“Latinidad”: From the “Colonial Creole Baroque Ethos” to the “National Creole Latin American Ethos” by Walter Mignolo

Latin America is actually a hyphenated concept with the hyphen hidden under the magic effect of the ontology of a subcontinent. By the mid-nineteenth century, the idea of America as a whole began to be divided, not so much in accordance with the nation-states as, rather, according to their imperial histories, which placed an Anglo America in the North and a Latin America in the South in the new configuration of the Western Hemisphere. At that moment, “Latin” America was the name adopted to identify the restauration of European Meridional, Catholic, and Latin “civilization” in South America and, simultaneously, to reproduce absences (Indians and Afros) that had already begun during the early colonial period. The history of “Latin” America after independence is the variegated history of the local elite, willingly or not, embracing “modernity” while Indigenous, Afro, and poor Mestizo/a peoples get poorer and marginalized. The “idea” of Latin America is that sad one of the elites celebrating their dreams of becoming moderns while they slide deeper and deeper into the logic of coloniality.

The idea of “Latin” America that came into view in the second half of the nineteenth century depended in varying degrees on an idea of “Latinidad” – “Latinity”, “Latinité” – that was being advanced by France. “Latinidad” was precisely the ideology unde which the identity of the ex-Spanish and ex-Portuguese colonies was located by natives as well as by Europeans) in the new global, modern/colonial world order. When the ideal of “Latinidad” was launched it had a particular purpose within European imperial conflicts and a particular function in redrawing the imperial difference. In the sixteenth century, Las Casas contributed to drawing the imperial difference by distinguishing Christians from the Ottoman Empire. By the nineteenth century the imperial difference had moved north, to the Iberian ex-colonies, the “idea” of Latin America emerged as a consequence of conflicts between imperial nations; it was needed by France to justify its civilizing mission in the South and its overt conflict with the US for influence in that area. France, as a country that joined the Reformation, could count itself in the same camp as England and Germany; but it was, at the same time, predominantly Latin and, hence, in historical contradistinction to the Anglo-Saxon.

In the late nineteenth century, France faced a British Empire that had just colonized India and parts of Africa and was in the process of strengthening its control over the commercial and financial markets in South America. Evidence of the competition posed from Britain can still be seen today ii nth presence of remnants of its railroad system in Latin American countries. The position officially assumed in France at that moment has endured and it is still present in the conflicts, tensions, and complicities within the European Union today. The concept of “Latinidad” was used in France by intellectuals and state officers to take the lead in Europe among the configuration of Latin countries involved in the Americas (Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France, itself) and allowed it also to confront the United States’ continuing expansion toward the South – its purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon, and its appropriation of vast swaths of territory from Mexico. White, Creole, and Mexico/a elites, in South America and the Spanish Caribbean islands, after independence from Spain adopted “Latinidad” to create their own postcolonial identity. Consequently, I am arguing that “Latin” America is not so much a subcontinent as it is the political project of Creole-Mexico/a elites. However, it ended up as being a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it created the site of a new (and the fifth) continental unit (a fifth side to the continental tetragon that had been in place in the sixteenth century). On the other hand, it lifted up the population of European descend and cursed the Indian and the Afro populations. Latin America was – therefore – a pre-existing entity, where modernity arrived and identity questions emerged. Rather, it was one of the consequences of reimagining of the modern/colonial world prompted by the double and interconnected processes of decolonization in the Americas and emancipation in Europe.

