The different processes of globalisation and its cultural postmodernist correlate have in one way or another broken an essentialist view of identity.
Claudio Chipana Gutiérrez
Rapid social transformations, the struggle for minority rights, the weight of the media and migration have changed the perception of the world, they have shortened distances and sense of space. As a result of the effects of the dominance of transnational companies there has been resistance from local identities to the homogenization and standardization of culture and consumption.
Today there signs are showing of a reversal of globalisation due to the global capitalist financial crisis and the disillusionment of the social sectors most disadvantaged by globalisation, especially in the aspect of employment and social inequality. Politically this crisis has been exploited by nationalist and xenophobic parties that have raised electoral banners against immigration and the supposed Islamization of the Western world.
This has led to an identity crisis in countries of the developed world. It has also provoked the emergence of populist and nationalist currents opposed to integrative projects such as the European Union. This crisis has been exploited by right-wing parties that have politicized immigration for electoral gains.
It is precisely these times of crisis that give rise to reflections on identity. Sociologist Jorge Larraín talks about fractured identities.
Minorities, on the other hand, are the victims of these nationalist currents and policies and of migration control. Minorities, which contribute to the economy as an important workforce, are not really a threat to national identities; however, they are presented as such. In truth, it is the identities of the minorities, and not the nationals, that are threatened. The ultra-nationalists, on the other hand, see their national identity as at risk because of the fear of ‘their’ presence.
Seeking the Latin American identity
The question of Latin American identity began at the very moment of the Conquest. The European invasion meant a rupture in the historical continuity and the destruction of Aboriginal cultures. This was a tragic moment that Indian chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala called “the world upside down.”
Since then, at different times in their history, the inhabitants of the region have been questioned about their own identity. Many Latin American writers, thinkers, artists, and intellectuals have asked themselves different questions which all revolve around the fundamental question of identity, for example about the existence or non-existence of a Spanish-American thought (José Carlos Mariátegui), or about the existence of a Latin American philosophy (Augusto Salazar Bondy) or on the meaning of Latin American history (Leopoldo Zea).
The problem of Latin American identity is also expressed in the number of names it has had since the time of the conquest by Europeans. Each name due to an interest in dominating or emancipating it. The continent has called it “The Indies”, the “New World”, Spanish America, Ibero-America, Abya Yala, or even Indo-America. The latter names have been used to present an alternative look from the indigenous world.
However, ‘Latin America’ is the most deeply rooted name that the region has had to date. Although it originated within the imperial scheme of nineteenth-century France to distinguish the Latin influence of South America from the Anglo-Saxonism of North America, the name “Latin America” finally prevailed. Latin Americans themselves made it their own due to their need to oppose the new empire of the North and also to distance itself from the old Iberian colonial power.
The voices of Bolivar, Miranda, Martí and other heroes noted the existing threat from the north and the need to establish the unity of the region called Latin America. There is currently a new process that has advanced at an accelerated pace, it is the process of Latin American integration. The integration adds a new nuance to the Latin American identity.
In recent years there have been various integration projects such as Mercosur (Southern Common Market), UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) and several Caribbean and Central American organizations. There has even been one that encompasses all the nations of the region, CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) (the most recent, formed in 2010).
Integration, however, does not eliminate the economic, social and cultural diversity of Latin America, on the contrary it recognizes and promotes it. The Latin American identity, since it is neither totally homogenous nor totally disparate, is essentially diverse. Thus, we cannot speak of a single Latin American identity, but it is also true that there are many reasons that support the historical necessity of Latin American unity and integration in order to defend its sovereignty.
Any sense that one wishes to give to the idea of a Latin American identity should begin by stating this historical and practical necessity for unity and integration. Integration, unity, diversity and sovereignty, we could say, are the crucial elements of Latin American identity.
For many, what defines Latin America is the amalgamation of different cultural, racial and social elements based on the presence of white, Afro-descendant and indigenous races which has given rise to new racial and cultural types.
If by identity we understand the different traits that identify a community, miscegenation continues to be one of those common features that distinguishes Latin America. But in order to affirm Latin American diversity, emphasis must be placed not only its homogeneity but also its diversity, or be it its multicultural and plural character.
Consequently, a typical trait of Latin American identity will continue to be its diversity in all orders and its miscegenation as a result. Latin America is multicultural and miscegenous by nature. However, this does not cancel out diversity.
However, there is another aspect to discuss about Latin America that is the common challenges and expectations for the future of the nations that compose it. Without this orientation towards the future, Latin American identity cannot be fully addressed. (Darcy Ribeyro). In other words, this aspect of the future is another important factor in the construction of the identity of the region.
Next edition: Stages of Latin American identity
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Shanika Whight- firstname.lastname@example.org)