David Carey Jr.
Dating from the earliest times in Latin America, alcohol has played a crucial social, economic, political, and cultural role. Often reserved for politico-religious leaders, alcohol was a conduit through which power flowed in many pre-contact indigenous societies; indigenous drinkways (production, commerce, and consumption habits) were associated with communal ritual events and social prestige. Introduced to the Americas by Europeans, distillation profoundly altered the potency of alcoholic drinks for people who were accustomed to fermentation. Even as the social and cultural practices of alcohol consumption changed over time, alcohol continued to have political and economic implications in the colonial and national periods in Latin America. Fearing that inebriation bred disorder and recognizing that moonshining undercut their own revenues, colonial and national governments alike sought to regulate, if not control, the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol. In nations as diverse as Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and Guatemala, indigenous women came to play integral roles in the (oftentimes illicit) sale and production of alcohol. A cash nexus for moving labor and land and a crucial component of the economic system by which (often unscrupulous) labor brokers recruited workers, alcohol was a currency of local economies. As a commodity of local, national, and international significance, alcohol shaped the fate of nation-states.
People’s class, ethnic, race, and gender identities all played into their access to alcohol. Although a person’s choice of libation could define their position, some of the more fascinating histories of alcohol are punctuated with women and men who used alcohol to disrupt social conventions. Through the consumption of alcohol, rituals and ceremonies created and reconstituted community both within and across ethnic groups. Imbibing could also divide people. Even while they sipped their cognacs and brandies, elites portrayed indigenous people, the poor, and other marginalized people getting drunk on moonshine to discount and denigrate them. Often associated with (particularly violent) crime, alcohol was seen as a vice by many and excoriated during temperance movements. Yet defendants across Latin America took advantage of judicial systems that considered alcohol a mitigating circumstance in many crimes. As 20th-century evangelical sects that preached abstinence as the route to wealth and marital bliss grew to unprecedented numbers, traditional healers and biomedical practitioners continued to tout alcohol’s medicinal value. In short, alcohol was a marker of social position and cultural identity, a crucial component in community and state building, and a commodity around which different cultural traditions, healing practices, and policing policies developed and evolved.
From the 15th century onward, the Caribbean has been populated with different ethnic groups, cultures, flora, and fauna in a way that is constantly changing the visual sensibilities of the space. The mixture of ethnic and nation groups that had settled by the 20th century produced a range of iconographic symbols, use of colors and forms that would signify the Caribbean aesthetic. This included a style of Caribbean painting which is referred to as Caribbean expressionism, the latter which included the group of artists known as intuitives or primitives. With few formal schools or institutions for instruction or opportunities for critical review, the Caribbean visual palette was established largely through the creativity of those involved in various festivals or ritual practices. Artistic expressions resemble performance or installation art rather than the classic forms of painting or sculpture. This work is somewhat iconoclastic in the interpretation of a Caribbean aesthetic and focuses on the homegrown artistic expressions that merge, collide, contradict, and emerge to create originality in this cultural space.
Edward D. Melillo
Since the early 1800s, Chileans have imagined their nation’s history and destiny through an ever-changing array of transoceanic connections with the rest of the planet. At a deeper level, Chile’s relationship with the Pacific Ocean is built upon myriad collective memories and aspirational identities. The long arc of Chile’s linkages with the Pacific World—or the peoples and ecosystems in and around the Pacific Ocean—has yet to be fully explored by historians. This article fills this lacuna by analyzing five diverse historical episodes that span more than two centuries: first, Valparaíso’s growth into a Pacific commercial hub during the early 1800s; second, Chile’s role in the Californian and Australian gold rushes of the mid-1800s; third, the Chilean victory in the late-19th-century War of the Pacific; fourth, Chile’s burgeoning commercial relationship with China, which began in the years following the Second World War; and, finally, the emergence of a Chilean-Pacific variant of neoliberal ideology in the final decades of the 20th century. These five developments reveal a litany of ambiguities and antagonisms in Chile’s complicated, ongoing association with its western ocean.