Nineteenth-century Colombian intellectual Torres Caicedo was a key figure in justifying and pushing forward the idea of “Latin” America. In Caicedo’s opinion, “There is Anglo-Saxon America, Danish America, Dutch America, etc.; there is also Spanish America, French America and Portuguese America; and therefore to this second group what other scientific name applies but Latin? Caicedo was a Francophile, spent much time in France, and maintained good relations with governmental and official spheres in that country. If this is one of the names that readily come to mind when “Latin” America is mentioned, the implication is clear. He was not the only one with such interests and he defended a very common geo-political position along the lines of French imperial interests. Of course, he does not “represent” everything that was being thought for whom, until recently, French “represented” the ideal in politics and literary culture. “Latinidad” came to refer to a Spanish and Portuguese government and an educated civil society in America that turned its face to France and its back to Spain and Portugal. In the same way as John Locke and other British thinkers, like David Hume and Thomas Hobbes, are associated with the political culture of the US, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire are associated with the political culture of “Latin” America.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, after several nation states originated as consequence of gaining independence from Spain, the idea of them as not of “Latin” but of “Spanish” America. The “Latinitée-Latinidad” was simply a global design imagined and implemented from France, how did it come to displace and replace Simón Bolívar’s “Confederation of Spanish American Nations”? One interpretation, advanced several years ago by eminent Uruguayan intellectual Arturo Ardao, held that the idea of “Latin” America materialized in a triangular complicity between French, Spanish, and Spanish American Creole intellectuals. In his opinion, Latin America came into being as part of the orientation of the Creole elites toward the intellectual leadership of France after Spain missed the train of modernity in the eighteenth century, and France became the model even for Spanish intelligentsia. What has been insinuated but not explored in detail is that the subjective foundation for a “Latin” American identity among the post-independence Creoles of Spanish descent was already being articulated in the colonies in the late seventeenth century. That moment was the colonial Baroque in the Spanish colonial possessions, and was different, for sure, from the continental Baroque in Spain as well as in France, Italy, and Germany. The idea of a “Spanish American Confederation” was a political and administrative identification, while “Latin” America touched different cords. It touched upon the subjectivity and it became the ethos of the emerging Creoles elites: it was the colonial Baroque ethos translated into a national Latin American ethos.  

The Baroque period, in the European arts and ideas, is known as a movement of seventeenth-century splendor between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. If the Renaissance has been characterized by symmetry of forms in the visual arts and humanism in letters and ideas, while the Enlightenment is known for secularism, for the celebration of Reason, for the emergence of a new social class and a new form of government (the nation-state_ together with that of the political economy associated with free trade and overcoming mercantilism, the Baroque was a period of the celebration of exuberance. In the history of ideas, it is associated with a consolidation of the autonomy of the subject in relation to the legitimacy of classical authors (Greek and Latin) as well as the church and God. In this sphere, the Baroque was “rest area” before the era of “revolution” and the call for emancipation launched by Immanuel Kant’s paragraph quote above. In Spain, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote is associated with the Baroque. The questioning of authority from the past is debated in the prologue as well as in the second part when Don Quixote reads his own adventure in a narrative recently published. That mirror effect, noted by Michel Foucault, singles out the moment of an epistemic break, in the history of Western thought and culture, in which the relation between the word and its reference is placed in question. For some, the Baroque is also associated with the “birth” of modernity. Economically, Europe in the sixteenth century (and particularly Spain, Portugal, France, and England) was enjoying enormous wealth generated in its colonies, in the “Indias Occidentales” and the “West Indies” (as England named its Caribbean possessions), and in “les Antilles” (as France named its own). The splendor of arts and ideas in Europe and in the European colonies goes hand in hand with the wealth generated in gold and silver mines, in the plantations of sugar, coffee, tobacco, cotton, in the appropriation of land and the exploitation of Indian and African labor. While the sixteenth century was one which only Spain and Portugal were the imperial powers in the newly “discovered lands” and wealth was mainly generated by the extraction of gold and silver, the seventeenth was the century in which the slave trade and Caribbean plantations peaked and European Atlantic countries enjoyed fully the benefits of colonial labor.

Above and beyond the colonial exploitation of labor, there was a also a Baroque in the colonies, mainly in the vice-royalties of Mexico and Peru. Baroque architecture can be found in other places like Guatemala, or Quito in Ecuador, as well as Salvador de Bahia and Ouro Preto in Brazil. At the surface level, the colonial Baroque in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies responded to the general tendencies of the continental Baroque in Spain. But there were “two Baroques”, really, in the colonies. The stat version was basically a “transplantation” of the Spanish and Portuguese elites in power, enjoying for themselves the wealth generated by the colonial economy. The Baroque of the state was also a lifestyle of consumption by the elite in power, from the Iberian peninsula. Spanish and Portuguese dominions in America had created, by the mid seventeenth century, important urban centers with complex demography. Mexico City was built over the ruins of Tenochtitlan; the colonial city of Cuzco in Peru was built over the ruins of the Inca Empire. Beyond the spaces controlled by the colonial administration and the peninsular elites in power, however, something else was burgeoning in the streets, in the plazas, in the market as well as in the peripheries of centers of intellectual production like monasteries, seminars, and, in the case of Lima and Mexico, universities. A marginal society of displaced Creoles existed alongside Indians and Mestizos/as, Blacks, and Mulatto/as. In the colonies, the Baroque was the expression of protests, complaint, rebellion, and critical consciousness by socially and economically displaced Creoles of Spanish descent. It was indeed the cry of the White Creoles feeling the pain of the colonial wound.

