(Contra)Construct: Poetics, praxis and pathways to undertaking Latinx futurity

by Ezequiel Nicolas Gonzalez // Columbia College ’21

the beat of the candombe drums

on a night of carnaval,

sings colors into the air,

of red, red,

yellow,

blue.

they breathe in time

to the ocean air,

telling us not to

worry,

for the music of the

street?

can never die,

and comes back every 

year.

for us.

How can we attempt to envision a Latinx futurity, how can we imagine a liberation of Latin America and her peoples, when Latinidad in and of itself is a project born out of violence, dispossession, and coloniality? This project postulates that the reimagining of Latinx futurity must come as an act of counter-construction (or contra-construcción) whereby we shift the lexicon away from the project of pan-Latinidad towards one of decolonial re-imagination—termed in this paper as Latinx futurity. In order to understand and achieve this poetic and practical space, however, it becomes necessary to attempt a destruction of the subject of Latinidad itself, opting instead for a revised focus on action-based and non-discursive forms of contextual praxis, leading us towards a better understanding of a way forward, out of the oppressive ciclo colonial, and into a new form of being. Thus, this project explores the routes to Latinx futurity via poetics and praxis, offering a renewed focus via contra-construcción that can allow us to see a pathway towards a liberated Latinoamérica, beyond the present bounds of the imagination. 

 [There’s this distinct feeling I get that there is a small bird beneath my sternum, fluttering its wings against the walls of my ribs, my chest, my heart.  I’ve tried translating this idea to my family, and my grandmother laughs, says the golondrina is the bird that flies closest to the people, and is the only reason we know we are still alive. I ask her why the golondrina always flutters, but never sings, and her brow creases. She has nothing to sing about, mi amor. She was caged—she cannot see where she is, cannot see where her wings are extending.]

the dance of the

murguista in

perfect sync with

the clouds overhead,

curling with 

laughter, 

crying in

saltwater,

breathing in 

life. 

 life.  

On this question of the destruction of the subject of Latinidad, it is critical to understand what it means to use this term, and what its destruction actually implies before moving into a discussion of counter-construction. Historical political projects in Latin America that have focused on pan-Latinx unity—Bolivarianismo, Artiguismo, Federalismo, etc.—have often been undergirded by a shared criollo perspective that violently rejects non-white worldviews in its pursuance of a shared political identity. Furthermore, the Bolivarian conceptualization of the “shared middle species” of mestizaje as a central unifying ethno-identity encompassing Latin America exists as an exclusionary practice, as Black and Indigenous voices are directly suppressed, maintaining a “pan-Latinx” identity that is directly forged out of colonial violence and maintained by white liberal political power. Even our conceptualization of “America” as a coherent entity comes out of coloniality, as Walter Mignolo states in La idea de América Latina: “America was never a continent that needed to be discovered, but rather an invention forged out of…European colonial history and consolidation.” The destruction of Latinidad thus means the destruction of the exclusionary myth of “pan-Latinidad” as an ethno-national identity, as well as the rupturing of what Sylvia Rivera Cuisicanqui terms the “ciclo colonial” or “colonial cycle” in which there is a “profound substratum of mentalities and social practices” that maintain the logic of coloniality, despite superficial bureaucratic changes or reforms1. In “destroying Latinidad,” we choose to subvert the underlying logic of coloniality that maintains its focus on this politicized identity predicated on proximity to whiteness, ethno-nationalism, and the accumulation of wealth via generational dispossession.

[In school, we had to dissect mammals in order to understand how our bodies work, and so I believe I must do the same. I stole a few scalpels from the university bookstore and snuck into the library at midnight, hoping to solve this issue once and for all, hearing my grandmother whisper in my ear as I huddled in the dim light of the stacks of books. The first incision cut straight to the bone, and in surprise I jolted back, knocking down a blue-capped book from the shelf and causing a flutter in my chest.]

