Week Four

This week’s lecture was packed with information focusing on several narratives of independence. I really enjoyed reading Jose Marti’s “Our America” even though it was complex and difficult to understand. I liked the creative metaphors he used, they were poetic and interesting to imagine (i.e. comets gulping down worlds, trees form ranks like soldiers), however overall, I feel that his piece showed off his writing style more than it conveyed what he intended it to. Did he intend his writing to be so complex to understand? And if so why did he make the decision to write it like this? In a different sense, it captures the many complexities that exist within America as well which is intriguing. It was also impressive to read “Our America” knowing that it was and still is such an important statement of Latin American identity. Also, I’m curious as to why Jose Marti was frequently exiled from his homeland. How can you be exiled more than once? Did he go back even though he wasn’t supposed to?

On a different note, I was impressed to learn about the Haitian Revolution and how it initiated because of slaves that joined together and rose up against plantation owners. This became context for Simon Bolivar’s letter from Jamaica in 1815 which brings me to my next point. I was struck to find out that decisions were being made in Europe about America without taking into account the people that were being affected by it. (I had never considered that anyone, except the Europeans in America, was making big decisions about the Americas). This was shocking to me because there were many Europeans living in the America’s at the time and it seems crazy to me that the Europeans in Europe were marginalizing the people that were actively living in the Americas. Of course, the Europeans in America were also making executive decisions about the indigenous people and slaves which infuriates me but that’s going onto a different topic. Going back to what I was saying before, I can imagine to some extent why European Americans may not have been included since communication was a lot slower back then than it is today, but I’m still perplexed by it.

There is a lot of information that was presented to us this week that I haven’t covered here that I’m still trying to conceptualize and wrap my head around; I’m looking forward to discussing all of this more deeply in class this week.


Week Three

I find it interesting to think about how insignificant Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World was in comparison to the events occurring in Spain at the time. In between the Fall of Granada and the ‘ethnic cleansing’ that was happening, Columbus and his crew were just a drop in an enormous ocean. What’s especially fascinating, taking into account everything that was going on at the time, is the aftermath of Columbus’s voyage and how it completely reversed King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s intentions of “purifying” the peninsula.

As early as 1509, the Spanish and Portuguese began bringing slaves to the America’s from Africa to work primarily on sugar plantations. Much to my surprise, Cuba, Hispaniola and Brazil all had thousands of more slaves than the United States did, a few hundred years later. As a US citizen, this was shocking news to me because much of my middle school and high school education focused on slavery specifically in the US and how thousands of African people’s lives were destroyed after being captured into slavery. Although I knew that slavery existed in many other parts of the world, I had no idea that places such as Brazil had 5 times as many slaves as the US did. It’s terrifying and difficult to try and conceptualize how many people suffered because of slavery.

The long-term effect of slavery and colonization in the New World meant that there were now many different races that existed in the Americas. The Casta Paintings are a great representation of the new races that came into play during the 1700’s (i.e. if a black person and a white person had a child, the child would be mulato, and if a white person and an indigenous person had a child, the child would be mestizo). This grouping system soon became complicated as mestizo people would have children with mulato people for example, and thus classifying everyone into their own niche or “box” became difficult. When I first thought about these “boxes,” I considered them as a very exclusive way of dividing people by pointing out their differences, but when I looked at them again after listening to the lecture, I thought that maybe people were simply trying to understand their past and who they are. I wonder if this still as much of an identity crisis for people today especially because the lines are still so blurred, if not more so. How did the people living in the Americas feel about their categories during this time?


Week Two

Until now, I had never thoroughly considered how truly impactful 1492 was for the rest of the world, nor why Columbus’ arrival was so significant in comparison to the Vikings (as used in the example). During my earlier years in grade school, Columbus was portrayed as this great historical figure who should be praised for having discovered the Americas. A few years later, my class did a project on Columbus and our vision of him was completely shattered. We read about how poorly he treated the Natives and how many were killed and how he destroyed the culture of these people and I was infuriated. After all, he technically didn’t even discover the Americas, yet he was receiving all of the credit. After reading his text though, I wonder why he’s been portrayed as both a villain and a hero. Columbus was eager to explore and reported back to the King and Queen loyally. Why must we categorize people into good and bad?

At the time, there was no significance about this “discovery” for most Europeans because these two worlds were so distant from each other and entirely different. Columbus said so himself that he wasn’t able to accurately capture his experience in words. It’s fascinating to really think about how difficult it is to explain something from scratch and to recognize that Columbus was constantly doing this through his writing to the King and Queen.

What I also found extremely interesting is not that Columbus didn’t realize he was changing history, but the fact that he wasn’t quite sure if the trip was even worth the effort (taking into account his shipmen’s reluctance). If he hadn’t been so loyal to the King and Queen, and if he hadn’t promised them rewards, would he have abandoned this mission, and if so, what would Latin America be today? After all, the “discovery” of the Americas could’ve happened any other year by any other person yet it’s this date: October 12th, 1492 that marks the beginning of everything as we know it today.

Side note: I don’t think it’s human nature to be so eager to believe in myths such as this one. I think we believe in them because as impressionable children, we were presented with opinionated information and have thus fallen victim to stories and beliefs such as myths, in other words, we were taught to believe in them. If we as children had been motivated to question our teachers and to form our own opinions based simply on facts, I don’t think so many myths would exist.


Week One

Hello, my name is Sophie Chevalier and I’m a first year here at UBC. I was born and lived in France, but moved to the United States many years ago for my dad’s job. Most of my family still lives in France, with the exception of the few who also live in the USA and in Germany.

My interest in Latin America came primarily from my fascination with Spanish, which came very naturally to me since I already speak French. I also lived in Nicaragua for five months and interned with a national organization which deepened my curiosity not only in Nicaragua, but in Latin America and its’ cultures, values, traditions, politics, languages and geography.

One of the videos I watched was called “Independence in Latin America” and I really liked their approach on the subject. They conducted their video like a talk show with one host and many interviewees. Something I didn’t like about this technique is that they filmed their video with the “selfie” camera and thus everything they had written on the boards and on the projector, was reversed in the video. Other than that, I think they brought up some compelling topics of conversation, such as Simon Bolivar’s hopeful idea of uniting Latin America and how it still isn’t united today. This is interesting because it can be argued that Latin America is in fact united in many ways for example with language. Although Portuguese, Dutch, French and many indigenous languages are spoken throughout the Caribbean, Central, and South America, most countries in Latin America have their official language as Spanish which is a very big common point to have.

I also watched “Signs of Crisis in the Gilded Age” which was very informative. It was interesting to hear them discuss the Mexican Revolution and the many issues with the railroads. I liked that the guys presenting introduced what they would be discussing at the start of their video. I also liked that the pictures they used switched accordingly with what they were talking about throughout the video.

I really appreciated watching these videos and getting a taste of what this semester will be like. I think it will also be very interesting to discuss the way Latin America is portrayed in the media and to challenge any previous assumptions we may have had of this region/idea and to further explore what and where Latin America is.