Tag Archives: identity

Week Four: Independence Narratives, Past and Present

Another course I am currently undertaking relates to the concept of nationalism (in the context of modern Asia), and suggests that nationalism is only a recent trend born from decolonisation movements. Previously, I had only really associated decolonisation with that of South-East Asia and Africa in the mid-20th Century, which makes the context of Bolívar’s piece particularly interesting. What struck me most in his letter was his reference to Montesquieu writings that “it is harder… to release a nation from servitude than to enslave a free nation.” Retrospectively,  it is easy to say he was erroneous in this claim (given the history of decolonisation), however, in the context of 1815 Latin America, precedent was not in favour of liberation or independence.

After having completed the relevant readings for this week, I was particularly intrigued by the construction of identity in various independence narratives, especially with regard to the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Of course, independence movements require mobilisation, which in turn itself requires a process of increasing consciousness and catalysing action. In nationalism, the way in which this  tends to be done is by strengthening the collective understanding of ‘us’ as well as ‘them’. In Bolívar’s letter, it is clear that ‘us’ refers to the aggrieved people of Latin America, having shared history and trauma. However, our perceptions of ourselves are also strengthened by our understandings of who we are not – the ‘other’ (in this case, “that unnatural stepmother – Spain”.

Again, in Martí’s ‘Our America‘, he draws the distinction between ‘us’; the inhabitants of the New World, and ‘them’; the inhabitants of the Old World (including the often-forgotten Indians that Bolívar himself made no allusion to) by alienating the Europeans, with their “puny arms, with bracelets and painted nails, the arms of Madrid or of Paris,” as well as the Americans who have enjoyed “four centuries of free practice”. His piece is very much a call to arms, and whilst at times frustrating to read, his voice is at others very beautiful, emotive, and provokes action. He makes an argument for a sort of ‘Latinisation’ of the elites and ruling officials in Latin America, and mythologises the shared history of Latin America (“A priest, a few lieutenants, and a woman built a republic in Mexico upon the shoulders of the Indians.”)

Following the sweep of decolonisation and after having thrown off their imperial chains, Latin America and the Global South have faced the new ‘threat’ of neoliberalism (at least according to Chávez). Neoliberalism of course refers to the international order wherein the cooperation and interdependence of states is desirable for net gain in an anarchic world system, and champions Capitalism and free-trade agreements in order for development to be realised. Whilst having its benefits, a significant downfall of neoliberalism is its western-centric nature as it suggests that the only viable system of state economics going forward is Capitalism, especially after Fukuyama’s suggestion that the “end of History” was heralded by the ‘triumph’ of Capitalism over Communism. By inciting the images of shared Latin American heroes such as Bolívar, as well as other leaders representing unity in the Global South such as Tito and Nasser, Chávez rejects this idea and instead urges other developing states of the G-15 to similarly turn from neoliberalism and Capitalism due to their shared history of exploitation (“The history of our countries tell us…”).


Filed under Week Four

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.





Filed under Week Three