Legacy of Colonialism in Latin America

The learning process during the school years impacts people in different dimensions of their lives, influencing not only their construction but also that of the society to which they belong and the culture they compose and reproduce. The school space is not designed only for the absorption of content, but among its objectives is the development of skills that allow development within society and the system. At a cognitive level, the methodologies that the programs establish for the development of classes, activities, and evaluations are of significant influence. Different skills are developed in individuals depending on the sources of information and methods applied during the gnoseological exercise, the moment in which learning occurs. It depends on these options whether the subjects will develop capacities where actions and thoughts predominate that will affect their development in society.

Although the methods used are influential in the learning process, they are not the only determining factor: the conditions in which this exercise takes place are also very important. There are different levels of influence, from the closest environment, housing, social class, and cultural identity. In this sense, behind the Latin American social, cultural, and political structures remains the shadow of colonialism, which, in various investigations and analyses from different perspectives of the humanities and social sciences, describe how it continues to operate unconsciously in the everyday life of Latin American societies.

Taking as a basis the position of Frantz Fanon in his work The Wretched of the Earth, this report structures its basis around how miscegenation in Latin America during the colonial era created a barrier that prevented violence from taking shape as a decolonizing tool as established by Fanon. Furthermore, the colonial mentality concerning the social structure is initially manifested and instructed in the pedagogical and learning structure in Latin America, which leads to reinforcing the social stratification established during the colonial era of New Spain and allows its evolution in contemporary society.

Looking at and critically analyzing how learning is carried out in Latin America, specifically in history, can contribute to the value of this discipline in school education and to reviewing the negative and positive aspects of its implementation and impact. In the being of the subjects, their sense of existence and belonging is directly related to how they will develop in the world. On the other hand, there are studies on the construction of Latin American identity from a historical perspective, considering the colonial past and the legacy it left in the culture and mentality of this part of the continent. The same happens with the perpetuation of colonialism until today, analyzing its various forms, how it has been transformed, and how it continues to operate.

Fanon suggests that two patterns of power were established after colonization that forged the identity of the people colonized by Europe. One part refers to the exploitation born of “laid hands-on gold and metals, and then the petroleum of the “new continents” brought back to the old countries,” emphasizing the control of the labor, resources, and products of the colonized economy (Fanon 25). The second, and on which this analysis is based, is the idea of race; “Europe multiplied divisions and opposing groups, has fashioned classes and racial prejudices, and has endeavored by every means to bring about and intensify the stratification of colonized societies” (11). This pattern of identity construction, built from the codification of the differences between conquerors and conquered, appeals to the fact that, supposedly, the biological structure naturally defined the position of the superiority of some over others.

Starting from the structuring of society based on the ethnic origin of people, historically, new social identities were produced in Latin America based on domination, and through which the social hierarchy was configured. As European imperialism expanded throughout the world, a Eurocentric idea emerged in the ideologies of the colonized.

At the beginning of the 16th century, which Western historiography considers to be the time of the emergence of the ‘Modern Age,’ one of its characteristics was the increase in connectivity in the world, driven by the search for trade routes that, as time went by, they led to a complete knowledge of the world territory (Childs 758). The voyages of Columbus, which began at the end of the 16th century, were the starting point for the installation of the Spanish empire in America, where, unlike the business-oriented colonization of Portugal, Spain took a more evangelizing role that was promoted and controlled by the crown.

The main consequence, both of the increase in travel and of this evangelizing nature of Spain towards its colonies, was that in the following centuries, “the [reduction] of the inhabitants of the annexed country to the level of superior monkeys” was justified (Fanon 15). However, the colonization of America, in addition to the reduction of the natives, transformed into a process of miscegenation and an even more prominent social stratification, causing what Voss refers to as Ethnogenesis, which is “the emergence of new forms of identity, typically as a result of substantial historical and cultural change”; in this case, the creation of not only one but several new identities called Castes resulting from the imposition of beliefs from the colonizers to the colonized (656). While European kingdoms and empires began an invasion of what we know today as America, new conceptions were installed that justified social stratification based on the ethnic origin of people.

In the colonial era, the ideal of those who held positions of power was establishing a pigmentocratic society. That is, a human conglomerate arranged hierarchically according to skin color. According to the belief of the time, this characteristic reflected the proportion of blood they had received from the three main racial groups: Spaniards (white), Indians, and black Africans. This social stratification has been called the system of Castas. In theory, an individual’s quality, prestige, and social status depended on how close or far they were from the color white, represented by the Spanish. These were the ones who occupied the pinnacle of the pyramid. Even more so if they were meritorious or noble descendants of the first conquerors (Schwartz 189). As they mixed with Indian or black blood, their position fell on the social scale.