The Baroques of the Indies – at the level of the state and of civil society – cannot therefore be placed together as one more chapter of European Baroque. They formed a Baroque that emerged out of the colonial difference of a displaced Spanish elite in power and of a wounded Creole population. It was a Baroque pretending-to-be for the Spanish elite in the colonies and of anger and decolonial impulses for the White Creoles and some Mestizos/as.  It was, properly, a “Baroque Other”, a heterogeneous historico-structural moment in the complex structure of the modern/colonial world. It was the moment in which, after the final defeat of the Indigenous elites at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the emerging Creole population felt the colonial wound and took over the conflict of the difference, the colonial difference, racial, political, social, and economic. Of course, and as always, there were Creoles who did their best to assimilate and gain a position among the Iberian elite in power. Assimilation has been and still is a response to the colonial difference, since “you are not one of them” but you want to “become one of them”. Dissension is the other type of response to the colonial wound. In the first case, the colonial wound is repressed, while in the second case, it offers the starting point not only for acts of rebellion but for thinking-otherwise. The “Barroco de Indias” (“Baroque of the Indies’) was precisely the angered expression, in art and ideas (e.g., philosophy), built upon the colonial different and the colonial wound. It was the sprouting of the Creole critical consciousness. Ecuadorian philosopher and essayist Bolívar Echverría explained the appearance of the Creole identity, an identity that was no longer Spanish or Portuguese, but properly Spanish American and Luso-American. Echeverría observed that:

There were the Creoles from lows social levels, the Indian, Afro-Mestizos, those who, without knowing it, would end up doing what Bernini did with the classical canon of painting: these mixed groups of lower social strata endeavored to re-estabish the most viable civilization, which was the dominant one, the European. They intended to wake it up and then to restore its original vitality. In doing so, in invigorating the European code over the ruins of the pre-Spanish code (and with the remainders of the African slaves’ code brought by force into the picture), they would find themselves building something different from their original intention; they would find themselves raising up a Europe that never existed before them, a different Europe, a “Latin American” Europe.

Beyond the fact that “Latin American” here is an anachronism (there was no such thing as “Latin” America in the colonies, but vice-royalties in the concept of the “Indias Occidentales”) it must also be noted that this political project in practice as well as in consciousness was still defined by the Spanish and Portuguese Creole elites, who kept their backs to the Indian and African populations no-existing among them. The mixed group of the lower strata, whom Echeverría identified as the main actors of a variegated political project throughout Spanish America and to a certain extent in Brazil, was a demographic reality clearly managed and repressed by Whites/Creoles. Creole consciousness was indeed a singular case of double consciousness: the consciousness of not being who they are suggested to be (Europeans). That being as not-being is the mark of the coloniality of being. Afro-Creoles and Indians do not have the same problem. Their critical consciousness emerged from not even considered human, not from not being considered Europeans.  

In the twentieth century, the situation got more complicated with the increasing influence of the US. The “Latino/a” identification in the US, as we will see in chapter 3, brings this to the fore: while “Latin” American Creoles and Mestizos/as do not want or cannot pretend to be “Creoles of US (American) descent,” Latinos/as in the US have cut the Gordian knot with Europe. This is one of the lines cutting across Latino/as in the US and Latins in South America: while the first are of European descent, the second are not. Latinos/as in the US cut the umbilical cord that still connects Latins, in South America, to Europe. This tension was reconfigured when, after 1970s, “Hispanics” and “Latinos/as” were recognized as a minority (that is, an inferior social group) in the US. Thus, for the imperial imaginary, “Latin” Americans are second-class Europeans while Latinos/as in the US are second-class Americans. In short, “Latinidad”, from its very inception in the nineteenth century, was an ideology for the colonization of being that Latinos/as in the US are now clearly turning into a decolonizing project.

