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.