These metaphors are not original and are in fact presented and developed by Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Luis Borges. They are expanded and adapted in this unit in two ways: the orginal list of three artists and three painting is expanded to a much longer list, and the art is connected to films and literature. The glue to this unit is the overall theme of race and ethnicity in Latin America, which encompasses these varied metaphors. Fuentes includes Botero´s painting,
La familia presidencial
, Rufino Tamayo´s painting,
El jaguar y la serpiente
, and Lam´s painting,
. I have included the other artists and authors because in some way they deal with the themes of race and ethnicities in Latin America.
Fuentes includes Wifredo Lam to show the African influence in his paintings, and I expanded that section by developing the theme of santería and connecting Lam to Nicolás Guillén, a celebrated Afro-Antillean poet who examined in poetry the themes of African music, religion, and ancestry.Fuentes includes Botero to show Colombian preocuppation with military and religious symbols and to show his ubiquitous fat people as an example of the ability of Latin Americans to laugh at themselves and their foibles. I expanded that section by showing more of his artwork to my students than just the one:
La Familia Presidencial
, and I challenged my students to connect his artistic message and political commentary with the magical realism and political commentary of another Colombian, Gabriel García Márquez, who is on the list of recommended AP authors. Fuentes includes Rufino Tamayo to show the indigenous culture of Mexico in his painting
El jaguar y la serpiente
. I expanded that by introducing two other Mexican painters who draw heavily on the indigenous presence of Mexico: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. I chose them in order to introduce the muralists of Mexico and to include a woman artist. Although the emphasis is on Latin America, I have included some Spanish artists and authors because Spain is part of the Latin American mix, and because the AP students are expected to read intensively about Federico García Lorca. Spanish teachers may create different lists for their classes, as suggested by student needs and interests.
The central metaphor is the one offered by Carlos Fuentes in his book and films of the same title:
The Buried Mirror
.(2) He states that the connection between Latin America, Spain, and Latinos in the United States is similar to a series of mirrors that reflect back and forth across the ocean. He notes the importance of mirrors in history, art, and literature. He mentions the mirrors of Don Quixote, the mirror of Velázquez, the mirror of Quetzalcóatl, and the buried mirror of the indigenous populations of Mexico. He proposes that the Hispanic culture in general has several levels and compares that multiplicity or complexity to a mirror that lies partly concealed, partly buried. (3) It is the challenge of all students of Spanish culture and literature to examine this conceit and develop their own buried mirror after careful examination of their own ethnic background.
A related theme to that of the buried mirror is that of the buried city. Throughout the conquest of Latin America, it was the custom of Spanish conquistadores to raze the indigenous cities and build their cities on top, effectively burying the ancient city in an effort to eradicate the older culture. Mexico City is an example of this burial, in that the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán lies buried under the modern Mexico City. The painting by Antonio Ruiz of
illustrates this buried identity (4). It shows a sleeping Aztec woman, La Malinche, under a blanket that is weighed down by an intricate system of buildings, a city in effect. Beneath the reality of one culture or city is the physical reality of an older culture which may lie dormant but will never be forgotten by its people.
Some authors have commented on this brutal custom of the Spanish conquistadores to destroy a sacred site or vibrant city and construct a Spanish building. Luis Recalde writes in his Curriculum Unit 99.02.10 that the Spanish tried to "destroy and bury the cultures of the Natives, as in the classic case of Tenochtitlan." He notes that the Spanish gained control of the conquered population as they physically destroyed symbols of their past and their present, including religious centers and religious buildings. (5). For purposes of this unit, students may benefit by reading about the conquistadores in Mexico, in order to understand the message of Ruiz' painting, A recommended source for teachers and students is the book by Luis Rivera Pagán, entitled
Evangelización y Violencia: La Conquista de América
, cited by Recalde in his 1999 unit: Art Images of Tenochtitlan-Past and Present: The Case of the Virgin of Guadalupe. (6)
In literature, this buried background may be found in the poem of Nicolás Guillén, in his poem entitled The Ballad of My Two Grandfathers. One of the grandfathers is a white Spanish conquistador, whereas the other grandfather is an African slave. They had never met, but the author is the grandson of these two men and he joins them in his poem, that they may finally dialogue and discover what they have in common. After reading this poem, students could write their own poems about their grandparents and their backgrounds.
The metaphor of the mirror itself, without being a buried mirror, may be examined in the legends of Quetzalcóatl,and the figure of Don Quijote by Cervantes. Don Quijote, for instance, has as one of his names the lord of the mirrors. He saw life through mirrors and not clearly, as did others. Rather than windmills, he sees monsters about to attack him. Rather than an innkeepers´ daughter, he sees a lovely damsel in distress. The legend of Quetzalcóatl tells that this Aztec god was thrown into turmoil after viewing himself in a mirror, and fled his country in disgrace, promising to return to this people on a certain year. That prophesied year, the Aztecs were not surprised to see their god returning, and mistook Hernán Cortés for their departed god. Students may read these stories and legends as literature, reflections of a culture, and as points of departure for discussion and writing.
Another metaphor I will use in this unit is the aleph. In the Hebrew alphabet, the aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, the alpha. The aleph is described by the noted author, Jorge Luis Borges, as a point in time and space where you can clearly see all your past, present, and future, and it is all revealed to you at the same time. Carlos Fuentes sees in the Aleph the answer to his question of who are the Spanish-speaking people. Fuentes describes Hispanics as a Spanish-speaking people, a people of Hispanic background, from Spain, yet combined or mixed with African, Moorish, and Jewish blood. When the Spanish came to the Americas, the diversity continued with the Africans and the Native Americans. His message is that the Hispanic people are the past and present at the same time, and are of many cultures at the same time. Thus, the Hispanic culture may be viewed as an Aleph, where all may be seen at the same time, without confusion.
These ideas and metaphors of Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Luis Borges are very deep and challenge the students to use their imaginations and higher thinking skills to comprehend them and to apply them to Latin America today. I have found my students respond well to these intellectual challenges and it is my challenge as a teacher to facilitate discussions, help students analyze and apply the concepts and metaphors, and suggest artistic and writing activities so that students may show evidence of their grasp of these themes.
As compared to the mirror, which reflects and at times distorts, but nevertheless reveals much to you, especially if you look at the buried mirror, the aleph discloses all to you in one blinding moment. Students will study the aleph as a metaphor, read Borges´story entitled
, as well as other stories in the book of the same title, and design their own alephs, in written form as well as in original illustrations.
Note on the metaphor of the mirror: The authors and artists who explicitly use the metaphor of the mirror, buried mirror or buried city are so indicated. However, the author of this unit has used the metaphor of the mirror in a broader way, to include reflections, distortions, and omissions. The other authors and artists have been included because the way they handle the discussion of race and ethnic identity suggests an understanding of the multiple ethnic layering that inherently includes the concept of more than one, as in more than one ethnicity, with the likelihood that one is viewed and one is kept hidden or buried. What is perhaps buried in the Americas is the history of the native americans, the precolombian civilizations, and the ensuing African presence. What is perhaps buried in Spain is the history of oppression of the gypsies and the persecution and expulsion of the Moors and Jews.