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

The label “Latin American” in the sense of a supposedly uniform entity is as misleading as describing someone or something as “European”, “African”, or “Asian”. And yet, the term continues to be used all the time …

Unloved umbrella term used abroad…

In “Latin America” itself, therefore, the term is not widely used and by no means carries only positive connotations. This is in part due to its Big Brother in the north of the continent, where it is quite common to regard “Latinos” as inferior or second-class. In addition, no one wants to be lumped together with “the other Latin Americans”. Don’t we all like to see ourselves as special, and rather not fall in categories of stupid masses? So far, so good.

Nevertheless, the term is a hypernym denoting the world region spreading from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. Or, in Wikipedia’s words, translated from the German entry:

Latin America is a political-cultural term that serves to distinguish between the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of America and the English-speaking countries of America (Anglo-America). It encompasses Mexico, Central America (with the exception of Belize), the Spanish-speaking territories of the Caribbean, and the countries of South America (not including Guyana and Suriname). The countries of Latin America together have an area of approximately 20 million square kilometers and a total population of roughly 500 million.

… and coined at home

For the sake of good order and before continuing with my reflections on the term “Latin America” in more detail in my next post, let’s hear first what the man who coined the term had to say on the subject in 1856, more than 150 years ago—but still highly relevant today, which is why I am quoting him. The Chilean politician Francisco Bilbao Barquín (1823 to 1865) formulated the following thoughts on the occasion of the conference Iniciativa de la América. Idea de un Congreso Federal de las Repúblicas(American Initiative. An Idea for a Federal Congress of the Republics) in Paris in June 1856:

The unity we seek is the identity of our rights and the association of law. We do not want monarchic executives, or despotic centralization, or conquest, or theocratic pacification. The unity we seek is the association of free personalities, men and peoples, in order to achieve universal fraternity.

We can already see fragments of America falling in the Saxon jaws of the magnetizing boa that unwinds its tortuous rings. Yesterday it was Texas, then it will be northern Mexico, and the Pacific will greet a new master. Today, advanced guerrillas awaken the Isthmus, and we see Panama waver, suspended, rocking its destiny over the abyss and asking: “Will I belong to the south, will I belong to the north?” Therein lies a danger. Whoever does not see it might as well renounce the future. Are we so unaware of ourselves and wary of the destinies of the Latin American race that we will wait for the will of others and a different genius to organize and dispose of our fate?

We have indicated the world’s paucity in our days. History vegetates, repeating old experiments, renewing mummies, unearthing corpses. We see only one political science: despotism, the sabre, Machiavellianism, conquest, silence. European science reveals the secrets and the forces of creation to better master them; but (strange phenomenon!) in no historical moment has personality appeared smaller amidst such intelligent splendor. It seems that science is helping to hurl the noble cause of man’s freedom into the torrent of fatality. Matter obeys, time and space are conquered, enjoyments and well-being are extended, but spontaneity is forgotten, originality disappears, the spirit of creation is frightened away. It seems that the Old World works to dig a grave and raise a mausoleum to personality, in order to introduce itself, across the development of the centuries, as a new species of the animal kingdom. The masses and the governments appear today as chords, and old Europe’s universal suffrage consecrates a false alliance through the abdication of the people’s sovereignty. But America lives: Latin, Saxon and indigenous America protests, and is responsible for representing man’s cause, the heart’s renewal of faith, the production—in brief—not of theatrical repetitions dating back to the Middle Ages and the civil hierarchy of the nobility, but of the citizens’ perpetual action, of the creation of live justice in the fields of the Republic.

Let us understand that the beginning of the New World is here. We are independent by reason and strength. We depend on no one to be great and happy. We should wait for no one to start the march forward, when conscience, nature, and duty tell the American world: The time has come for your great days.

Allow me to insist. We have to develop independence, and preserve the natural and moral borders of our country; we have to perpetuate our American and Latin race, to develop the Republic, and dispel the small nations in order to raise the great American nation, the Confederation of the South.

And all this: borders, races, the Republic and the new moral creation… everything is in danger if we are asleep. The Un-United States of South America is beginning to detect the smoke of the United States’ campfire. We are already starting to hear the steps of the colossus who, without fearing anyone, every year, with his diplomacy, with the adventurers he cultivates and disperses; with a growing influence and power that fascinates his neighbors; with the complications he raises in our towns; with precursor treaties, with mediations and protectorates; with his industry, his navy, his companies; stalking our faults and fatigues; taking advantage of our Republics’ division; each year more impetuous and bolder, that youthful colossus who believes in his empire, as Rome also believed in hers; infatuated with his series of happinesses, is advancing as a rising tide that suspends its waters in order to descend in a cataract over the South.

Contemplating themselves as such great beings, they have fallen into the same temptation as the Titans, believing themselves to be the arbiters of Earth and even the contemptors of Olympus. The infatuated personality degrades to individualism, its exaggeration to selfishness; and from this, there is only one step towards injustice and hardness of heart. They pretend to concentrate the universe in themselves. The Yankees replace the Americans, Roman patriotism replaces philosophy, industry replaces charity, wealth replaces morality, and their own nation replaces justice. They did not abolish slavery in their states, they did not preserve the heroic races of their Indians; nor have they become champions of the universal cause, but rather of American interests, of Saxon individualism. They pounce on the South, and the nation that should have been our star, our model, our strength, every day becomes a bigger threat to the AUTONOMY of South America.


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