Week Three

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.

1 thought on “Week Three

  1. Christine Joy Ganase

    Hey! I think you’ve really nailed it with your comment regarding “Spain’s apparent inability to recognize value in a culture other than its own.” Given Spain’s historical political decisions involving other ethnic and cultural groups, your statement is far from being extreme.

    In terms of your note about Las Casas, and about how he had a mix of both good intentions and dire consequences, this brought up a question we had explored during Thursday’s class discussion. It asked whether or not we could fully blame Columbus for the subsequent effects of his “discovery,” and most of us agreed that Columbus could not face all of the blame. For both Columbus and Las Casas, there seems to have been more factors in history than they could control.

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