Every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.—Walter Benjamin.1
The "recognition" of an image from the past is manifested necessarily in a certain form of representation. The shape such representation takes and the way it is delivered may yield different readings and interpretations of that past. And the distinctiveness of every interpretation will depend on who does and from what position the reading is being done. Such stability of meaning is made easy by not addressing the "dangerous" components of Benjamin's statement: the possibilities of losing a past (erasing a history) by not making it an issue of our present and, likewise, not being able to retrieve certain segments of that past. The latter possibility refers to a lack of representation (an image) of those particular segments or the inability of representation to capture a whole reality.
The debate briefly opened here through Benjamin's statement maps a series of questions that in reference to post-coloniality are being addressed by many theorists. Revisioning post-colonial spaces in our contemporary world—those of the politically ex-colonized (but economically and culturally interdependent) nations as much as those of the diasporas—opens up possibilities to re-configure the structures of thought and perception that gave way to present forms of inter- and intranational hegemony. And some of these discourses can be destabilized; that is, the hegemonic relations of power and what they represent may be reconsidered and reformulated at the site of representation. Hence, through representations particular histories may arise from an invisible past.
Under this light, the films Cabeza de Vaca (Nicolás Echevarría Mexico, 1990) and Jericó (Luis Alberto Lamata, Venezuela, 1991) stand as post-colonial re-interpretations of the events that led to the Spanish conquest of the Americas as much as re-examinations of the systems of thought of the 16th century emerging empire. But more interestingly, they attempt to retrieve histories (generating stories and images) that were mostly erased or only accounted for through the eyes of the colonizers—the histories of the native dwellers of the Americas. The few written manuscripts that are kept as a legacy of indigenous life were chiefly (albeit not only) produced by curious Spaniards interested in the customs of the native others.2 Cabeza de Vaca and Jericó are but contemporary recognitions of different forms the past may have taken if imagined through perspectives of the disempowered, thus continuing the tradition of texts that challenge official accounts of the past. In this way, past and present discourses of resistance converge in these films. They are all, inevitably, an issue of our present. But what are these resisting discourses about? Which intellectual traditions are being broken and which reinvigorated? What is exactly at stake in these films?
As we will see in the analyses below, the films exemplify a competence to engage with "marginal" histories that, ultimately, point to a more profound ideological challenge—a challenge to the systems of thought that then and now revive a continuing exploitation, which takes place among certain regions of the world.
Based on some of the premises of post-structuralism, a post-colonial perspective—the study of the legacies of coloniality in the latter stages of political independence or inter-dependence— charts different narratives, agendas, and historical periods to deconstruct current politics of hegemony. The post-colonial critic is currently contributing to a definition of a field whose purposes revolve not only around the analysis of colonial discourse but also on the perennial problem of explicating the contemporary from the analysis of inherited colonial epistemologies. The examination of coloniality would necessarily give way for the post-colonial critic to understand discourses of power which, in turn, would help in the formulation of alternative histories.3 Through this framework, History (with capital H) itself enters in the realm of difference by being caught in the possibilities of being re-imagined through the eyes of the other.
Under these premises, I am going to examine to what extent and in what ways...