Notes on reading Black agency in Guatemala: dismantling Black slavery while upholding White supremacy?

From my research site: https://caribbeanatlanticbibliographies.wordpress.com/

Caribbean & Atlantic Bibliographies

Blacks and Blacksness.jpgFront Cover

In “Becoming free, becoming Ladino,” Catherine Komisaruk argues that the Guatemalan Blackslavery crumbled before the 1824 dramatic emancipation. Though she acknowledged the arguments of other historians pointing to external causes (from the Haitian Revolution to the emancipation of the Spanish-American colonies), she relies more on internal and gradual developments to explain slavery’s demise.

“By the late eighteenth century slavery in Guatemala was increasingly unsustainable. Slaves were availing themselves of legal institutions and social structures to unravel their enslavement, and as the numbers of people of African descent are in free society, so too did the possibilities of slave liberation. Kingship and social networks, as well as passing unstopped into free society, continued as primary mechanisms of emancipation, while the state and reigning social ideologies persisted in legitimizing manumissions… The emancipation law of 1824 essentially ratified a long-term social transformation that was already almost complete.”

This…

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Santa Barbara of Samaná, 1869: the imperial gaze.

I am also finding my hard-drive swelling with illustrations which I cannot yet use in publications.  Hopefully, by sharing them here, these historical documents will soon find themselves useful to others.  The picture below, which appeared in the Harper’s Weekly (1869), in the eve of the 1870-71 Annexation Treaty with the U.S., illustrates a couple of lines I wrote in my book’s epilogue:

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Samaná shifted in the world’s imagination from a presqu’île with a useful gulf to a bay with a funky peninsula attached to it. This conceptual turn was the work of the Atlantic print culture (blogosphere) becoming progressively fascinated with the Samaná harbor. Foreigners invoked the term “Samaná Bay” even when they had the peninsula in mind, referring to it as an exceptional harbor that shortsighted Dominicans were ready to trade for temporary debt-relief.

Santa Barbara of Samaná, 1869.

Santa Barbara of Samaná, 1869.

The main purpose of this picture was to sell a particular image of Samaná to the public in the United States.

Notice that the view comes from the hill behind to the little town of Santa Barara of Samaná, and that the little cozy harbor lacks the walking bridge that today connects the islets. Like with any conqueror’s depiction, the purpose is not to highlight the human element, but to bring attention to natural resources. The obvious fertility is to show potential U.S. investors and speculators that their crops would yield good returns.  The little harbor here appears larger than what it really was (since then, it has been prepared for larger ships).  The message was that it would welcome all types of ships.  The people’s houses (or huts) are almost invisible because the fewer the better: more space for new buildings and northern settlers wanting to exploit the region’s natural resources.

Re-Watching “Invictus”

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After Mandela’s death I rewatched the film “Invictus,” but this time I also read two film reviews: Bugliani and Baum’s. The three years since its release gave me enough distance to bypass the anticipated jovial triumph of reconciliation. Who would not like to see hundred of years of bitter clashes, cultivated racism, and the establishment of the highest form of White supremacy shattered into pieces simply after a rugby victory–even if it is against the most diverse and integrated rugby team in the world (who had even adopted the dances and moves of the once conquered people: the Maoris)? I remember how I felt the first time I saw it, and how I continued feeling for a long while. We could do this. We can forgive and forget. You cannot blame me for that. Who would not want to feel that way?

But we have been reading Evan Carton’s John Brown’s biography in class, and I have grown much since. In rewatching Invictus’ I knew that Hollywood’s goal, of a fleeting sense of victory, should be seen from a different angle.  To analyze the film anew, I needed to find a way to sail against the film’s ideological current, similarly as Atlantic sailors have played with the lateen and square rigs to forestall and even sail against oceanic wind currents.

The simple truth is that despite its good intentions and historical research, this film has serious problems— as you could see in Baum’s analysis. Yet like sailors sailing against strong ideological currents combining the use of lateen and square rigs, it is our task to propose an alternative view of the past that could do more justice to the subject of racial oppression and reconciliation.

