Tag Archives: indigenous

Week 13 – Towards an Uncertain Future

Max Cameron is so positive this week! I feel like he was delivering his interview responses with a small smile and a twinkle in his eye. Though we definitely have to be cautious that we don’t paint the future with an overly optimistic brush (think Creelman), there are some encouraging developments since the 1980s. What I thought was most significant was that the indigenous seem to be gaining a measure of agency, or at least are able to speak more freely than ever before. Though violence and inequality is still there, the inequality gap is shrinking in Latin America, even as it widens in the United States. More and more states are attempting to help the poorest (often indigenous) and are addressing some of the humanitarian violations that have gone unchecked for centuries. Indigenous communities are able to voice their wishes for self-determination and basic rights. There is a long way to go before these wrongs are righted (if they ever truly can be), but the ability to speak without violent repercussions is a positive milestone.

One of the most encouraging aspects of this week’s material was the concept of “buen vivir,” a concept brought by the indigenous meaning that we should strive to live well in harmony with nature, as opposed to the Western model of progress, which emphasizes “getting ahead” and economic growth. This concept has even been written into the constitutions in Ecuador and Bolivia! After reading so many accounts of abuse, violence, and silencing of the indigenous, this development felt like finally taking a full breath. We’re getting somewhere.

Of course, we can’t let ourselves believe that the struggle is over. There is still massive corruption, violence, and power imbalance. But maybe we can allow ourselves to hope that things may be turning around in Latin America. With the example set by Hugo Chavez (that social programs can be effectively implemented) and in Brazil (redistributive policies can function in Latin America), the hope is that the Latin American narrative will change from one of corruption and hopelessness to one of strength and fairness. Gradually. These things take time (and are never fully realized).

My question this week is: If neither a drug economy nor an extraction-based economy are sustainable options, how can Latin America participate on even footing in the global market?

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Week 8 – Signs of Crisis

Diaz’s proclamation, in 1908, that he would not run for the presidency opened the floodgates for countless marginalized groups to speak out against modernization. Groups that had for decades been silenced, displaced, repressed, and forced to work for the capitalist system, could take advantage of this political opening and launch their own version of revolution against the oligarchy. Though motives of the revolting groups throughout the Mexican revolution are ambiguous and diverse, the lengthy revolution seems to be a push against the idea of modernity itself. Or at least that is how the revolution is remembered, particularly when we consider the images that have come to represent the Mexican Revolution: Zapata and Villa sitting on the thrones, and the “unruly” villagers drinking expensive chocolate in elite spaces. This week’s readings are very different from Creelman’s article. We hear from those who benefitted the least from the export boom, and the “capitalist penetration” that occurred throughout rural areas in Latin America.

The United States is recognized more broadly as a threat to Latin America during this time. Dario’s “To Roosevelt” is inspired by the United States’ interference in Panama’s economy for its own political gains. Increasingly, the United States, rather than Europe, was bullying its way into economic and political domination over Latin America, and the country could profoundly affect any Latin American state’s prosperity and independence by using its superior global status, or the ideals of “progress.”

The article I found most puzzling is Vasconcelos’s “The Cosmic Race.” He seems to be promoting an idealized vision of humanity growing into an enlightened race naturally, and as a result of racial mixing, but at times he uses extremely exclusionary language. At one point he suggests that a person who is only mediocre will willingly choose to not marry or have children for the good of the race, or that only beautiful people will feel that they can produce offspring on a moral basis. While Vasconcelos is presenting his ideas as hopeful suggestions that humanity will grow spiritually, he simultaneously suggests that there is an “in group” that will carry us forward into this ideal future, while the rest of us can quietly eliminate ourĀ  inferior genes from the bloodline. I picture Vasconcelos as a person suffering from undiagnosed mental illness, but I’m not a psychologist and have no legitimacy in making that claim. I feel that if Vasconcelos’s ideas gained momentum, the result could be a version of ethnic cleansing similar to earlier claims that there are scientifically supported bases for superior intelligence in certain races. Though Vasconcelos is less scientific and more spiritual in his views, the ideas are equally dangerous.

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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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