Essay on Latin American Culture

Perhaps the greatest struggle that Westerners experience when studying Latin American culture is adopting the viewpoint that Latin Americans are the protagonists of their own lives, and have often shown innovation that is independent of Western influence. Westerners have the tendency to overemphasize the role that the United States and other “developed” countries have had on the progress of Latin American development.

It is rather easy to simply dismiss the notion that Latin Americans have agency over their conditions, especially when considering the distinct inequalities that are apparent in Latin American society. However, the United States and other developed countries are not doubted in regards to having control over their conditions despite similar inequalities existing within their societies as well. This hypocrisy often serves as a barrier towards deeper understanding for those attempting to study Latin America.

It is by removing this barrier that one is able to truly see Latin Americans as shapers of their own destinies, regardless of whether it may be “good” or “bad”. Contrary to popular belief, Latin Americans are not looking to please Westerners and instead are attempting to develop in a way that improves their own lives in a number of aspects, whether they be economic, political, cultural, and so on. Latin Americans are the protagonists of their own lives.

This is a critical statement that is central to understanding Latin American issues as whole, but should not be misconstrued to mean that Latin Americans are always the heroes of their own narratives. To misconstrue this statement to mean such would again take a surface level understanding of Latin American society and would ignore the complexities that exist within the culture. Take for example the issues that Latin American ountries experience in regards to drug “cartels” and the prostitution industry. Measures taken to address both issues have frequently negatively affected marginalized groups within Latin America, and have not directly addressed the issues at hand. For instance, Latin America’s complacent role in the “War on Drugs”, a campaign that was first introduced by Richard Nixon (216) and furthered by Ronald Reagan (216), only served to exacerbate the drug trafficking that occurs in Latin American countries.

According to Paul Gootenberg, the author of chapter 11, US intervention and Latin American compliance led to largescale human suffering, ranging from the displacement of millions of Colombians as a result of drug-eradication strategies, to the brutal torture and murder of tens of thousands of Mexicans by cartel warfare, as well as the flight of thousands of Honduran children to escape from drug gang violence (217).

However, as emphasized in the introduction of this essay, Latin Americans continue to have agency over their conditions, and this can be seen in the fairly recent break of political silence in Latin America concerning drug policies. In 2008, Latin American leaders in the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy began demanding changes in the way that drugs are controlled in order to combat the consequences of ineffective global drug policies.

On a more local scale, a number of Latin American countries have enacted laws and policies that focus more on controlling harsher drugs, like narcotics, as opposed to drugs like cannabis or coca leafs, which often causes unnecessary drains on police resources. This shift in perspective is a direct contrast to the severe stance that the US has in regards to drug trafficking, and yet some US states like Washington subsequently decriminalized cannabis as well.

This subtle change in the way drugs are viewed and handled within Latin countries serves as an example of pioneering on the part of Latin America, despite the less than innocent role they may have played in the contribution to the global drug culture as a whole. Along with issues related to drug culture, Latin America also experiences significant underlying issues with regards to sex workers in society.

Chapter 13, written by Denise Brennan, focuses on the way in which the prostitution industry is addressed in Latin America as well as the way in which sex worker activism is significant in society. Unlike the United States or other Western cultures, the buying and selling of sex is not illegal in Latin America, rather it is certain acts that are criminalized under the law (241). In addition to this, certain stereotypes exist regarding the individuals who do partake in prostitution, wherein they are seen as people who need to be “recused”.

While this may be true for some individuals, there are certainly a number of sex workers who willingly engage in this line of work. It is here that conflict and pioneering simultaneously occurs as a direct result of sex worker activism. While sex workers face a great deal of risk, they continuously fight for their rights as workers by remaining politically active, vocal, and creative. In fact, it is in Latin America where sex workers have made the greatest strides, both politically and socially.

Sex worker activists accomplished a number of feats, from gaining social security benefits in Argentina to securing seats in office such as in the case of Jaqueline Montero, who gained a chair in her city council (240 & 243). Along with this, sex worker activists have often pioneering public health campaigns by spreading awareness of safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases, like HIV or AIDS (244). Latin Americans have not only opened the discussion to global drug culture or pioneered the cause for sex worker activism, but they have also made significant contributions to how Latin culture is viewed globally.

For instance, indigenous activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rigoberta Menchu Tum changed the way that indigenous people were viewed, both within the scope of Latin America and outside of it when she delivered her speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. Menchu took the time to highlight many of the injustices and atrocities that indigenous people faced as a direct result of the Spanish conquistadores, results which are still apparent in modern Latin American society (232).

However, rather than taking on a pitiful tone, Menchu emphasizes the need for indigenous people to mobilize, especially in regards to the situation of indigenous peoples in Guatemala. Menchu emphasizes the strength of indigenous people by addressing the many accomplishments of indigenous identities, both preand post-colonization (230). Through her speech, Menchu paints indigenous people in a new light, one where they are not the victims, but rather the strong survivors of a long history of discrimination and racism.

On a lighter note, Latin Americans have frequently played the role of innovators and visionaries through the use of creative media to display Latin American culture. Perhaps the most well-known method of spreading Latin culture is through the production of telenovelas. Telenovelas express many of the aspirations and values that Latin Americans have regarding romance, family, friendship, and social mobility (303). They also offer solace to many viewers by allowing them to relate to the struggles of lower-class characters creating change in the world around them, while also finding richness and fulfillment in their daily lives (305 & 308).

Overall, the underlying connection between many of the final chapters of Global Latin America is the idea that Latin America is the writer of its own story. One cannot deny that Latin America is influenced by other countries, but is important to not overexaggerate this influence. Ultimately, Latin America is a collection of independent countries, teeming with ideas that may be good, bad, or some mixture of the two. Either way, Latin America has more than proven that it can guide its own way towards progress and development in culture, politics, economics, and so on.