But let’s not get derailed, and instead return to the formation of the Creole subaltern identity. Bolívar Echevarría’s argument, thus, explains how the idea of Latin America became entrenched in Creole/Mestizo/a ideology and subjectivity and, consequently, alien to the Indigenous people and Afros, as well as to the European populations. The diverse communities of Creoles/Mestizos/as Catholics of different persuasions, liberals of different convictions, socialists of diverse faiths, in different strata of society and of different gender and sexual engagement) were in the position of having to invent themselves after “independence,” and they did so by engaging in the restoration of the most viable civilization (said Echevarría) – the European, and not the Indigenous or African. Indian civilization became ruins, and Afro-creations in the New World took on their own identities. The Afro-based “religions” of Candomblé in Brazil, Santería in the Spanish Caribbean, Voodoo in the French colonies, and, lately, Rastafarianism in the British colonies all reach toward a dense, potential civilizational energy that was tragically erased by the surfacing of the critical Creole consciousness. After independence, Creoles found themselves in power and no longer subalterns of the Spanish colonial elites. They became, indeed, the postcolonial elite. White theology was the overall framework in which the Baroque ethos materialized, it was already receding in the nineteenth century, and the individual, the ego in Descartes’s terminology, was taking center stage along with secular political theories, the “idea” of Latin America came into sight in the process of the transformation of the colonial Creole Baroque ethos into the postcolonial Crole “Latin” ethos. In that transformation, Spain receded and France and England gained ground in the minds and the pockets of the postcolonial Creoles. Republicanism and liberalism displaced the colonial ideology under which the Spanish Empire organized, controlled, and sustained its colonies. The “Latin” American ethos was a product and a consequence of the transformation from the dominance of theology and materialism, as much as it was the transformation of the critical and subaltern consciousness of the Baroque ethos into the assenting consciousness of the postcolonial Creole elites. “Postcolonial” here refers to the period following the shift from the colonial regime ruled from the metropolis to a national regime ruled by the Creoles. In that shift, internal colonialism was born. And “Latin” America as a political and ethical project was the ethos of internal colonialism.

When the Creoles moved from being a subaltern group to become a dominant elite, the only anchor they had was the “Baroque ethos” which, at that point, was more a blurred memory than a source of political energy. Close to their memory was the so-called “debate on the New World” in the course of which the Jesuits had been expelled from South American countries in the second half of the eighteenth century. If the Baroque moment created the conditions for the Creoles to come out of their shell, the expulsion of the Jesuits (all of them Creoles, certainly) inflamed their hatred not only against the Spanish colonial authority but also against the imperial coalition between the Spanish crown and the Catholic church. When military action for independence was followed by the need to put their house in order, the Creole elite put their past in the closet and joyfully looked for political ideals toward France, where they found the republican emphasis on the “res publica” (the state) and the important role of the state in the coordination of a just and peaceful society (with a long history going back to Plato, Machiavelli, Bodin, Hobbes). And they also found liberalism, a newer doctrine or ideology, propagated by Locke or the Glorious Revolution in England and theorized by Adam Smith that pushed the freedom of the individual and free trade rather than state management. However, for the Creole elite of Spanish and Portuguese descent, France was closer than England, and Montesquieu became the central figure from whom republicans and liberals would draw their ideas.

I am telling these stories for two reasons, mainly. The first is to show the struggle to identify the historical grounding of the Creole consciousness, since Creoles could not claim the past that belonged to the Spaniards, to the Indians, or to the Africans. Creoles of Spanish and Portuguese descent were, indeed, closer than they imagined to African slaves and Creoles of African descent – they are all cut off from their pasts and they were living in a present without history. However, while Blacks invented “religions”, Creoles of Spanish and Portuguese descent lived under the illusion that they were Europeans too, although they felt their second-class status. The “Baroque ethos” and the expulsion of the Jesuits from the New World were receding from their consciousness. By the middle nineteenth century, the British railroad made it clear that a new economic era was dawning. The historical foundation of Creole identity under colonial rules was quickly stored away, and the Creole elite alienated itself in its effort to adopt and adapt republican and liberal projects. Republicanism and liberalism, in Europe, emerged as bourgeois projects against the monarchy and a despotic form of government; they were also against the Christian church, which was curtailing the sovereignty of the individual; and, finally, they were against monarchic control of the mercantile economy, which was holding back the benefits that free trade was promising to the emerging social-economic class, the bourgeoisie. None of these conditions obtained in the ex-Spanish and ex-Portuguese colonies. The Creole elite really missed the point. And instead of devoting as European intellectuals devoted themselves to the critical analysis of the monarchy, the despotism, and the church that preceded and surrounded them), the Creoles elites of the newly independent and emerging countries devoted themselves to emulating European intellectuals and imagining that their local histories could be redressed by following the example of France and England and hiding colonialism – in which France and England were becoming more and more implicated – under the carpet. Republican and liberal ides and ideals took the place of what did not happen: the critique of colonialism and the building of a decolonial project that would be neither republican nor liberal. This failure lasted almost one hundred and fifty years and shaped the socio-economic as well as intellectual theory of “Latin” America, until dissenting social movements, particularly those led by Indigenous and Afro descendants – not impregnated with the republican, liberal, and socialist traditions – began to find the way that Creoles and then Latin Americans did not find after independence.

