Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What does a Colonizer Look Like?

There are 4 elements at play in the definition of a country as a colonial power over another:

(1) the economic: appropriation of land, exploitation of labor, and control of finance; (2) the political: control of authority;
(3) the civic: control of gender and sexuality;
(4) the epistemic and the subjective personal: control of knowledge and subjectivity.

With regards to the US and Latin America the United States has some hand, if not a full fist, in all of these areas. I have started reading the book The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi. The first section of the book attempts to define and depict the colonizer.

"Today, leaving for a colony is not a choice sought because of its uncertain dangers, nor is it a desire of one tempted by adventure. It is simply a voyage towards an easier life." Memmi goes on to describe the colonizer as one who leaves their country not simply for adventure, because if that was the case why would they not go somewhere among their own country men? "Our traveler will come up with the best possible definition of a colony: a place where one earns more and spends less". As he goes on it descibes the difficulty for a colonizer to leave the colony. After a few years returning to the "slow progress" of home, and more expensive lifestyle is no longer appealing. Additionally the colonizer has laid roots in their new home, and lost roots in their old one. Why should the colonizer then leave the colony, especially when their privilege makes life in the colony easier then it would have been in the home country.

This perspective on the colonizer brings me back to the expatriate community that I saw when I was in Guatemala last January. For the most part the people I met were white US citizens who for one reason or another (primarily political) had decided to leave the United States. While I understand the desire to leave the United States out of frustration, I also feel the need to stay out of loyalty and obligation to my people. One of the fellow students at the Spanish school where I was taking classes mentioned to me that all the expatriates there seemed to be lost. To me the idea of leaving the US in political protest seems to be in vein. First off, no change can come from a few individuals, that were likely to radical for the government anyway, leaving. Secondly, their efforts to escape the US government may as well be void because they have moved to a place that is, in many crucial ways, a colony of the US, or at the very least a place that the US holds colonial power over.

In his book, Memmi describes 3 types of individuals in the colonizer/colonized relationship. They are the colonial, the colonizer and the colonist. The colonial is described as a European (or for our purposes one from the United States) living in the colony but having none of the privileges of their position. "a colonial is a benevolent European who does not have the colonizers attitude towards the colonized", in the next sentance Memmi goes on to say "a colonial so defined does not exist, for all Europeans in the colonies are privileged".

What I am attempting to begin to examine here is what is the role and power that one posses in moving to an expatriate community in Latin America. How can one move in an effort to escape the imperialistic policies of the US while simultaneously re-enforcing that colonialism.

No comments: