The Spanish language arrived in Latin America as a tool of Iberian colonization. Indigenous languages struggled to survive under the implacable presence of an imperial tongue serving not only to make all subjects part of the Spanish Empire but also, and primarily, as a mechanism to evangelize a population considered by the conquistadors, soldiers, missionaries, and entrepreneurs as barbaric. During the age of independence (1810–1910), defined by bloody armed movements, the emerging republics in Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean Basin declared their autonomy by seceding politically, economically, and legally from Spain while pushing for a vigorous nationalist agenda that shaped them as nations. Spanish was an agglutinating force toward a new collective identity, regionally and locally. Important figures like Venezuelan philologist, lexicographer, and diplomat Andrés Bello established an agenda that helped define the cultural parameters of the young republics in terms of grammar, syntax, and morphology. Followers include Rufino José Cuervo.
Various aesthetic movements, such as modernismo, led by figures like Rubén Darío and José Martí, helped consolidate a transnational sense of linguistic unity. During the 20th century, the nationalist fever spread throughout Latin America, encouraging educators to establish pedagogical patterns that emphasized the uniqueness of the language within the country’s context. The effort was supported by ethnographers, anthropologists, and sociolinguists like the Cuban Fernando Ortiz and Venezuelan Ángel Rosenblat intent on finding what was local in the language. Simultaneously, each nation developed its own idiosyncratic media, which, again, allowed for verbal peculiarities to be included while also driving toward a standardized form. In this atmosphere, the Spanish language has been used as an organ of control by the state. It is also an invaluable tool through which to understand regional, national, and cultural differences.
By the end of the millennium, a new phenomenon emerged, not in Latin America per se yet intimately linked to it: Spanglish. It is a hybrid tongue used by millions of immigrants in the United States, whose power is increasing as time goes by. Spanglish has the potential of reconfiguring the way the Spanish language is understood in the future.
Laura de Mello e Souza
Popular religiosity in colonial Brazil was marked by the process of colonization, which placed populations of differing ethnic and cultural origins together in dynamic and conflicting ways. On the one hand, the lived experiences of these various populations reflected the beliefs of their continent of origin: Europe, Africa, and America. On the other hand, they were unavoidably intertwined, giving rise to novel forms of religious practice. Heterodox behaviors were notable from the beginning of colonization, adding to the peculiarities of the slave system that constituted colonial life and defined its social relations. In a vast territory over which the surveillance and control of religious institutions—both ecclesiastical and inquisitorial—proved unworkable, daily experiences of religiosity became increasingly distinct from the more dogmatic and “official” traits sustained by the Catholic Church. A particular type of religiosity, as heterodox and mixed as the population itself, took shape within the limits of Catholicism while continuously escaping its confines. Catholicism endured from the earliest times as the guiding orientation of Brazil, supported by the Crown as well as regular and secular clergy alike. The education of the elites was Catholic, and many of the earliest writings about the new land of Brazil came from the quills of the pious, producing foundational images marked by religious metaphors. For these reasons, popular religiosity reveals a great deal about the nature of Brazilian culture, and it is necessary to analyze it within the context of broader dynamics that define popular beliefs that do not always fit within the orthodox guidelines of official Catholicism and erudition.
Elissa Rashkin and Isabel Arredondo
The 1932 film Flame of Mexico (released in Mexico as Alma mexicana), written and produced by the US feminist activist Juliet Barrett Rublee (b. 1875–d. 1966), provides a window on to political and cultural aspects of US-Mexican relations during the 1920s. A melodrama whose themes include land, education, oil, and the Mexican Revolution, Flame of Mexico takes an activist stance toward international politics, critiques economic exploitation, and argues for US support of Mexican sovereignty in a time of conflict. Addressed to diplomatic circles and mass audiences alike, the message is rendered subtler by its central romantic love story and numerous action sequences drawn from the nascent Hollywood industry, as well as its finely filmed picturesque scenery and its tapestry of regional Mexican music, woven into an appealing soundtrack by leading composers and musicians of the era.
