Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art Home


Document first page thumbnail

In the early twentieth century, Europe—which had, until that time, been Latin America’s cultural referent par excellence—was deeply immersed in a devastating socio-economic crisis brought about as a result of the First World War. Fascism and the rise of socialism were two factors that, in the Americas, demanded a redefinition of the relationship between the peaceful coexistence of Latin American countries and the European crisis. In this vein, the Uruguayan poet Emilio Oribe envisioned a Latin American continental culture that, though hardly devoid of significant differences, was nonetheless able to assume the most fundamental traits of Europe’s humanist tradition. In his opinion, this should not involve any form of political or cultural dependency on any of the major historical Western powers. Oribe describes the complex Latin American cultural panorama as a spectrum of ideological mediations situated somewhere between two radically different poles: the “Americanist” and the fanatical “Europeanist” position.   


In the early twentieth century, several Latin American governments and members of the intellectual elite hoped to change the existing dependent relationships that existed between Europe and Latin America. Political and cultural factors helped to consolidate “Americanist” feelings with obvious anti-imperialist reactions. Noted figures, such as the Cuban writer José Martí (1853–95) and the Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó (1871–1917), among many others, contributed to that process, without rejecting fundamental aspects of Europe’s cultural legacy. In the 1930s the United States encouraged the creation of “Pan-Americanism”—a political, economic, and social movement that allowed the US to foster relationships and a spirit of cooperation among Latin American countries. The goal of this initiative was to develop a new set of relationships between the old European colonies and the New World.     


The poet Emilio Oribe (1893–1975) belonged to the generation of writers that came after the “Generación del Novecientos,” for whom the positivism of that earlier group had to be relativized to accommodate a moral idealism as well as a philosophical idealism. In his article, in fact, the author states that, despite the growing perception of a specifically “American” identity, the continent’s European heritage had never been denied. Even though it was at war, Europe was still a referent for Latin American intellectuals. An event that should be noted, which is mentioned in Oribe’s article, is one of a cultural nature: Pen International’s Annual Conference, which was held in Buenos Aires in 1936, underscored the cultural bonds that existed between Latin America and Europe. At its Conference, Pen sought consensus among thinkers of different nationalities about certain political ideals. Though Latin America presented itself at the event as a descendant of Western civilization—accepting a role of solidarity in the face of the disasters and chaos that had befallen Europe—other Latin American intellectuals argued that our continent had reached adulthood and had transcended the boundaries of Western culture, therefore claiming that culture as their own, though without excluding the region’s indigenous and African heritage. In other words, some Latin Americans thought that, despite the continent’s diversity, it was time to lay claim to a new humanism that was compatible with the specific nature of Latin America’s current social conditions; whereas others were more interested in respecting the region’s “filial” commitment to Western culture.

Marina Garcia, Gabriel Peluffo
Archivo Joaquín Aroztegui