The second reason to tell this story is to dispel an illusion that you find today everywhere, among scholars and intellectuals based in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries, in South America, and in the Caribbean, as well as among area studies scholars in the US and “Americanists” in Europe – the assumption that “Latin America” is a geographical entity where all these things “happened”. My point here, is on the contrary, that the “idea of Latin” America twisted the past, on the one hand, and made it possible to frame the imperial/colonial period as proto-national histories, and, on the other, made it possible to “make” into “Latin America” historical events that occurred after the idea was invented and adapted. In this way, the Creole elite responsible for building nation-states according to the new dictates of the European idea of modernity needed to refashion their identity. As I have said, I am not writing here “about” Latin America in an “area studies” framework, but on how Latin America came about. As a result, the debates among republicans and liberals (the parties took many names, such as federalists and Unitarians, federalists and centralists, conservatives and liberals) worked together with the search for a subcontinental identity. The “idea of Latin” America allowed the Creole elites to detach themselves from their Spanish and Portuguese past, embrace the ideology of France, and forget the legacies of their own critical consciousness. As a consequence, “Latin” American Creoles turned their backs on Indians and Blacks and their faces to France and England.

As is always the case, there were dissidents among Creole Latin Americans. Among these was the Chilean Francisco Bilbao. Dissidents like Bilbao were restricted by the need to work within the secular political framework defined by republicans and liberals. Karl Marx was unknown, and the ideas that Saint-Simon, the founder of French Socialism, advanced at the beginning of the nineteenth century were not widely known. Bilbao, like the rest of his contemporary, did not necessarily want to imitate France or England in his actions, but, rather, in his ways of thinking. Therein lies the underlying cause of one of the most radical mistakes made by postcolonial scholars and intellectuals – the attention given to the “thinking” rather than the “doing” and consequently to the local historical connection between doing and thinking. This is one of the main differences between the attitudes of Anglo Creoles in the US and Latin Creoles in the South. Latin Creoles set themselves in dependent relations (political, economic, and intellectual) with France, England, and Germany. Instead, early on in the US Thomas Jefferson concocted the idea of “the Western Hemisphere”, precisely to establish the American different with Europe. Creoles and Latin Americans could not or did not want to cut their subjective dependency on Europe; they needed Europe as Indians needed their past and Blacks needed Africa and the memories of suffering under slavery. For that reason, in defining their own terms and identities, Indians, Afro descendent in South America and the Caribbean, and the Latinos/as in the US are doing what Creoles of European descent should have done two hundred years ago.

Bilbao was pointing in that direction, and he did succeed in bringing about a new epistemic perspective and making visible geo-politics of knowledge grounded in local histories. He argued that colonial legacies in the New World needed analysis and notions different from monarchic and despotic legacies in Europe. Of course, the local histories – that of the ex-colonies and that of the post-Enlightenment Europe – were not independent of each other. They were linked by a clear structure of power, and the “idea” of Latin America was a consequence precisely of this imperial/colonial structure, which did not vanish after new nation-states came in signing Independence, in all the Americas including the US, ended external colonialism and replaced it with internal colonialism. The Creole elite, in America and also in Haiti, sat in the driving seat from which Spaniards, Portuguese, French, and British were removed. “Dependency” did not vanish; it was simply restructured. This explains the distinction between “colonialism” and “coloniality”. Colonialism has different historical and geographical locations. Coloniality is the underlying matrix of colonial power that was maintained, in the US and in South American and the Caribbean, after independence. The colonial matrix of power remained in place; it only changed hands.

The idea of “Latin” America belongs to a sphere of the colonial matrix of power that touches the question of knowledge and subjectivity – knowledge in the sense that a new world map was being drawn, and subjectivity because a new identity was emerging. At the crossroads of a dissenting new subjectivity and the remapping of the world order, Bilbao was critical of European, US, and Russian imperial ambitions and particularly focused on French advances in Mexico and France’s efforts to control “Latin America”, since Spain was already out of the picture and England was concentrating in Asia and Africa. In 1856, in his Iniciativa de la América, Bilbao states:

Today we are witnessing empires that are trying to renew the old idea of global domination. The Russian Empire and the US are both entities located at geographic extremes, just as they are located at the political fringe. One aims at expanding Russian serfdom under the mas of pan-Slavism, and the other – the US – are expanding its dominion under the banner of Yankee individualism. Russia draws in its claws, waiting in ambush, but the US extends them more every day in that hunt that it has initiated against the South. We are already witnessing fragments of America falling into the Saxon jaws of the magnetizing boa constrictor that is unrolling its tortuous coils. Yesterday it was Texas, then the north of Mexico, and then the Pacific that offered their submission to a new master.

