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  • Introduction: Settler Colonialism in Latin America
  • M. Bianet Castellanos (bio)

Inspired by recent debates over the suitability of extending settler colonialism as a framework for understanding the experiences of indigenous Latinx in the United States and indigenous peoples in Latin America, this forum offers a substantive engagement with settler colonial theory that attends to the specificities of Latin American colonialism(s). Considered a key distinction of Anglophone imperial projects, it is rare to find settler colonialism applied to Latin America. This resistance reflects entrenched divisions precluding North–South dialogues, problems regarding the concept’s translatability to a Latin American context, and an emphasis on binary divisions within settler colonial theory.

Applying settler colonial theory to Latin America is hampered by the nascent relationship between American Indian studies and Latin American studies. Although both fields have been instrumental in advancing indigenous studies, these fields are rarely in conversation with each other. This divide was evident at the 2017 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association meeting. The sessions sponsored by the Abiayala Working Group, which supports indigenous studies in Latin America and the Caribbean, are seldom attended by scholars of American Indian studies. While recent forays to bring postcolonial studies in conversation with American Indian studies and to frame indigenous Latinx communities within a settler colonial paradigm gesture toward new engagements with the global South, these efforts remain focused on North America.1

The term itself is difficult to translate. In Spanish, settler colonialism translates to colonialismo de asentamiento or colonialismo de colonos.2 Shannon Speed points out that the Spanish definition of colonialism implies settlement, making these translations redundant.3 As such, it is a slippery concept to apply to Latin America where nation-building projects have framed criollización/creolization as “an indigenizing process.”4 We are left with the quandary of debating who is a settler. Moreover, few scholars in Latin America are familiar with this body of work because of a lack of Spanish and Portuguese translations. In Latin America, scholars are expected to personally pay for translations. In [End Page 777] light of these barriers, the Latin American scholars invited to participate in this forum hesitated to take on this project. These constraints make it challenging to promote a hemispheric dialogue that is inclusive of both North and South.

The logics of dispossession and elimination, which are key tenets of a settler colonial model, were not isolated to British imperialism; they were also central to Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects. Efforts to distinguish regimes of colonialism in the Americas by their method of dispossession, as rooted in either land or labor expropriation, ends up reproducing binaries (land/labor, settler/native, Latinx/Latin American) that mask articulations spanning imperial and colonial regimes.5 The emphasis on binaries risks reproducing a monolithic, self-contained theory of settler colonialism lacking historical and relational specificity, the very project initially challenged by Patrick Wolfe.6 We advance an analytic project that acknowledges the multiple iterations of settler colonial projects that have been instantiated within and beyond postcolonizing societies.7 Scholars of Latin America have relied on theories of “coloniality” to account for the production of racialized power as a hegemonic and historical project.8 Coloniality is a cognitive mode of power based on a “new perspective of knowledge within which non-Europe was the past, and because of that inferior, if not always primitive.”9 This approach understands indigeneity in Latin America today as continually shaped by a colonial legacy rooted in racial mixing, rather than indigenous elimination and white settlement, as is the case in the United States. Conceived as a nationalist whitening project rooted in hierarchical colonial race relations, mestizaje erases indigeneity by absorbing it into the body politic. At the same time, this concept is contingent on remembering, at times memorializing, the Indian. The Indian is continually hailed throughout Latin America as a way to assert national belonging and thus can never be fully absorbed into the nation, even in the Southern Cone, where the push toward racial homogenization led to the mass elimination of indigenous communities.10 As Wolfe notes in the case of Australia, miscegenation led to a policy of absorption and thus elimination.11 We propose...


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