Hola. This is Barbara with the following cultural topics from the Spanish-speaking world. They all tackle the question of cultural memory and identity in heterogenous societies: Elisa Loncón will preside Chile’s constitutional convention, Michael Reid contributes to the debate about national identities in Latin America, and David Yagué has some new novels about the Spanish civil war for you.
Elisa Loncón will preside Chile’s constitutional convention
This is certainly big news: As you may know, a vast majority of 78 per cent of the electorate voted in 2020 to replace the current constitution, which had been established under Pinochet’s dictatorship. In May 2021, the members of the convention to design this new constitution were elected. On July 4th, the members of this convention elected Elisa Loncón Antileo to be their president. The act raises expectations at a very early stage of the drafting process that the future constitution will be more inclusive and multicultural than the current one. She herself addressed these hopes in her speech after the election:
"I salute the people of Chile from the north to Patagonia, from the sea to the mountains, to the islands, all those who are watching us today. […] I am grateful for the support of the different coalitions that placed their trust and their dreams in the hands of the Mapuche nation, who voted for a Mapuche person, a woman, to change the history of this country. (as quoted from this Reuters article)
Elisa Loncón is a linguistics professor at the University of Santiago (USACh) focusing on mapudungun (the Mapuche language). She is a Mapuche from the Araucania region of Chile. The social rights activist is politically independent. If you want to grasp what it means that a woman like her will head the constitutional convention I recommend you read this interview with her from 2017 in which she talks about the oppression of the Mapuche people in the past and present. Here is a short quote so you get an impression:
“Nuestras profesoras a veces nos pegaban por ser indias. Las veces que nos trataron mal por ser mapuche, incluso me trataron de ladrona sin serlo. Los profesores tenían en su inconsciente que nosotros éramos ladrones y lo decían frente al resto. Nadie ha hablado del dolor que la escuela ha causado a los niños mapuche. La escuela no se ha hecho cargo del racismo y la discriminación. Entonces hay una deuda pendiente, hay un trabajo académico que hacer, hay que levantar la memoria respecto a nuestro paso por ahí para que algún día el sistema se haga cargo de esto”.
My Translation: "Our teachers sometimes beat us for being Indians Sometimes they treated us badly because we were Mapuche, they even called me a thief when I wasn't. The teachers had it in their subconscious that we were thieves and said so in front of the other students. Nobody has talked about the pain that the school has caused to the Mapuche children. The school has not taken responsibility for racism and discrimination. So there is a pending debt, there is academic work to be done, we have to raise the memory of how we got there so that one day the system assumes responsibility."
Let me add a short comment to this translation: I guess she uses the word “Indian” and not the politically more correct “Indigenous” in the first sentence on purpose to mirror the system perspective so I decided to stick with the literal translation.
Let’s hope Loncón can continue with her work and her election is a sign of hope for redemption and reconciliation in Chile. As says writer Jorge Baradit Morales:
There is a lot of work to do though. Minutes of silence are healing, but not enough to feed all people.
Latin America’s national identities questioned again
Michael Reid, Senior Editor and columnist at the British weekly “The Economist” has dedicated his last column to current approaches of how some Latin American countries deal with their national identities. Just like Chile, all other Latin American countries are confronted with a history of oppression and social injustice. Social unrest in the last two years has been forcing the region to rethink their concepts of national identity. Statues glorifying the colonial past have been toppled by protesters or have been removed from the public to save them from vandalism. In Colombia, president Duque, for example, has promised to review certain statues. So far, as Reid rightly says, all these debates have been closely linked to race. In the 20th century, the myth of being mixed-race societies prevailed in the official definition of national identity-building, with mestizaje being one of the key unifying concepts. Yet, the myth never made its way into the economic realities of these countries. White people stayed on top of the social ladder, while indigenous peoples (see the interview with Elisa Loncón) and the Black people whose ancestors had arrived as slaves remained economically and socially at the bottom. Reid concludes that concepts of mestizaje should no longer be imposed, but is of the opinion that it “remains the only inclusive and unifying narrative the region possesses”.
