Week Five: Caudillos Versus the Nation State

The reading this week certainly was interesting! Echeverría must have been extremely passionate in his criticism of the caudillo system, considering the incessant use of violence and gory imagery in his short story.

The Slaughterhouse is told from the perspective of those he aims to criticise. I think the purpose of this was for Echeverría to expose them through the actions and words they used in the story. This way, they would appear unlikeable, needlessly violent, and barbaric. Contrarily, the martyr-like figure of the story I believe is supposed to represent civility and the European Enlightenment ideas that Echeverría favoured. However, while reading the story, I didn’t find any of the characters likeable, including the Unitarian. He was portrayed as a snobby, pretentious man. The fact “he was so absorbed in his mental calculations” to notice what was going on in the slaughter yard and in the streets makes it seem as if Unitarians (supposedly the “good guys” of this story) are too preoccupied with themselves to worry about the good of the rest of the people (66). Also, the fact that Echeverría portrays the Unitarian as defenceless, innocent, and Christ-like is ridiculous in my opinion. Just like the over-the-top simplicity and violence of the “barbaric” Federalists, the simple conceit of the Unitarian is overbearing and offputting. The Unitarian is also young in the story. Was Echeverría just as young (25) when he wrote this story? Perhaps this character is a direct self-service for him and his ideals. Or, perhaps I’m just reading into this too far!

By writing in such a descriptive, violent manner, it’s almost like Echeverría succumbs to the patterns of barbarism that he is criticising. Also, while the animalistic Federalists yell insults at each other, Echeverría insults them through sarcasm and passive aggression within the story’s narration. For example, the narrator says “The people of Buenos Aires possess the precious quality of an extraordinary docility for bowing to any kind of command,” and that some people “departed for the afterlife to atone for such an abominable sin as to partake of meat and fish in the same meal” (60, 61). These quotes scream sarcasm to me and make both the narrator and the characters the author is trying to defend extremely unlikeable.

I was surprised about how accessible the story was to read. The plot followed a basic format, the characters were all extremely simple, and the descriptions were so detailed that it was almost too easy to imagine what was going on throughout. What surprised me even more was Echeverría’s explicit reference as to why the story was written: “It was all a simulacrum in miniature of the barbaric ways in which individual and social issues and rights are resolved in our country” (65). He directly acknowledges his story’s microcosmic function and makes the entire story that much easier to understand.

This leads to my question: despite the story being ambivalent (whether intended or not) and grotesque, was it yet another form of a literary call to action for the people of Argentina, and those living under Caudillaje in general, to fight back against the oppression of Rosas and Caudillaje in favour of a more egalitarian, liberal, “Enlightened” social structure? Or was it simply a critique of the conditions that allowed racial boundaries (a negative instance in terms of an elite liberal mindset like Echeverría) to be crossed and liberals to be shunned from the government?

Week Four: Independence Narratives, Past and Present

I think the patterns explored this week were really interesting. To know that Bolívar’s letter was that influential, that it is still a major point of reference in the 21st century is incredible. A lot of the themes expressed in the letter were also mirrored in Martí and Chávez’ later contributions.

I’d like to take a look at these patterns, these repetitive themes that seem to capture the essence of what these leaders want Latin America to be. It’s especially interesting how separation and unity are so closely linked within all three primary sources.

Bolívar explicitly states on page 22 of the textbook chapter that “only a concept maintained [the tie between Spain and America] and kept the parts of that immense monarchy together. That which formerly bound them now divides them.” Here, he explains how the revolutionary spirit has been instilled in Latin America. It seems like he so badly wants separation in the form of Latin America’s independence from Spain, yet then advocates for unity within the Americas. Separation vs unity. Perhaps separating from Spain brings the former colonies of Latin America closer together, as they all must separate from European rule? Though all the colonies do differ from each other in multiple ways, as we’ve previously explored in class. From my understanding, unity in Bolívar’s case seems to be achievable through a “great [Latin American] monarchy” (24).

This brings us to Martí’s text. Martí also advocates for a Latin America-based government: “The government must be born from the country” he says as he explains how local representation is lacking in the colonies (26). Here, I want to identify a contradiction between Bolívar and Martí’s politics. Martí states that “a country’s form of government must adapt to its natural elements” (29). He also unifies the people of Latin America by classifying them as the “Hispanoamerican enigma” (28). Martí advocates for governments that can relate to the people they govern; it seems to me he wants a Latin America unified in spirit rather than a one-government Latin America like Bolívar. Still, they both want separation from Spain. Even within these similar documents, there is a separation between the separation vs unity narrative.

