In this International Issues class, with a focus on racism, imperialism, capitalism, and white supremacy, it is necessary to consider the actions of the United States and the impact on communities around the globe. Establishing historical context by teaching students about the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary is necessary. Students can study the motivations for these policy decisions and then put excerpts of the primary sources in conversation with additional sources that represent the “roads not taken.”
Students should first review the chronology and geography of the 19th century revolutions and independence movements in Central and South America.17 Students can use these maps to create a two columned chart of countries that declared independence before and after 1823 to highlight the significance of the Monroe Doctrine’s date, while also documenting their questions as they compare and contrast the maps. Students should also have an opportunity to review maps that document the pre-Columbian period in order to reinforce the counter narrative that questions the role of borders, boundaries, and nation states in the discussion of international issues.18 By using these maps as a foundation to critique U.S. policy decisions, students can uncover the trapped emancipatory energies and consider the lost alternatives altered by colonization, war, and imperialism.
Before students engage with the documents, they should work in small groups to predict the motivations for these two presidential policies. To support this, teachers can provide brief descriptions taken from the Department of State and Library of Congress websites found above. Questions to guide student discussion are: Why would the United States tell European nations they are no longer allowed to intervene in the Western Hemisphere? Why would the United States give itself the power to intervene in economic and political matters of other nations in the Western Hemisphere? Equipped with their own predictions, as well as important background knowledge, students can analyze excerpts from the primary sources while continuing to consider motivations, causes, and effects.
Once students have developed this content knowledge, they will be ready to put the sources into conversation with the voices who talk back to empire. The first is José Martí, a Cuban poet, writer, orator, statesman, and revolutionary philosopher. Roberto González Echevarría describes the world Martí envisioned: “A free Cuba ruled by love and justice, free of prejudice and oppression, exempt from arbitrary rule by military leaders, in harmonious commerce with the rest of the world, and enjoying absolute self-determination.”19 By including Martí’s writing in the discussion of the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary, students will be able to disrupt the inevitability of imperialism and consider new possibilities for international relations, peacemaking, and self-determination.
Martí’s essay, Nuestra America, was published in 1891; the same time the Cuban Revolutionary Party was forming. Martí references the need for a collective response to the imperialist encroachment of the United States into the Americas: “The trees must form ranks to keep the giant with seven-league boots from passing! It is the time of mobilization, of marching together, and we must go forward in close ranks, like silver in the veins of the Andes.”20 Students will be drawn to the references to the natural world including trees and silver in the Andes. Connections to environmental justice and the impact of imperialism on the natural resources and the climate can be useful here. In Nuestra America, Martí continues his critique:
The scorn of our formidable neighbor, who does not know us, is Our America's greatest danger. And since the day of the visit is near it is imperative that our neighbor knows us, and soon, so that it will not scorn us. Through ignorance it might even come to lay hands on us. Once it does know us, it will remove its hands out of respect.21
The assumption Martí expresses runs counter to the dominant narrative of U.S. imperialism and militarism disguised as diplomacy and support for democracy. Students can discuss the counter narrative that comes through clearly in Martí’s work.
Martí’s writing also represents the connection between anti-militarist and socialist counter narratives. Not only does Martí critique late 19th century U.S. imperialism, he critiques the unequal distribution of wealth in the United States during the same period. Martí wrote about class warfare in Chicago in 1886: “This republic in its excessive worship of wealth, has fallen, without any of the restraints of tradition, into the inequality, injustice and violence of the monarchies.”22 By describing the counter narrative expressed in this text selection, students will practice making connections between anti-imperialist and socialist traditions.
The second voice of resistance to put into conversation with the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary, and José Martí is from CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, an organization founded in the United States in 1980 who continue their work today. Their Mission Statement reads: “We are a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting the Salvadoran people’s struggle for self-determination and social and economic justice. The alternative that they are building –an alternative based upon democratic and socialist ideals–is an example to all people who seek a world free of domination and exploitation.”23 Students can describe how the CISPES Mission Statement echoes the ideas of José Martí while also being a direct response to the two presidential policies. In addition, students can explore the lost alternatives contained in CISPES’ three basic goals:
- To end U.S. economic, political and military intervention in El Salvador and by extension Central America, the Caribbean, and all of the Americas. In the current context we work to end U.S.-imposed global economic policies that devastate local cultures and economies, specifically in El Salvador.
- To give political and material support to the grassroots movement in El Salvador for self-determination, economic democracy and social justice. The groups we strive to support and collaborate with include labor, women’s, youth, LGBT and other grassroots organizations. We stand in solidarity with the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), as we have since our founding, because of its central role in building a new, egalitarian society.
- To help build a broad-based progressive U.S. social movement and an international, working-class led movement for economic and social justice.
Students can make connections between these goals and their previous work on human rights and the UDHR. They can see how the work of an organization like CISPES connects to the themes of anti-imperialism, self-determination, and economic justice, while also collaborating with women, youth and LGBT organizations. After exploring the CISPES website, students can visualize, discuss, and plan how communities build egalitarian societies. In an International Issues course designed to address the racism embedded in the dominant narratives of U.S. foreign policy and imperialism, it is important to highlight texts of resistance when teaching about the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary. Students will be able to deconstruct the monolithic message of U.S. dominance and analyze specific critiques of this dominant narrative.