In their so-called “Golden Age,” from the late 1890s to the 1920s, picture postcards probably were the most prominent visual mass medium, worldwide, including South America. Many people collected postcards, which were quite affordable, and pen pals exchanged postcards from all over the world; dates were arranged via postcards, just as happens today via phone, email, text, or instant messaging.
Although most South American postcards were published and sold in urban areas, the broad availability combined with their postal function brought postcards a vast social and geographical diffusion. To use a common term, they are “travelling objects.” Postcards of South America could cross the globe many times before becoming part of a private album or an archival collection. For instance, the German entrepreneur and photographer Guillermo Grüter (1871–1947), who had come to Paraguay in 1893, published some of the most popular Paraguayan postcards. The images stemmed from photographs he took there. In his early years in Paraguay, before he imported printing machines and produced postcards on his own, Grüter sent some of his photographs to a manufacturer in Europe who produced postcards. These were shipped back to Grüter in Asunción, where he sold some of them to European immigrants and travelers, who sent them back home to relatives and friends across the Atlantic. Similar stories can be told about postcards published by the German Eduardo Pollack from Lima, Peru, by Austrian Roberto Rosauer from Buenos Aires, Argentina, or by one of the many German publishers in Valparaíso, Valdivia, and other Chilean towns. Picture postcards are interesting objects of study for investigations of global cultural history in transatlantic and other transnational entanglements.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the global trade in commodities forged new economic interconnections and contributed to the emergence of modern ways of life. As one of the leading exporters of temperate goods such as wool, beef, and wheat, Argentina was at the forefront of these trends, and the country underwent remarkable expansion between 1875 and 1913. Although export goods linked Argentina to consumers in Europe and elsewhere, these vital relationships were often obscured by the malleable nature of commodities, the far-flung scope of overseas trade, and the perceived divergence between rural and urban worlds. Within Argentina, similar dynamics were also at work, but commodities became referents in disputes over economic distribution, social inequality, and national development. The tensions between the export sector and an increasingly industrialized and urbanized society geared toward mass consumption raised questions as to how to manage the nation’s wealth—conflicts involving commodities that parallel those of other Latin American societies. By placing the economic history of commodities into conversation with recent research on the social, cultural, and political history of consumption, this article reconsiders Argentina’s “Golden Age” of expansion and its aftermath. The connecting and distancing power of commodities reveals how populations in Argentina and abroad experienced modern capitalism, including its signature transformations of the natural world and everyday life.
William E. French
A persuasive literature has argued that the course of Latin American history from the arrival of Europeans to the present has been shaped to a large extent by a small but expanding group of literate bureaucrats, church officials, lawyers, and intellectuals, known as letrados, who made their lives in urban centers. Those marked by this combination of power, urban living, and the written word, an assemblage that Angel Rama has dubbed “the lettered city,” utilized literature, history, the law, politics, and higher education to imagine the country into existence textually and to justify the hierarchies and inequalities that characterized their rule. Yet in Mexico, as elsewhere in Latin America, writing has a long history in nonelite settings, a venue that, in recognition of this fact, has now been referred to as “the lettered countryside.” Moreover, as understandings of a single literacy are giving way to a concern with “literacies,” defined in the plural and operating in relationship rather than opposed to such things as orality and visuality, traces of literacy practices are being discovered in many locations. Foregrounding the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside is an attempt to bring these venues into conversation while doing away with the binary that associates literary with the city and orality with the rural.
