Monthly Archives: October 2017

Week Nine

I really enjoyed the readings for this week as well as the videos regarding the yellow fever and “banana land”.

The Silent War, as they called the yellow fever, was a really big issue in the Americas, specifically between the equator and the Panama Canal. Many doctors from Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Cuba and the United States spent endless hours trying to find a cure for this horrible virus (some even died because of it). Yellow fever is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito and can be contracted by humans as well as animals. The video explained that the yellow fever mosquitos breed in the treetops rather than in pools of water on the forest ground and so many animals living in trees, especially monkeys, contracted this virus. Interestingly enough, infected monkeys didn’t die from the virus and I’m confused as to why that is… In a time when hundreds of people were dying because of yellow fever, and walking through the forest was basically a plea for death, monkeys survived. Humans are more closely related to apes than to monkeys, however we still share over 90% of the same DNA as monkeys so I wonder what the variable was that determined that monkeys would live and humans would die. Anyways, a cure was finally created for yellow fever and vaccinations were brought to many different villages and towns to prevent any further cases. The vaccination thankfully lasts for many years. It was taken to many army hospitals as well to ensure the safety of soldiers.

The second video regarded “Banana Land” which includes all the countries from Mexico through Colombia and some islands in the Caribbean. The first part of the video discussed mostly what life was like in Central America in the 1950’s. The speaker talked about how the streets looked very “Spanish-American” and how people in the highlands were more old-fashioned because they do things the way their ancestors did. He then touched on the Mayan Civilization and how it is one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

The second part of the video focused on the actual bananas. He talked about how they’re grown year-round and that teams of three men usually pick the bunches. These bunches can have anywhere in between 72 and 280 bananas. These bananas are carefully taken care of so that they aren’t bruised when they’re exported internationally. What really surprised me was the fact that if it weren’t for quick transportation, bananas would be an expensive luxury in the world. This of course makes a lot of sense, but it’s never something I really considered because bananas are at our disposal everywhere today and on top of it they’re a fairly cheap fruit. It’s strange to think that they could’ve been a rare delicacy.


Week Eight

This week we listened to another lecture by Professor Alexander Dawson regarding the Mexican Revolution and the Plan de Ayala. He claims that when revolution is discussed, it is “an attempt to shape a view of the past, that organizes power in the present” (Dawson). In the Mexican Revolution there were three major groups that were trying to “win” control of the political system:

The Old Guard: These were the people who were benefitting during the Diaz regime and who want to continue to maintain such privilege.

The Villa and Serrano Revolutionaries: These were the people who wanted to be free outside authority, whose lives were turned upside down because of modernity.

The Zapata and Agrarian Revolutionaries: The majority lived in central and southern Mexico and were primarily indigenous or mestizo. Most of their land had been illegally taken from them and so a priority for them was to get their land back.

In the end, there was no ‘official’ winner in Mexico’s Revolution however the product of this revolution was new political order.

Something that interested me in the lecture was this idea of “revolutions legacy.” Dawson specifically discussed Poncho Villa and Emiliano Zapata who were both assassinated and became ‘good’ symbols because “they didn’t live long enough to disappoint” people (Dawson). Even though both of them were closing doors on politics (Poncho Villa retired and agreed to not reenter politics and Emiliano Zapata was negotiating a peace with the government of Mexico) their influence was powerful enough to prompt people to kill them. This led me to start thinking about whether other martyrs in the world are viewed in a similar manner which does, in fact, seem to be the case.

I also found it intriguing that the contemporary Zapatistas were the first guerrilla movement to effectively use the internet. The impact technology has had on the world is revolutionary and is continuously growing. The world is becoming more and more connected and information is constantly in our reach. Professor Dawson admits that because of the Zapatistas’ effectual use of the internet, they have been more taxing for the Mexican State to deal with. This is compelling because it leads me to wonder if people can actually keep up with a world that has been overthrown by modernity. Everything (communication, wars, politics, the overall spread of information) has taken on a new level of complexity might be too great for our own good…



Week Seven

Alexander Dawson, a history professor at the Simon Fraser University considers modernity to be a concept with four different elements:

  1. Innovation: societies that are constantly innovating will, by default, be constantly improving.
  2. Emancipation: modern societies are continuously becoming freer, slavery doesn’t exist and all humans have equal rights.
  3. Secularization: modern societies aren’t defined by religion
  4. Universalism: modern values are shared by everyone once they’re discovered.

Of these four elements, the one that intrigued me most was secularization because looking back at history, religion has been the rationale for many different events such as the holocaust, and even the expansion of the United States (manifest destiny). It’s interesting to recognize that religion is being snuffed out of modern societies, so much so that it’s considered an element of a modernity.

