The Postcolonial Condition: 
Eurocentric Discourse in Latin America

Description / Chapters  / Publications on the Subject / My Experience / Target Audience

Introduction: Post or Past?

Voice of Resistance in Colonial Chronicles

Caliban in White Mask

 "Civilización y barbarie" Revisited

 The Subaltern that Speaks: Mimicry in the Indigenista Novel

 The New (B)order: Migrant Writing



As the discussion of the postcolonial in Latin America is moving towards the realm of cultural studies which closely correlates postmodern cultural constructs with the neoliberal political scene, discourses of postcoloniality must necessarily include debates about the g/local relations. This debate is embodied in the proposed “ends” (of History, by Fukuyama; of Literature, by Levinson) that point to the “end of the state” referring to the threat to the sovereignty of the state in the global market, whereby it must compete with other domains. The idea of this rivalry does not surface in Fernando de Toro’s “new master narratives,” which he proposes as the antidote to postcolonial dichotomies, but it appears in the interdisciplinary absorption of literary discourses predicted by Stuart Hall in his characterization of cultural studies.

Textual representations of postcoloniality in Latin America thus conceived are at the center of my inquiry which examines whether the area should be considered a postcolonial space. My extensive analysis of this theoretical question will break new ground in showing that Latin American representations of racial mestizaje, cultural hybridity and transculturation are, indeed, symptomatic of the “postcolonial condition.” Some might argue that this proposition reflects a homogenizing gesture toward an area that is historically, racially and culturally diverse; however, the scrutiny of exemplary texts embedded in specific historical contexts will dispel this concern. Specifically, my study responds to assertions by Klor de Alva, Djelal Kadir and others who maintain that Latin America should not be considered a postcolonial space because independence movements there were not lead by the native population (as in India or South Africa), but by landed elites who did not change the economic system or the social hierarchy, yet they celebrated the new republics and urged deliberations about a new Latin American identity. In fact, these ideas were articulated by the leaders of the new nation-states, manipulated by immediate political interests, and further perpetuated by a Eurocentric education system.

Nevertheless, through an examination of significant and exemplary texts, I show that Latin America is, indeed, a postcolonial space, for it is the site of postcolonial phenomena, such as cultural hybridity, racial mestizaje, and Eurocentric discourses aimed at maintaining the race and class-based colonial hierarchy. I argue that independence from Spain did not bring significant change in the life of the great majority of Latin Americans, including the Indian and Mestizo populations, in the “new republics,” because the postcolonial history of nation building was preceded by the colonial establishment of the “lettered elite” (Rama), and the formation of social hierarchies whose traces remain until this day.



Introduction Post of Past?

The introduction will lay the theoretical groundwork for the study by addressing the “posts,” namely, the relationship between poststructuralist and postcolonial theories that have risen in the context of cultural relativism. Moreover, it will include a review of the chapters in light of the main argument of the study: the interdisciplinary discourses detected by cultural studies have a long trajectory in Latin American textuality, as do numerous manifestations of cultural resistance that were not quite as successfully suppressed by colonial and Eurocentric discourses as dichotomist versions of decolonization suggest it.

The Voice of Resistance in Colonial Chronicles

Many of the chronicles that recorded the arrival of Europeans and the subsequent colonization of Latin America attest to significant native resistance. Although the majority of sources (taught in Latin American schools) emphasize the success of the colonial enterprise and the subsequent lack of native opposition to the colonial system, there was a continuous challenge to colonization during the course of four centuries recorded in chronicles written by Indigenous or Mestizo authors, such as Guamán Poma’s Primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno, Titu Cussi's Relación and the Inca Garcilaso's Comentarios reales. These texts were the precedents of counter-discursive practices in which the long process of decolonization is manifest in Latin America from the beginning of its colonization.

Caliban in White Mask

Seeking definition(s) of decolonization and mestizaje, the figure of Caliban emerges as a sign onto which different semantic fields have been attached from Shakespeare, Mannoni, Rodó, Césaire to Roberto Fernández Retamar. My focus is the ideological kinship between Fernández Retamar's image of Caliban as an iconic figure, a metaphor for the colonized and exploited in Latin America, and the interpretation of négritude by Frantz Fanon, Senghor, and Césaire. The hybridity of Caliban, the sign, is key to its interpretation as a cultural praxis, rather than the voice that engenders opposition.