The destruction of the subject of Latinidad thus allows for a revived conceptualization to take its place, an action-based verb orienting us towards the space of decolonial re-imagination that I have termed Latinx futurity. This action, counter-construction (or contra-construcción), directly works to dismantle the logic of coloniality which underpins our current conceptualization of Latinidad, using anti-hegemonic voices and visualizations to deconstruct, imagine, and build a revived space of liberation and revitalization. Contra-construcción is thus a project and methodology whereby the major components must be generational healing through non-discursive forms, literal solidarity with other decolonial projects in the world, and the active rejection of capitalism and neoliberal reformism in Latin America and beyond.

the last time we 

smelled our native

air 

was through the 

skin of the drum

stretched across 

a notebook,

tapping in 

rhythm to the

colors in the 

air:

red, red,

yellow,

blue.

[I complete the first incision, and tap my sternum with my fingertips, feeling something tap back in tempo, as though communicating in a secret code. I look around for the blue-capped book, grasp its spine, position in front of my chest, and slam the book against my sternum with a hollow crack. There is a flash of splinters, and…and there she was, for just a second, disappearing among the dust but leaving me with her fleeting stare and the whisper of a melody. I was left alone in the dim light with nothing but the blue-capped book in one hand and a stolen scalpel in the other.]

Martin Álvarez Fabela theorizes that in the late 20th century, Latin America shared a common memory in response to authoritarian repression which in contemporary politics has perhaps been reified, suggesting that memory can be used a tool, not just for formal thought, but literal autoconstruction in the face of trauma. This reorientation of memory suggests a massive communal power which can be used as a central force in contra-construcción: as Rigoberta Menchú notes in her autobiography, “the only road open to me is our struggle…I am convinced that the people, the masses are the only ones capable of transforming society. It’s not just another theory.” The rejection of theory in this case suggests instead a revitalized focus on praxis, and the reorientation of memory towards the process of generational healing is the first step in any attempt at healing the colonial wound in the Latinx consciousness.

the notebook

sang in our 

tongue,

inaudible to

the written eye,

speaking in 

rhythms,

in waves,

in colors.

[I’m walking through Central Park on a Saturday in January, looking up at the buildings as the dimming twilight slants its rays towards the city. The last streams of sunlight streak across as I cross the park, and through my headphones, Nina Simone plays against my ears, singing of freedom, of dreaming impossible futures. And in hearing her sing, suddenly I feel the tempo beneath my sternum again, that secret code between my golondrina and me, my own freedom incarnate.] 

But the reorientation of memory is not enough to form a cohesive praxis towards liberation: contra-construcción also necessitates solidarity with decoloniality beyond just Latin America, as well as a shared active rejection of capitalism and neoliberal reformism in practice and thought. As Enriqué Dussel notes in Ethics of Liberation, the first step in auto-consciousness of the Other must first be initiated through solidarity, as the “future” community is anticipated by the community of the victims themselves and their allies.” This solidarity with decolonial movements across the world allows for an active massive corps of resistance to take literal form, as solidarity can then lead to a rejection of the multifaceted violence of dispossession and coloniality that continues to subjugate those termed as “the Other”. Moreover, in order to imagine Latinx futurity through contra-construcción, it is critical to work against the machinery of capitalism and the specific arenas of extractivism, reactionary politics, and resource violence that particularly affect Black and Indigenous communities in Latin America. This necessitates among other things, the refusal to adhere to the ideals of “development” as directed by neoliberal reformists, and instead working to realize what Maristella Svampa terms “una gira ecoterritorial” a new language of valorization within an indigenous-community matrix that, in conversation with Bonneuil & Fressoz, leads to a rejection of extractivism and a “rematerialized and ecologized” response to capitalism and its human impacts. Conceptualizations of “post-development” and “post-extractivism” in Latin America work in conjunction with local cosmovisiones in rejection to the invisible hand, demonstrating the necessity to move past the language of European frameworks, choosing instead to counter-construct through the work currently being done by those most affected (i.e. Black, Indigenous, queer, femme people deemed “underdeveloped”). In other words, Latinx futurity must not be a project of political or electoral reformism, but rather a conceptual shift within the existing work of Indigenous resistance that opposes the neoliberal projects of dispossession and violence with a radically ecological focus on the Earth. 

and i remember 

myself in the

embrace

of those drums,

in the waves

imprinting their

romance on

the song.