Interestingly enough, in 1856 Bilbao felt that a second independence was needed – this time by “la raza latinoamericana” (The Latin American race”), or by South America as a unit. In la America en Peligro, published in 1863, Bilbao confronted the imperial and global designs of the French civilizing mission, as well as its local version being trumpeted by “natives”, such as the Argentinian Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. Bilbao understood, by then, that the civilizing ideals and the idea of progress as a march toward civilization were really sophisms hiding the fact that, in its triumphal march, civilization eliminated people from the surface of the earth and pushed backward the “dignity, prosperity and fraternity of independent nations”. He underscored the civilizational fallacy behind France’s invasion of Mexico, and he denounced its promoters in South America, like Sarmiento and the Argentinian jurist and politician Juan Bautista Alberdi. Bilbao already understood something that is still at work today: “Conservatives call themselves progressives…and make civilized calls for the extermination of the indigenous people”.

Bilbao was necessarily working and thinking within the liberal ideology that engendered the civilizing mission as a way to justify colonial expansion. But he was located at the receiving end and not at the giving end of the equation. Modern liberalism, in France and in Europe, emerged as a solution to the problems of Europe’s own history, which was not, of course, a history of decolonization. As a critical liberal from the margins, Bilbao had to come up with his critique of the legacies of Spanish colonialism and the imperial moves of France and the US form the very same liberal ideology as was implemented by France and the US in their global designs. In his struggle, he revealed a discontinuity in the emerging colonial-liberal political philosophy, a disruption that came from the sheer fact that he had no choice but to engage in a version of liberalism without grounding, a liberalism out of place. Bilbao’s discontinuity opens up a critical perspective with the potential to uncover the pervasive re-articulation of the coloniality of power in the nineteenth century through “Latinidad”.

Reading Bilbao today remind us that, for nineteenth-century intellectuals, statesmen, and politicians, “modernity”, was cast in terms of civilization and progress. Some saw civilization and progress as the final destination for nation-builders who had liberated themselves from the Spanish and the Portuguese Empires and whose literate culture was still cast in the Spanish and Portuguese languages. In the eighteenth century, Spanish and Portuguese were falling behind in the triumphal march of Western European civilization led by French, German, and English languages. A major obstacle to reaching that goals was that civilization and progress radiated from the countries whose official languages were not Spanish and Portuguese. Decolonization in the US was indeed a continuation of what England had already began, and the English language was a support rather than an encumbrance. In Haiti, the language issue resulted in the adoption of Creole as the national language. Spanish and Portuguese were degraded from imperial hegemonic languages to subaltern imperial languages and superseded by French, German, and English. No one knew that the racialization of languages an knowledges was at stake (racialization, as we know, operated at many levels and not just in the color of your skin). Languages and instantiation of the hierarchy among them, were never outside the project of the civilizing mission and the idea of progress. As a matter of fact, languages were at the center of Christianization, the civilizing mission, and technology and development. Kichua/Kechua and Aymara speakers in South America, for example, would be twice removed and erase in the hierarchy of knowledge conceived in the Enlightenment. Language would be a constant barrier to “Latin” American intellectuals confronting the dilemma of wanting to be modern, and at the same time, realizing that they were consigned to the fringes of modernity, as the Mexican philosopher of history Leopoldo Zea clearly analyzed it in his classic book The Role of America in History. 

Bilbao, observing these changes in capitalist and liberal history from the margin of its margins, denounced not only French and US imperial designs, but the absolutism of Orthodox Russia as well. In other words, he was denouncing the imperial differences in global designs (France, US, Russia) while inhabiting the colonial difference: the historical location of South American countries gaining independence from Spain at the moment in which Spain was falling out of “modernity” and South America was experiences the consequences. Bilbao also made visible that would be described in the late 1960s as “internal colonialism”:  when he denounced Sarmiento as a defender of the civilizing mission and called the civilizing mission a new instrument of imperial expansion. He could already see the destructive complicity of the native elites (in the case of Creoles of Spanish descent) in promoting imperial expansion, and thereby, enacting self-colonization.

From: Mignolo, W. (2009). The Idea of Latin America. John Wiley & Sons. p 57-72