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Political History

Political history and whether or not I feel a part of US political history or Latin American political history is a strange question. To be completely honest with Greg, I feel very little attachment to the U. S. as a nation… this frustrates T to no end. Then again, when you’ve lived in 18-21 houses by the age of 21 on three different continents, it’s hard to grow attached to any one nation. Add to this, kingdom of God talk rather than politics and you have the recipe for an unnational. And when most of those places are little nations that have not been allowed to prosper because of United Statsian imperial projects (whether it be Roosevelt thinking the US had grown weak and feminine once the West had been tamed, a very real reason for Spanish American War; William Walker’s mid-19th century filibustering in Central America; the Panama Canal; our granting statehood to Hawaii on the eve of the Cuban revolution so we could continue getting cheap tropical fruits; the banana coups of Guatemala; the ousting of Pinochet; the multiple invasions of the Dominican Republic… to name just a few of the better uses of the Monroe Doctrine), it’s hard to feel attached to the US.

At the same time, it is my history. The privileges that I currently enjoy and have enjoyed abroad are because of my citizenship and my being a white US male. Like Paul, I did not buy this citizenship; I was born with it. Equally so, though the law does not recognize me as such, I have Cherokee blood (my great grandfather who lied to the census man and left the reservation and all that) and Puertorican blood (and all that). Yet, I was raised with all the priveleges, benefits, and pleasures of a white US male. When the topic of race comes up in the classes that I teach, I am the white man speaking on race and trying to mediate the very real and intense emotions of suburban whites and urban blacks, each feeling cheated by the other. Any protestation to the contrary, seems like too much sound and fury.

All of this to say, though I do not want to claim this history, it is my history. Both because of the privileges I enjoy and because when I enteract with others, whether it be in racial or national terms, they see me as a white US male… and I more often than not probably act in kind.

Though I am no modern political Campbellite, like GKB, I was largely raised in a very apolitical household… not simply because we were in foreign countries, even in the US, until the last two elections, my father had only voted once… and that was for mcgovern. Abortion, mostly, and secondly white house blow-jobs (funny how the specter of WJC hung around), and gay-rights were what finally convinced him to vote. My mother is even less a political animal than my dad… though she too has recently visited the ballot box. And, much for the same reasons, only I would venture to say that for her all three were on equal footing.

We never talked politics at home, not even local dominican politics. The only politics that was talked about in our house was Kingdom politics. Except when sex was involved… the Thomas-Hill hearings were big talk in the house. We would get kicked out of the room as they would watch the cable coverage of congressmen asking about pubic hairs on coke cans and the like. My mother gasping and rolling her eyes all the while… Still, they never came to it from a partisan position, their only interest was puritanical prurience… Funny how politics and sex are still so closely linked in my parent’s house.

In a way, Latin American political history fascinates me because it’s what I do. I am a Colonial Latin American literary historian. Also, it fascinates me because I don’t think we can understand the U.S. without understanding Latin America. More than any other part of the globe, they are our fun-house mirror, the crazy cousins that we keep locked up out back.

 

Comments

That’s way more than I expected from my not-so-innocent little question! :) I wish I had time to add more, but I must prepare lunch for work…

Even for United Statesians who stayed “home” most of their lives I think there is a sort of disconnect between ourselves and our history, even for those who feel passionately they are citizens of the US. I have a few nascent ideas in my head on why that might be, but I’m unwilling as yet to expose them to the glaring, eternal light of the internet, to be googled by my grandchildren.

“The glaring, eternal light of the internet”—well, yes, perhaps, especially with the Internet Archive and all. Anyway, I have various things to say on all of this business of nationhood and personhood and ‘hoods in general, but I must dash to work now.

Colonial Latin American literary historian? Impressive. I’m on a mission team headed to Arequipa, Peru in about a year and a half. We’re interested in establishing self-sustaining/replicating churches capable of providing development oriented holistic ministries most likely targeted towards the indigenous population squatting around the outskirts of the city. While I have done some surface level work on Peruvian history, it’s definitely a deficiency in my knowledge base. Any pointers?

It sounds much more impressive than it is… but, yes, I’ll send some stuff your way.

Do you read Spanish? sorry, i wrote that hurridly as i was preparing to leave for class, that should read, how well do you read Spanish?

also, it depends on what you want… do you want to be able to impress people with literary history?

so, that when they say mario vargas llosa, you can oh la casa verde a very good novel… part of the boom, you know, quite experimental in its structure (his el hablador, might be a curious and uncomfortable read… it’s about an anthropologist that goes native and his friend trying to track him down and he meets up with some wycliff people).

or they might quote “hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”... and you can say… ah yes, césar vallejo, i like his middle period when he’d gotten over the existential angst of his first collection and was at play in the field of poetry… ah, i can see how someone might like the more politically conscious poetry of his third period.

or, do you want to know history that will give a possible insight to the current situation? (and i´d be a little at a loss here, except to say that peru is a very complicated place… lots of competing indentity politics.) or intellectual history? or colonial history… which could give you insight into the country.

and, none of these are invalid things, desires or objects of intellectual pursuit. though my suspicion is that the indians you work with will have their own history and their own take on history… and won´t care too much about literary history.

off the bat, i will say that the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega’s magesterial Comentarios Reales from 1609 is classic Peruvian history and he is a hero in his homeland. however, i will also say that his is very problematic.

and, since greg likes these posts so much, i may, in the near future, humor him with a post on this guy and his spiritualizing, platonic take on inca history.

also, i would add, there are a number of very good novels that explore the clash between indians and mestizos and spanish.

Like yourself, I grew up in various other countries. I speak Spanish and read decently enough. I just bought a copy of Clorinda Mato de Turner’s Torn from the Nest and look forward to working through it. Thanks for the other names—if you could work up a Peruvian bibliography covering all of the above that would be helpful—I’m entertaining doing some independant study in Peruvian literature/history this summer. Who knew that a series of embarrasing posts could lead to such a valuable relationship! Ay las obras misteriosas de Dios.

i forgot to say… if you want two very interesting takes on latin american history (and peru will be included) look at Pablo Neruda’s Canto General

it’s a massive 15 section epic poem, comprised of 300 or plus smaller poems that tells the tale of latin america.

also, look at the memory of fire trilogy by eduardo galeano

this is a little like william carlos williams’s in the american grain... only longer and not a set of imaginative essays. instead it moves through latin american history as if it were a series of vignettes. he has taken from innumberable sources and simply updated the language.

sorry, i forgot that i had read that you grew up in central america.

i look forward to hearing both laura’s and jh’s comments… btw, jh, we are a forgotten backwater of the internet. people come here to die… so, don’t worry about the glaring eternal light of the internet… plus, no one really knows who jh is anyway.

Moreover, JH, here you are granted the benefit of the first draft and of thinking on your feet. When you come to publish officially, we won’t mind if you change your mind. That said, I largely agree with your assessment, although I suspect that the ahistorical tendencies of (most of) our church backgrounds contributes to our personal metaphysical distancings from (political) history. My personal political awakening has been slow and painstaking and is hardly complete as I write now.

Ok, ok. Sorry for my coyness, my fear is that my grandchildren’s super cyborg brains will somehow be able to figure out who JH is, then they’ll laugh and laugh at my simplicity. Oh how I fear my grandchildren…

Yes, the Campellite heritage has a part, but only insofar as Campbellism is a thoroughly American religion, in that Campbellism explicitly rejects all historical precedent, maddeningly refusing to acknowledge any personal debt to what came before it. I mean, imagine Campbellism springing up in Germany, or England. As Americans we are taught in many subtle ways to have an almost dismissive attitude toward the past. Know it, but by all means do not let it entagle you or otherwise impede the future. I mostly speak perjoratively about this tendency, but this is what the rest of the world loves about America the most. I was doing some bartending work once here in England, and a very drunk Briton slurred at me. “You’re American? Good…good. America’s the future…...we’re living in the past!” This last bit said with almost vicious bitterness.