Contra-construcción is thus a reorientation of communal memory towards popular healing, actively finding solidarity with decoloniality beyond Latin America, and vigorously shifting our conceptualizations against neoliberal reformism towards a radical praxis, centered on Indigenous voices and their current ecological activism. This praxis centers itself on non-discursive forms of knowledge and communication, disengaging from the historical subjugation of the “empire of words” provided by rigid European forms of engagement, and choosing a path to Latinx futurity via the collective through united voice(s), poetics, and direct popular action.

and i remember 

myself in 

the dancers,

arching their backs

in conversation

with the sky above.

laughing.

[I see her, for just a second. Her head capped in a brilliant cap of blue feathers, her red face seemingly smiling at me— and in that stare is when I hear her for the first time, elevating her melody beyond a whisper and into a full song. Her stories of heartbreak and liberation fill my ears as saltwater falls from eyes, her wings gliding into the clouds while the wound in front of my sternum pulsates with life, the rhythm in time with her song.]

This project of contra-construcción relies on the concept of re-imagining Latinx futurity, which requires a process of poetics, performance, and non-discursive elements guiding us towards what this space can be. In her work on Mapuche poetry, Maribel Curriao notes that art and writing can be (and is) re-appropriated by marginalized voices as a sociopolitical verb: a product of processes that contains power, and thus resistance. Macarena Gómez-Barris’ work also centers on the poetics of the borderland, and she contends that in these shifting creative narratives, we find “modes of seeing, living, and…sources of exchange [that exist] as alternatives to the destructive path that is extractive capitalism.” Contra-construcción must therefore be contextualized through these forms of knowledge, redirected from the tools of the academy, and focused instead on the imagination of Latinx futurity through poetics, performance, and activism in Latin America, which is already being undertaken by Black, Indigenous, queer, and femme voices, and which need not be overwritten by the institutional coloniality of institutions in the Global North. Even the use of words like contra-construcción denotes the limitations imposed by settler-colonial language, worldviews, and concepts; Latinx futurity must therefore be a conversation guided by those not at the center of privilege (myself included), guided by the power of performatic, poetic, and prosaic imagination. As noted by Diana Taylor in her work on the archive, beyond its aesthetic elements, performance especially allows for a vital transfer of social memory, allowing precarious bodies to subvert the violence of a discursive archive: precisely demonstrating the work that can be done through contra-construcción in imagining Latinx futurity. The works cited in this piece focused on Mapuche poetry, indigenous autobiography, and intersectional vision point to the very work of contra-construcción in action, allowing us to see the pioneering work of these authors and artists in reimagining what the future of Latin America can be: free from the systems of accumulation and reformism, and breaking the colonial cycle towards an action of liberation, peace, and understanding. We see Latinoamérica beyond its construction, eventually finding a home in the beyond that we must create through its very dissolution: reimagining what we can become.

and i remember

myself in 

the colors—

the red, red,

yellow,

blue

that breathe in time

to the ocean air,

telling us not to

worry:

for the music of the

street?

can never die.

she comes back every 

year, after all.

for us.

[How do you translate the feeling you get when your chest fills up with air and finds no resistance? I’ve tried translating this feeling to my family, and my niece laughs, saying the lightness within her chest is the only reason she knows we are still alive. 

And finally, finally I feel like my golondrina is free. I see her traverse the winds of my imagination, freely extending her wings, and singing, singing the most beautiful song. I extend my hand to reach for her, and she soars beyond my grasp, leaving the buildings of the city behind, flying towards the open sea ahead.]

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