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Research Assignment – The Language of Jose Marti’s “Our America”

The stylistic language of José Martí’s “Our America”, one of the most famous texts written by a Latin American, is as important as the text’s content. Martí’s plea to Cuba, his home, and more generally to the people of Latin America, to beware the seemingly unchecked imperialism of North America, and unite as a unique American culture separate from the northern continent, relies heavily on vivid imagery and metaphor. Understanding that “barricades of ideas are worth more than barricades of stones” (para. 1), Martí needed to encourage his readers to generate ideas through the guidance of his text. When urging the people of Latin America to embrace those aspects of culture that set them apart from the northern British colonies, he writes, “Make wine from plantains; it may be sour, but it is our wine” (para. 10). Martí compares the nurturing of the Latin American culture to a community of bakers “rolling up their sleeves and plunging their hands into the dough, and making it rise with the leavening of their sweat” (para. 10). This animated prose is meant to appeal to the people on a level beyond academic contemplation or political discourse; Martí’s primary motive is to “awaken the inhabitants of Our America to the fact that the United States—the country that Martí allegorizes as ‘the giant with seven-leagued boots’—stood poised and ready to expand” (Belnap and Fernandez 5). Since the publication of “Our America,” generations of scholars have explored the rhetorical dimensions of Martí’s text.

The term rhetoric has been reduced in modernity to mean simply “inflated words.” The historic meaning of the term, however, is broader: it is the art of persuasive communication. Moreover, classical rhetorical principles acknowledged that discourse is transactional, meaning that the reader’s interpretation is as important to the message as the author’s words (Deer 4). Martí’s use of metaphor and imagery, particularly imagery that is distinct to the nations of Latin America, comprised heavily of the indigenous, is designed to encourage active interpretation in his readership. In reference to American-born mestizos, Martí claims that they are “ashamed of the mother that raised them because she wears an Indian apron”, and he uses similar but contrasting imagery to describe North America, who “drowns its own Indians” (para. 3). This imagery is intended to engage the Latin American people in individual and collective reflection so that they come to the desired conclusion: Our America is neither Spain nor the United States, but something distinct. Martí calls for the celebration of the diversity of Latin America, the embracing of the blend of colonial and indigenous roots, and a rejection of the idea that the United States is the sole, defining example of progress. “Our America” is a call to the people of Latin America to unite, recognize the diversity of their rich culture on its own merits, and guard against the imperialism of the United States. The rhetoric of the text accomplishes this goal by engaging the reader’s active interpretation of metaphor and imagery.

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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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