The ethnic ambiguity of America must play a part as well. How many people know where they came from, how they got here? I have only the vaguest notion, I’m mostly Scotch Irish, I think, some native American as well, the same proportion as Jeremy. Aside from that I know nothing, as though I rose up from the American soil, and I know that many others are like me. Has my family been in America for 4 generations? 15? I will probably never know. When you don’t know what part you had in the story, if you had a part at all, it’s hard to have an interest in the story. I would imagine that those from old, well-established New England families with well recorded genealogies, who can say with certainty that my great-great…grandfather was doing X during the Y-times, have a great interest in American history, because it is emphatically their story.

Now, that’s how I feel and I’m a WASP, imagine if you’re black, or Mexican, or Asian…

jh… you are not ignored… i’ve just been in fargin’ faculty meetings all day.

more later

well, don’t fear your grandchildren.

say you move back to the states… by the time your kids have them, reading will be passee. in fact, it already is. and unless they come up with some sort of interactive suit that will allow them to virtually walk or swim or fly through the internet and will fire electrical impulses into their brains so that they “hear” text, they won’t be able to understand what you’ve written.

if you stay in the UK it won’t matter either because their economy will have plummeted (along with the rest of europe’s) and mass chaos will have ensued and all electrical equipment will have been burned in the mayhem. though they will probably be very avid readers of most any novel.

other than that, i think you are spot on…

last year i taught an intro to latin american literature to a group of graduating seniors (what they were doing in my course at the end of their tenure with us, i still don’t know). but there they were.

not a single person, out of 25, knew when the cuban revolution was, nor when the bay of pigs happened. i was completely dumbfounded. my stupefaction wasn’t simply because they hadn’t picked this up in the history/culture course that the department offers (and every single one of them had taken) but also because it’s their history. (actually, i know how they didn’t pick it up… but i don’t have tenure and en boca cerrada no entra moscas a closed mouth doesn’t collect flies… literally no flies enter into a closed mouth).

i wasn’t asking about the freakin’ bolshivek revolution of 1917 or the sinking of the spanish armada in 1588 or the destruction of pompeii in 79 or the diet of worms in 1521, but about the cuban revolution and about the bay of pigs invasion… about freakin’ camelot and jfk and that really annoying billy joel song.

which brings me full circle… if you move to the states, what you wrote will be sooo ancient history that your grandkids won’t even dignify it with their attention.

however, i’d have to think a little bit more about the america’s ethnic ambiguity… though there is that in some sectors.

this is where a post by laura on nations, persons and hoods in general, whether on sweatshirts or coats or what have you, would be quite nice. :)

and also, the article on immigration in the atlantic somewhat addresses this… somewhat. it’s under links and it’s the benefits of brutality

i should add… this is freakin’ che guevara and they all love the che, for some inexplicable reason. it has to be the cool t-shirts, cuz they jack about the man

My sympathies to you with your undergraduates. I wonder what gets done in public schools nowadays. For example, my younger brother, who would be wrapping up college about now if he went to college,

Cannot find Germany on a map

Does not know who was president before the first George Bush

Does not know who Martin Luther was

Cannot spell our sister’s name correctly

Has never heard of, let alone read, Hemmingway, Thoreau, Steinbeck, etc.

Could not tell you whether the Roman empire came before or after the medieval period.

What is it like to live in that sort of mind?? And his level of knowledge is not atypical, so many people his age (and mine) are also like this. I really can’t even say this is a trait only of the American uneducated, most of the American grad students at Oxford, many of them Ivy League graduates, are not significantly better than this. They know their specific field very well, but little else. B actually has a Swedish friend here who dumped her American boyfriend, a well-connected, full-scholarship golden boy, for this reason. The specific word she used to describe him was “empty.”