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October 2012

Review: The Strawberry Tree

I had a chance to view The Strawberry Tree (El Arbol de las Fresas) last night and still have mixed feelings about it today despite thinking on it all night.

Here’s a quick sentence from the synopsis found at the USC Cinematic Arts site:

Testing the boundaries between anthropology, documentary and reverie, the film is a mesmerizing cinematic poem that portrays with rigorous restraint the final sigh of one of Cuba’s last fishing villages.

I’m glad I read this before going for multiple reasons. First it gave me an idea about how to view it, i.e. as an anthropologist with room for this “poetic” license. Second, it gave me an understanding of what I was about to see, which was great since we aren’t given much guidance during the film. Lastly there is some fantastic historical information that shows the importance of the location, this too is sadly not included in the film itself.

It starts off really strongly, placing us in the midst of a conversation between four people (who we later see more of as the film progresses). They joke about the storm and how easily their homes feel to it. In this quick scene we see a wonderful snapshot of the vivid personalities existing in the rather bleak setting we come to know through the rest of the film.

After this part we are given a view of daily life in the area through observation and interviews. Kids play around, adults are making food, repairing nets, killing goats, etc. The candid conversations between the filmmaker and the people are beautiful and honest. What appeals to me most about them is the inclusion of references to the filmmaker, Simone. It shows the relationship that was formed over the process of making the film and is a great example of why anthropologists should include their presence in the fieldwork in their final products.

There isn’t a solid narrative, which doesn’t necessarily detract from the movie as a whole, but during the last section I was left with too many questions. We follow this village throughout their daily lives and as the day draws to a close we see people dancing. After this there is a shot of someone leaving a home, getting into a car and driving away. Fade to black. Another nighttime shot of the same scene we just saw. Fade to black. Morning.

Then we are treated to a prolonged look at the fisherman from underwater. By prolonged I mean awkwardly long. Many people around me started talking to each other, asking what was happening, what should they be looking for. We are watching fish long after we see the process of catching them.

This was followed by a shot of what looked like a dried up riverbed, with two dogs racing around occasionally and some lightning in the distance. This too was overly long. We sat there, waiting for some purpose and then the film ends.

Like Forest of Bliss I kept looking for a story, or some semblance of purpose in this last portion. What were the filmmaker’s intentions? The fact that a general idea didn’t pop into my head immediately is troubling. Sure, it could be representing the anxious waiting for the storm to come, but I only feel that way because I read the synopsis.

I wished that we had gotten to see some discussion of the aftermath at the end. Even if it cut back to the interviews we saw in the first shot I would have felt the film was more complete.

The lack of focus I felt was literal and metaphorical. As I’ve discussed above, I was left with too many questions as I walked out. In the literal sense I have to say there were way too many out-of-focus shots. This is a minor thing, and I know the issues of keeping focus with a moving subject, but there were times that I feel like the focus could have easily been fixed (like the one-on-one talks).

Overall I liked this look at the town that seems to have been pretty bleak at the start, and then wiped out by a storm. I only wish the end had done the first part justice.


Native Anthropologist

Throughout this semester of graduate school we have continuously discussed native anthropologists and their roles within the communities they study. I often wonder if I could be considered native to my study.

Yes, I grew up within an hour of the communities I am studying. Yes, I am Hispanic, as many of the people within these communities are. No, I have never done fieldwork. No, I was not raised in an Hispanic home. No, I did not grow up in a small agricultural community.

Overall my lack of first-hand experience within Hispanic families in agricultural communities is what makes me consider myself a non-native anthropologist. I don’t see this as hindering my work, but my issues with identity will probably be something I must analyze each time I begin a study.

In my grad school essays I discussed how I have always felt like an outsider. Being of mixed race I think I will always feel like I am walking a strange, undefined line of society. I am never going to be white enough, and I will never be Hispanic enough, and that will never change, especially in the eyes of those that are solid in their definition of these races and choose to place me in a category. Over my lifetime I’ve developed a different view of identity. Race is merely one way we define ourselves, and yes, it may be comfortable for others to put me in one category or another, but I embrace my multifaceted self.

From what I’ve read on native anthropologists, it seems that even within their study groups, even the ones they grew up in, they find themselves questioning their identity and place. I think this internal struggle to define ourselves will always be present on some level in fieldwork. Sometimes it will be amplified and others it will be minimal.

I feel that with my fieldwork with Hispanic migrant workers I will look at the facets of my life that I consider “Hispanic,” but this will not become the most important part of my project, nor will I try to make my personal ponderings on identity take my fieldwork in a different direction.

Fieldnotes: The Field


Behold, my potential area of study. I’m trying to find time to research the specific laws in each area, but for now I was thinking I would focus on the migrant and farm worker communities of Arvin and Delano.

I feel like I will have to make a distinction between migrant workers and farm workers because in the Arvin area there are year-round crops, meaning families will stay in one place, not typically migrating. I’m thinking that I can use subjects from both areas to compare and contrast experiences.

I really need to get out there, get contacts and get rolling.

I’m hoping I can get out to Delano soon, but I’m thinking this weekend is devoted to Arvin though.

As a reminder, my MA topic is childhood development in migrant and agriculture heavy areas.

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