The main Castas were:

1. Mestizo: child of Spanish and indigenous.

2. Castizo: child of a mestizo and Spanish.

3. Zambo: child of an African and indigenous person.

4. Mulato or Pardo: child of a Spaniard and an African.

5. Morisco: child of a mulatto with a Spanish woman.

6. Coyote or Cholo: child of a mestizo and indigenous.

7. Chinese: child of a mulatto and indigenous.

Fanon’s most advanced species vision of Europeans, which relied on colonization to lift the hegemony of Europe, attempted for centuries “to scientifically legitimize dehumanization and disguise any form of domination and oppression” (Wijanarko and Malang 2). In the colonies of Spain, those airs of superiority put Hispanics born in Europe at the top of the social pyramid, followed by Creoles of European blood but born in the colonies, and then continuing with mestizo, black, and native people.

However, this social pyramid established in the following colonized generations eliminates any possibility of decolonization by violence. In the first paragraph of his book, Fanon states that “decolonization is always a violent phenomenon,” which marks from the beginning of the work the intention in terms of political action with a revolutionary sense and an understanding of violence as a legitimate political tool; an issue that is also evident from the title of the first chapter that we analyze here: violence (Fanon 35). According to Fanon, the rehabilitative value of violence lies in its unequivocal affirmation that the colonized is ready to risk the only and most valued thing he has, namely his life, for his dignity and equality. However, when Fanon’s statement that “The colonial world is a world cut in two” cannot be applied, when there are various ethnic divisions that determine the social status and prestige of people, the possibility of violent decolonization is impossible because The search for equality would mean that those who are at the first levels of social stratification must renounce the benefits of the System, even if it means in a certain way being oppressed by the Spanish (Fanon 41).

That social order configured several centuries ago was maintained, even after the emancipatory processes and “with the disappearance of the symbol of the crown as an instrument of social control,” since the new dominant classes, which included Creoles and merchants who favored by the rise of the bourgeoisie, they continued to be of European descent. In contrast, the lower classes comprised those considered inferior (Mcalister 1370).

After joining the independence movements and forming Nation-States emancipated from the Spanish crown, in the era of imperialism Europe as a continent positioned itself as the example to follow, and therefore continued the idea of races that are superior to one another—considering ‘whites’ at the top as a universal social pyramid based on people’s ethnic origin. Cultural products, the writing of History, political, educational, and life aspirations began to be articulated around Europe, rejecting Fanon’s fundamental thought of “not imitating Europe [by combining] our muscles and brains to a new direction.” (Fanon 313).

Although some countries took longer than others, throughout the 19th century, the first laws of compulsory primary education began to be written in Latin America, and one of the first measures that the states took to take care of one of the many problems of the lower classes. Even so, from this time, there would be differences in the education received by upper-class children, who lived and studied in vastly different conditions from those who did not have their privileges. Added to this is the fact that it was difficult for the education of the lower classes to be normalized because their realities did not allow it, or they even had the mentality that it would not be applicable; child labor was normalized, and until late in the second half of the 20th century there were large numbers of the population who were illiterate at adulthood, proof of abandonment or no attendance at school.

The upper class has always had a more profound education in conditions that foster a fluid learning process (Torche 622). Furthermore, the lower, dominated, colonized, racialized classes were taught the same colonialist perspective as the elite, relegating them to identifying with their inferior role, which prevents the individual with native ethnicity from discovering and assimilating that “his life, his breath, and his beating heart are the same as those of the settler” (Fanon 45). The less the native knew, the less his unjust position could be questioned, and nothing would be revealed or demanded; then, this racist colonialist way of operating could continue to exist. The upper classes in the past took advantage of illiteracy to abuse the working class, the labor movements, and the development of a mentality that accepts abuse and exploitation, over time it forms an identity that consolidates and reproduces the structures of colonial power, where the lower class remains ignorant, far from the education that allows them to develop skills that lead to questioning the System.

Colonialism can be evident in education, for example, in the inclusion of languages such as French, without even considering teaching Native American languages. That is one of the roots of an identity built in the likeness of a foreign culture. The origin of the Latin American identity is mestizo because it is built from the reproduction between the colonized and the colonizers who deny the existence of roots originating in America and who early undertook the task of homogenizing the population by installing a story that the States -nation imposed as much as the crown did with its language and religion. The intention of denying a side considered barbaric, inferior, and therefore past comes from the upper classes, who have always made up the political class that establishes everything that makes up the educational system, projecting from there the European models and making it impossible for a “bridge that [unites] opposing groups into one inclusive social construction” can be built (Wijanarko and Malang 4).

