When thinking of what constitutes acceptable political representation, I like to begin on a personal level. For example, would I like it if anyone could directly dictate all of my actions without input from me? Most likely not… And as such, I sympathize with the motivation of those who wanted to abandon the control of colonial powers, especially in the case of many Latin American countries where the ruling powers were so unbelievably awful. Another factor in the situation that leads me to lend support to the revolutionaries is that the colonizing powers had no intention of supporting the colonies over a long period. Like we talked about briefly last class many of the colonies in Latin America were exploitation colonies, not settler colonies like those in North America. So the ruling powers were interested in only the natural resources they could plunder from the colony, not in the well-being of its inhabitants. This leads to tactics such as widespread use of slavery, prioritization of wealth over health, and a general disregard for the lives- after all, people come and go, but diamonds are forever. (Yes, I know that they mostly were after silver & gold). In such a case, it seems to me unreasonable to not expect revolution. However, a revolution is no good if it doesn’t change, or worsens, the prior conditions. Simon Bolívar touches on this in his text. Even as he foretells the success of his cause, he speaks to the uncertainty and unrest that will follow the revolution, especially in the sphere of politics. It seems to me that Bolívar’s revolution is much like a question that needed to be asked, but that no one has the exact answer to. We see the ambiguity that surrounds Latin America repeated again in the figure of José Martí. Like the lecture says, his legacy is still being debated. And yet, in Martí we see someone who was called for a unified Latin America, one that could withstand foreign influences, particularly those of the United States of America . Central to the idea of unity is having a common cause to rally around, but Martí’s contested legacy would suggest that perhaps there was no point within Our America specific enough to act as a thesis. Or it could be that there is one, only it’s so buried under various metaphors and allusions that it can be hard for any reader to justify their interpretation over anothers. All par for Latin America, I suppose.
One of the great tragedies of history, it seems to me, is Spain’s apparent inability to recognize value in culture other than its own. Not only did the country conquer and expel those who did not meet the monarchy’s strict standards of conformity at home, they also went abroad and decimated cultures- either through total destruction, or systematic cultural genocide- from which they could have learned from and appreciated. Even Las Casa, the humanitarian of the day, thought the indigenous people of Latin America were worth saving because they represented strong potential converts to Christianity, not because they had a deep and beautiful culture of their own. Not that this is only something that Spain did- it appears to me that all of Europe at the time could only reference the value of something through the framework of European culture. A convenient approach to life, perhaps, when you need to excuse your use of slave labor. Still, one cannot totally condemn Las Casas- obviously his work saved many. Again, we see this odd mix of intention and consequence, wherein some good arises from actions motivated by things other than pure benevolence. There are of course negative consequences too- and they are felt far across the world. I can’t think of anything more distinctly European than to switch to African slaves when convinced not to use South American Natives as forced labor. One man’s belief in Christianity saves some but dooms others. And of course, once Latin America is colonized by various races, the first thing the Europeans do is attempt to assign values based on race, as evidenced by the casta paintings. Except they can’t quite manage it. Diversity does not seem to be something the Europeans were capable of handling at the time- dealing with anything less than a totally homogeneous race and culture was beyond their abilities. I find the Casta paintings fascinating because I have a very hard time imagining a scenario in which I would ever find myself desiring such a creation. Why anyone could be so obsessed with the importance of race that they would spend hours of their life creating paintings specifically designed to categorize people based on societal worth is beyond me. The paintings, while beautiful, also seem very insidious and damaging, serving to promote new, or to reinforce existing, stereotypical beliefs regarding the value and importance of races other than Caucasian. Such subtle suggestions can, overtime, influence how entire societies think, meaning the effect of the Casta paintings may still be felt today.
Another day, another question contributing to the already exceptional ambiguity of the idea of Latin America- now not just where, but also when? I think this weeks video raises an interesting point well before it begins to discuss the impact of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Was Latin America only brought into existence by the arrival of the Italian? If so, why are lasting pre-colombian aspects of culture, like indigenous artwork or music, still considered important parts of Latin America today? Latin America seems like a sum of both parts old and new, with no one root or single ancestor, a mix, or clash, of cultures that seem distinct, but intertwined, bonded permanently by the trauma that was the arrival of Columbus. Columbus himself represents to me the worst of the European Powers of the day: mistaken, but self-assured, christian, but cruel. No matter how you look at him, Columbus seems very polar. Some believe he is a hero, some a villain. Sometimes he is referred to as a scientifically motivated explorer, sometimes a cruel conqueror. I have never heard of him described in terms less than absolute. He is a god, or he is the devil. Of course, Columbus would have thought of himself as only a man. As the video says, he would have had no idea how momentous his “discovery” would be, or any idea of the scale of events it would set off. In fact, as mentioned, he didn’t even know he had landed in the Americas, a fact I find very telling about his beliefs and personality. Actions on his part such as the persistence that he had discovered a new route to Asia despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary seem to me to be indicative of the fact that Columbus was not one to see the forest for the trees, although the video makes a good point when it reminds the viewer that Columbus was failing to deliver what he had promised to the Spanish Monarchy, so perhaps the constant self assurance and denial of evidence were simply necessary actions on his part to protect his interests and reputation. I don’t think we can blame Columbus for his “discovery” of the American Continent. The very fact that he set off to find a route to Asia and instead accidentally happened upon what is now the Bahamas is to me proof enough that he was not responsible for arriving in the new world. Put that blame on luck, or cosmic interference or whatever you want. I do, however, believe that we can hold Columbus responsible for the systematic abuse and destruction of the native people, and in that regard, Columbus is not a good guy. To finish off, I’ll include a link to a web comic which definitely villainizes Columbus, while at the same time strongly commending one of his contemporaries: Bartolome de las Casas. Be warned, some of the language in the webcomic is a little less than academic, and while the author does cite his sources, the comic did generate a fair amount of controversy when it was published. I do not wish to condone everything the comic has to say, but it does offer an interesting point of view. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/columbus_day
Hi all, my name is Silas Latchem and I am a second year Biology major. I’m originally from Montreal Quebec, where I graduated from the CEGEP system after two years in College. My spoken french isn’t great, despite studying it for 14 years, but if you ever want to chitchat (in either English or French) just say hi. I chose this course because I have always been very interested in Latin America, especially in its contemporary history. I visited Guatemala for 3 weeks in 2015 and fell in love with the people and its culture. I am hoping to go back sooner than later. I greatly enjoyed “Modernity in Latin America” by Thamer Farjo, Nicole Gross, Nicola Cox, Austin Chang and Allysia Lam. I was amazed to find out just how rapidly Brazil modernized in the late 1800s, and surprised to find out that Slave Labour was so important to the their boom. The video makes in clear that while many of the countries that constitue Latin America modernized very quickly, it was at grave cost to the vast majority of people who lived there. Tactics such as slave labour may be effective, but far from pleasant, or indeed moral. Another video I enjoyed was “The War on Drugs” by Diane Keyes and Michelle Nziok. I was somewhat shocked to find out how prevalent drug use was in places like Brazil- one million users of any drug is a lot, let alone a drug like cocaine. I thought the group raised an interesting topic when the pointed out that the widespread drug abuse of the lower classes of society helped keep a power divide between the wealthy and the poor. It was somewhat reminiscent of issues encountered during the modernization of Latin America, wherein the rich got far richer while the poor became poorer. I am very much looking forward to learning more about the region/idea/culture that is Latin America in the coming weeks.