Week 4 Reflections

In reading Simon Bolivar’s “Letter from Jamaica: Kingston” from 1815, I was struck by the line “We are still in a position lower than slavery, and therefore it is more difficult for us to rise to the enjoyment of freedom…” (Dawson 23). For whatever reason, this stood out as being a particularly entitled thing to say. He goes on to explain why it is he feels enslaved, but it’s the end of the sentence that I’d like to focus on. On one hand, the juxtaposition between freedom and slavery is something that strikes me as lazy writing. As Dawson established; freedom means a myriad of things depending on who is describing it, and often freedom for one is oppression for another. Considering this, Bolivar is saying to be free is to not be enslaved, which in his words means to be living under Spanish rule. While there is certainly a case to be made that living under an oppressive system is akin to slavery, there is an implicit elitism in Bolivar’s language.

He argues that he is unable to enjoy freedom. In the video, we established that being marginalized politically limited the economic freedoms of an aristocrat like Bolivar, despite the elevated and elite status he would have enjoyed over the rest of those subjected by the Spanish. We also established that this lack of political freedom would have hindered the ability of his social class to maintain themselves when challenged. This is quite picky when it comes down to it; Bolivar’s rhetoric appeals to the potential revolutionary impulses of all those who are subjected to an oppressive power system, however he is only one step removed from that tier of the system, and enjoys a role that has historically been used to perpetuate it. The implication being that someone who is from Latin America (despite being educated in Europe) is more apt to have a monopoly on power than someone who is from elsewhere. While the appeal of this is understandable, it strikes me as extremely short sighted, and as a way for the ruling elites to maintain their position at a time when it’s clear that the winds of change are blowing.

Ultimately this strikes me as a revolutionary tale we’ve heard many times throughout history; those who have the most to gain lay down their lives, succeed, and find that their struggles have been forgotten by the new system. What is the nature of revolution? Peter Kropotkin would argue that a revolution doesn’t occur until those who have the most to gain, gain something meaningful. Others might argue that a mere changing of the guard is inherently revolutionary. I’d appreciate your thoughts, cheers.

Week 3 Reflections

In Casta painting, groups are distinguished from one another in a variety of ways. Clothing is one way in which this is achieved. The whiter the person, the nicer, or more elaborate the clothing. The depictions of a Spanish family of entirely European descent show figures with the most refined wardrobes considering the fashion of the era. This includes things like a gold-rimmed hat, a white wig for the father and child, and overall, clothing that is suggestive of royalty. This subtly changes as the figures who are depicted are further away from the elevated European whiteness. The clothing becomes less ornate, less complicated, and less colorful, with the final panel depicting a man who, instead of wearing a shirt (like every other person shown), simply has a robe draped haphazardly over his back. Similarly, as a juxtaposition to the gold-rimmed beaver hat of the Spanish man, or the tiara-like headdress of the Spanish woman, an indigenous woman is depicted with a hat that holds a variety of exotic fruits. Although this hat likely had a significant practical purpose: extra capacity when selling fruit, it is placed in dialogue with European styles, and thus serves to further exotify or other non-white people living under colonial rule. 

This leads into another way in which figures are distinguished from one another; the labor they are performing. The more whiteness between a couple seems to denote more of an opportunity to experience luxury. The children of whiter parents appear to be dancing, which is in stark opposition to the child of a black and indigenous woman who appears to be hiding from his father (who is about to strike him). At the bottom of the image we have non-white figures in scenes of labor. This includes the aforementioned fruit vendor, as well as working in fields, or doing things like sewing. The actual work that is being done in these images is being completed almost entirely by non-white figures.

