Monthly Archives: September 2017

Week 4 – Independence

It’s not hard to imagine that after several generations following the mythical point of origin of Latin America, 1492, that residents of the Americas would begin to feel the itch for independence. I found it interesting to consider how the different social classes approached the idea of breaking free of European rule, and the concept that some stood to lose mainly power and wealth, whereas others stood to lose very basic rights. Those who were most oppressed had a healthy fear of independence because there were some (if limited) protections for them while the crown was in place. But what if the landed elites wrested the power from the Iberian Peninsula? How would the new, independent, state treat those in the lowest positions? The prospect would be frightening. But elites also feared independence because of the uncertainly of their continued power and governance once severed from Europe. Despite these fears, the desire for independence was nearly universal across the Americas.

I enjoyed reading about the various regions approach to independence, and how varied the experiences were. In Haiti, for example, slaves succeeded in overthrowing the colonial presence, and this led to the eventual emancipation in 1793. Compare that to Brazil, where the Portuguese Emperor actually settled after fleeing Napoleon. The emperor’s son then declared Brazil independent and slavery was further entrenched. Both states came to independence from Europe, but carry vastly different histories and struggles. The people who directly feel the consequences of these contrasting roads to independence would understandably form vastly different identities. We can see why a simple description of Latin America is elusive, and reductive.

The accounts of Bolivar, the Great Liberator, were fascinating. He had grand ideas of independence, and was eloquent and persuasive. Though his lifetime achievements certainly were not on the scale of his dreams, he grew to be a figure as important as Columbus in shaping the Americas. We also get the sense that his story is equally mythical. Could we discuss Bolivar more in class, especially the reception of his ideas following his death?

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Week 3 – Spanish Identity Crisis

I hadn’t thought of the colonial experience as a Spanish (or European) crisis of identity before. I had pictured the colonizers as eagerly consuming all the land they were able to, and exploiting those resources and people who lived there. It is fascinating to me that the same year that Columbus’ ships arrived in the Americas was also the year that Spain overturned 800 years of Muslim rule, and seemed to undertake an aggressive agenda to render the nation ethnically and religiously “pure.” The Spanish seemed to want most, during this time, to create a homogenous Spain. But what to do with the new lands that were now under Spanish control (or soon would be), and the diversity that existed there?

In addition to a colonial population, this was also the time of the African diaspora, and millions of Africans were brought to the Americas, in part to replace the quickly dying indigenous peoples who had no resistance to the new diseases that had arrived on their shores. The Spanish monarchy was desperate for a way to classify and comprehend the population, and as a way of achieving this, Casta Paintings emerged. The meticulous organizing of ethnic mixtures into hierarchical images was intended to not only clarify these racial distinctions for the Spanish elites, but also to ensure that every person was aware of their ethnic classification and could behave accordingly. Most often, the depictions were of an idealized role for each racial category, and this makes me think that the intent may not have been solely oppression. The Spanish elites may have believed they were helping the poor mixed-up peoples of the new world to organize themselves and regain their identity. From our modern perspective, we can clearly see the oppression and prejudice in these images, and they are hard to look at.

I really enjoyed the readings about Catalina De Erauso, a woman who ran away from her convent and lived as a man for most of her life. Though I don’t view her as a heroic figure–she easily committed murder and other less-than-noble acts–I liked reading a real account of someone subverting the strict gender rules that were enforced at that time. Interestingly, the translator notes that she should not be considered a victim, but that in her redefining as a man, she reaped all the rewards that came with the transformation. And it seems, at least from this excerpt, that she enjoyed life as a man and conquistador, much more than she would have as a woman and nun.


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Latin America – Political Project

The Columbus story, when I learned it in elementary school, was very different than the way it is taught today. I grew up in Edmonton, and I am a generation removed from most university students in a first year class. It is startling and sad to realize that my whole generation (at least in the area where I grew up), learned that Columbus “discovered” America. Before that it didn’t exist. Nothing was said of indigenous people, and for many years I pictured the Americas back then as a completely untouched land ready to be claimed.

I learned a different story somewhere around the time I was graduating high school, but it certainly wasn’t in school itself. The entire curriculum back then focussed on the European story. I remember, when I realized that European settlers had essentially wiped out a thriving indigenous America, how betrayed I felt by my teachers and the school system. Thankfully, the “discovery of America” is being replaced with “the meeting of two worlds”, and we can begin to undo the damage that ignorance creates.

I must admit that the term Latin America existed within narrow borders in my mind. When we consider the “when” of the emergence of Latin America, a whole new world of questions arises. The video offers the idea that Latin America is a “political and social project” and that resonated with me. The idea that a certain group in France invented the term for their political gain is in some way satisfactory, in that it explains the flattening of the area into an easily sold piece of politics. In order to sell the idea of a unified Latin America to both those inside and outside of the group, the idea generators had to simplify it enough to make it easily used as a tool for their agenda. But the term has changed drastically since that time and, fortunately, is becoming more and more nuanced and elusive. This, of course, will continue indefinitely as the region continues to define itself and also as the rest of the world attempts to do the same.

For discussion this week, I am hoping we can discuss in greater detail the alternate stories about Columbus landing in the New World. The other side of the story.


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First Week and Student Videos


My name is Elan and I am coming back to university to finish my degree after several years off. I work in law, and I also write science fiction and play music. I took this course because Latin America is a fascinating place of which I know very little. I hope to change that over the next few months.

Here are my thoughts on some of the student videos from past classes.


I didn’t know what Caudillos were before watching this video. They are dictators that came into power in the 1800s in Latin America. But the term is more nuanced than that. Caudillos were also leaders who initially represented a change from the current government, but who eventually became corrupt with power. The people who had initially supported these leaders inevitably suffered under their command. I appreciated the comparison to Donald Trump at the end of the video. Trump certainly came to power because he represented change for the people who elected him, and perhaps we are now seeing the inevitable fall. But this isn’t political science, so I will leave it at that.

Casta Paintings: An Introduction

These paintings were created in the 1700s as a way of organizing and defining the boundaries between the different races in Latin America at the time. Casta is translated to Caste, and the artists of Casta Paintings, who were Spanish elites, were attempting to enforce a racial hierarchy within this diverse region. Represented at the top of the hierarchy were lighter-skinned Spanish peoples who were “pure of blood,” especially those born in Spain. Indigenous people were at the bottom, and women were always depicted as subservient to men. I appreciated the comparison to modern media, and the observation that perhaps very little has changed. There was a Filmora watermark on the video the whole time, which was pretty distracting.

The War on Drugs

The video begins in the 1980s when the movement of drugs from Latin America to the United States really takes off, and clearly illustrates those who gain (those in control of the flow of drugs) and those who lose (basically everyone else). There are several examples of cities and individuals directly affected by drugs, complete with compelling pictures and first-hand accounts. The video ends with an ominous question about whether drugs will continue to exert this tremendous power over Latin America, or whether the region will recover from the war on drugs. A clean and professional video.

Lastly, I LOVED the music in all the videos. I’m gonna go dance now.

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