Globe, Migrants, Multiculture, United Kingdom

The self and the other in Latin American identity

The Latin American identity becomes more diverse and is composed of multiple identities regarding racial, linguistic, and other cultural traits. As a result, Latin American identity is postcolonial, diverse and emancipatory.


Claudio Chipana Gutierrez


If we follow the thesis-antithesis-synthesis model we can roughly distinguish four phases – in fact three, since the fourth is a continuation of the third – important in the development of Latin American identity as a result of internal and external influences, in virtue of their particular cultural characteristics and of the tensions resulting from power relations and domination, as much as of the resistance and emancipation of the peoples of Latin America.

Here is an outline. The indigenous phase. (The affirmation of the Latin American being) This relates to the development of pre-Hispanic cultures (Maya, Inca, Aztec and the multiple indigenous cultures that preceded European colonization). It is the formative phase of Latin American identity and precedes the very notion of Latin America, which is to be the cultural outcome of later incorporating other bloodlines such as the European and African.

The colonial phase. (The concealment of the Latin American being) This is the period of colonial domination when western culture is imposed upon the indigenous culture. The original peoples become “Indians”, a colonial designation to express not only European but also internal Creole domination. Indigenous culture is destroyed or hidden, albeit surviving as a culture of resistance.

The emancipatory phase. (The reestablishment of the individual being or the invention of Latin American identity) Latin America emerges as a category that is the ultimate expression of the struggle for independence against colonial rule. She emerges as a set of nations that are born united by a common historical conviction to gain independence from the stranglehold of colonial oppression.

Identidad cara face personalid mujer pixabayAt the same time, she faces the challenge of integrating herself into a modern capitalist regime which is imposing its rules on her.

Consequently, the need to build her own liberating identity becomes the order of the day.

Latin America must answer new questions and negotiate new dangers to its self-determination. Miscegenation is established.

The diaspora phase (The diverse Latin American being).

This is the most recent phase and is the continuation of the previous phase which is marked by Latin American emigration to the great metropolises and by the building of Latin American immigrant communities in other countries of the world. There is a re-establishing of what it means to be Latin American with new categories such as “Latino” and “Hispanic”.

There is also the emergence of identities which have become invisible such as Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples. The Latin American identity becomes more diverse and is composed of multiple identities regarding racial, linguistic, and other cultural traits. As a result, Latin American identity is postcolonial, diverse and emancipatory.

The conflicts of Latin American identity

From what has been said above we see that the identity of Latin America breaks through amid struggles and conflicts. It is an identity that is structured around distinct conflicts. These conflicts or tensions are present throughout the historical journey of the formation of national, community and individual identities. The nation is not a monolithic entity, it is not simply the sum of its individuals. Hierarchies and mechanisms of domination and power of individuals over others exist within them.

But there are also tensions between the nation and dominant foreign forces. Thus, we have the conflict between the Creole and the indigenous culture, the relationship between the centre and the periphery and that between the nation and the centres of hegemonic world power.

There are no homogeneous identities. Identities express and contain differences of social class, gender, race and of cultural traditions.

These conflicts or tensions underlie prevailing discourse and behaviour. One of the tasks of cultural criticism is to highlight subjugation and domination in official institutions and official discourses. There are official and subordinate identities.

Eduardo Galeano tells us for example that historically, Latin American identity has been written by the white, the rich, the military and by men excluding the indigenous, the poor majority and women. The Republic (to a large extent it still does this) ignored the Indian and kept him subjugated and enslaved. The historical reclaiming of the native, his languages and his other cultural and social expressions remains an unfinished task. However, in the tension between Creole and native identities, there has been a process of miscegenation which, without erasing that opposition, has created middle ground which is what has made Latin America a fusion of identities, a mixture of European and native ingredients.

Modernity and tradition

What kind of modernity should Latin America adopt? For some, modernity meant erasing all native vestiges including the indigenous races. For others, modernity in Latin America cannot be a mere imitation of Europe, but rather must have its own seal. However, without accepting domination, an identity based on tradition together with historical roots can be combined with modernity in an intercultural dialogue with other cultures.

identidad mujer esquizofrenia pixabayAuthenticity and inauthenticity

According to the Peruvian philosopher Augusto Salazar Bondy, one of the defects of our culture is its inauthenticity, that is, the motivations behind its ideals and practices have always been based on foreign models.

Salazar Bondy says: “Inauthentic thinking as a result of alienation is further alienating, in that it generally operates as an image masking our reality and is a factor that contributes to the divorce of our nations from their own being and their rightful historical aims.” In other words, an inauthentic identity is an alienated identity. Culture, especially so-called cultured culture, has always been the exclusive preserve of the elites of the ruling classes. Popular art for its part has not been sufficiently valued.

This dichotomy can only be solved by building a national culture that reflects cultural and ethnic diversity and which brings together and recognizes the contributions popular culture has to make. Latin America has indigenous and popular roots that are the source of its vitality and strength and therefore of its identity.

The more popular cultures are recognized, for example in art and literature, the more national cultures are affirmed.

The masculine and the feminine

The gender issue – the conflict between the masculine and the feminine – has always played a role in building identities and in the cultural dynamics of peoples expressed through social and symbolic expression.

Identidad cara face personalid locura pixabayPatriarchal ideology has always held itself up as the dominant symbol in society, consigning women to second place in the power relationship between the genders.

However, history also holds a prominent place for women, for instance in some pre-Hispanic cultures and also later during the struggle for independence. Gender equality and sexual rights continue to be part of the struggle for the recognition of identities which have been ignored for centuries.

The self and the other

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his Nobel Prize for Literature speech in 1982 argues that “the search for self-identity is as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them” and adds:

“The interpretation of our reality using other people’s ways of thinking only makes us increasingly unknown, less and less free and more and more lonely.” Since Latin American culture is the result of multiple (European and indigenous, but also African, Asian, Arabic and other) influences, it is marked by the tension between the self and the other. Latin American identity being the result of modernization, globalization and immigration cannot be seen as exclusively national or exclusively cosmopolitan.

Exclusively taking as its starting point the other would lead to the denial of the self and as a result to cultural alienation and denial of the self. To truly be Latin American requires starting from the self, albeit in a process of dialogue with the other.

Translated by Nigel Conibear – Email: Photos: Pixabay

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