Over the course of the 19th century in Mexico, although the written word was still pressed into the service of national imagining, a number of other characteristics shaped the conjunction of the lettered city and the lettered countryside. A struggle over secularization was one new development, as authority came increasingly to be invested in the written word itself rather than justified in religious terms. New forms of literacies emerged, especially those associated with the novel and other forms of publications, including newspapers, periodicals for and by women, and the penny press, creating new publics with distinct senses of themselves as communities of readers and listeners; oratory, public discussion of politics and other issues in various venues, and the phenomenon of indirect readers also brought together these two locations. As early as the 1840s, rural residents in some parts of the country had made writing their own, drafting political proclamations in which they defined such things as federalism in their own terms and asserted themselves in national politics. While elite diarists, both men and women, left traces of their emotional lives in various forms of life writing over the course of the entire period, ordinary people, including mine workers, agricultural laborers, and women who carried out household duties, wrote love letters to each other by the last third of the century, if not before. Composed and exchanged by means of cooperation, the use of intermediaries known as evangelistas, or by individuals with various degrees of facility in reading and writing, love letters served as privileged means of communicating the emotions they brought into being while often ending up as evidence in legal proceedings that continued to assert the prerogatives of the lettered city even as it came ever more intimately conjoined with the lettered countryside.
William G. Acree Jr.
Theater in Argentina and Uruguay, which together compose the Plata river region of Latin America, has been a predominant form of entertainment since the 19th century. Theaters abound in Montevideo, while its sister city. Buenos Aires, has its own Broadway in the famed Corrientes Street. In the age of digital culture, the theater remains a mainstay of cultural life for Argentines and Uruguayans. The success of theater and the making of a theatergoing public in the region have their roots first in the variety of entertainment offered by hemispheric travelers to the region from the 1820s through the 1880s and then, most significantly, in shows put on by itinerant circus troupes in the countryside that only later filled urban theaters. From the mid-1880s through 1900 these circus troupes performed plays known as dramas criollos that dealt with rural traditions and explored issues of migration, social stratification, and tensions of economic modernization. These Creole dramas, like the narrative and poetic tales of gaucho heroes that informed them, became wildly successful, attracting spectators in the countryside and city alike, in venues ranging from makeshift tents to the most opulent theaters. They also became the namesake of the circo criollo, which referred as much to types of performers staging the tales as to the circus event where people flocked to see the new main attraction—the dramas. In effect, the Creole drama phenomenon expanded the presence of popular entertainment across the region and consolidated a theatergoing public. It also gave way to a new strand of modern popular culture in which storylines and characters reappeared in other media, and the impact of the Creole drama experience long outlived the spectacle itself.
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 cultural policies of the left-wing government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in the new millennium saw a shift back to funding and patronage of the arts after years of defunding and commodification of cultural production. However, despite leading to a renaissance of cultural activity, Chavista cultural policy also retained a modernist rationality that treated cultural production as objects to be classified and quantified. Official cultural policy in Venezuela has historically developed alongside popular-cultural formations that draw on alternative conceptions of culture that stem from everyday life. The official and the everyday have developed in tandem and, sometimes, at cross-purposes. Many scholars look to policies and states as the producers of change, but it is at the level of the everyday that we can see the emerging possibilities that define cultural movements in search of social change.
Mexican national culture in the period from 1946 to 1982 can be understood by recognizing three overlapping transformations. The first was the consolidation of various national archetypes rooted in Mexican revolutionary and prerevolutionary mythologies of national identity and that were disseminated via state-sponsored cultural institutions as well as through global marketing campaigns related primarily to bolstering tourism. A second was the commodification of national popular culture through local cultural industries, namely radio, cinema, the recording industry, and television, and the competitive engagement of these industries with external cultural flows deriving, primarily though not exclusively, from the United States. The third was the invention of new forms of urban response to inflation and the cascading crises of political legitimacy that characterized the decade leading up to economic collapse in 1982. Across the body politic, one discerns a resilience of shared points of cultural reference—sonic, visual, culinary, and otherwise—derived, often in great measure, from governmental policies and discourse. At the same time, and increasingly over the course of this historical period, one finds movements characterized by an irreverent reappropriation of many of those same reference points, carried out by a diverse range of social actors in pursuit of individual and collective strategies of resistance to both state and patriarchal forms of authority. By the early 1980s Mexican national culture had become a rich and playful bricolage made up of iconic markers over which the state experienced a diminishing, though not yet exhausted, capacity to define.