Lecture Hop: Latin American edition

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A new student organization, the Organization of Latin American Students, held their first panel discussion last Monday in Hamilton on the topic of “Social Conditions in Latin America: The Indigenous Element from Colonization to the Present.” Bwog staffer Alex de Leon has this report.

picThere’s a lot to cover in the five hundred year history of a continent. Nonetheless, OLAS found four of the best people to take it on, and a whopper of a discussion ensued.

The panel of professors included Pablo Piccato, Caterina Pizzigoni, Institute of Latin American Studies director Thomas Trebat, and visiting professor Jorge Leon-Trujillo. Each professor took a turn in defining the role of the indigenous and its political and economic impact, without defining “indigenous” itself. For Piccato, the “indigenous” is a category historically constructed and invented by the colonizers. For the fast-talking Pizzigoni, the problem with using the term “Indian” is its implication of “a sense of Indian-ness that wasn’t there in the first place.” She said, “The indigenous did not claim Indian-ness,” but instead it was imposed by the Europeans. In simpler terms: the colonial structure sprang from a pre-existing indigenous structure, so the “indigenous element” comes from the creation of a new ethnicity through interbreeding (or mestizaje, as it’s better known in Latin America).

The panel ended with a discussion of inequality and current indigenous movements. Professor Trebat questioned if Latin America will grow and prosper economically, mentioning the continent’s ghastly income inequalities, which may have retarded growth in the past—and Latin America started out behind because of its colonial experience.

“Inequality in Latin America was perpetuated through time into the 19th and 20th centuries. Latin America entered world trade as unequal,” Trebat said.

Professor Leon-Trujillo brought up a figure who came to Columbia recently: President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who—as the first indigenous leader of that country—brought native movements to the fore. He sees them as a way to move from protestor to political actor to representative of the indigenous (or at least mestizos), and crucial for state formation. His main message: Everything has to go through politics. Current leaders of Latin America, especially those of indigenous heritage, should look to their culture to better their countries.

The event finished up with a Q&A that ranged from the Church’s role in the economics of the region to the Mexican Zapatistas, an armed revolutionary group. The panel discussion was engaging—but it was a lot to take in due to the generality of the topic and Prof. Leon-Trujillo’s Havelesque accent. As Piccato pointed out while moderating, the discussion represented “a necessary initiative” that the OLAS co-founders (Gabriel Grados and Nicolas Alvear) have undertaken. Perhaps next time they should tackle something more easy to digest.



  1. I found  

    I found it fascinating actually. I would have liked some more detail, in fact.

  2. Professor Pizzigoni  

    is amazing

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