- Americas Plural:Old Wine in New Bottles?
Properly the denomination "America" belongs to the entire hemisphere, as Jefferson recognized when he wrote to Alexander von Humboldt in 1813 that, "America has a hemisphere to itself." . . . Yet although the Founding Fathers had successfully invented a state, inspiration failed them when it came to inventing a name. "The United States of America" it was to remain, once "Columbia" and "Freedonia" had fallen by the wayside. . . . By default, all the inhabitants of the new republic arrogated to themselves the name of "Americans," for what else could they be called? In the process, they deprived all the other peoples of the hemisphere of their collective, and compelled the pluralization of "America" into "the Americas."— John Elliott, Do the Americas Have a Common History?
It is today both reasonable and unsurprising to ask, where does Latin America begin? Where, indeed, do Canada and the United States of America end? The promotion of globalization both within and without the academy has popularized and legitimized the questioning of the sovereignty and analytical supremacy of the nation-state, although, perhaps, less so for the United States than any other. One strong substrate of interpreting globalization is that it is nothing other than the Americanization of the world and so to be resisted through a revitalized nationalism, not least elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. In that regard, then, the nation-state retains some salience as a unit/level of analysis, even if it is no longer so absolutely paramount in academic analysis.
Some 45 million people of Latin American descent or origin now inhabit the United States of America. That is the number registered by the U.S. Bureau of Census, and it makes the United States the sixth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. But the number of seasonal laborers and undocumented immigrants is high, so the total is greater still. This "diaspora," of very recent origin, is growing fast and exhibits both novel and customary demographic and cultural features, and like other waves of immigration, it has provoked sharp political debates. Its experience and consequences plainly deserve study in both substantive and relative terms.
With respect to the hemisphere itself, a dozen years of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and 180 years of formal Pan-Americanism make a regional perspective pertinent. To what extent can the Pan-Americanism promoted by Simón Bolívar and José Martí be reconfirmed or buried? Their combined legacy is now being strongly revived by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, aided not only by Fidel Castro (who steered rather clear of the slave-owning Bolívar) but also—to varying degree—by half a dozen popularly elected Latin American administrations that repudiate all or most of the "Washington Consensus" of the 1990s.
If a free-trade-based unity promoted from the North is proving not just self-serving but also something of a chimera, how sustainable is the countercurrent of nationalist—and so differentiated [End Page 601] —anti-imperialism? Can we, maybe, start to periodize hemispheric cycles at national, regional, and continental levels from at least the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries in terms of their samenesses, similarities, differences, and outright conflicts? If so, the wine in my title would be of a distinctly venerable vintage, but possibly undrinkable.
We must surely also look at ourselves here (and there) in the academy. Perhaps the "inner logic" of our academic disciplines, which form the realist "bottom line" of our daily practice, require a review every bit as much as the "outer reality" of a globalized world where fewer things may be changing than is claimed (and some have changed more in form than substance)? The institutional and bureaucratic realities that underpin area studies are themselves subject to varying challenges and opportunities.
For every outbreak of what I call "disciplinary heroism"—wherein there can be no such thing, say, as the "Economics of Canada," just economics that could happen, by the by, to be practiced in and on Canada—there is some (not necessarily equal and opposite) recognition that, say, the U.S. armed forces included no speaker of Dari when they invaded Afghanistan, that human...