Popular Culture


I like to think of nationalism in terms of national sovereignty, the desire of nations to govern themselves and determine their own future. For Latin American nations, self determination, or national sovereignty, has been hard fought. 

As the wars of independence in the 19th century came to a close, much of Latin America lay in ruins, populated by different cultures, languages, ethnicities, and races separated over a huge continent with a rough terrain.  Progressive and forward looking forces in many Latin American countries sought to create sovereign nations.  It was a process that often came up against real barriers, especially when the political aspirations of Latin American countries and leaders conflicted with the designs of powerful local bosses, foreign corporations and their governments, especially from the US.  If Latin American nations lacked sovereignty, it was not for lack of trying.  Mexico fought a revolution in 1910 and maybe gained the strongest sense of national identity of many nations of Latin America, and leaders emerged in Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, all organizing around programs of national sovereignty. But victories were few.

That’s why the Cuban Revolution in 1959 was such a tremendous break from the past.   When a 33 year old Fidel Castro, led a guerilla army of even younger men and a few women into Havana in January, 1959, all of Latin America, especially the youth, took notice.  People who had waited patiently (or not-so-patiently) to share in their nations’ wealth and witness a leveling of gross inequalities, or whose hopes had been raised by reform governments subsequently overthrown by traditional elites, military, or external forces, were inspired by this event.  The Cuban Revolution has had its failures for sure; nonetheless, it provided a kind of David against the US Goliath. It inspired a generation in Latin America to define a national identity.