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.


Filed under Week 2

2 Responses to Latin America – Political Project

  1. Lauren Hart

    Great post Elan! I agree with you that I’d like to hear the other side of the story. Unfortunately there is probably a lack of remaining documents from the indigenous people that Columbus encountered, which is one of the reasons only one side of the story is often told. Of course there are other reasons, and thats something you had to grapple with as you said you felt betrayed by your teachers and school system. It would be an interesting project to map the places that still give their students textbooks that praise Columbus and the places that have started teaching a more balanced narrative.

  2. Craig

    I relate very much with what you mentioned. I am also a generation beyond most students in year. What little I was taught about Columbus was that he discovered the USA and traded some beads with “the Indians” in exchange for their land. As I am finding out, Columbus never set foot in what is now the USA and he didn’t exchange anything—he big fat took what he wanted!

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