week 4

Week 4 – Independence Narratives, Past and Present

The struggle for independence in America is packed with complexity, but the most common narrative is that of the liberation of the people living on the continent, even though that might not be the case. The video and the interview were very illuminating in the way they described and discussed the process of independence in the colonies, and which groups most benefitted from them.

It’s interesting how Bolivarianism and the complexities of Latin American independence are linked to events that have unfolded in modernity. Dr. Cameron discusses how Hugo Chávez, former president of Venezuela, tried to capitalize on the Venezuelans feeling left out by framing the struggle for independence as an unfinished revolution, and by echoing what he understood as an anti-imperialist message in Bolívar’s writings. However, both the video lecture and the interview point out how Bolívar wasn’t representing the indigenous population of the continent – he was simply representing the Creole class, European descendants who were born in America and who were in opposition to the Peninsulares, the Spanish government back in the Old World that prevented the Creoles from having autonomy in the colonies. By drawing on Bolivarianism as a way to fight exploitation by the most powerful countries in the world, Chávez neglects Bolívar’s disregard and indifference for the Native Americans and their own history (illustrated when he says Latin America has “no history”, completely ignoring the indigenous peoples and their own traditions). Dr. Cameron even points out how independence might not have been what the Native American wanted at the time, given it empowered the Creoles and their “predatory” actions, as he put it.

The interview also contextualizes indigenous peoples’ struggle for inclusion in relation to the Latin American independence process. It discusses how independence was never a starting point for the inclusion of the indigenous peoples, especially in the political arena, and that that carries over until the present day. Latin American countries where that segment of the population does have more political power are also described as having a stronger democracy (like Uruguay and Costa Rica). These countries weren’t at the center of the colonization efforts and weren’t as rich in natural resources, contrary to places like Venezuela, in which the indigenous population was used as a labour force. Dr. Cameron frames that exclusion from hundreds of years ago as an issue that still affects the population, hence the tendency to elect leaders such as Chávez which demand inclusion in the world economy. An interesting discussion question to consider is if the presidents elected under the banner of inclusion, such as Chávez and Evo Morales, did indeed have a tangible effect on how that particular country is situated in the international community, or if that promise of inclusion remains simply a promise.

Ultimately, the connections made between the struggle for independence and inclusion and modern day politics were very valuable in helping to understand the current political situation in many Latin American countries.

week 3

Week 3 – The Colonial Experience

This week’s video and readings discussed the issues pertaining to ethnic representation and self-identification during the European colonization of what is now Latin America. The video lecture touches on some interesting aspects that I hadn’t considered before, especially in the way it frames the identity crisis Spanish people were going through, and the ethnic homogeneity the king and queen were trying to implement in the country. This contextualization helps to better understand the colonizers’ actions, especially the casta paintings.

These paintings, seen as a result of the ethnic and racial anxiety happening in Spain at the time, also help to understand the huge number of denominations given to every possible mix of ethnicities. Coming from a Latin American country, these names are familiar to me, and it’s interesting to consider the contrast with North America and the “one drop rule”. These tensions in “ethnic classification” are still very much a part of discussions in Brazil, for example, especially in the context of the country-wide Census – illustrating how exploring the root of these issues in colonial Latin American is fruitful for issues pertaining to our modern life.

These various names serve to perpetuate the Spanish and colonial idea of a “socio-racial hierarchy”, as one of the articles put it (https://notevenpast.org/casta-paintings/), and to make sure that the Europeans and their descendants are at the top of that hierarchy. This shows just how anxious the Spanish were in relation to the racial makeup of their territories, making use of art to guarantee the social-racial ranking stays intact as the people living in the American continent became more and more diverse, especially with the arrival of Africans, brought to the continent in huge numbers after the death of many of the native indigenous people due to European diseases. As a discussion question, it could be interesting to consider other historical instances in which art was used as a way to dissuade social and racial anxiety and to put forth an idea about what the ethnic makeup of a certain place should be. Nazi Germany certainly comes to mind.

