Week 4: Independence Narratives, Past and Present

This week’s lecture video discussed Bolívar and his role as a revolutionary leader, as he set an example for future revolutionaries and activists to follow, as seen by Hugo Chávez’s aspirations for a revolution in the late 20th century. His ideologies continue to inspire revolutionaries today.  The video also briefly touched on Jóse Martí’s “Our America”, a text which can be seen as literary, due to its intricate use of metaphors and allegories to describe late 19th century Americas, and their need to unite, as described by “the trees must form ranks” in order to fight the “giant with seven-league boots”.

I found Martí’s text incredibly intriguing and powerful. As I read it, I imagined a speaker filled with fiery passion, eager to speak his beliefs. I felt like this was evident in the way that Martí allegorised America, and his people. Martí is regarded as Cuba’s National Hero. In his literature, he wrote of revolutionary ideas inspired by Bolívar and Juárez. He had a significant impact on the principles that served as a driving force in opposing the conquest of Latin America by the United States, as his ideas promoted unity and strength between neighbours.

Nowadays, we see Latin America as a whole, a group in the sense that the neighbours are united under the one name of “Latin America”. However, I am saddened seeing the state of corruption prevalent in Latin America nowadays. I wish a figure like Martí rose again, encouraging more unity within and between peoples of Latin America, and instead of fighting imperialists and conquistadors, they’d fight for Latin America, as a region, to thrive, economically, politically and socially. I wish that Martí’s allegory of nations as neighbours or men were reiterated: “Nations that do not know each other should quickly become acquainted, as men who are to fight a common enemy. I find that these words could be reapplied to modern day Latin America, where the unacquainted nations would be the people within and between countries differing in values and ideologies, ultimately separating them. Together, they should fight a common enemy – corruption – and instead of fighting for independence, they’ll fight for peace (well, theoretically fight, not literally fight. Basically, I wish that they’d put the entire region’s best interest at hand).

Nevertheless, it’d be wrong to say that there has been no improvement,  especially with leaders such as Hugo Chávez as he knew that there was a need for a revolutionary change. My only hope is that there will be more leaders like him who will aid positive change, to improve the the quality of life of the people, and who will have the wellbeing of the entire public as a priority. I hope that these leaders will make a difference – just like how previous revolutionary leaders such as Bolívar and Juárez made such a huge impact in reforming Latin America in the 19th century, to make it independent as we know it today.

Week 3: The Colonial Experience

I will be honest – Before LAST100, I had never heard of Casta Paintings before. However, after watching the lecture video, reading “Casta Paintings” by Susan Deans-Smith, and taking a closer look at these paintings, I have learned a fair bit.

Casta paintings depict the different mixes in Latin America, starting with 3 different ‘purebreds’ – Spaniards “Españoles”, Indigenous peoples “Indios/as”/“Mestizo” and Blacks “Moras” 

In the Casta Paintings shown above, the families of three are painted against a plain background, and each picture is captioned by the mix that they are.

Initially, before I truly analyzed the individual paintings, and simply looked at the captions, I thought it was interesting and almost humorous, since they have truly come up with a name for so many of the mixes. My first impression, without looking at their clothing or what their probable occupations implicate, I got the the impression that they were encouraging racial harmony as the different mixes of races are getting together. However, I was not really close with this first impression.

Upon closer inspection, I could see the distinct differences in the way that the families in each panel are portrayed. Additionally, the paintings are numbered, possibly implying that there is a certain order or hierarchy involved between the different ethnic mixes. When looking at the clothing of the the families in the first row, you can see that they are all well-dressed. 

The men, women and children are all dressed with gowns, capes, white socks, and/or black shoes, and while their occupations are not extremely clear, it is evident that they have prestigious professions. There is a stark contrast to this in the final row. 

In the 14th to 16th panels, as the people become more interbred, their clothing is not as fancy, they are no longer wearing shoes (in the 15th and 16th frame) and their occupations become less ‘professional. The families are shown to be something along merchants of jewelry, clothes, shoes and bread. Additionally, one of their subtitles or ‘classifications’ is “Note entiendo”, which in Spanish means “I don’t understand you”. It is only after analysing these images and their portrayal of mix-bloods that one could agree with Dr. Andrés Arce y Miranda’s negative opinion toward the paintings – as they insinuate the “lower class” of mixed-bloods in Latin America.

Something that I wonder with these illustrations of the mixes, is whether or not they are representations of how the demographics truly were at the time (with regards to their general occupations and the way they dressed), and therefore prompting the paintings. Alternatively, they could’ve been painted first, thus creating a form of social stigma against mixed-blood peoples. As the lecture video pointed out, it could’ve been done due to the anxieties felt by the dilution of their race through the generations, and their desperation to maintain a social hierarchy by defining a clear divide between the mixes with more Spaniard blood and their subsequent dilutions. I am interested in this because as a Mexican, I have heard my great-grandfather talk about the discrimination against ‘mestizo’ Mexicans, and how fair-skinned Mexicans were treated better because of their apparent Spanish blood.

Nevertheless, other than showing me the class-divide of the time, the Casta Paintings have made me see Latin America in a different light and in a way that I have never truly looked at it before. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Latin America was seen these different mixes were classified and given a name, making it like a hub of racial diversity due to these different mixes, dilutions and concentrations of ethnicities. However, over time, these distinctions have become less clear, seemingly less ‘diverse’ because all of the different mixes have combined to become one due to racial harmony and acceptance… When you walk down the streets in Latin America, you’re not seeing people as  “Mora” or “Calpamulato” or even “Note Entiendo”, instead you see each other reunited under “Latino/a”.

