Week Four Readings

The readings for this week illustrate three different types of narratives from individuals seeking independence from the dominant rule. These narratives are particularly interesting to study because independence narratives attempt to represent the whole of a society in the words of one individual. Particularly in these narratives, it’s noteworthy to compare and contrast the two older narratives, Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti’s, which are from around the same period of time with the contemporary narrative, Hugo Chavez’s. While all three are fighting for basically the same cause, their language and approaches vary. Among the three readings, I noticed a change in tone from Bolivar to Marti to Chavez. If I were to describe them, I would say that Bolivar’s narrative is humble, Marti’s is lively, and Chavez’s is heated.

Bolivar’s letter is humble about the knowledge he does not have but also very informative in the knowledge that he does. Although he respectfully admits to the gentleman that he does not want his help, he goes through a lengthy letter explaining the current situation of South America and giving various examples of how independence could come about. He states that he is being lengthy out of respect, but the fact that he doesn’t want the gentleman’s help also makes me think that his formal and descriptive language portrays a pretentious Bolivar, rather than much of a humble one. Other than the language, I found it interesting that whereas Bolivar focuses largely on examples of other regions as a way of fighting for independence, Marti focuses on the unification of the diversified local people. Marti says that the local people need to learn their history and learn how to unite with the contemporary diversity of their people. He emphasizes that acceptance and equality allows “immediate union in the continental spirit” – the tool for independence. However, how these tools will enable independence is unclear. His exaggerated poetic and metaphoric language makes it hard to understand what his final point is.

I found that Chavez’s narrative, unlike Bolivar and Marti’s, was much more direct and confrontational. His independence narrative is towards the contemporary North colonization of the South. He explicitly lists multiple examples of how neo-liberalism works in the North’s self-interest towards social injustice and exploitation of the South. He is direct in his examples and gives potential solutions for fighting back, like opening banks and universities in the South. It’s interesting to think about how the language in these narratives plays a role in the types of colonization. Do we need more direct and explicit language to fight independence today because contemporary colonization is subtle and/or because our social and political structures are more rigid?

Week Three Readings

The two articles of this week, Lieutenant Nun and Casta Paintings, give two narratives that provide insight into the imaginaries that people had and created during the colonial period. In Lieutenant Nun, we have a first-hand account of the common view on gender and sexuality. Carolina, better known as Antonio, Alonso Dias or Francisco, is a transgender individual who breaks traditional gender views to blossom into their true self. The article Casta Paintings gives us insight into the different races and the common stereotypes attached to them. For instance, the casta paintings depict various casts and their assumed labor type.

I found the reading Lieutenant Nun particularly interesting to think about given that we often lose the stories of individuals who fall out of the “ordinary” – women, Indigenous peoples, or transgendered individuals alike. There are many his/her-stories missing from our education, and therefore accounts such as Catalina’s are precious. If today society is still struggling to accept sex and gender differences, imagine what is would have been like four hundred years ago. The social and cultural issues that we address today are not much different than the ones from the past. I believe that accounts on how these issues were dealt with in the past inform how we are and how we should deal with these issues today. Catalina’s story was very powerful, not only because they defied the covenant, but also because they rose in power as a disguised young man. Society did not accept whom they identified as, so Catalina took it upon themselves to leave what they were familiar with and journey into anything and any place that crossed their path.

While Lieutenant Nun addresses sex and gender issues, Casta Paintings depicts social and racial discrimination during the colonial periods. The paintings clearly illustrate the hierarchies that arose from the Europeans and the locals, and the inter-racial mixes between them. Colonial stories often portray the racial discrimination felt between the different casts of the time. However, the Casta Paintings article gave me insight into how these racial imaginaries were sustained throughout history, up until today. Paintings are just another daily reminder of who is on top, who is on the bottom of the socio-racial hierarchy, and their attached roles in society – a Spanish man is a professional while an Indian is a food vendor. The importance of these imaginaries is particularly seen through Dr. Andres Arce y Miranda’s reaction to caste paintings. He is deeply concerned with how creoles (Mexican-born children of Spanish parents) are depicted in these paintings. He wants to assure the Spanish people that creoles are not mixed race.

Week Two Readings

The journal of Christopher Columbus is highly descriptive mostly of the direction and the scene of the voyage. He consistently calls out the direction, distance, and speed to his crewmembers; and describes the landscape around him. I found it interesting to analyze these recurrent themes in his descriptions even though, at first, his narrative appears repetitive and dull. I noticed that he repeatedly references religion, aspects of the natural world, and direction/speed/distance of his ships.

Columbus repeats the phrase “thanks be to God” when his voyage is going well. He mostly thanks God when referring to a calm ocean or wind that is allowing him to continue his journey smoothly. There is an interesting relationship between the religious references to occurrences in the natural world. To him, they are both signs that land is near. For example, he uses the sight and direction of birds to determine if and in what direction there is land, and consequently thanks God every time he notices these signs. While the natural world, like the sea, the birds, and the wind, are unpredictable, I feel like he repetitively acknowledges God and his direction/speed/distance of his voyage to maintain his sanity throughout a journey in the variable natural world.

Once Columbus reaches land he refers to the land and the Islanders using somewhat exploitive language. He sees both the land and the people as utilities. For example, he talks about how useful all the pine would be in making ships, and sees the people as potential servants. Nevertheless, I found this first-person narration of Columbus interesting because his oppressive intentions appeared to be more so to please Your Majesties rather than a reflection of his genuine feelings.

Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s extracts from The First New Chronicle and Good Government portray Spanish greed and its consequences. Once the Spaniards saw the Gold and Silver available in the New World, they would do anything to get their hands on it. Guaman Poma explains how they first attempted to befriend Inca Atagualpa but failed to do so. I found this denied friendship very powerful because it shows the Spaniards’ ignorance in thinking that Atagualpa could be so easily manipulated. Also, to me, their final decision to kill so many Indians enlightens the Spaniards’ excessive greed and belittles the Spaniards’ image.

Emily Townsend

Hey LAST100!

My name is Emily Townsend. I’m a Geography (Environment and Sustainability) fourth year undergraduate student. I was born in Nicaragua, but I’m originally half American and half Ecuadorian. I grew up living in different places, so I cannot necessarily say there is one place I call home. However, If I did have to call on place home, it would be Ecuador. This is the one place I, and my family, always return to no matter where we are. When we were asked to write down three words that describe Latin America to us, I wrote down: family, conversation, and emotion. To me, these three words reflect the feelings that arise every time I go back “home” – to Latin America. I’m taking this class as an elective because I want to learn more about the historical and the contemporary issues of Ecuador and of its surrounding countries. I’m curious to better understand how the literature and the people (of the past and of this course) create imaginaries about such a complex “thing” like Latin America. Can imaginaries of a place help us define a place? I think defining a place is a dangerous and impossible task, but as humans we inevitably attempt to define the undefinable. However, I also believe that definitions (or attempts at definitions) can be good starting points to construct and deconstruct imaginaries and to redefine our definitions of places, and its peoples and cultures. This occurs through dialogue – an important aspect that I’m excited that this course will tackle and that I think is essential to learning.

I’m looking forward to discussing this “thing” we call Latin America with you!

Emily Townsend