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.

Week 3: Colonial Experience

I loved the readings and video for this week!

Catalina’s story, which absolutely immersed me, is quite an anomaly. It’s unique firstly in that unlike many historical texts, Catalina is a testament to the reality of queerness in periods long predating us – and yet her experience is unique also in that it can be misleading. Although Catalina’s life had an extraordinary series of ups and downs (She unintentionally killed her own brother!), the fact that she was validated by both the Pope and King Phillip is quite the paradox when one thinks about the plight of other queer people of the same era. In fact, sodomy was one of the factors that led the Spanish to think so lowly of the indigenous, who in many societies partook in homosexual activity.

Catalina was not really paving the way for our 20th century sensibilities – at least probably not intentionally. She herself would participate in the very entity that would otherwise harm her – and as a conquistador, she falls short of our standards pertaining to the abuse of indigenous people and other colonial abuses. This side of her life, and the intricacy of her character, is lost if we hurryingly celebrate her as a lesbian feminist ahead of her time. But, like Columbus, it’s not so simple as a binary judgement. Even the most virtuous people at a given time act with the knowledge they have and the conditions they find themselves in. This entails that individuals in history often act on presumptions we now declare wrong – and all of this is true also of us. It is true that some people break this mould, and while Catalina would hardly fit the average life of a contemporary social activist, she led an epic and fearless life, setting an example for a woman’s sovereignty even for us today.

The casta paintings were also fascinating. Like Catalina, these paintings shone some light on those who are at the bottom of hierarchies – and like Catalina’s journey, it can be a bit misleading. The idealization of the couples, mixed with scenes of richness, efficiency, and exotic flora presents us with a contradiction. The reality of these mixed-race couples and social life in the New World as a whole (that being “domestic conflict, drunkards, vagrants,” etc.) is in effect quite different. I can only assume that this was done to flaunt Spain’s rule whilst also puzzlingly classifying and degrading its inhabitants. This isn’t to say that it was all embellishment; those who were lower on the rungs of the paintings were displayed much worse off then the couples whose blood was less ‘diluted’.

My question for further discussion is this:

At what point did mixed-raced couples become dissuaded rather then outright prohibited? It seems to me that if artworks were commissioned to display the different types of interracial couples, it became at some point accepted that these couples would inevitably exist. While such relationships were also actively discouraged by the hierarchy these paintings imposed, I wonder if these paintings also indicate a realization that these relationships would arise inevitably?

week 2: the meeting of two worlds

As someone who couldn’t remember much background knowledge about Columbus, reading his journal was fascinating.  It was interesting to see how ingrained the colonial mindset was to him. Everything was for the servitude of the King and Queen. Seeing how Columbus essentially conditioned the islanders into admiring him and his men felt sleazy to read, as though he was preying off their unawareness.

The fact that their relations were so cordial at all took me by surprise as I am accustomed to hearing only the violent side of Columbus. Obviously since this is his journal there is a high degree of bias. The video mentioned that his journal was an exercise in self-justification, so it’d make sense that he would embellish the trip. Even so, he must have retained some form of accuracy as the intended audience for the journal would be a documentation for the queen. As someone who likes the subject of history, these are all good considerations when assessing Columbus’ journal as a source. But the fact remains that whatever was yet to come, reading Columbus’ peaceful interactions and enthused observations of the islands was something I hadn’t even considered before. That initial period of contact has largely evaded me as opposed to the subjugation that comes later.

When he describes the foliage of the islands as beautiful and even compliments the islanders as intelligent, it’s sad to realize that all of this comes with greedy ambitions. The islanders are only as intelligent as they are susceptible to be converted into Christianity. The beauty of the islands is mostly exotic eye-candy meanwhile the resources are ripe for the taking. It was admittedly satisfying to see this greed backfire on Columbus himself, such as when Martin Alonso Pinzon set sail for his own personal gain. Nonetheless, reading Colombus’ journal frustrated me because it felt like the potential for more genuine and peaceful relations were there, but the imperialism of that time prevented that from happening. By the same token, reading the Guaman Poma text revealed another perspective which pointed out these vices that I myself noticed. The Spaniards were portrayed as greedy and manipulative, happy only with the conquest-potential of the islands, whilst groups like the Incas Poma called generous.

