Monthly Archives: September 2017

Week 5 – Caudillos

I found this week’s discussion of the caudillos really interesting because I saw so many parallels between caudillos and clientelism with today’s political figures and government. Like many political fanatics, I have been trying to understand how Donald Trump won the presidency in the US last year, and after watching how he appeals to his base’s emotions of fear of immigrants and dislike of government or intellectual elites I have come to understand the power of emotional appeal in politics. So, when learning of how the caudillos quickly seized on the vacuum of social disorder created after independence I think I am more fully able to understand their appeal to the lower-class such as the Afro-Argentines or the Indians. Caudillos were charismatic leaders who garnered support by seemingly caring about the interests of those at the bottom in order to use them as military pons. Although it was not all bad for their followers, who did gain some protection, land and social order, when state structure became established caudillos who held power cast their follower’s because they were no longer need as militia. I feel this mirrors what often happens today. With Trump for example, who was elected as populist leader claiming to connect with the struggles of working-class white Americans, then once in power he hasn’t really enacted any policy that would help his base. Not only did caudillos seem to often exploit their followers, but they are also a primary reason that Latin American nations did not establish “proper” governments. Again, similarities with today’s populist leaders who tend to hold back progress in favour of traditional ways that they benefit from – the essence of the “make america great again” slogan.

On the other side of politics and culture in Latin America were those like Esteban Echeverria who yearned for Latin American nations to gain a stable federal government and follow European enlightenment. However, as our professor, Dr. Beasley-Murray so aptly put it, liberalism is very idilic and often hard to achieve in practice. For example, today in Canada or really anywhere in the world there are instances of inequality with minority groups like racial profiling or gender wage gaps despite the fact that equality is enshrined in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So even if a federal government and constitution could have been implemented they likely wouldn’t have been perfect in practice.

My question this week is about the liberal elites and how they felt about class and racial hierarchies. I am a little confused because I remember reading about how they partly disliked the caudillos e.g. de Rosas who embraced Afro-Argentines precisely because they were deeply racist but then at the same time wanted to establish government. To do this they promised Indians and other lower-classmen equal treatment under future law if they would side with them. So my question is, were the liberal elites racist and classist or did they want equality/constitution accompanying federally-structured social order?

Week 4 – Independence Narratives

This week we delved into how the established colonial societies of the America’s began to resist their imperial rule and gain independence. We discussed how the struggle for independence was both vastly different between nations in cause and methodology and at the same time very similar in that the value of wanting to be free from colonial rule was shared.

The thing that struck me most about the material was the similarities I noticed between the narratives of independence that we discussed and how revolutions begin and are conducted today. For example, when I read about Simon Bolivar and how he was and is still regarded as a largely heroic political figure and freedom fighter I was surprised to learn that he was actually a criollos. This meant that he actually already had a lot of power and was only second-class to the Spanish-born Europeans who held most of the political control in the colonies. This was an “ah-ha” moment for me because it seems in today’s times that when the lower-class people are suffering with low-wages or with high living costs, this doesn’t ignite a lot of radical change to fix the situation. However, when people in power, say bankers and political figures, get in trouble with the law or financially they are “bailed out” and in a way, a small revolution of rule-bending and changing is enacted in order to best suit these people. Very rarely throughout history and now is it the people at the bottom of the hierarchy that are able to enact meaningful, lasting change. In the times of colonial rule over Latin America, the lower-class slaves and indigenous peoples had been suffering in similar ways for some time but they largely weren’t able to change their situation except in a few examples like Saint Domingue. Now looking at Bolivar – he is born an aristocrat and is able to have an education and have a fair amount of power – he is able to rally and initiate revolution to change the system (which already favours him) so that it favours him even more. We also learned about how him and other criollos, not only did this to gain more power, but to ensure that they kept power over the lower-class groups when talk rebellion amongst these groups came from places like Saint Domingue.

In this way, I guess I don’t really understand (as someone not from Latin America) why Bolivar is considered so highly as an independence figure? I guess what I am really wondering is – how much credit should we really give to Bolivar as an independence leader? And a central question in the figures we have discussed – is his really a hero?

Week 3 – The Colonial Experience

This week we peaked into what the early times of post-colonization looked like and the ways in which identities were changed, erased and created. We did this through examining the popular artworks known as casta paintings and through the life of Catalina de Erauso.

Casta paintings are a series of panels that each depict a family unit with a label as to what combination of races that family is. They are a way of giving a taxonomy to the racial mixes that occurred as a result of colonization of the Americas and the import of African slaves. I did find it surprising that there were so many more slaves brought to Brazil than to other places in the New world as I have never heard of the history or the modern day effects of slavery in Brazil as I have with countries like the US.

The casta paintings depict the racial hierarchy with the more pale Spaniards and spanish descendants wearing better clothes and having more professional jobs and the darker skinned mulatos, indians and zambos being portrayed as coachmen, vendors, shoemakers. In addition to giving a taxonomy and hierarchy to the racial mixes, casta paintings also enforced gender norms to some degree. Some panels, usually those depicting lower-ranking racial statuses, display gender-based violence and others depicting women in typical gender roles such as seamstresses and cooks.