A clear social hierarchy is established within these images, the net sum of which is essentially: “the more white/European, the better.” These families are happier, more stable, and enjoy all sorts of free time. Despite the not-so-subtle hints of a sort of white supremacy, ironically, these images show that the luxury enjoyed by these whiter families derives from the labor of the less-white families. More troubling is the fact that all characters depicted appear to be striving towards a sort of European ideal. Although the clothing progressively abandons the bells and whistles of European regalia as we descent the image, the styles are all decidedly European. This is best observed in the men’s tights/black buckle shoes, and the women’s large, basket-like skirts. Do these images betray themselves by showing where the labor in this society comes from? Or would this simply reflect the notion of “natural slaves” that enjoyed popularity among Europeans in this period? Ultimately these images are quite interesting; they are decidedly clunky, trying to other or exotify non-Europeans, while simultaneously depicting them in European styles.



Week 2 Reflections

My impression of Columbus is one that has never had particularly strong footing. At a young age, he was a sort of folk hero, along the same lines as someone like Hernan Cortes of Ferdinand Magellan. The implications of Columbus’ ‘discovery’, as well as his own character, were of less importance than his arbitrary elevation to the position of one of history’s great figures. This began to change as time went on, particularly when I became aware of Indigenous People’s day as a counter-celebration to Columbus day. Since then I’ve become more appreciative of the fact that his position in history is significant because of the colonial era that he would come to be associated with, rather than the fact that he reached land in 1492. Furthermore, I’ve become more appreciative of the fact that this is a hugely negative association for a lot of people, and that the omnipresent name of Columbus can carry a sense of oppression. If a person is taught this sort of lineage between Columbus’ voyage and the eventual genocides of indigenous peoples, it is unsurprising that his name, or the celebration of his life, are seen as problematic by many.

After reading Columbus’ own words, it’s quite clear that the manner in which he was glorifying his own voyage must have been an attempt to save face to an extent. He was extremely ambitious, and needed to create a narrative suggested glory akin to his ambition. He did not have the gold, nor the diplomatic achievement, to solidify his journey as being culturally, economically, or politically significant. In this regard he’s a bit of a pathetic character, with his main goal essentially amounting to not being wrong. Is it solely because of the economic prosperity brought by the colonization of the ‘new world’ that Columbus did not fade into obscurity? How does this relate to some of the other historical figures whose names become immortalized? What makes a legend? Is there a political implication to the deliberate immortalization of a figure like Columbus?

LAST 100 Week 1

Hello everyone,

My name is Connor, I’m a fourth year English literature major, and I’ve chosen LAST 100 as one of my final electives. My interest in this course comes from the fact that I know relatively little about the history of Latin America. Most of my knowledge comes from literature, particularly Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are also a handful of historical events and figures related to Latin America that I am interested by. ¬†This includes people like Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, or Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair.

The first student video that I watched was entitled “Citizenship and Rights in the New Republics III” by Jane Park, Sara Pastro, Maria Saldana, and Daniela Toro. One of the most interesting aspects about this video was the fact that even after the abolition of slavery, one was not necessarily free to practice their own religion. This raises the question of what constitutes liberation. While the abolition of slavery should be seen as a step towards freedom, a wage system, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the exploitation of workers. Discrimination due to religious beliefs that are not in line with those imported by colonialists is a means of controlling people without shackles; the net effect is not so different. As the video goes on to explain, the church did begin to function as an organ of oppression with it’s firm stance against women’s emancipation. The monopoly of influence held by the church in this instance can be seen in the fact that it was able to conjure up regulations that would be enforced by the state, in this case limiting the amount of instances in which people of the opposite sex could be in contact with one another. If the church had this ability, I’m curious as to what other ways the colonial hegemony within the Americas was maintained.

The second video that I watched was called “Independence in Latin America” by Melissa Prado, Jorge Porter, Adrian Gonzalez, Tabatha Marin, and Karen Poveda. I thought this video did a good job of exploring what it means to be independent as a society or nation. Particularly interesting was the role of circumstance in the early waves of independence in Latin America; that a weakening in Spanish rule was quickly met with revolution. Had Spain enjoyed a more favorable economic/political position during the Napoleonic Wars, how different would this moment have looked?