Bugliani focuses more on the art and film’s narrative, while Baum places the film in the context of other two recent movies and within the broader historical context of slavery, race and imperialism. For Bugliani what matters is the wordless pull of the nation; the sport is only a symbol, a vehicle. And though he can seem simplistic, his piece underscores the gravity and unpredictability of the outcome. Moreover, he subtly hits on the problem of Whites’ needs supplied as opposed to that of Blacks. Baum’s more historically informed assessment lays bare the weaknesses of a film that focuses on an ephemeral and superficial reconciliation.

Yes, they all play together and even dance together, laughing and sharing the same seats. But what would happen after that moment is gone, when the differences in wealth, access to power and status continue? What will happen to the habits and prejudices cultivated for centuries in the ethos of these nations? In a way, this film seems to be asking Blacks to once more bend to the faults of the Whites. It is true that he proposed and worked hard for forgiveness, but Mandela went beyond what this film shows. Forgiveness is nothing without redress. John Brown’s approach to reconciliation seems to have contrasted with the one presented in this film. His focused on bringing equality after the law and in power too.

When the rugby team travelled to the poor Black neighborhoods to offer free rugby clinics to poor kids we all got a first look at the poverty that have stricken their lives. That view was not shown much again in the film. Poverty kills, but it is worse when it does not kill and lingers as Povertenza crippling the lives of millions of people who live in societies gushing in Affluenza.  Reconciliation means to bring people out of poverty so we can then really be at the same level. Reading this film in reverse can be an enlightening experience.

 

Junot Díaz representing the Diaspora vs. Dominican government and intellectual nationals

 

Junot Diaz Speaks Out After Insults To His Dominican-ness

 

From the outsider’s perspective, those who are not Dominican or Dominican diasporans, this news may look as a scandal, a circus show of high-profile figures throwing rotten tomatoes at each other. But from the intellectually curious’ view, the one familiar with the history of nations and imperialism, this news is much more than what it looks to either the insider or the outsider. Indeed, this news is worth noting beyond the obvious issue of the Dominican judicial racist ruling because it shows us a significant trend in world identities.

 

Beneath the journalist view, this news is a furious clash between the diaspora (Dominicans actually living outside of the DR) and national locals (Dominicans living on the east side of the island and with deep roots in Dominican soil). Those interested in studying current nationalisms, particularly the expressions of patriotism emanating from small and poorer countries struggling to maintain dignity and sovereignty, may want to pay attention to how national locals (Dominicans in the DR) are now perceiving their own diasporas: they are half-breeds, tools of foreign intervention and imperialism. In this case, viewed from the local nationals’ perspective with a long history of struggle against US imperialism, the US does not have to intervene directly on Dominican politics anymore (the Marines can stay calmly home in their military bases, and the likes of cultural diplomats like Sumner Welles can stay in their DC offices observing the drama developed, but from the outside). The Dominican diaspora in the US, already assimilated into (even when partially) modern paradigms of liberalism, can do the work of chastising the recalcitrant and outdated Dominican national visions of race and retrograding nationalisms that keep both nation-states on Hispaniola (Haiti and the DR) in constant disharmony and international source of shame.

 

The Diaspora, then, people like Junot, is not always welcome back home, neither it belongs legitimately at the center of the empire (look here for an example, to what happened recently to Marc Anthony when he tried asserting his US credentials by signing a historically US song publicly and was then openly treated as a foreign “Mexican” and not as a legitimate US citizen, nor even a Puertorrican. This is also similar (look here) to what Joe Feliciano went through in the fateful year of 1968). The diasporan can’t speak English, the imperial language, well enough to be seen a bona fide US individual (she/he does not have the looks anyways), nor can she/he articulate thoughts well in Spanish to be embraced by Dominican locals as a genuine Dominican. Without a legitimate home, the Diaspora floats around as if hanging over in space without a hard surface to land on or call home (Diasporans are the anti-nationals). The airports are its bungalows, the airlines its agents and the impersonal internet its only real network.

 

Yet, as indicated in this story, the Diaspora is ever more powerful, and despite local-national accusations of imperial complicity, the Diaspora is its own emancipated self. Perhaps it is because I am also a diasporan, have always been, I say, “Go Junot, dale pa’ lante, show them lo ignorante y atrasados que se ven.”