The story of Catalina de Erauso was in stark contrast to the attempt of casta paintings to control and delineate gender and racial identities. Catalina, born and raised as a woman decided to escape her dull life as a nun and disguise herself as a man. As a man she had a lot of opportunities and adventures which took her to the New World. Her story reminded me somewhat of Mulan except as the translators Michele and Gabriel Stepto point out, “the rewards of her transformation were gained almost wholly at the expense of the victims of colonialism”. Again, we are faced with a character who in some ways was a pioneer and perhaps a hero but at the same time she was a murderous conquistador.

I found it particularly interesting that when Catalina revealed herself, she was not punished. In a society that went so far as to delineate hierarchies and status of races and genders as to create casta paintings, why was Catalina not punished when she revealed her biological sex to king Phillip and to the Pope Urban?

Week 2

This week’s content delved into “the meeting of the two worlds” in which Columbus and his crew arrived on what was come to be known as the “New World” and later the “Indies”. I found this particularly interesting as it provided me with more information on a historical event that I have heard a lot about but never had a formal teaching on.

The things that most struck me were:

From the lecture video, the discussion of Todorov’s views on the meeting of two worlds. Todorov views the discovery of America as the invention of modern Europe in the sense that it identifies itself as “not America”. I found this to be such an interesting way to think of modern identities, especially in terms of the place we identify with. Thinking more broadly, this framework also sheds light on how Columbus, his crew and other colonizers from Europe were thinking. They do not identify with this place or its people – they are the “other” or the “not self”. This helps to contextualize how they were able to go about conquering and colonizing. If we think of their actions without this context, they definitely seem quite evil. But at the time, they did not realize what they were doing was wrong in such a dichotic way but rather they were driven by motives of faith and state.

I was very fascinated while reading some of Columbus’s journal and finding how often and how brazenly he misrepresented things to his crew. In addition to this obvious falsification, he is continually trying to convince his crew, himself and those who will later read his journal/letters that he is in Asia despite mounting evidence to the contrary. It certainly makes one question the credibility of his account and for me it detracts from him being either a “villain” or a “hero”. This makes him seem more and more like someone who doesn’t deserve either title seeing as he was unaware of his actions let alone their effects.

I also found it interesting to learn that the term “Indies” refers to the high altitude of the land of the “New World”. In dies means “land of the day” and from this, the natives came to be called “Indians”. Before learning this I had assumed that the people they found in the New world were called Indians because Columbus was convinced that he was in Asia.

Week 1 Post – Reviewing Student’s Videos

Our introductory task for Latin American Studies 100 was to review the videos made by students of the previous year. In general, I was very impressed by the creativity and knowledge of the students and I am definitely looking forward to learning more in this course. The videos I watched were,

  1. Independence in Latin America:
    • Things I liked:
      • I thought the way that they had one central narrator who walked around to interview different people who had one topic made it dynamic
      • The filming was good and the speakers were clearly very knowledgable
      • I like how at the end, those who were from Latin America spoke from their own lived experience about how they view independence
      • They looked at independence in a multi-faceted way – in terms of key figures, causes, impacts, how it was received – and I think this provides a good picture for viewers
    • Things that could be better:
      • A couple of the areas they filmed had poor lighting and the filming could have been more steady/ less shaky
      • When they use the map and the writing on the whiteboard, both things are backwards/reversed because the camera flipped the images
  2. Caudillos
    • Things I liked:
      • I thought it was very creative to have audio over hand-drawn images and written text
      • I liked how they compared to modern times/people e.g. Trump, and how they qualify all of their more negative statements of these “Caudillos” with how their actions did end up paving the way for some good things that make Latin America what it is today
    • Things that could be improved:
      • The camera was pretty shaky which made the quality of the video poor and hard to follow
      • Some of the drawings and writing was very messy and I think it could have been a lot better had they put more time/care into having it look neat
  3. The Meeting of the Two Worlds III
    • Things I liked:
      • I really liked the idea of using paintings and animated videos to provide the visuals while having student’s audio narrate
      • They picked appropriate images/videos for each part e.g. when talking about the three ships, they had image of three ships
      • I like how they used direct quotes from Columbus
    • Things that could have been improved:
      • I think the narration was clear but could have been more animated like a story teller
      • The music was a little loud and was the same throughout where as I think if they had  used different music to set the tone for good/sad/bad moments in the story then it would have had more positive effect
  4. The War on Drugs;
    • Things I liked:
      • The narration is clear and the tone they use fits the images and topic
      • I like how they highlighted key people and specific drugs and the roles they play in this
    • Things that could have been improved
      • I liked how they had an interview with someone from the region but this could have been more polished/rehearsed since they “broke character” a couple times and it is such a serious topic that this detracted from the tone of the video