Not as stereotypical as it sounds

What it means to be American?

The anger and opposition to the United States’ interventionism that is expressed in Rubén Darío’s poem “To Roosevelt” still is an ongoing struggle in Latin America. Darío criticizes the U.S. model of progress which is based on the invasion of America. He characterizes the U.S. as “strong”,”cultured”, and “able”. This portrayal of the U.S. reminded me of a discussion I had with a close friend . We were discussing how in English people born in the U.S. are called Americans and how we think there should be another term because after all Latin Americans are also Americans. In Portuguese, we have the term estadounidense which directly refers to the country’s name, however, we usually just say americano. It takes conscious effort for us to change the way we speak and to challenge the power dynamics present in our language. I think that Darío is similarly challenging the power dynamics in his poem by highlighting Latin American resistance, “O men of Saxon eyes and barbarous souls, our America lives. And dreams. And loves. And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.” Darío reverses the power dynamics by defining “men of Saxon”,  Americans, as having “barbarous souls” and claims that despite the U.S. interventionist  project, Spanish America resists and its humanity, its ability to dream and love, does not diminish.

Moreover, the interventionism of the United States pointed out by Darío and other Latin American intellectuals like Martí continues to be a reality. The United States has imposed economic, financial, and commercial sanctions to several countries in Latin America including Venezuela and Cuba. Likewise the U.S. has backed-up the military in countries like Chile, where under the Pinochet dictatorship around 40,018 Chileans died. When thinking about U.S. imperialism in Latin America, we also have to think about corporations and the environment. It is not surprising that Latin America has been considered the deadliest region for environmental activism. Berta Cáceres, an Indigenous environmentalist from Honduras,  was one of the victims. Her murder was ordered by the executives of the Agua Zarca Dam company, because of the delays and financial loses linked to the protests she led. The government of Honduras was backed up by the U.S which did not offer the support necessary to deal with the violence in Honduras. Given such scenario of interventionism, the victory of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) in Bolívia, which opposes  U.S. imperialism in the region is extremely important.

I think it also interesting to think of the role that artists and intellectual have in shaping discourse and providing different alternatives. The same friend I mentioned before introduced me to Joaquín Torres- García, an Uruguayan artist who in 1935 in The School of the South Manifesto articulated his ideas about the direction that Uruguayan and Latin American art should take. Torres-García proposed that the art of South America should be defined by its own terms and not in relation to the North. He used pre-Columbia symbols in his work such as the sun in order to affirm the autonomy of Latin American modern art. His work América Invertida (Inverted America) repositions the South as the North.

Discussion questions: What role do you consider art to have in challenging traditional narratives? Why do you think it is so dangerous to be an environmental activist in Latin America?

Here is Torres-García’s drawing and a video of Berta Cáceres 🙂 :

“He dicho Escuela del Sur porque en realidad nuestro Norte es el Sur. No debe haber Norte, para nosotros, sino por oposición a nuestro Sur. Por eso ahora ponemos el mapa al revés, y entonces ya tenemos justa idea de nuestra posición, y no como quieren en el resto del mundo. La punta de América, desde ahora, prolongándose, señala, insistentemente el Sur, nuestro Norte” — Joaquin Torres-García.





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