 

A pic with Junot Díaz after a reading in 2010.

A pic with Junot Díaz after a reading in 2010.

 

 

Using tragedy to promote dependency

I wrote the post below in response to an attempt to use Camacho’s death for partisan purposes. The original post I read appeared in the otherwise admirable blog “Repeating Islands.” But it had first come from Time.com, written by Tim Padgett

“I am surprised to see such a partisan and pro-colonial (and ahistorical) post in this blog. The pro-statehood movement on the island has been on an evangelical-like impetus that ignores the facts for the “positive” vision.

The main reason Puerto Rico, as well as much of Latin America, has sunk into what it seems as social disarray (as seen in the surge of violence) is in fact because of its colonial status and the neo-liberal policies affecting the entire region. Adding Puerto Rico to the integral political structure of the colonial master (statehood) would not only miss the goal of producing a solution to the problems affecting the region, but it would simply be impossible.

Understanding the nature of nation-building and nationalism would help explain why the U.S. would find it impossible to assimilate the island as an equal. There are plenty of historical examples that would also highlight the foolishness of this idea. France in the Caribbean is perhaps the most salient one, where the colonial territories have been integral and full members of the French political apparatus (unlike Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” status, which by the way, it reads radically different in the Spanish version).

And yet, the French “Overseas Departments” have not been nor will be in the same social or political level as the rest of France. They are rather dependencies “well treated,” or better yet, “people hanging from the borders of the more progressive nation that is France” (which happens to thrive at the historical expenses of their colonial possessions). No wonder the French have not accepted them as real social equals.

The U.S. seems farther behind the French in admitting this possibility with Puerto Rico–even less of accepting Puerto Ricans as full members of their society (in the continental U.S., they are considered “immigrants” in the process of becoming “Whites” as the Irish and Italians once were, if they are willing to shed away most of their cultural traits and join the “melting-pot”). So, there are enough evidences showing the final destination of the “statehood” pipe-dream.

Puerto Rico has a long history of reactionary and pro-colonial support, and this post seems to follow in such a tradition (this thought also relates to plantation owners in Cuba who sought union with the U.S., and discredited Dominican caudillos who wanted the U.S. to re-colonize their country in the 19th Century).

Yet, there are also traditions of more genuinely native and more creative lines of thinking that put a premium on emancipation, collaboration and fair equality rather than on pernicious social hierarchies. I suggest that we tap on these latter traditions, improve on them and rethink our future more brightly than joining a cause of futile begging for acceptance.”

Postcolonial Ecofeminism (Robert J. C. Young)

1863_world_map_You would not come to this class to read and learn about what you would normally get from standard media. So, the title of Monday’s discussion should not be a complete surprise. Its newness may require that you would read and meditate about these issues more carefully than you would with more familiar topics. These types of topics, nevertheless, would surely help you appreciate the human experience on the other side of nationalism.
battle-algiersYou already know that in this context postcoloniality means the people’s ambivalent experience and subordinate position even after independence from a colonial power. In other words, it is that state in which a former colony has nominal sovereignty because the former master (or new foreign ones) has not left entirely or has taken on new forms of domination. The struggle for freedom, thus, continues, not so much by pushing the foreign away, but in redefining the social structures that continues to promote inequality and subordination, which colonialism donated to the new nation (“inherited from colonialism”).

But what do ecology and feminism have to do with postcoloniality?

morroRobert J. C. Young’s challenge in chapter 5 is simply asking us to appreciate the perspective of the women who struggled against colonial and later postcolonial domination in India and other parts of Asia and Africa. Their experience is not totally transferable to other postcolonial female experiences because each group had faced different set of trials and had had different types of needs. Rather, it is the overarching theme of resisting a modern patriarchal nationalism that puts them together in the same crowd.

iron-ladies-The section titled “Gender Politics in India” illustrates how notions about traditional roles for women are hard to reject. Even Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the great reformer who appropriated ‘feminized’ modes of struggle, came at times to reinforce, instead of rejecting, conventional Hindu and puritanical Victorian concepts of women and femininity. Young vindicated Gandhi, though, by showing that he genuinely realized that women’s politics was more radical than most nationalism. It argued for equitable relations between men and women, sustainable connections to the land, and a life-style and medicine that encourage collective health. These are the contributions of postcolonial women and their politics.