I know this post is quite long, but I guess there is a lot to reflect on. This now brings me to a discussion question for you – How do you think life actually was for these various mixes in 17th and 18th centuries? Do you think that these Casta Paintings were accurate representations of the people at the time, or simply depictions of how the Spaniards wanted them to be? 

Week 2: The Meeting of Two Worlds

Growing up in Asia, the “discovery” of the Americas was not a major focus in History class, and hence, I do not have much previous knowledge with regards to Christopher Columbus and his journey to the Americas. However, despite my lack of extensive knowledge, I knew a little here and there. While I never truly saw him as a hero (because I believe that serendipity had a large role to play in his “discovery”… slightly more on that later) I never saw him as a villain either, despite the broad range of negative effects that his “discovery” had on the indigenous civilisations.

Both this video and the readings have also made me think about intention versus reception. Columbus set sail westward to find a faster route to Asia, as well as for his personal gain. Thus, he often is seen desperately trying to justify his journey to the Crown. However, here we are, over 5 centuries later, celebrating him as a hero in holidays such as “Columbus Day”. This makes me feel uneasy because, as the video states, Columbus himself was not even aware of what he “found”. The celebration of Columbus is merely due to serendipity, as chance played a large role in the way that events unfolded. He did not find a faster route to Asia. He did not necessarily “achieve his mission”. Yet, with the way that events played out, it is clear that serendipity has played a huge role in the celebration of Columbus today, and in the manner of which many people view Columbus today – As a “Hero” or as the one who “Discovered the Americas”.**

Additionally, I am slightly angered by the fact that Candia’s incorrect portrayal of the Incas led to more people coming to the America’s and stripping them of their resources, bringing along disease and suffering. However, I also believe that the world would not be the same today if it wasn’t for the events that took place. This is one of the reasons why I believe that it is important to learn history, and in this case, the history of Latin America. Many people say that it is to keep ourselves from making the same mistakes, but a big part of me wants to learn more about the events that occurred in the past out of respect for the people and civilisations that have died in the process of making history. They deserve to be known because without them, the modern world as we know it today potentially wouldn’t exist.

Well, those are just my personal thoughts and opinions with regards to Columbus. I am sorry if this offends you in any way 🙁

Some questions for discussion – If you could say something, or ask Christopher Columbus/Candia a question, what would you say/ask? Also, how do you think the world would be like today if Columbus never sailed the ocean blue? Do you think that similar events would’ve eventually happened, or do you think that everything would be different today? No wrong answers here, to be honest.,


Michelle Marin

** The reason why I struggle to say “Discovery” without (sarcastic) quotations marks is due to the fact that “discovery” implies that it was not known before, however, it is a very euro-centric way of explaining what occurred in 1492. The “discovery” of these civilisations occurred long before, as the civilisations themselves were aware of their own existence (Does this make sense..)

LAST100 – WEEK 1

Hello there!

I am Michelle Marin, a 1st year student in LFS taking Latin American Studies to learn more about my Mexican heritage and Latin background.

Over the weekend, I watched several of the student videos posted on the LAST100 blog. One of the videos which stuck out the most to me was the “Caudillos” video by Anna Wilmann, Elyse Doyle, Emma Elsner, Isabel Masters and Rachel White, due to their unique approach to making an educational video. The usage of handmade drawings kept me hooked as it was interesting to see the different styles of drawings by the artists, and in turn, helped me focus on what the narrators were saying. Additionally, the effort which was put into the project by each individual was apparent.

Another video that I truly enjoyed was “Modernity in Latin America” by Thamer Farjo, Nicole Gross, Nicola Cox, Austin Chang and Allysia Lam. I liked this video because it taught me a lot about trade and trade routes that we still see today, including the Brazilian coffee trade. It also taught me about Mexico’s trade history and how it came to be. As a Mexican, I feel sad to know that my ancestors had to endure many hardships under Diaz, nevertheless, I am proud of how Mexico managed to survive through the difficulties. What I enjoyed the most about the video was the images which complemented the students’ presentations well. The subtitles were also great as it made the video extremely easy to comprehend.

I found the content of “The Meeting of Two Worlds“, by Matthew Landberg and Brette Harrington great (it was filled with many details!), however, as a visual learner, I had a hard time keeping up with the presentation. Personally, I found that it did not feature sufficient visual queues to help audiences like me follow the content through the video, as it consisted mostly of the students talking. Nevertheless, I believe that this video could potentially be very beneficial for auditory learners, as the lack of changing visuals could help them focus on the content of the video, and ultimately, get the most out of it.

Lastly, I also watched “Independence Narratives Past and Present II“, by Amy Main and Cennedi Mills. I found this video extremely diverse as it featured different forms of visuals, such as maps, videos of the students introducing the topics, images of Bolivar and Chavez, and what they represented as historical figures, and even music. However, I found that the audio quality was not too great and the lack of subtitles made it difficult to follow.

Through watching these videos, I feel better prepared with regards to how I could approach video projects, and I am looking forward to making them in the near future, as well as learning more about Latin America in the process.

Thank you for reading my first post!


Michelle Marin

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