Week 4: Independence Narratives, Past and Present

The readings brought up a lot of interesting topics that I’ve delved into a bit before, albeit for different regions. Having heard from the video about the many allegories Martí weaves into his work “Nuestra América”, especially via imagery of clothing, one segment caught my attention. Martí decried the elites for flaunting “epaulets and judge’s robes, in countries that came into being wearing rope sandals and Indian headbands”. As he says:

“The wise thing would have been to pair…the Indian headband and the judicial robe, to undam the Indian, make a place for the able black, and tailor liberty to the bodies of those who rose up and triumphed in its name” (28).

In this light, although Martí can be seen as indigenismo in that he wishes to preserve and celebrate the rites of the indigenous, after having done a bit of research, I found that he also presents a peculiar view of racism. In his eyes, white racism, which would entail political ventures such as the Casta paintings (imposing hierarchies and degrading non-whites to worse standard of living), was analogous to “black racism”, which could be seen as the pushback to white racism by advocating the value of black life and being conscious of one’s racial background. In his writings he says:

“What right does the black racist who sees a special character in his race have to complain of the white racist? The black man who trumpets his race authorizes and provokes the white racist” (319).

Given this, I can’t help but feel that this notion of blindness to race is incompatible with Latin America’s ongoing effort to find some way to work out differences between its own highly diverse population. Whether it be Chavez’s decrying of neo-liberalism, or the other ongoing tensions from a colonial past, much is still left up in the air. I think at this point, the risk of having too many independence narratives is that historical reflection is irreversibly entangled with modern politics. Disagreements over history can be manipulated, especially by those in power, for instrumental reasons such as vindicating claims to power. Therefore, Latin America’s national myths need to be scrutinized for what perspectives are omitted to gain a fuller picture. Otherwise, a country’s narrative can spur its populace into actions that threaten progress for tangible concerns such as poverty, education, inequality – all of which, I think, should be at the forefront of Latin America’s priority. Putting historical discrepancies aside will only work for so long before they are again exploited.

My question is: what do you think of Martí’s definition of racism as being the mere identification with one’s race, and how could this exasperate/avoid racial divisions? From what I could see, he wrote within the context of a Cuba in which black organizations began to form such as the Partido Independiente de Color, an exclusively black political body which was shut down.

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