In Latin America there is no single homogeneous reality: it is a region of contrasts, where different utopian visions and different everyday stories create a multitude of individual and collective identities.
Claudio Chipana Gutierrez *
Identities are neither fixed nor homogeneous. Both individual and collective identities are forged by culture, class, ethnicity, nationality, language, beliefs and gender.
Boundaries of identity are quite distinct from national boundaries.
Cultural differences inform our identities, and cultural clashes often give rise to ideological confrontations, perhaps more so in today’s globalised world.
But such clashes and divisions do not weaken local, cultural and national identities; on the contrary, they strengthen them, above all in an effort to resist the hegemonic identities offered by globalisation and inequality.
With its roots buried in the ancient past of indigenous civilisations, Latin American identity is the result of a long process starting back in colonial times, through independence and to today.
A search for the Latin American identity became a necessity for people from nations and towns in the South American continent to express their own voices and their own history.
In effect, Latin America is a conglomerate of local identities drawing nations together, bringing with them a diversity of cultures, ethnicities, traditions, beliefs and national identities.
It is the sum of narrative voices converging in a rich history narrated by people from the country, city, workers, intellectuals, artists, poets and migrants.
In Latin America there is no single homogeneous reality: it is a region of contrasts, where different utopian visions and different everyday stories create a multitude of individual and collective identities. It is a melting pot of cultures, roots and traditions.
European, African, indigenous, Arabic and Asian influences all come together in Latin America.
In spite of the population sharing such varied roots, there is unity at the heart of such diversity. The unity stems from the common roots nourished by pre-Colombian civilisations: a shared common history marked by struggles overcome in the colonial past and the subsequent collective fight for independence.
Latin American identity can be explained in terms of the duality that has formed the foundations of its dynamics and progression throughout history.
The name Latin America itself is a synthesis of the indigenous and the foreign, the meeting of native American and European influence.
Latin American identity is borne out of the contradictions and dialogue between the self and the other.
The geographical names of the American continent reflect different moments in history. To name something can be seen as an attempt to gain ownership of it.
Naming something gives it identity, it conceptualises it. The names ‘America’ and ‘Latin America’ have colonial origins, as do the labels ‘Indians’, ‘Spanish America’, ‘South America’ and ‘Hispanic America’: all were used to name the southern region of the American continent, either to distinguish it from the Saxon north or to highlight its ‘Latin’ or ‘Hispanic’ character.
Other names have been proposed for the region, such as ‘Indoamerica’ and ‘Abya Yala’.
The region’s labels were imposed on native people from outside, and there is now an attempt to lessen the Eurocentric character of the names, as a way of reclaiming an identity denied to native people who were labelled ‘Indians’.
As a result of the historical dialectic of colonialism and emancipation, however, and through a process of conceptual re appropriation, the names America and Latin America have come to mean something different to that which was originally intended.
In other words, they now label a new identity: that of the southern regions of the American continent.
The label ‘Latin America’ was first recorded in the mid-19th Century by two Latin Americans, José María Torres Caicedo and Francisco Bilbao, and was a response to prevailing French intellectual thought: that the continent was divided into two parts; one Saxon, and another ‘Latin’.
This division also slotted in well with French imperialist plans for the American continent at the time.
* Member of LARC (Latin American Recognition Campaign) and CLIC. **This article is part of a talk given by the author at the Manchester Cervantes Institute on 15th April 2010.
(Translated by Claudia Rennie) – Photos: Pixabay