hispanic lecture web tn529 years ago, on 12th October, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, funded by the Spanish monarchy, set foot in the 'New World' of the Americas. It is commonly said that 'Columbus discovered America' but it would be more accurate to say that he introduced the Americans to Western Europe.

On the evening of 12th October, Dr Juan Pablo Ferrero, an Argentinian Senior Lecturer in Latin American Politics and Society at the University of Bath joined the UV (Year 11) and Sixth Form for supper and a talk in Chapel, providing an informative and thought-provoking lecture regarding the nature of the 12th October.

Below, UVI (Year 13) student Saskia Darling, describes the evening and what she learnt from it:

To begin the lecture, Dr Ferrero discussed the true meaning of Hispanic Day, a day traditionally celebrated on the 12th of October that commemorates the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Dr Ferrero explored the several different significances behind the national Hispanic Day, exploring themes such as colonialism and the importance of recognising the impact of the arrival of the explorer on native American soil. In connection with the current controversy regarding the discovery of Central and South America, Dr Ferrero reflected on the several different terms used to describe the national day, such as ‘El Dia de la Raza’ translating to the day of race, ‘El Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural’ the day of cultural diversity, and ‘El Día de la Resistencia Indigena’ the day of indigenous resistance, encouraging us to also acknowledge the indigenous peoples’ cultures and how these were altered and affected by the cultivation of what is now known as South America. What struck many of those present was the extent to which the indigenous peoples’ fight for recognition is still ongoing, with statues of Columbus in places such as Mexico and Chicago being torn down in protest as those of Native American heritage demand accountability be taken for the Spanish colonisation of South America.

The talk given by Dr Juan Pablo was divided into 4 sections that explored the histories of pre-Columbian America (Indoamerica), the three centuries, and plight for political independence that followed the ‘discovery’ and finally, how this is reflected in modern-day Hispanic society. In listening to Dr Juan Pablo talk about the indigenous tribes of pre-Columbian America, we learnt of their theocratic systems of government and how this worked in tandem with their polytheistic beliefs. What many of us found to be striking, were the several similarities shared between indigenous tribes, untouched by western civilisation and modern European societies, however also intriguing, was the fact that within many these tribes, for example the Incas who originated from the western coast of Southern America, what we now know as Chile, there was a significant absence of the extreme gap between the rich and the poor, something that was ubiquitous in absolutist 15th century Europe.

Dr Ferrero also delved into the incentives behind the colonisation of the Americas, mentioning that ‘La Conquista’ can be characterised by three things: guns, germs and steel. We came to learn that the guns symbolised the violent conquering of indigenous American territories that resulted in the reduction of 90% of the indigenous population, the germs, the detrimental impact the arrival of westerners had on the indigenous peoples’ immune systems that were unacclimated to western diseases and viruses, and finally steel represents the exploitation of resources and minerals, such as gold and silver, found in the newly discovered continent. Overall, Dr Juan Pablo emphasised how the conquest drastically impacted the economic and social structure of pre-Columbian America.

Alongside the celebration of the 12th of October and the unification of European and native American cultures, Dr Juan Pablo encouraged us to also consider the way in which the day can be viewed by those with Native heritage, as a symbol of the repression of their ancestors.

Overall, the talk was extremely informative and thought provoking, allowing us to broaden our understanding of the societies, cultures and histories that come together to make up our modern world.