the beginning of colonisation, whereby the indigenous society was almost
totally decimated, to the 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean,
there has always been a weight placed on the position of identity. Lynch
defines the emergence of Hispanic national identity as the ‘conviction that
Americans were not Spaniards’1.
He argues that the development of modern American society was a ‘metamorphosis
ignored by Spain’.2
One understands from this that the American identity was birthed from enlightenment
to the alienism they felt towards a weakened Iberia. The importance of this
national identity was continually stressed in the independence campaign of
Simón Bolívar. Arguably, he capitalised on this notion of national identity to
suit his Creole purpose in political autonomy from Spain. Additionally, it was consequence
of a prejudiced sense of identity and a lack of common racial and cultural identities
that shaped the lasting problematic socio-economic systems of Latin America. Therefore,
one cannot discuss Hispanic independence and its lasting impressions on Latin
American society without considering identity’s role.
belief in the ‘patria’ vs. Europe can be used to demonstrate the significance
of Latin American identity. His political thought was crucial to the
achievement of independence. The notion of a separate, national identity was
the vessel through which he garnered support for the independence movement and
led to Latin America’s emancipation from Spain. With what Belaunde describes as
‘masterly language and prophetic vision’3,
Bolívar employed a rhetoric of the ‘nation as family’4,
stating in The Angostora Address that ‘the blood of our citizens is different;
let us mix it to unify it’5and
‘unity unity unity should be our motto’6.
Here he places a clear emphasis on the importance of a collective national
identity and the insignificance of the individual races and cultures that the
continent was built on. There is no regard however for the ethnological issues
that faced American society. Thus, one has to disagree with Belaunde’s view
that ‘Bolívar had as no other man of the revolution, a clear and penetrating
grasp of his problems, his spired outlook took in all the vast and complicated panorama
of the continent’7.
As a creole, Bolívar did not make any significant effort to understand the
importance of the issues faced by blacks, indigenous peoples or mestizos,
described by Chasteen as a totally ‘parallel society’8.
seems that Bolívar’s ‘hymns of oneness’9
were essentially devices of independence propaganda and can be understood as
evidence of his idealism regarding a common national identity. The ‘lyrical
in which he preached for a collective identity reveals this schism from
reality. Consequently one has to side with Ching in his claim that Bolívar’s
‘concept of hybridization does not resolve the question of cultural identity’11.
Additionally his preaches of unity hint of his self-righteousness, whereby he
believed he was destined to liberate Spain’s colonies from colonial rule.
Further, it calls into question how much genuine thought he held to keeping that
unity and love for the ‘patria’ amongst all post independence.
Naro states that
‘the questions of the relationship, necessary or contingent, between identity
and independence cannot be easily avoided’12.
Arguably the ethnological issues highlighted by Bolivar’s incredibly sweeping
assumptions on race and culture reveals that events such as the Battle of Junin
under his leadership were successful despite a crisis of cultural identity, not
because of a great American identity. Naro further strengthens this claim of an
American identity crisis, arguing that ‘there never existed a uniform identity,
political or otherwise’13.
For example, one has to consider that despite their large proportion of the
population, blacks were not granted access to any position of power, economic
status or societal advancement unlike Creoles.
led Mexican rebellion and supressed Peruvian anti-colonial rebellion in the late
18th Century by Túpac Amaru II both demonstrate a common identity and
goal amongst the native populations. However, these early attempts at
independence reveal no desire of supra-nationalism or national unity with the
other races or countries in Latin America. Indeed, even from the beginning of
colonization there was this assumption of common identity across the Indian
population by the Spanish, despite the
Indians of different provinces feeling ‘as remote from each other as might
Scots from Slovaks’14.
In this way, one supposes Lynch to be accurate in his view that ‘the colonial
origins of national identity also prescribed its limits’15.
It is clear through the generalising notions of Bolivar that ‘national
perceptions were confined to Creoles’16
and that ‘incipient nationalism was a predominantly Creole nationalism’17.
Arguably then a more accurate assessment is that that the importance of
identity in achieving independence was not sourced from Bolívar’s belief in a
collective national identity. Rather, the importance of identity came from
those who were desperate to stop the colonisers from destroying their
individual racial and cultural heritage.
This belief is
shared by Barry, who argues that in the context of Latin American history,
identity is a crucial factor because it is an ‘arena for struggle’18.
Perhaps by using this notion of struggle one can go further to suppose that if
the concept of the inherent national identity that Bolívar envisioned was not
accurate, potentially there was a semblance of collective feeling. Instead, the
individual provinces and identities joined together in a unified national front
against further colonisation; this was the bigger issue. Naro concurs, stating
that this collective identity was not inherent but instead something ‘that had
to be constantly created, mediated and negotiated in order to maintain a stable
assessment of identity, one can’t ignore Guerra’s view that ‘our understanding
of Spanish American independence has been distorted’20.
He argues that the Creoles wanted to ‘distinguish their own identities and
create separate states from within this Hispanic world of multi-ethnic
and that the move towards independence was ‘largely contingent on external
However one has to challenge this claim as Bolívar, a Creole, built his
political theory on the admittedly ‘colourfully pejorative’23
belief of the nation as one, using phrases such as ‘the magnanimous character
of our nation’24
in his letters to illustrate this love for the nation, even remarking that ‘it
is preferable to live for the patria, even in chains, than to exist in sad
inactivity outside it’25.
This supports Castro-Klaréns’s view that ‘the wars of independence themselves
powerfully shaped national identities in Latin America’26.
Therefore, it is clear
that one has to attribute the lasting successes of independence as a whole to
both a collective national identity, and the upholding of distinct cultural and
racial identities across the modern day continent. The lasting impressions of
Bolívar’s attempts to foster a national identity are clear in his namesakes of
Bolivia and the Republica Boliviano in Venezuela. Despite the differences in
race, culture and religion, it appears that within each individual country,
there is a clear sense of national belonging and character. Thus, we can posit
that to assess American identity, Ortiz’ theory of transculturation27
must be utilised. It was neither an immediate sense of a united national
identity nor the efforts of solely the Creoles or the Mestizos for example.
Rather, identity is so significant because it enabled the homogenising of race
and culture in the quest for independence; it gave a newly autonomous community
post independence the opportunity to explore individual identities and become
the collective of countries they are today.