Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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    Synopsis

    In this passage, Manoel Bomfim advocates the importance of education for the development of Latin American countries. According to Bomfim, instruction, especially of the lower classes, was the only possible path to progress. He starts the text with an historical analysis of the continent’s colonization, stating that the hegemonic classes and the Church became “parasites” of the State, with no real desire to change a social arrangement that was beneficial to them. To him, the dominant classes in Latin America maintained the characteristics of Iberian colonialism, which were mainly conservatism as well as  a strong resistance to change. The lower classes were kept in ignorance and apathy, waiting for a magical solution to their misery. For the author, Latin Americans were not the agents, but the victims, of an unjust past, and he questions the fatalistic belief in the inherent inferiority of these people. Although Bomfim recognizes the contemporary inferiority of Latin American countries, he saw the possibility of change through education. To convince the reader, Bomfim mentions a series of beneficial effects of education; for instance, as the cause for progress in science. More importantly, he highlights the role of education as a catalyst for action; an educated population does not blindly accept “obedience,” which has been the cause of Latin America’s inertia. The Brazilian author proclaims that he was against those who believed that instruction was an instrument of perversion, and instead emphasizes the importance of convincing the dominant classes about the urgency of universal instruction. He concludes with the acknowledgment that he and the ones who follow him might be seen by the conservatives as utopists, but he is convinced of the righteousness of his position. After the end of the text, Bomfim included a chart comparing the Brazilian government’s investments in the maintenance of the State, the payment of the external debt, and in public services, including education.

    Annotations

    The following passage is excerpted from the conclusion to the book, Males de Origem, written by Brazilian physician and historian Manoel Bomfim (1868–1932). When it was published in 1903 (Rio de Janeiro, H. Garnier, Livreiro-Editor) it incited a tremendous polemic between Bomfim—himself a staunch defender of Brazil’s historical miscegenation—and the well-known literary critic, Sílvio Romero (1851-1914), who argued for the country’s “whitening” as a means of remedying its underdevelopment.