"Civilización y barbarie" Revisited

The continuous praxis of Eurocentric discourses lead to the representation of cultural dichotomies that emphasized the notion of European superiority is exemplified in Sarmiento's Facundo (1845). Instead of concentrating on this well-researched essay, I find “civilization and barbarism” in the so-called “foundational novels” (Rivera, La vorágine [1924], Gallegos, Doña Bárbara [1929]), that reflect the “civilizing mission” of European powers, as well as the fear of racial and cultural hybridity that clearly pose a threat to this race-based ideology. I explore the ideological codes embedded in Eurocentric discourse through Spivak's concept of “othering” and Bret Levinson’s “de-otrientalism” through which I enable a critique of the binary nature of Said’s orientalism frequently used in postcolonial analysis.

The Subaltern that Speaks: Mimicry in the Indigenista Novel

Continuing with the theme of “othering,” I look at the trope of the Indian as the eternal Other in Latin American literature, whose representations duly correspond to discursive and historical necessities, namely, the enforcement of European superiority that emerge in the Indigenista literary praxis manifest in Huasipungo (1934) by Jorge Icaza, a novel that is traditionally considered indigenista, and in Historia de Mayta (1984) by Mario Vargas Llosa, a novel that usually is not. I develop a critique of alterity, a theoretical device emerging from the dichotomy center/periphery embedded in colonial discourse, which – thus conceived -- reinforces and recreates the very notions it is supposed to discredit.

THe New (B)order. Migrant Writing

The borderland in the postcolonial imaginary also challenges the dichotomy deployed in the construction of the Other. Contesting the equation of a culture with its territory, as well as the ideal of homogeneity upheld in the discourses of Modernity leads to the recognition of the uniqueness of hybrid cultures. These contact-zones (Pratt) of the borderlands, are the locus par excellence where hybridity is produced by a discursive device, the “third space of enunciation” (Bhabha, Moreiras) that allows the notion of difference to be disassociated from the endless cycle of dichotomy embedded in colonial discourse and rearticulated in the posterior nation states. The border as a textual construct in U.S. Latino imaginary, specifically in Guillermo Gómez Peña's work will be at the core of this chapter in addition to the discussion of the border and its meanings in the works of Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherrie Moraga and others.


Eurocentric discourses that  ultimately aim to exclude the non-European in spite of the undeniable heterogeneity of the continent, survive in the Latin American literary canon alongside other discourses that question and subvert them. At the center of the postcolonial is resistance, not only to the long-lasting effects of colonization but also against the global nature of neoliberal expansion.

Other Publications on the Subject

Although there are some collections of articles published, such as El debate de la postcolonialidad en Latinoamérica (1999) edited by Alfonso and Fernando de Toro, Nuevas perspectivas desde/sobre América Latina (2000) edited by Mabel Moraña, in addition to her other edited volumes, Revisiting the Colonial Question in Latin America (2008 -to which I contributed an article).  There are practically no authored books written in English and aimed at wider audience about postcoloniality in Latin America. I feel that my book would satisfy the need for such a project. Román de la Campa's excellent book, Latin Americanism (1999) addresses several issues I raise in my manuscript (transculturation, mimicry, discussion of the Lettered City. However, his approach seems to be more oriented towards the realm of cultural studies and concentrates less on postcolonial theory and its implications, which is my main focus.

My Experience with the Subject

I have been teaching courses on Latin American literature, theory  and cultural studies, particularly on postcolonial theory that informed my research in the last decade. I stared exploring the postcolonial in Paralelismos transatlánticos: postcolonialismo y narrativa femenina en América Latina y Africa del Norte. (Trans-Atlantic Parallelisms: Postcolonialism and Writing by Women in Latin America and North Africa 1996), and in edited volumes, such as: Le Maghreb Postcolonial  (2003),  Paradoxical Citizenship: Edward Said (2006 and 2008), and Moros en la costa: Orientalismo en Latinoamérica (2008), Colonization or Globalization? Postcolonial Explorations of Imperial Expansion (co-edited with Chantal Zabus, 2009), Perennial Empire (co-edited with Chantal Zabus, 2011), in addition to several articles published on the subject.

Target Audience

The Postcolonial Condition is intended for an academic audience. However, because of its use of a jargon free style it may be enjoyed by anyone interested in the latest interpretations of the cultural trends in Latin America. The book may be offered as a useful theoretical tool for both graduate and undergraduate students who take classes on Latin American cultural studies, literature, (essay and novel), literary and cultural studies of the so-called Third World, or a course exploring possible applications of postcolonial theory. It may also serve as an introduction to postcolonial studies in general (which is often offered as a course in Departments of English, Latin American Studies, Anthropology, Women Studies, etc). Because it is written in English, it will reach a wider audience in the U.S. than the books written in Spanish on the subject.

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