Long overlooked by film historians, Flame of Mexico is a unique artifact in film history: made in the first years of sound cinema, the film contains both intertitles and a synchronized musical score and is a transnational project. Latin American musicians living or working in Los Angeles recorded the score, while a Hollywood crew shot the film in Mexico. The film is credited with being the first feature film about Mexico shot on location in that country, and it preceded Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished Mexico project, a version of which was released in the United States almost simultaneously with Flame as Thunder over Mexico (1933). Also unique is Flame’s mix of melodrama and travelogue genres; it features a cast of Mexican actors, some of whom would go on to enjoy stable binational acting careers, with US actors playing the gringo villains as well as numerous non-actors playing themselves in ethnographic scenes designed to show, in the words of its producer, “the real Mexico.”
Although masked in the film’s publicity and press reviews, Rublee’s personal, multifaceted history as an activist is key to understanding her film as an important political and cultural undertaking, rather than the extravagant failure that some critics have portrayed, often relying on secondhand opinions without having had access to the film itself. In spite of its limited distribution and meager box-office returns—in the midst of an economic depression—the film is an act of political intervention whose colorful and romantic love story is deployed in the service of a message of peace and transnational cooperation.
Folk Festivals, Community Development, and the Sugar Industry Crisis in Tucumán, Argentina, 1966–1973
In the late 1960s, the sugar-growing province of Tucumán, Argentina, was undergoing the deepest economic crisis of its history. In 1966, eleven large sugar mills closed by order of the national government, then ruled by military dictator Juan Carlos Onganía. The mills closure left a quarter of the province’s labor force unemployed, which, in turns, prompted a massive rural exodus and a permanent state of social unrest. Paradoxically, at the same time, the suddenly impoverished region was experiencing a boom of folk music festivals organized by small cities and rural towns, including those severely hit by the sugar industry crisis. This essay explores the context of the folk festival phenomenon, analyzing the role of town notables and local civic organizations in responding to the crisis brought about by the closure of the mills. The festivals were, in fact, part of a wider effort of local towns to develop their infrastructure and social services. By organizing festivals and fostering community development, local notables acted as a counterweight to the activism of the working class, generating spaces of consent that aided the military government’s plans to reorder the provincial economy.
Daniel Alex Richter
Cinema began in Uruguay with the exhibition of foreign films by visiting representatives of the Lumière brothers in 1896 before the first Uruguayan film was produced and shown in 1898. From the early period of Uruguayan cinema to the end of the 20th century, Uruguayan national cinema struggled to exist in the estimation of critical observers. Considering these periods of growth and stagnation, this history of Uruguayan cinema seeks to shed light on the industry’s evolution by focusing on exhibition, production, and spectatorship. This essay explores Uruguay’s national film productions, transnational businesses in shaping local film exhibition, the growth of mass publics and critical spectatorship, and the significance of political filmmaking in understanding the evolution of Latin American cinema during the 1960s. The history of Uruguayan cinema during the 20th century also provides a lens for understanding the political, social, and cultural histories of a country that has struggled to live up to its reputation as South America’s “most democratic” nation.
Alexandra Minna Stern
Eugenics emerged in Latin America in the early 20th century on the intellectual foundations of 19th-century social Darwinism and positivism, and expanded in contexts influenced by Catholicism, nationalism, and transnational scientific exchange. Although the extent and objectives of eugenic policies, practices, and organizations varied across the region, Latin American eugenicists tended to subscribe to neo-Lamarckian principles of environmental modification, foreground puericulture or infant and maternal care, and support new techniques of human measurement associated with biotypology. Overall, eugenics in Latin America was less extreme than in Anglo and Nordic countries, rarely resulting in sanctioned policies of compulsory sterilization or euthanasia. It was an integral component of programs designed to combat infectious ailments, especially sexually transmitted diseases, and to ameliorate national health indicators. This overlap meant that eugenics sometimes was less visible as a stand-alone movement, and that its tenets were absorbed with little friction into public health and social welfare infrastructures and campaigns. At the same time, eugenic racism was expressed in calls for immigration restriction that reverberated across Latin America, most notably in the 1910s and 1920s. In retrospect, eugenics in Latin America contributed both to exclusionary policies that stigmatized certain social groups and to overarching campaigns for health and wellness that were backed by a diverse political spectrum that could include feminists, Socialists, and military leaders.
