A couple of weeks ago, I declared my areas of study: Latin American and Caribbean studies, as well as political science. Since then, a lot has gone through my mind. As a Latin American and Caribbean studies major, I’ve been thinking about my experiences as a Latino student in the United States. As a political science major, I’ve been thinking about the upcoming American elections and recalling the past two years of this country’s politics under Trump.
On Trump’s inauguration day, I fell sick. I was in a hospital chair back in São Paulo with an IV drip hooked to my left arm when he gave his first speech as president of the United States. I remember thinking, in true Latin-American fashion, that Trump’s victory was neither worse nor better than Obama’s—whatever ways the United States had found to exploit and dominate its backyard, through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, would continue regardless. Reflecting over two years later, I find that while I was wrong about the extent of Trump’s overtly destructive politics, I was right about these policies’ long-standing tradition.
I was wrong because the magnitude of Trump’s impact on Latin America has exposed the wounds that countries south of the border have struggled to conceal for too long. His toxic rhetoric spreads like wildfire among long-standing elites throughout the subcontinent, unveiling histories of domination and violence. In turn, these elites have overtly displayed their hunger for more power, all the while furthering the idea that their lives are worth more than others in the fabric of society. They go to great lengths to preserve privileges left to them by their great-grandfathers, who waged wars to assure freedom from Europe while preserving brutal class domination in their nascent countries.
The dynamics that enable and support North American domination over Latin America cannot work without Latinx domestic elites, who are encouraged by Trump’s ultra-nationalistic, white supremacist discourse. The two find their point of convergence in ideals of national primacy that attempt to mask socioeconomic domination. On the international level, Trump and the whole U.S. government constitute one of two parts of an engine of inequality, with the Latin-American upper and upper-middle classes comprising the other part. Not at all by accident, the biggest dream of elite children in Latin America is to visit Disney World, while the biggest dream of their parents is to see their kids ascend into Ivy League institutions.
But I was also right—because this two-part engine is in no way a novelty; rather, with Trump, it has merely updated its operating system. America’s confidence in its interventionist practices spans over a century. As a system, it began with the Monroe Doctrine in the 1800s, evolved and continued throughout the U.S.’s outrageous support of the brutal military regimes in Chile and various other countries, and persists today through the funding and equipment of assassin paramilitary troops in El Salvador, just to mention one example.
These imperialist strategies bode well for Latin-American elites because, by allying with them, the United States finds ways to indirectly perpetuate interventionism. Thus, Latinx upper classes benefit from their “Americanization", distancing themselves from local culture and economy, and supporting a host of often harmful U.S.-led endeavors in their societies. In essence, Latin-American elites have given up the subcontinent’s identity and autonomy. For instance, Brazilian TV has been heavily clouded by American shows; Marvel movies are the highest-grossing; the ideal of Brazilian beauty is a tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed top model of German descent, married to an American football player, in the country with the largest population of African heritage outside of Africa. It has been a long time since the word “American” stopped defining citizens of all countries in this continent.
This system’s impact is not exclusive to Latin America and can be found in the United States’ relationship to other countries’ elites. And I am not saying this dominance of interventionist elites is exclusive to the United States either—my native land, Brazil, attempts to conceal similarly dark, although less far-reaching, tactics of oppression, including bloody South American wars, a long history of transatlantic slave trade, and celebrations of state-led torture and murder.
In case you find yourself not convinced at all by this column, try an observational study of these systems’ local impact: Consider the international Latin-American community at Columbia. How do its members "blend in" to the American way of life? How many would you not have guessed are international? What were the giveaways? Did these students benefit from an "elite education" in their home countries, and does “elite” exclusively connote a preparation for North American postsecondary education?
Then ask the same questions about students from other regions. The answers may surprise you, or not. They surely haven’t surprised me.
Gabriel is a sophomore in Columbia College studying political science, as well as Latin American and Caribbean studies. His sleep schedule has become somewhat more regular over the past month (!), but every so often you can still see late night rants on his Instagram stories @francog53. A Persistent Flaw runs alternate Thursdays.
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