Posted by: | March 9, 2009 | Comments Off on Transculturation

I thoroughly enjoyed the readings for this week. Similar to our readings on “mestizaje”, it was interesting to read work by the original author of studies on “transculturation” and then be able to read work by an author who tests the arguments presented by the originator. I found the Ortiz article and Millington article fairly straight-forward to read. However, the Cornejo-Polar reading was slightly harder for me to follow and relate to the topic of transculturation.

The idea of transculturation seems to be quite an ambiguous and debatable topic, similar to mestizaje. However, as discussed in class, it is this exact ambiguity and lack of a concrete definition for these terms that makes it vital to figure out exactly what they mean. Ortiz describes this term transculturation, which seems to be a much more positive concept than mestizaje. It combines the notion of “disadjustment and readjustment, of deculturation and acculturation” (p.98). The case of transculturation is an interesting one. I particularly liked how Ortiz stressed that “one of the strange social features of Cuba [is that] all its classes, races and cultures, coming in by will or by force, have all been exogenous and have all been torn from their places of origin” (p. 100). I think this is an important point that is often overlooked in these discussions of cultural mixing. The people of Cuba (to use it as an example), assembled in a particular social hierarchy according to their cultural background, did not arrive to Cuba necessarily as part of that social standing. The Europeans came from a variety of countries, backgrounds, and classes, but upon arrival they were the “masters”. The Africans also came from a variety of countries and classes, but they became the “slaves”. I feel this point is often forgotten or ignored in discussions of cultural mixing in Latin America.

The Cornejo-Polar text on indigenismo was a bit harder for me to grasp. However, what I understood from the article was that a problem occurs in literature whereby there exists “an unequal relationship between its system of production and consumption on one hand, and the referent on the other, granting notable supremacy to the former and obscuring the latter under the force of the interpretation that is superimposed upon it.” (p. 107). Conflict occurs when text written in one context is read and interpreted in a different context to the one the author meant it to be interpreted in. The reader has power over the writer to impose their own views and ideas onto the text, potentially taking away meanings the author had never intended. I’m not entirely sure how the concepts and ideas described in this article exactly relate to the topic of transculturation, so I’m hoping these ties will be made clearer in class dicussion.

I felt like Millington did bring up some convincing weaknesses in Ortiz’s arguments. I especially liked Millington’s argument that the simile of the embrace in Ortiz’s definition of transculturation is “rather bland and unconvincing at this stage, and it would be interesting to hear more about how the Africans in Cuba ’embraced’ the cultures of Europe and how the Spaniards on the island ’embraced’ African cultures” (p.263). I feel that this idea of “embrace” is rather unconvincing. While, in transculturation, we do see exchanges between 2 cultures, these exchanges are not necessarily voluntary and “embraced” in a positive way, as Ortiz defines it. Sometimes these exchanges arise simply because two cultures are forced to co-exist, and inevitably they begin to influence one another, whether voluntarily or not.


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