Residual Colonialism

Ángel Marroquín

Once I was invited to a primary school to speak about Spanish, my mother tongue.

I asked the students if they knew where Chile, my home country, was located on the World Map.

-Yes, they told me and showed me the southern hemisphere, South America, the Pacific Ocean and finally that long and narrow strip called Chile.

-Who can tell me now what language is spoken in Chile? After thinking about it, a hand got up and said:

-Spanish. Spanish is spoken in Chile.

-But I don’t understand, I told them, let’s see … Where is Spain located on the map? I asked.

-In Europe, right there next to Portugal, they showed me. I was there on holiday last year, a child told me.

So I asked them, trying to sound puzzled:

-If Spanish is spoken in Spain and Spain is in Europe, why is Spanish spoken in Chile as well, which is on the other side of the world in South America? After thinking about it, a small boy told me:

– “It is because the Spaniards went to America and taught Spanish to its people” Another boy added: “Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards had better boats, and they got there and taught them.”

It sounds funny, isn’t it?

This anecdote is funny and interesting because this reveals something that sometimes we forget and pay the consequences of that forgetfulness. Like racism or white supremacy, the colonial mentality is projected onto the new generations in invisible and simple ways in the form of common sense.

The thousand-heads of the colonial hydra do not disappear with the passing of the centuries, nor do they when someone reads history books or becomes aware of the crimes perpetrated by the European imperial powers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia or India. Years of reading history books and knowing real stories of people who were slaves have been of no use to help European citizens to see colonialism and become aware of it.

On the contrary, countries like England, Belgium, Germany and France find today that colonialism has gained momentum only because the new generations of children and grandchildren of immigrants and refugees educated in Europe see more clearly the consequences that colonialism had in their countries of origin. In many cases, as a cause of armed conflicts and climatic disasters from which they and their families had to flee as refugees or economic migrants.

This subject was, in Europe until recently, a taboo, especially among the liberal elite. And it was so taboo that major European capitals were adorned with dozens of statues dedicated to African slave traders who had become dedicated intellectual-philanthropists in their last days of life. Nobody noticed nobody asked about it.

But there are other areas in which this forced revival of colonialism has been expressed. The most emblematic is the historic demand of third world countries for the devolution of artistic-religious pieces stolen by England in the glorious days of the British Empire, arranged in the British Museum that charges its owner-tourists to visit and take photographs with them.

Up to this point, the subject likely sounds a bit far-fetched, and even some people claim the opportunism of the underdeveloped ex-colonies. However, suppose anyone doubts the implications of colonialism in current life. In that case, I can tell them that those who are paying and will pay the most devastating consequences of climate change are countries that were looted, robbed and plundered by the European powers that have produced most of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. In other words, colonialism may be a thing of the past, but the consequences of colonialism are not a thing of the past but are current and future.

This awareness has led European universities to initiate millionaire historiographic research projects about their founders and main benefactors, projects driven by guilt. Not without surprise, liberal European students have discovered that illustrious thinkers such as John Locke or George Berkeley were associated with the African slave trade. Some even secretly fear that their ancestors had something to do with the trafficking business. The statues still have a lot to say.

To finish my story with the students, I asked them:

Don’t you think that while they were teaching the Spanish language to the inhabitants of America, the Spaniards stole their lands, gold and silver from them as well?

At the end of the day, that is what colonialism is all about.

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