Simon Bolivar is an idolized figure of Latin American Independence. He was strong, brave, and optimistic. He was also wealthy, Creole, and educated. He had the ability to summon the masses by promising one united Latin America- an autonomous land free of the “unnatural Stepmother-Spain”. He claims that “we are still in a position lower than slavery”- “we” primarily referring to the wealthy Creole elite. It is clear that his intentions are selfish, as he ignores the real slaves in the Old World. Many of the independence movements are characterized by the replacement of one oppressive ruler (the crown), with another (the American). In addition to Bolivar, two other examples of this are George Washington and Agustín de Iturbide. With the overthrow of one ruler, no fundamental change occurs for the members of the lower classes. Although Bolivar’s goals were skewed in his own interest as a Creole, he did establish a sense of pride and a vision of Latin America as a strong, united country. This pride is mirrored by Hugo Chavez, a contemporary model of Bolivar.
Connections can be made between the ideologies of Simón Bolivar and Hugo Chavez. They both ultimately sought to be the absolute ruler of one, united society. Chavez hopes to emulate the narrative of Bolivar of uniting the oppressed, however he fails to include the stories of the people who were not included in Bolivar’s narrative such as the Native Americans and the women. Chavez used the gleaming image of Bolivar to bolster support for himself. He has similar goals as Bolivar: to eliminate the power of one dominant force in favor of independence. For Bolivar it was independence from the crown, but for Chavez it was the North: “condemns them to the never-ending role of producer of wealth and recipients of leftovers”. This quote is applicable to both leaders, but is used by Chavez to support his call for an end to the economic power of the north. He sites neoliberalism as the cause of poor educational, economic, and health conditions when in fact he causes a great deal of suffering himself.
It is important to look at the narratives of independence from different perspectives. Although many independence movements had common characteristics, each was distinct and carried many different stories of the same events. Bolivar attempts to generalize these stories by grouping all occupants of America as opponents to the crown. Chavez, too, adopts the idea that he knows what is best for all.
It intrigued me to read both the document about a transgender man and the casta system because they seemed to contradict one another. While the journal of Catalina de Erauso tells the story of one female bodied person who is remarkably accepted by Spanish Royalty as a transgender person, the other reading proves the Spanish crown as sensitive to difference. The Casta paintings sought to clearly divide the people and capture the differences in people.
While it is positive to hear that King Philip IV allowed Catalina to continue to dresses in men’s clothing, I speculate that this was allowed due to her peninsular status: “Instead of chastising her, he gave her a papal dispensation to keep on dressing as a man-provided that she remained a virgin”. She was catholic and willing to fight the Indians. Race was a highly important factor in every aspect of life. This is clear by the way that casta paintings were accessible to everyone. They were displayed in public and they were also affordable to the lower classes.
The Casta paintings display the construction of race in the Americas. They provide evidence to support that race division and “othering” different races may not be a natural occurrence but a system that has been constructed in order to grant privilege to a select few. The Casta paintings were used to ensure that everyone knew their place in the hierarchy. It created inequality amid the smallest differences. However, the paintings also show the ideal society that the Spanish elite hoped for. Even the groups that were lower in the caste system were shown as productive laborers and consumers. In this sense, the paintings were useful.
It is interesting to bring up the historical context of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. The fact that his “discovery” occurred in the same year as the ethnic cleansing of Spain had a huge impact on the implementation of racial division in the Americas. As Jon notes, the Spanish had just “dealt” with one diversity and they are immediately faced with new differences that they are unable to even describe or classify. Maybe if Columbus’ voyage had been carried out later, class division may not have been such a big aspect of the complex identity of Latin America.
Even after the establishment of the New World, there is still a “crisis of representation”. Not only is Columbus unsure of how to classify the people of the new indies, the American people are as well.
