Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Spanish Legacy on Latin America... 517 years later

On the third of August, 1492, the Italian navigator Cristoforo Colombo (Christopher Columbus) departed from the port of Palos, in Spain, to explore a new westward route to India. The three ships, the Pinta, the Niña and the Santa María sailed under the auspices of the Spanish Monarchs. Little did they imagine that the island they would reach on the dawn of the 12th of October was located in the Caribbean Sea, just off the mainland of another unknown continent thousands of nautical miles away from the shores of India.

The discovery of America by Christopher Columbus inaugurated the usurpation and conquest of the New Continent by the Spanish Crown, later followed by other European empires. Slowly but with a steady pace and determination, the Conquistadores made their way inland, forcing entire Amerindian Empires out their lands and proclaiming those territories property of the Spanish Empire. With cruelty they massacred many, but subdued the survivors to work for them, forcing them to swallow Roman-Catholicism and the Castillian language. Many brave Amerindian cities and clans fiercely opposed the Spanish invasion, but even the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, the Pipil city of Cuscatlán and the imperial Inca city of Cuzco were soon captured and forced to surrender.

In most of the Latin-American experience, during the colonial times and even after the Wars of Independence (by the turn of the 19th Century), new societies and nations were emerging from the clash of three Worlds, three Races and three Cultures. The first of them is the Amerindian component, consisting of the survivors from the Maya, Inca, Aztec, Chibcha, Boricua, Pipil, Taíno and many other tribes across the pre-Columbian America. The second component from the mixture is the Spanish/European, the victors over the American lands who came to these shores to become rich land-owners, administrators of the Imperial Power in Madrid, bringing language, customs, religion, architecture, civil and social structures. The third one is from Africa, the slaves that were imported to work as slaves in the Atlantic coast, who also brought their religions, customs and music.

Across modern Latin-America there still exists a hatred against Spain, because of the imposition of European life in the life of Indigenous peoples in the pre-Columbian America. Many injustices were done against the defeated Amerindians, who were stripped from their lands and known culture to embrace a new life. Interestingly, the imposition of European life in America was not as absolute as in English colonies, for example. The cities of Lima, México, Caracas, San Salvador, Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala , Santo Domingo and Guadalajara did not flourish to become just satellites from Madrid, but in the end developed their own style of life, culture, customs and even vernacular Spanish. Much of what Latin America is now is the product of the cultural blending of these three Worlds, not just the European one.

In countries like El Salvador, as much as 90% of the people have mixed Amerindian/European ("Mestizo") ancestry. The African influence was not as strong as in the Atlantic coast, given its geographical situation in the Pacific shores of northern Central America. However, El Salvador as we know it today is both racially and culturally Mestizo, from cultural expressions like the Pupusa or Atol de Elote, to typical dances like Torito Pinto and Las Cortadoras, to the incorporation of Pipil words into the modern-day Spanish, to the mixture of Amerindian superstition and Roman-Catholicism that can still be seen in small pueblos across the nation. Cuisine, music, blood, vernacular speech, customs, identity: we are not either full Amerindian not full European, but Mestizos.

I cannot deny the pain and the suffering that half of my ancestors unjustly put on the other half of my ancestors, but denying a half of my ancestry is denying my identity as a full-blooded, moreno and Caliche-speaking Salvadoran. Until we don't reconcile both sides of the story and let the wound heal we would never be able to embrace our true mixed identity, an identity that is now ours and that identifies us not only as Salvadorans, but as Latin-Americans.

We are all sons and daughters of that tragic and surprising day, 12 of October 1492.

1 comment:

Carly said...

Hi Vernon!

I didn't realise that you have a blog! Thanks so much for posting this! It was incredibly interesting... you are a very talented writer :)