Mexico’s yearn to be a modern society (like Europe in the late 19th century and the United States in the early 20th century) was so immense, that modern armies were created and new government systems were introduced. The issue Mexico ran into with modernity didn’t simply resolve itself once boulevards and underground sewers were created nor when electricity was installed. Mexico’s society didn’t become modernized like the Europe because Mexican people did not believe that liberal democratic values were “appropriate”. (A liberal democracy being the “ultimate modern society” meaning rights should be invested in individuals rather than corporations and various kinds of groups). There are two reasons these values weren’t appropriate: there was too much political chaos at the time (late 19th century) and, like Professor Dawson said, people were “racist” and not open-minded. Democracy, thus modernity, could only be achieved if order and progress came first.

On a different note, James Creelman’s article “Porfirio Diaz, Hero of the Americas” was unique because rather than being shocked by how repressive Mexico was, he was impressed by the physical progress he saw. To me, this physical progress was a façade to trick people into believing that Mexico really was becoming a modern player along with Europe and the rest of North America. I think it’s understandable that Creelman was wrong about Diaz because the future can only be predicted based on what we know, that being said, I wonder what Creelman would have written about Diaz after he was kicked out of power. If he had written another article after, how would this have affected Mexican history as we know it today? Would it have had a similar effect on people that “Porfirio Diaz, Hero of the Americas” had?


Week Six

This week’s lecture was a reminder of the horrors that existed during slavery as well as those that still exist today even over a hundred years after its abolishment.

Millions of slaves were captured and transported to the Americas and approximately one million died in transit because of the awful conditions they had to endure. According to the Professor Beasley-Murray, six times more Africans had reached the Americas than Europeans by 1800. I’m still astonished that three million slaves were brought to Brazil and even more so that over half of the Brazilian slaves died within three years of their arrival.

I live in the Midwest of the United States where race is not often acknowledged. Many people believe that a good “solution” is ignoring race or being “colorblind” to race which means completely disregarding heritage, traditions and identities. Closer to Chicago, the after effects of slavery and segregation are extremely prominent. Many more people of color are stopped and sometimes even shot by cops in and around the city than white people. Awareness is growing however, for example the Black Lives Matter movement is becoming more and more active in the Chicago area.

How can we do justice to such histories? We can acknowledge this awful part of history, learn from it, and teach as many people about it as possible so that no such thing is ever repeated again. I am white and therefore benefit from white privilege especially in the United States. I think it’s important to use this privilege to take action for what is right. The lasting effects of discrimination are still prevalent and certainly won’t disappear by ignoring them.

Other examples of unresolved conflicts or tensions include the Holocaust (as mentioned in the lecture). One of my neighbors, Mr. Walter Reed (who unfortunately passed away a few years ago), was a Holocaust survivor. He escaped Nazi Germany when he was a teenager and fled to the USA where he completely changed his identity. It is through people like him that the stories of the Holocaust came to life for following generations to learn about.

Returning to the topic of this week’s lecture, I found it intriguing to consider that the abolishment of slavery didn’t solely come from people in power like Abraham Lincoln, but by the slaves themselves every single time they acted out. I guess I just never questioned what I had been taught when it came to abolition. It’s also interesting to recognize that rights are interpreted differently by different people.


Week Five

This week’s lecture and readings were very interesting to dive into. What really drew me in was this larger idea that liberalism never had room to grow in Latin America amongst all of the violence that was going on at the time.

Liberalism in today’s society, more specifically in North America, is much more common than it used to be, however I agree with the fact that overall, liberalist societies tend to fail. I think liberalism can, and definitely should exist in the world, but I unfortunately think it’s extremely difficult for a country to maintain liberalistic practices for an extended period of time, especially when politics and people’s opinions are taken into consideration. I don’t think it’s possible to convince an entire population to join together and make a commitment to so called “abstract” principles because of precisely that: liberalistic principles can be seen as abstract. With all of the chaos going on in these Latin American countries in the 1800’s, it makes sense that they weren’t necessarily able to hop onto this progressive bandwagon.

Clientalism and Caudillaje was also a very interesting concept for me. Post-Independence Latin America was the perfect planting ground for an arrangement like Caudillos. It provided a clear-cut system for the everyone which was probably comforting for the poor and powerless. Not only was it was intriguing to think that a client’s wellbeing was in the hands of such powerful patrons, but that the elements of the relationship mattered; you couldn’t simply know of your superior, you had to genuinely know them… Of course, this system allowed the poor to have preferential services, protection and maybe even exemption from unequal rules which were all pros for the clients. I think it’s because of this that the system was so popular amongst them. In the lecture it’s mentioned somewhere that clientelism rewards were concrete and immediate, so that’s an additional reason as to why the powerless thought highly of this dependable system. Caudillaje seems to have been a dependable manipulation by the patrons that kept everyone relatively content and in their “rightful” place.

Esteban Echeverria strongly opposed caudillos and so it was captivating to learn about his opinions on it. In his book “The Slaughterhouse,” his descriptions are extremely graphic.

If the Spanish, Portuguese and other countries had had control of Latin America for longer, would liberalism be more prevalent in Latin America today?