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.