Finally, I found Chávez’ statement that “globalization has not brought so-called interdependence, but an increase in dependency” (32) very interesting. In more modern times, Chávez perpetuates the differences between North and South, urging the South to separate and find unity with each other. Though the South is already independent, he argues that it is not independent enough; though the independence conflicts have officially concluded, the themes still remain. He villainises the North using abundant statistical examples, giving the South all the more reason to unify against the “neo-liberalist” North. Though Chávez was the president of one Latin American country, he seems to value Bolívar’s political policies. His speech, to me, also had a lot of commonalities between Martí’s document: from the Latin American unifying spirit to a focus on literature and poetry, which was an interesting link between the two that I was not expecting!

Week Three: The Colonial Experience

I had learned a little about casta paintings in a cultural anthropology course a few semesters ago. Arguably, race is a constructed concept, and in colonial Latin America, it seems race was constructed to favour and ensure Spanish supremacy in the area. Interestingly, I think this relates to the general idea of Latin America; it is a constructed concept that differs from whichever perspective you look at it. A curious pattern!

Something that captured my attention from the casta painting article was the fact that Miranda, a creole, was technically classified as a different race or different mixture of some sort, even though the only difference between him and an español was where they were born. Why were the Spanish so intent on micro-classification? Is it because they wanted to regain control of the populations they commanded as they conquered indigenous populations, considering the Jews and Moors had just been driven out of Spain? The article argues that the Spanish feared a breakdown of their imposed hierarchy in Latin America and the paintings were in response to that. Perhaps that answers the questions I posed above.

Another thing I found interesting about the article is how the paintings were sometimes viewed by Europeans as “exotica,” and other times were viewed as idealising the tense situations between different populations in colonial Latin America. In this frame of mind, of pondering the reactions different people had towards the paintings, I wonder how the indigenous and black populations reacted? Did they even get a chance to see them, since the article mentions we don’t quite know the “circulation, patronage, and reception of casta paintings” yet?

Now I would like to talk about Lieutenant Nun. What a fascinating story! She seemed to want a life that fit better with her unique needs, style, and personality; she clearly did not want to conform to society’s expectations. She seemed trapped and under-appreciated, not as to say she wanted an easier life. She chased excitement: the potential of being caught in disguise, stealing, leaving the “comfort of [the] situation” as page to Don Carlos de Arellano, and deciding “to join an army battalion headed for Chile, a violent frontier.”

She was brave in every sense of the word. She dared to live her own life outside of society’s rules, and well as performed acts of great bravery in the army, like rescuing the flag. However, I feel like the “hero or villain?” narrative can be put into place in Catalina de Erauso’s story as well. Sure, she was very brave and true to herself, but she also stole and murdered. Was she doing what she had to do to survive, or did she intentionally seek out situations in which to be criminal/violent?

Week One: Student Video Review

Hey everybody! My name is Kelsey and I am a 3rd-year transfer student, so even though I’ve been in post-secondary education for a while, this is my first semester at UBC. I am a history major and enjoy learning about the history of the Americas, especially about patterns of colonisation, culture, and conflict. So far I’ve mostly focused on American, Canadian, and British history, so I’m really excited about the new perspectives this course will give me! 

My favourite student video is “The Meeting of Two Worlds III.” I think the topic this video covers will be one of the most interesting topics for me in this course, due to the relationships between the meeting of two different cultures and the ensuing conflicts around this time of discovery. I also really enjoyed how the video was presented, using cartoon footage and historical images as the background, while narrative audio was overlayed, so as to keep the audience’s attention. What made this video stick out to me is the fact that it included alternate perspectives (not just the famous story from Columbus’ point of view) and facts about more than one of his voyages, and a bit of historiography at the end.

I also really liked the video “Casta Paintings.” Again, I’m interested in the integration of cultures that occurred when the Europeans began colonising the Americas. The thorough explanations for each class represented by the Casta system were well done, I think, and I enjoyed the informative visuals in the video as well! The facts, presented in audio format, were accessible and easy to understand and follow.

I feel bad identifying least favourite videos! I think each one of these videos, though some may not be my favourites, have good, unique, and interesting features. That being said, this is part of the assignment. While I cannot account for the validity of any information as I have not yet gone through all the material in this course, I found “The Meeting of Two Worlds IV” to be a little repetitive in the information given. Also, the visuals were a little one-note compared to some of the other videos. Unfortunately, I also got the same one-note vibes from “Martí and Cuba.” The information seemed to be all there (again, I cannot say for sure as I’m not yet familiar with the subject matter!) and it made sense while I watched it, but the nature of the narration and visuals were a little flat.

While watching these videos, I learned some information that will hopefully be useful to me as I progress in this course! I also hope that I picked up some good tips that will help me once it’s my turn to create a student video later on!