In the end, my initial impression of Columbus was a simple man operating within the morality of his historical moment and who, by accident, had a large impact on history. My thoughts on him haven’t changed much; he was a product of his environment, which back then was in a expanding empire that held no regard for the lives of its subjects. But more so then before, I think Columbus largely failed at his task, especially when considering his next three voyages.

I am left with a question for discussion. What are the costs of running an empire as brutal as Spain’s? When I reflect on the way Columbus and his successors treated the indigenous population, I can only assume the brutality stems in part from the fact that slavery and other abuses are, practically speaking, profitable. It was the most pragmatic and self-preserving way of continuing Spain’s power. That being said, could there have been an alternative way for Spain to run its empire that would both benefit it in the long run whilst also treating its subjects with dignity?

From my knowledge, almost all cases of modernity being imposed on other nations have been violent and lopsided. But I do have a Portuguese friend who mentioned Lusotropicalism (not because he agrees with it but just for me to check), which argues Portugal was a more benevolent colonizer than other European nations. If anyone has something to say about that I’d love to hear it (but to clarify I know next to nothing about the theory).


Student Videos Review and Blog

In the student’s video: “Independence Narratives, Past and Present”, the third story of independence revolving around nationhood caught my attention. The students defined this type of independence as “a separation intended to allow a country to operate without the influence of external governance”. This is a concept I have become familiar with, especially in terms of how Latin American nations perceive the role of the United States within their domestic affairs. The different tensions that this brings about have intrigued me personally, as they are by and large applicable to many post-colonial states throughout the world. For example, during Pablo Escobar’s career, there were many perspectives being pit against each other with regards to extradition and to what extent Columbia should depend on the United States. This same tension is relevant from the 19th century through the Cold War and all the way to the present. I liked how easygoing this video was but I feel as though it could’ve been more in-depth.

Another student video that I watched was “Brazilian Slavery and Abolition”. In this video it was mentioned that if the US confederate states were to lose the civil war, external demand on Brazil to end slavery would also amplify. From this, I couldn’t help but wonder to what extent have external pressures from other nations brought about social change in Latin American countries? I’ve learned a lot about internal revolutions and social shifts within these countries, but perhaps there are some more external factors too that I could learn more about? Either way, I really liked this video. The voice-over is confident, there is plenty of background information given, and the slides are nice and varied.

The third student video I watched was “Power to the People”. I really liked the use of old footage which kept the video fresh. The presenter did a great job of educating me on former president Vargas, Juan Perón, and their use of the media and propaganda to gain support. The use of music and footage flowed well with what the narrator was saying, which gives it a very professional look. The information was also easy to digest and by the end of the video I couldn’t help but want to learn more about Evita Perón. This is definitely one of the videos I liked most.

The fourth and final student video I watched was “A Revolutionary Process: The Cuban Revolution in the 1960s”. I really appreciated how the notes and highlights which were integral about the Cuban revolutionary process were jotted down in the video as it progressed. It makes for a more interactive and easy-to-follow viewing. Although I enjoyed this video, I found that the narration was a bit fast for me to process everything. The textbox which is blocking the left side of the footage at times could have also been integrated less jarringly, as after all, it is hindering some engaging footage.

In the end I enjoyed all 4 videos, but my favorites would certainly be “Power to the People” and “Brazilian Slavery and Abolition”. That being said, “Independence Narratives, Past and Present” gets credit for being so entertaining and confident.

Introducing Myself

A couple of pictures from my Guatemala trip.

Hello everyone,

My name is David Darbinian and I’m a first year at UBC.

A lot of my interest for this course stems from my ten day trip to Guatemala in grade 11. On that trip, I visited many beautiful sites such as Antigua and Guatemala city. I interacted with the Guatemalans through soccer, construction work, sightseeing, national traditions, and other ways.

I am someone who loves to learn more about the world, and having been to eleven countries including Japan, Russia, Jamaica, Austria, and Armenia, I consider myself to be internationally minded. As a result, every region of the world fascinates me in a different way, and after having immersed myself in Guatemalan culture, I find myself drawn back to explore more of the Western hemisphere. I am taking this course to learn more about the many rich cultures and backgrounds which share this part of the world with me. If there’s anything I would like to get out of this course, it is a greater understanding of Latin America as well as an appreciation for the role I play in empathizing and engaging with the perspectives of different countries.