Who wants to be “Latin American”? An attempt at approaching an unpopular term – part 2



“(1) America is ungovernable for us. (2) Those who serve revolution plough the sea. (3) The only thing one can do in America is emigrate. (4) This country will fall inevitably into the hands of the unrestrained multitudes, and then into the hands of insignificant tyrants, of all colors and races.”

So much for “Latin America” from a—disillusioned—expert, Simon Bolívar, in 1830, shortly before his life ended.

Did we who compiled the Daros Latinamerica Collection act on a misunderstood post-Bolívarian impuls? Was ours an obsessively, presumptuous attempt, animated by European (German!) idealism, to join entities (that which is “Latin American” / the art of Latin America) that do not really want to be joined?

On the one hand, we encounter “Latin America” as a variation, as a dissociated part of the “Christian Occident”. On the other hand, every nook of Latin America’s history is drenched in scores of autochthonous elements, which—although their bearers have been annihilated by the Europeans since the days of the conquest—have by no means disappeared without a trace, but rather continue to exist in various guises.

What we are basically dealing with, therefore, is an extreme mixture of different cultures with regionally varying ingredients: Indigenous, African, and all of Europe’s and the Near and Middle East’s different cultures converged here in the past centuries. No wonder that the concept of a Latin American identity—more precisely: the quest for such an identity—was and remains an important issue!

The enemy within

In the 1990s, when I started to become involved in the Latin American continent, its history, culture, and art, the identity debate was at its height. Fortunately it is no longer such a central presence today as it was back then, not least fuelled by the 500th anniversary of the “discovery”.

During all the years of my Latin American involvement, I studiously avoided commenting on the topic. I rather listened closely and formed my own cultural-political and cultural-historical opinion. Today, I think that “Latin America” opts too easily for hiding from its own identity simply because it is more comfortable to do so than to confront oneself with it. The much-mentioned, much sought-after, much-evoked identity exists, after all; it is only not being perceived because it is difficult to face reality! Instead, in order to avoid making a target of oneself, projections have been successfully running wild for many centuries: about the own self, the next of kin, the (respective) neighbors, and about the (sinister) originators of all evil: the European conquistadors and, of course, the imperialist US-Americans.

It is downright grotesque that the Latin American societies do not appreciate and prefer not to realize their own identities as they have evolved over the past centuries. Are they afraid of not finding salvation at home because they have dirtied and defiled it, acting as their own colonialists, classists, and racists, for too long? They have become the exploiters of their own societies such a long time ago (see the predictive quote from Bolívar above!) that they no longer feel quite comfortable when they regard the devastating results of their own doings.

Have my critical and polemical remarks meanwhile become obsolete and meaningless, or are they still valid? I am asking you for your comments and corrections, dear readers! After all, you are the ones concerned!

More so years ago than today, I frequently experienced that the self-assessment of many Latin American intellectuals is characterized by a lack (of what, actually?), by an inferiority complex, which often infuriated me. As if it were a stigma to have been born in Latin America. Is that still the case?

To return to art, I think it is great that Latin America still discusses about art, that art is still taken seriously, and that art forms an inherent part of social and political life. As my colleague Mari Carmen Ramírez once put it: “Latin American intellectuals and artists are part of the public sphere, …, participating in forging public life on a daily basis.” In European countries such as France, Spain, and Italy, this also holds true. Unfortunately, it comes less easy to us Central Europeans to integrate art into everyday social and political life.

We perhaps shouldn’t only accept the term and concept of Latin America, but rather ultimately introduce the concept of Latin Europe!

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