Medeiros Murmuring CoastIn “Gender and Modernity” Young threw us several ideas about modernity that could easily mystify us. On the one hand, he wrote that technology and a politics of egalitarianism defines modernity. On the other, he asserted that (mythical) cultural nationalists and their obsession for a fabled past, where women stayed at home and were submissive, is all part of modernity. But his more interesting contribution, by far, was that there are several types of modernities, that there are different types of Third World modern experiences, and that even the West represent a diversity of modernities (think about how different is New Zeeland from the U.S.). The best explanation of modernity, however, is Young’s, and it appears in this section: the interaction of the West with the Rest.

Kongo Astronauts presents Postcolonial Dilemna Track #03 (Unended) – A psychotronic Film from DR Congo (2014) – Curated by SPARCK in collaboration with Kongo Astronauts for FUSE 37-2/Speculation.

Kongo Astronauts presents Postcolonial Dilemna Track #03 (Unended) – A psychotronic Film from DR Congo (2014) – Curated by SPARCK in collaboration with Kongo Astronauts for FUSE 37-2/Speculation.

Women’s struggle for equality and sustainability is the epitome of the postcolonial predicament according to the section “Women’s Movement after Independence.” While nationalist movements sought desperately to present a unified face during the conflicts against the direct colonial rule, after independence, the same nationalists (i.e., Religious nationalism) who preached equality and freedom tried relegating women to submission. Since the role of women actually degenerated with the “nation,” postcolonial feminism had been at the forefront of a “politics of egalitarianism that supports diversity rather than the cultural uniformity demanded for nationalism.” (99)

The section “Feminism and ecology” shows how “macho” nationalism continued with the same colonial politics of exploitation. It reinforced the same old social hierarchy; it exploited workers, women and the environment. Like the colonial government, the new nations colonized forests and minds in responses to market-oriented and scientific notions of the time. This brought deforestation and desertification to local economies and otherwise clean ecosystems.

All of this colonization was for the short-term commercial values of the marketplace, “trying to control nature just as patriarchy tries to control women.” (102) Women, however, because of their experience as cultivators and family enablers possessed repositories of knowledges about balances in nature and the effects of ecological disruptions. It is no wonder, then, that it were women activists who began the Chipko (tree huggers) movement and developed a philosophy of politics that resisted centralization, corruption and exploitation. Instead, they promoted justice, self-sufficiency, and empowerment of local knowledges.

 

In the section “What makes postcolonial feminism ‘postcolonial’?,” Young asked if postcolonial feminism amounted to a separate strand within postcolonial thought. His answer was simply no. In this section, Young addressed the malleability of postcolonial theory by explaining how feminism is at its core, and thus inseparable. It is also applicable to a wide variety of politics, and even though they might not include obvious gender perspectives, they all work from the same paradigm: the pursuit of collective justice and equality. These struggles may be waged inside the nation or in exile, as the examples of Radia Nasraoui and Gisèle Halimi shows.

Men of the Untouchables Caste, Holding their Daughters - Poodalur 1946In the last section, “The untouchables: caste,” Young readily admitted that the postcolonial struggle is not limited to the legacy of the colonies. There are older vices that plagued modern society. In the Indian example, we see the caste system, which is much older than the British colonial government. The plight of the Dalits is its most explicit case injustice. “A quarter of the Indian population is made of such Dalits.” And they do most of the menial jobs and live segregated from the rest, with little access to anything we normally see as good from modernity.

In class, I want you to think seriously about the meaning of feminism and its opposite, namely, patriarchalism. How women’s social position as historically close to the land and responsible for sustaining families shaped their politics differently to that of men.

You should also ponder over the dark side of macho-nationalism, its insistence on cultural uniformity. Most importantly, I expect you to deliberate on the reasons and causes of nationalisms continuing with the same unfair hierarchies imposed by colonial rules, and with the exploitations inaugurated by the colonial masters.

How do you fit Young in Benedict Anderson’s frame of thought? What parts correspond, even if slightly, and what elements are diametrically apart?

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