As a child growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, Felipe Martinez-Pinzon observed that people from other Colombian cities were often perceived differently. Bogotá, at more than 8,500 feet above sea level, was cooler. Its residents were considered more active, more productive than, say, residents of Cartagena, a much warmer place.
Martinez-Pinzon’s parents, originally from Cartagena, moved to Bogotá in the late 1960s. He was aware of those stereotypes and intrigued by how they developed, why they persisted, and the impact they had on individuals and society at large. This fall, he will begin teaching Brown students about cultural innuendo and manners that have roots in 19th-century Latin America.
As an undergraduate at the Universidad de los Andes, he began studying literature of the 19th century, searching for insights into Colombian culture that might have been overlooked. Following Colombia’s independence from Spain, several members of the elite class were able to venture beyond their homeland. They brought back an array of cultural customs that are still around today.
Europeans for example, who were accustomed to changing seasons, questioned the productivity of workers who labored year-round in hot climates, Martinez-Pinzon said. “Latin American culture internalized this in their own culture and thought they had to resemble European culture.”
Wealthy patrons, noble families, and the government believed Latin America could only become more cosmopolitan by exporting what the land had to offer: coffee, bananas, meat, cocoa, tobacco, and other valuable commodities. “Even today, in discourses about abundance, they think that the only way Latin America can partake in globalization is through aggressive agro export, so that in return they can import different high-culture items from pianos to computers,” Martinez-Pinzon said.
Placing European lenses over tropical natives proved to be challenging: The natives didn’t necessarily share the taste for European culture.
Martinez-Pinzon’s dissertation, The Greenhouse Gaze: Climate and Culture in Colombia, touched on many of these social and cultural issues, but focused more on the etiology of anti-tropical thinking. In the dissertation, he reviewed texts that were intended for different groups — elites and peasants — and ranged across geography, culture, and literature. More importantly, his dissertation served as a “cultural critique against the prevalent civilatory vision for the tropics” — and it answered some of his personal questions about his heritage. It will be published in book form with Iberoamericana Vervuert in 2016.
His analysis of the historical texts and its deeper meanings later earned him the prestigious Beca Instituto Caro Y Cuervo de investigación en revision editorial y critica de textos breves del siglo XIX en Colombia award.
Matinez-Pinzon’s other interests include Latin American costumbrismo — sketches of manners — and the use of Gothic themes in texts and lilthographs. He is at work on a book about costumbrismo, a popular 19th-century genre that depicts manners of regular people meant to build a national culture. He likens the genre to Mark Twain’s depiction of American life.
In the spring semester, he will be teaching students about Gothic Latin American literature with a focus on women’s writing and contemporary renditions of Gothic themes in cinema. The course will require students to think about the social and cultural significance of Gothic themes, including gender, vampires, and race. He will also lead a graduate seminar on readings of 19th-century Latin American literature with a focus on cultural constructions of territory and how texts gave different regions their identity.
Matinez-Pinzon is looking forward to doing archival research with his students at the John Carter Brown Library, which is one of the many reasons he was drawn to Brown. “The JCB has the biggest collection of Latin American print before 1825,” he said — the perfect place to do the research that most interests him.