Anita Casavantes Bradford and Raúl Fernandez
The years between 1989 and 2005 were a period of exceptional musical productivity and creativity, a “second golden age” of Cuban popular music—the first golden age referring to the 1950s explosion of the mambo and the cha-cha-chá. During this more recent golden age multiple and diverse forms of musical expression gained traction, and island artists enjoyed a dramatic increase in international visibility. The exciting new sounds of timba and Latin jazz, the Buena Vista Social Club–styled reinvention of the son cubano, and the reemergence of música guajira during the 1990s all reflected the dynamic tensions between tradition and innovation, the local and global, and between an imaginary “authentic” and the much denigrated “commercial” that have long animated the island’s extraordinary musical culture. Despite the seeming newness and singularity of much of the music produced during this period, this second golden age was in fact characterized as much by cross-genre collaboration and continuities with earlier trends in Cuban music and musical culture as by the impact on musical production of unprecedented circumstances of economic deprivation of those years known as the Special Period. A closer look at this second golden age of popular music reveals a cosmopolitan Cuban musical landscape in which styles from different periods coexisted with ease and remained relevant, both as distinct sounds and in dialogue with one another, bringing together a dynamic community of musicians of all levels and styles, old and young, on and off the island. Dynamically poised between the forces of tradition and innovation, and beloved by both local and global audiences, the artists who rose to prominence or were rediscovered during these years each spoke, in their own unique ways, to the innovation, the cross genre collaborations, and above all to the profound historical continuities that have long animated the island’s extraordinary musical culture.
The Cuban poet José María Heredia (1803–1839) spent twenty months exiled to the United States because of his involvement in pro-independence conspiracies. In that time, Heredia wrote a prodigious number of poems and letters, which are the subject of an ongoing scholarly project undertaken by Frederick Luciani of Colgate University. Luciani’s work involves more than translating these poems and letters into English—it examines Heredia’s stay in North America against the background of political and historical events, and traces the matrices of his connections with key figures, literary and otherwise, in Cuba and the United States. Questions that have surfaced through the translation process and scrutiny of this period of Heredia’s life include the relationship between Heredia’s poetry and his letters; the value of his letters as a form of travel literature; the contradictions inherent in his exilic condition; the ambiguity of his political sentiments; the nature of the networks that joined 19th-century Anglo-American and Hispanic writers, translators, and scholars; and the challenges and opportunities that Heredia’s life and work pose for readers, translators, and scholars today.
The history of the 20th century in the Southeast of Mexico is bookended by two revolutions: the Mexican Revolution as it played out in the region, along with its antecedents and aftermath, and a very different but related revolutionary movement that emerged in the state of Chiapas in the mid-1990s. The former has been little studied at the multistate regional level by historians but is critical for understanding the history of the states of the Southeast in the decades that followed. The latter has been intensively studied by scholars in numerous disciplines, but its long-term historical implications remain to be seen. Equally important but scarcely studied and relatively little known is the political history of the Southeast in between these periods of conflict and revolution.
The Southeast is a region that is commonly regarded as distinct, and even marginal, within national histories of Mexico. In the 1980s, President Miguel de la Madrid suggested that the Mexican Revolution had never reached Chiapas. Yet decades earlier, President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–1940) famously praised neighboring Tabasco as Mexico’s “laboratory of revolution.” Meanwhile, historian Ben Fallaw contends that Yucatán was one of the most important of Mexico’s political laboratories during the 1930s. Taken together, these seemingly conflicting assertions underscore that many of the things that made the Southeast unique within Mexico also made the region important and influential to the course of modern Mexican history. They also raise the question of the Southeast’s experience of the Revolution and the long-term legacies of the revolutionary political projects that unfolded there.
As Mexico’s minister of public education from 1921 to 1924, José Vasconcelos played a prominent role in efforts to create a new national identity expressing the 1910 Revolution’s goals of an inclusive society and equitable nation, opportunities created through education, and shared cultural expressions. Vasconcelos has been widely praised for his educational campaigns, especially in the countryside, among indigenous communities, and for his literacy programs in the city. According to these recent interpretations, his efforts as minister of public education have been both over- and underestimated. Nevertheless, the revolutionary national identity that he helped to foster with his discussion of mestizaje in La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race; 1925) has since been ingrained into everyday life and culture.