girl in turn gave the exact same response. In the US, even if the next girl had prepared the exact same response, that is the last thing she would say because we have such a strong culture of individuality and would judge her poorly for saying the same thing the other girl said. Not here. All 16 said the same thing, and the crowd clapped all the same for each one of them in turn.

They were judged by a panel of 3 judges, which included Miss Paraguay, who is actually from San Juan. Her speech was much more honed, and she had a polished stage presence. I heard it was her dream to become Miss Paraguay and she worked her whole life up to that point to achieve that goal. I’m glad she set a lofty goal and worked hard to achieve it, but in my mind some of the means did not justify the end. She had a tone of plastic surgery, altering her entire body and face, and I also heard she never played or had friends growing up, and was always well dressed and very superficial in interactions. Hopefully she’s able to leverage her position to accomplish something good for Paraguay.

Eventually, the tallest and most popular (judging from the chanting teenage girls up front) won and 2 others were given lesser titles.

I don’t know how the girls were judged really because all 16 had roughly the same responses, and the 3 chosen were definitely not the prettiest, but winners were selected and that was that.

Later, they announced scholarship winners. Each year, the Gobernación, like our State Government, gives out scholarships, and they announce the winners during the Día de Juventud festivities. I was really impressed with both the fact that they were giving out scholarships and the number of scholarships that were granted.

Access to education is, in my opinion, one of the most serious detriments to economic development in Paraguay, so it’s good to see that at least some scholarships are available. Paraguay still has a long way to go in this regard in that there aren’t student loans and there are a very small number of scholarships available, but it’s at least a start. I’m thinking of pitching a project to my cooperative to give out scholarships and offer student loans, which with any luck will start a trend among cooperatives of offering scholarships and student loans. This could go a long way in giving more students the opportunity to get an education and could have a big impact if it caught on in the right way. That’s pie in the sky thinking, but hey, shoot for the stars right? I’ll let you know if it works out.

Next came the concert, which featured several bands including one of the most popular bands in Paraguay at the moment. Everyone crowded around the stage and celebrated youth in true young fashion...listening to music, drinking, and dancing the night away.

Again, I couldn’t help but think of how unexpected this all was. I expected to be living in a little shack in the country, and for sure never, ever envisioned being at a really great concert among thousands of people in my own site as a Peace Corps Volunteer. At one point I looked at Anne, and said, “Can you imagine what the Campo Volunteers would think of this? We have such a good life. Haha”

All in all, I really love Youth Day. Everyone celebrates and embraces youth, both in age and spirit. The day is very friendly and festive. Paraguayans may not be one of the more wealthy countries, but boy do they know how to enjoy life!

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