The Americas

Mario Vargas Llosa was named the 2010 Nobel laureate for literature, an award which I feel is eminently deserved — of all the major Latin American novelists, I find Vargas Llosa to have the firmest grasp on both history and humanity, and the interrelationship between the two; the manner in which structures of power impact individual lives as they shape society at large.  In honor of his honor, Harper’s published this essay of his, written in 1991 but still relevant, discussing the Spanish conquest of indigenous cultures and the rather grotesque means of modernity that have contributed to their continued extermination.  One of the takeaways is the importance of honest historicity: once we begin to romanticize our past, to tell foundational fables rather than look to facts, we run the risk not only of absolving prior sins but justifying present-day oppression or misdirection.  In North America, or at least in America, we are less tormented by our relationship to our native peoples than are our southern neighbors — but perhaps it is only because our founding myths have come to be taken as truth, only to our detriment.

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