Reading the journal of Christopher Columbus was valuable and, in my opinion, critical to understanding the establishment of the New World. Although his account of the events reinforced my understanding of Columbus as a greedy and lousy person, it allowed me to see his actions has purely ignorant and unintentional. Columbus saw himself as a vessel of royalty. His actions were in the name of the crown and as long as his cruelty was for the purpose of the bettering the divine country, he could abuse the indigenous people. In a way, Columbus did not intend for the events to play out as they did.
I was surprised by the extent to which Columbus saw the indigenous people as less than human. He believed that he could easily manipulate and convert the people. Another surprise was the importance of religion. Columbus’ religion was a major contributor to his feeling of superiority. Like so many other historical and current events, religion can be a major point of division that allows one group of people to see themselves as wholly separate from another group. According to Columbus, those who had not found Christianity were not fully human.
Columbus contradicts himself by praising the land and the people: “all the ones I have met on the islands have been splendid people”(138). He values their beauty and recognizes their generosity. Even so, he continues to seize their land and people. I think this shows his inability to characterize the land. He could not communicate the true nature of the people.
In the second reading, it struck me that the flood of European people to the New World was based on lies manufactured by Columbus. To an extent, Columbus truly misinterpreted the Native people’s hand gestures, but he also advertised an abundance of gold and silver that did not exist. Conversely, the Spanish are described in a way that is less than human in this document. They conquered the Americas for reasons no better than greed and lust.
This reading gave a distinct view on the conquest of the native land. It portrayed the Incan King as a strong and self-assured leader. He was not intimidated by Christianity, nor the Spanish explorers. I will use this document in my film: “Columbus: Commend or Criticize”. While Columbus’ journal provides a source that may portray Columbus and merely confused and ignorant, this source contrasts that point of view by portraying Columbus as a liar and cruel imperialist.
In my opinion, the video titled “Signs of Crisis in the Gilded Age”, created by Kaspars Reinis and Ryan Heazel, is the best video produced by the students in 2015. The speakers are engaging and begin with a short introduction to the content that they will be discussing throughout the video. They begin the video with a historical and scholarly analysis of the author Gabriel García Márquez. The familiarity of the author grabs the viewer’s attention and strikes interest in the subject. The students site their sources and recognize the validity of their sources. Not only do the students clearly understand the content, they include their personalized opinion and reflection on the subject. They tell related stories and state the relevance and importance of the stories. Unlike the other videos, this video uses audio, video, and photos to represent present their ideas.
Ana Gheorghiu and Lindsay Chapman created an engaging, complete, and effective video on “The Colonial Experience”. The entirety of the video was photos and maps that portrayed the information that the students spoke of. They played music throughout the video and spoke clearly and confidently. The students showed that they truly understood the content by putting the history in to colloquial terms. Additionally, when the speakers spoke of “Casta paintings”, they showed photos of these paintings.
“The Meeting of Two Worlds”, created by Matthew Landberg and Brette Harrington was one of two worst videos. Although this video did contain brief photos, the information information that was covered was basic and the students did not provide interpretation or varying points of view. The speakers stumbled over words, were informal, and clearly did not have a deep understanding of the content. Although this video did include some visual content, transitions were awkward and the photos were ineffective. The students should have created multiple cuts of the script and done a deeper, more scholarly analysis on “The Meeting of Two Worlds”.
“Speaking Truth to Power”, created by Daniel Starr and Mackenzie Baxter was another one of the worst videos. Like the other, the entirety of the video was the two students speaking to a video camera. They read from a script and did not include any visual representations. It is very difficult to hear the second speaker. He speaks of documents, but does not site sources or explain to the viewer the context of the document. This video would greatly benefit from engaging visuals and audio.
Hello! My name is Eva Streitz. I’m from the U.S. and this is my first year at UBC! I haven’t decided what I want to study yet, however I am interested in the sciences, Spanish, social justice, and the great outdoors. I scratched the surface of Latin American History in High School and I’m hoping to deepen this knowledge and passion for Latin culture and history in this course!