I found the story of the Catalina de Erauso very fascinating, and I liked the way it tied up with the overall crisis in identity present in colonial Latin America. Her story is very unique, and reading a first-person account of the events of that time (such as our readings for last week) is very helpful in visualizing and understanding that specific part of history.

week 2

Week 2 – The Meeting of Two Worlds

The arrival of Columbus and his people to the Americas in 1492 and what it signifies for both Latin American and European history is an incredibly complex subject. It starts from the way that arrival is framed – is it a “discovery”, a “conquering”, an “invasion”? We tend to quickly classify it as one or the other, but the video and the proposed questions make us consider the nuances of the event.

1492 meant many things – and not only for the indigenous peoples living in the continent then but as well as for the Europeans who were leading the explorations. The lecture video points out how the discovery of America served as a starting point for the modern European self to be reinvented in comparison to the American “other”. An interesting matter to be discussed could be whether those two identities are still connected to this day, especially in relation to how modern-day Latin Americans view themselves in comparison to Europeans.

The video also asks us to think about our impression of Columbus and how it has changed after the reading. In my experience in particular, there was a lot of thought that went into how to portray the events of October 1492 from the part of my school and the History teachers. It’s a touchy subject because European colonization in Brazil, as in other parts of America, caused the killings of much of the indigenous tribes native to the land and the subjugation of most of those that were left. Although some progress has been made in the sense of securing reserves for these native peoples, for example, the tribes are still constantly under threat of being expropriated from their own lands. The reality of their situation and its origins that go back to Columbus’ arrival ended up painting a not so positive picture.

One of the questions proposed urges us to think about how Columbus and Guamán Poma write about their experiences in America. Their perspectives on the same matter is extremely different, as one would expect: Columbus sees himself as a sort of liberator for the indians, bringing them religion, language, and tools and “saving” them; and there’s also the sense that he’s taking possession of what rightfully belongs to the Spanish Crown – not ever seeing the gold and other valuable assets as property of those who were already there. Guáman Poma, on the other hand, understands that as pure greed, describing the colonizers “desperate”, “foolish”, and “out of their minds with their greed for gold and silver”. This is one of the many ways their perspectives contrast, helping us in visualizing a clearer picture of what happened many hundreds of years ago.


week 1

Week 1 – Introduction and First Impressions

Hi! My name is Livia Oliveira, I’m 19 and come from Brazil. I’m a second year student in the Faculty of Arts and I’m very excited to take LAST 100. Even though I’m originally from Brazil, there is a lot in regards to the history and culture of Latin America in general that I wish I could have learned more about in high school, so this course is a perfect opportunity to do so.

The first student video I watched was “Independence in Latin America” (http://last100.arts.ubc.ca/independence-in-latin-america/). The students focused on some of the most important characters in the independence of many Latin American countries (such as Jorge Matias Delgado and Simon Bolivar), and what I found really interesting was the way they touched on the effects that these people have on Latin Americans still to this day. Near the end of the video, the students also touched on their own vision of how these people and the principles that guided them affected the countries and their relationships to each other. One point that was made and really resonated with me was that Latin American countries have a lot of untapped potential, and that unity and solidarity between them, as envisioned by the revolutionaries, through political and economic alliances, for example, would help these countries prosper.

The second video I watched was “Modernity in Latin America” (http://last100.arts.ubc.ca/modernity-in-latin-america/). In discussing the process of modernization in Latin America, they talk about the role of women, which isn’t a part of the narrative of Latin American history that is usually focused on. They mention their unfair treatment when compared to men, and how, in Mexico, they were prohibited from forming a union to try and guarantee their equal rights. It’s unfortunate to see how that struggle hasn’t improved as much as it needs to, as gender inequality is still a huge problem specially in Latin America. They also discuss the role of coffee production in Brazil’s process of economic development, and how slave labour was a key component in that production – and how the slave’s emancipation didn’t exactly mean equal opportunity for the millions of people that had been brought to Brazil from Africa. Social and economic inequality is still a big issue in Brazil, and it’s easy to forget how it is actually a centuries-old problem that was never addressed. I found that part of the analysis specially relevant, and the video overall does a great job of highlighting some of the aspects of modernization in different parts of Latin America.