In the long term, this situation has repercussions on these people’s lives since education is closely related to job placement, obtaining future income, or even greater participation in decision-making. Indeed, people with higher levels of education have a superior understanding of the issues linked to the socioeconomic problems prevailing in their countries so that they could have greater involvement in the debate of alternatives. However, educational disparities and other inequalities promote the need for more participation of these groups in the spaces and mechanisms designed for decision-making. When marginalized people are not incorporated into deliberative processes, the decisions emanating from them must be able to capture the various concerns that afflict adequately said people. Since they are the ones who have first-hand knowledge about the experiences they go through, discarding their perspectives deepens the invisibility of their experiences and limits the possibility of providing adequate solutions to their problems.

The different ways of relating the individuals or groups that make up a given society are the determinants of its structure. These relationships are not given, but, as stated above, they result from a continuous evolution process subject to various factors such as culture, values, and history. History plays a fundamental weight since past events are related to the present in determining the role of each individual in a society, their rights, and how they should interact within a specific institutional framework. Even the very institutions that regulate these interactions are a legacy of the past. For Latin America, the past was marked by a colonial system that has left its mark on various elements of the social structure of its countries. One of the most marked signs of this legacy is the unequal treatment experienced by people belonging to certain racial or ethnic groups, which deprives them of the enjoyment of fundamental rights whose universality should be guaranteed for all groups on equal terms. However, different types of inequalities prevail in Latin America and are accompanied by notorious racial discrimination towards people with specific characteristics derived from a colonial mindset, where “the cause is the consequence; “you are rich because you are white, and you are white because rich” (Torche 636) (Fanon 40).

These population groups are not a minority in Latin America since estimates point to the existence of 36 million indigenous people by the year 2021. Although Brazil has the most significant number of indigenous peoples, reaching the figure of 315, Bolivia (48 %), Guatemala (44%), and Mexico (20%) have a higher proportion of the indigenous population in relation to the total population. However, countries do not guarantee these rights, allowing third parties to misuse natural resources with the aim of appropriating them; the elite (according to the colonialist social structure) “govern with the help of their laws, their economic strength and their police (…) They have created legitimacy, and they are strong in their own right”, and in the process, indigenous peoples are subjects of violence (Fanon 181).

In the case of the Afro-descendant population, the realities they face due to their identity are often made invisible, which deprives them of their incorporation in the development of specific plans to confront inequalities. Although numerous countries have incorporated the counting of people of African descent in official statistics, conducting more in-depth studies on their conditions is limited in most Latin American countries. Therefore, progress in guaranteeing their rights through the formulation of public policies is limited.

Although the experiences faced by these ethnic and racial groups are different, it is possible to identify similarities in how certain types of inequality affect them. Health is one of these essential aspects that individuals should be guaranteed; however, the enjoyment of this fundamental right is unequal for specific ethnic and racial groups belonging to Latin American countries. Precisely, some circumstances that affect health, such as infant mortality, have a greater incidence in Afro-descendant and indigenous groups than in the rest of the population of Latin American countries. These disparities are related to the difficulties that these segments of the population have in accessing quality health services, as well as being a product of the precarious and marginalized conditions in which they live. This situation exacerbates the already existing inequalities within the groups themselves since it implies the emergence of additional deficiencies in especially vulnerable groups such as women, who, in addition to being the main contributors to care work, also suffer from certain particular health conditions. Thus, teenage pregnancy represents one of the most prevalent phenomena in indigenous and Afro-descendant women compared to the rest of the women in Latin America, negatively affecting their reproductive and sexual rights. In addition to the above, areas that transcend the physical, such as mental health, are also harmed by the multiple situations of violence experienced by these groups (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2020). Disparities are not only reflected in the prevalence of diseases or problems that affect these populations, but different stages related to research, diagnosis, or treatment in the health field are carried out based on general references without considering different ethnic and racial groups.

Although the independence of Latin American countries represented a political fragmentation with colonialism, its effects have transcended time to affect the current social structure. One of the main legacies of colonialism in Latin American societies is the inefficient institutions that use public power to concentrate wealth in small elitist groups. These questionable practices of institutions fail to guarantee the collective well-being of the population; on the contrary, they exacerbate the inequality faced by certain marginalized groups. These groups, distinguished by their ethnic and racial characteristics, face unequal treatment in accessing, providing, and enjoying public goods and services. This, accompanied by the racial discrimination, prejudices, and stereotypes they face, finds its origins in the reproduction of certain colonial aspects. So, it is possible to conclude that colonialism continues to influence various areas of the Latin American region, either through new larger-scale mechanisms that recreate it subtly or through dynamics similar to those of the past that shape the socioeconomic structure. In any case, the negative consequences for society’s equality and collective well-being continue to be the same.

Works Cited

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