Week Three: The Colonial Experience

Coming from a country with a colonial history myself and having studied development and international relations, I found this week particularly interesting as it allowed me to engage with colonial experiences from another perspective. Whilst I am extremely familiar with the history of colonialism in Australia (and British colonialism in the Commonwealth generally), I have not previously had exposure to the practice in other parts of the world.

In Australia, the colonial experience of the Indigenous was one of genocide through means of assimilation and integration; difference was not welcomed (also demonstrated in the White Australia Policy that was only fully deconstructed in 1973), and intermarriage between White colonisers and the Indigenous population was almost non-existent. In comparison, I was surprised to learn that intermarriage of the three primary ethnic groups in Latin America was not only observed, but also documented in Casta Paintings.

After engaging with the material this week, what struck me most was the recurrent trend I saw of a sort of desperation to catalogue difference. Indeed, Jon made mention of the Spanish desire to micromanage difference, and I think this speaks volumes not only about the sociology of colonisation in Latin America, but also the wider obsession of humans to classify and catalogue information in a way that makes sense of the boundless information in the world.

In the foreword of Catalina de Erauso’s memoir, Michele Stepto highlights the dangers of aligning Erauso and in the same category of the ‘other-ed’ victims of colonialism simply because she too had a degree of ‘other-ness’. The world is not binary, and the simple fact that she was an ‘other’ does not categorise her as ‘them’ in the ‘us vs. them’ narrative. As we retrospectively attempt to do justice to the histories of those whose experiences were left out of traditional, mainstream accounts, we must be wary of falling into the same trap as those who perpetuate the ‘us vs. them’ mindset. Whilst there does indeed exist a status quo, that is not to say that the stories and alignments of all those who exist outside it can be compiled into a second broad group (as that further incorrectly perpetuates the binary obsession) – the history of Latin America cannot be simplified into binary categorisations such as good vs. evil, coloniser vs. colonised, or status quo vs. the other.

Again, in the article about Casta Paintings, I saw the common thread of desperation to categorise all difference in an attempt to simplify information; ‘what would be the result if xyz happened…‘. As Jon mentioned, this clearly reveals deep-rooted cultural anxieties about identity as, after the melding of so many vastly differing cultures, it can be both difficult and unnerving to forge a new identity. People were faced with this decision of continuity or change, regardless of whether they were mestizos, mulattos, zambos, or even if they were the offspring of parents from the same ethnic group born into this brave new world. The categorisation of all of these possible permutations may have assisted in keeping at bay looming questions of ‘who are we?‘,  but also in a sense could have been a shout into the void of diversity.

Overall, as a region that can culturally be described as a mosaic, I think that the people of Latin America have had to (and still do) face many questions about boundaries. These questions revolve around concepts such as demarcation and blurring, but also to actions of transgression or transcendence, and the values we attach to such terms.





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3 Responses to Week Three: The Colonial Experience

  1. Hanae

    Hi! Thank you for your post, I found it quite interesting and very easy to read. I really like the perspective you took at the beginning, reflecting on how was the situation in your home country back at the time when colonialism was taking place. I am myself from a country which has led a lot of conquests all around the world (France) and your reflexion makes me question myself about the unity of my own country and how we have dealt and are currently dealing with our old ‘colonies’.

  2. Magalee

    I enjoyed reading your post, Jessica! In my post I also discuss how the Spanish seemed to have been more tolerant than expected, at least in the colonies, when compared to that of British colonizers.

  3. Olga Kochkareva

    Hi Jessica,

    I really like your comparison between different cultures and different forms of colonialism, especially regarding the similarities and differences across the situations. However, regarding your opinion that cross-peoples marriage was accepted, perhaps the existence of the Casta Paintings as entertainment for Spanish society acts as a kind of ridicule against them?

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