I am not sure I like this idea because mestizaje is so closely linked to ethnicity and race. From a European perspective I see Reid’s point that Latin America countries have a lot in common with respect to the patterns of cultural diversity. However, I would rather prefer a concept like “cultural hybridity”, which in my point of view is a term that is better suited to represent “a sense of balance among practices, values, and customs of different cultures”. It includes ethnicity without getting reduced to it like mestizaje. To use the words of cultural critic Nestor García Canclini who established the theory of cultural hybridisation in Latin America: Cultural hybridity recognises the differences among (sub-)cultures, which again are the prerequisite to establish modes of living together flexibly and peacefully. Here’s a short interview with García Canclini where he explains the concept in a very positive way, celebrating its processes.
Some new novels about the Spanish civil war and postwar Spain
June is the month when the lists for light summer reading are published. Yet, David Yagué has surprised us with a list of seven new novels about the Spanish civil war, which is usually not considered easy beach reading, but essential stuff for understanding the collective memory of Spanish culture(s) and their evolving interpretations. As I mentioned in vol. 11, the current polarisation of Spanish political discourse has led to new reflections about the civil war, its origins and its long-lasting impacts on Spanish society in both historiography and literature:
La Guerra Civil y la dictadura posterior son los hechos más traumáticos que han marcado la historia reciente del país. Todavía nos salpican y nos implican, su memoria provoca debates políticos y académicos y ardientes discusiones en redes. (David Yagué, Siete novelas recientes contra el viejo e injusto lamento de “otra novela igual sobre la Guerra Civil)
My translation of the quote: The civil war and the subsequent dictatorship are the most traumatic events that have marked the country's recent history. They still touch us and have an effect on us, their memory provokes political and academic debates and fierce discussions in networks (...).
Here are the novels David Yagué presents in his blog article:
Almudena Grandes, La madre de Frankenstein (Frankenstein’s Mother, she uses the story of a parricide to outline the situation of the psychiatric system in posguerra Spain)
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Línea de fuego (Line of Fire, about the battle of the Ebro, the longest battle of the war in 1938)
Francisco José Jurado, Dos mundos en guerra (Two worlds in war, a spy story, but also interesting because the author plays with the speculation what would have happened if Orson Welles’s The war of the worlds would have coincided with the batlle of the Ebro)
Luis Prado de la Escosura, El muro de Madrid (The wall of Madrid, where the author reverses history by letting the civil war end in a stalemate that results in the division of Spain into two states).
Youssef El Maimouni, Cuando los montes caminen (When the mountains walk, which tells the story of a young Maghrebian guy who fought in General Franco’s troops.)
José Antonio Lucero, La vida en un minuto (Life in a minute, about the rail disaster at Torre del Bierzo in 1944, which was silenced when it happened due to censorship)
Albert Bertran Bas, La memoria eres tú (Memory is you, the story of 15-year-old Homero who recounts his coming of age in the aftermath of the civil war)
Which title or brief description attracts you most? I think I would love to read Grandes’s novel because of its topic - psychiatry in postwar Spain sounds uncanny - , her way to make women a substantial element of fiction and history, and because everybody (well, at least El País) states she is the most direct literary heir to the “galdosianismo español” and I love Benito Pérez Galdós 🥰.. Grandes’s new novel is the fifth volume of a series titled Episodios de una guerra interminable (Episodes of an endless war) which is an allusion to the Episodios nacionales written by Pérez Galdós. I must say that the last book of her that I read, Los besos en el pan (Kissing the bread), did not convince me completely, especially in literary terms and with respect to complexity, but maybe that’s a topic for a later newsletter. This novel is not part of her Episodios.
What’s your favourite novel about the Spanish civil war?
One last thing: Miami Beach Rhumba
This is almost all for this week. I leave you with a wonderful example of cultural hybridity: Miami Beach Rhumba (מײַאַמי ביטש רומבאַ), interpreted by Seymour Rexite.
Here are the first lines from the song (the whole lyrics can be found in the comment section of the video):
Gevolt hob ikh furin gur kayn Cuba
Bin ikh in Miami Beach geven
dus iz gur nit vayt fin Cuba
rhumba, oy tantst men dort sheyn.
Translation: I really wanted to go to Cuba / I stopped off in Miami Beach / And that’s really not that far from Cuba / The rhumba, oh, they dance it there so well.
¡Disfruten! מאך א לעבן (makh a lebn 😊 ). See you in a couple of weeks. If you subscribe now, you will never miss my rumbas and madrigales.