The Dearly Departed

Ever since Latin American nations have audaciously dared to self-govern the powers that be—Europe, the U.S.—have  launched smear campaigns against the character of Latin Americans. They are too [fill in blank with any of these adjectives: lazy, brown, black, small-brained, simple, spiritual]. It seems that the latest charge has come from within Latin America and offers an unusual accusation: necrophilia.

In Andres Oppenheimer’s new book, Enough With the History, the Argentine journalist outlines the particular fascination Latin Americans have with the remains of their dearly departed leaders. Oppenheimer notes the recent exhumations of Simón Bolivar and Salvador Allende as well as the enduring love for Evita Perón and her husband. Yes, this is all very true.

But necrophilia? I don’t get a sense that a sexual impulse is behind this fascination. Nostalgia, sure. But Latin Americans are hardly the only people guilty of this. Walk into any Urban Outfitters and nostalgia for the entire twentieth century is on brazen display.

I appreciate Oppenheimer’s contribution. How can anyone ignore the implications of Nestor Kirchner’s image in his wife’s presidential campaign? But I take serious issue with Oppenheimer’s statement of necrophilia. It is an unfounded and strong claim to make against an entire culture, which completely renders the nuance behind these activities null.

In 2011 is it so out of the ordinary to conceptualize a different way of mourning or incorporating the dead into our daily lives? Should we not erect monuments for leaders? Or is it the act of upsetting a grave that upsets you, Oppenheimer? I would hope that as a journalist you would be able to choose your words more carefully and avoid the trap of painting all of us as noble savages, huddled around bones and thus incapable of “looking into the big issues of the future.” There are many Latin Americans, I assure you, who have their sights set on the future.

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