Monday, September 13, 2010

Reflections on the Bicentennial

As of last year, Latin American countries, among them Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela, are celebrating their bicentennial independence.

On these dates commemorating the Bicentennial of Independence of some of the Latin American countries, Doctor Guzman M. Carriquiry Lecour from the Pontifical Council of the Laity presents us with some considerations on the subject. I join him in this task of expression concerning the past, which sheds light on the present and opens to us a more hopeful future.

When speaking of independence, philosophy in general, as well as the philosophy and theology of Latin American liberation in particular, we are reminded that freedom or liberty from something (whatever yoke or opression), in order to be complete and humanizing, requires that the liberating task be carried out in liberty for something: that is to say, that the task of independence must include a vision for the present and the future, according to which both individuals and peoples who are freed from bondage should find the resources, opportunities, possibilities, and the space/time framework in order to achieve the full realization of their human dignity. Without this projection of liberty for something, individuals and peoples are not truly free, except in the limited sense that they are no longer dying of hunger, which cannot be justly and properly called independence or liberty.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore that the historical account; that is, the way in which the history of our peoples has been recounted until the present day, has always been a political, social and religious instrument of manipulation that serves to legitimize both the past and present of our peoples, but which should also serve to show the illegitimate, to unmask, to denounce and not to validate all the injustice and inhumanity occurring in the history of our nations, so as to open new and better pathways. For neither in life nor in knowledge can postures be “apolitical” (aseptic, disinterested, dispassionate, free from prejudice). And such postures do not exist because the human element, both protagonist and historian, is always conditioned by the multitude of circumstances and conditions that make up its context. All of which demands, when facing the texts (representing all human action), a permanent posture of “scientific suspicion” that consists in searching, investigating, examining, discerning, delving into the ultimate sources and causes.

Therefore, the recounting of history is not only important for remembering what has happened in the past, but especially to contribute to the construction of a better future, moving from our present situation. For history is not only the recounting of past occurrences but also, and especially, it serves as an awareness that we are making history personally and collectively with deeds and words, with gestures and attitudes, both in that which is spectacular but especially in that which is common and the anonymity of fulfilling our responsibilities, all of which contributes to the humanizing of both individuals and peoples.

Thus, considering our own involvement in the account of our independence history, and now the bicentennial anniversary, it is proper to criticize, for example, the great revolution for independence that “freed” us from the Spanish yoke, but which promptly oppressed the great mass of Latin American peoples under the domination of the elite criollos, equally or more exclusive and racist than the former ones, even up to the present time. For if there is a common characteristic that constitutes the Latin American identity, it is that of a history (and its recounting) of dependence: whether during three centuries of Spanish and Portuguese colonization, the semi-colonial English domination in the nineteenth century or the current North American neo-colonial century. Such a history of domination and oppression (with causes that are both endogenous and exogenous) carries in its bosom the search for autonomy and independence. For dependence, as a historical constant, demands again and again its counterpart: liberation, autonomy, liberty, independence, the achievement of self-identity.

It is impossible to hide the fact that serious underlying social problems over two centuries prior to the patriotic dates that today we celebrate, continue to be unaltered, radicalized, deepened, made worse. Thus, we have suffered for more than two hundred years very serious and complex social problems such as discrimination, poverty, illiteracy, injustice and inequality as regards access to resources, and social and governmental opportunities, administrative corruption, violence in a thousand ways, injustice with a thousand different faces, etc.

History is not responsible for this, it does not make this happen; individuals are not writing history in solitude. History and its recounting is a collective task of peoples and nations. However, we were taught and we continue teaching a historical account in which the people are strangers to the historical construction, so that they see from afar and with reverence some unreachable super heroes, who cannot be imitated in their deeds, which —on the other hand, and in what is the responsibility of leadership exercised by some of its heroes needs to be recognized and appreciated.

Because of this reality, it is not surprising that major sectors of our Latin American population, robbed, overrun and impoverished for two centuries, without opportunities for their independence, consider offensive the celebratory terms in which today these dates are remembered, without failing to value the anthropological need of individuals and people for symbols, rites, spaces and times that identify historical markers. Impoverished and marginalized multitudes in our continent wonder what we are celebrating, what independence, whose independence and the purpose of independence.

The dates of 1810, 1811 or 1819, etc., cannot be allowed to become human myths, the dates in which everything began. Because the historic processes (whether for independence or not), just as with every human process, require time, decades, centuries… Thus it is more important to say that we want to build communities, peoples, free and sovereign nations; and that every day of our life we should be dedicated to providing deeds, words, attitudes and work for the long awaited and illusory independence and liberty.

Yet there are still questions of greater importance and significance: Is it legitimate to speak of Latin America and of Latin American nations as national, sovereign, autonomous, independent projects? Is our identity that of nations or regional cultures? What awareness of identity, of belonging and of nationhood do we have? The very expression “Latin America” seems discriminatory since it only takes into account the language of the conquering cultures in the process of expansion and conquest, leaving aside the group of native languages and dialects such as nahuatl, aymará, quechua, etc. Not to mention the danger that today confronts the legitimacy of the so-called “official” languages due to the North American cultural penetration that is overwhelming, especially through publicity, anglicisms, idiomatic expressions, etc.

The fact is that in the very elements that make up what we call “our” Latin American culture (whether linguistic, religious, techno-economic, geographic, etc.), there resides in all of them, intrinsically, the characteristic dependence imposed by the dominant culture of the times in our continent and nations. Therefore, there is no linguistic homogeneity even in the Spanish language (which is not ours originally), since not all the peoples specifically speak Spanish, French, or Portuguese. Nor is there such linguistic homogeneity among the aboriginal peoples that populated these lands thousands of years before the arrival of the Spaniards or Portuguese.

The Catholic religion, dominant and imposed in the heat of the Spanish conquest and colonization, has provided a certain homogeneity to the cultural beliefs; yet syncretism persists or “the religion of silence”, which has given rise to the now famous expression “popular religiosity”. And as with the language and beliefs, historical dependence flows through the Latin American heart and culture.

Latin America exists. It exists as a tri-ethnic cultural peculiarity, (Indian, black, white) a culturally enriched mix, especially over the most recent century, due to the many waves of migrants that arrived here from every corner of the earth, heir to the powers that have dominated them, even when this has not resulted in the total disappearance of their own cultural roots. Precisely, thanks to their ethnic and cultural roots, Latin America is different and unique as compared to the dominant ethnic groups: European, Amerindian or North American.

Our cultural identity does not consist, then, of a singular and uniform comprehension and according to an a priori model, but rather of a unity in plurality, in a culture of cultures. Latin America, we can say, therefore, is something new, where the everyday reality implies the eternal longing to be itself, not someone else, to be free and independent for our full realization as persons and as peoples. This marvelous patchwork of regions, cultures and origins that is Latin America, out of honesty and respect for so many differences, so much diversity, asks us to reevaluate the terms in which we recount our history, or speak of the bicentennial, and get into our “celebration”.

Therefore, perhaps it is proper to speak of Latin America and of its nations as cultural entities in the measure in which we identify ourselves, share and enjoy a certain food, a certain musical rhythm, a certain accent, certain symbols… It becomes more problematical to speak of countries, nations with historical awareness and with projects that are shared, democratic, free, autonomous and sovereign.

Moreover, the task, the daily commitment to be more free and independent is written upon the heart of God's plan of salvation in biblical and Christian tradition. A tradition that has accompanied and conformed, over five centuries, our vision and historical task as faithful Catholics and as Latin Americans. A freedom desired by God from the time of the crossing of the Red Sea until the victory over every trace of domination, injustice, evil, violence and death in Jesus' tomb.

Finally, beyond celebration, we should reflect upon the personal and community commitment, the responsibility, the historical, social, religious, political and cultural vindications, that reveal to us as individuals and as peoples that not only vote and pay taxes, but are living, active and democratic communities that participate in the historical and collective construction of independence and freedom as human expression.

Today, the critical task in facing the statu quo is also important. The critical task that, against the uniformity and unanimity of a statist vision in which those who govern cover themselves under the cloak of the interests of the state or the nation in order to hide their deficiencies and crimes, provides new horizons, makes possible other visions, other worldviews, other points of view.

This is the time for other emphases, for new measures and new historical accounts. The time to retake and share great dreams like Bolivar's dream of a free and sovereign Latin American integration.

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