Reacting To When Something Sounds Like It Is Sanitizing History

Reacting To When Something Sounds Like It Is Sanitizing History February 23, 2018

In today’s post, I’m going to use a specific & recent example of something that sounds like it is sanitizing history, namely Gina Rodriguez’s recent statement that read as “white-washy” to a lot of its readers. For disclosure’s sake, I’m also going to say that I’ve criticized Gina as well & agree with people who think this if nothing else sounds like sanitizing history, but I’m wary of being overly critical of this or of targeting Gina as a person because of it.

Sanitizing history is easy & tempting and can make sense in some contexts, but it's not what history needs or what we deserve.
Sanitizing or white-washing history is easy & tempting and can make sense in some contexts, but it’s not what history needs or what we deserve.

Necessary Context & The Inspiration For This Post:

Gina Rodriguez was quoted in an article published by Remezcla after appearing at the premiere of the new movie Annihilation.

“I think it would be about Christopher Columbus coming over, the migration of the Spaniards, and the influence of the mixes [of people] in South America and in the Caribbean. That’s were my superhero movies would lay, like the 1400 or 1500s.”

That quote was met with some interesting reactions and as if often the case the reactions were both positive & negative. One such reaction to that quote comes from Marjua Estevez, who like myself was critical of Gina’s comments.

This right here is not the best response to this kind of criticism, by the way, especially because some people (including Gina, clearly) might disagree with what Marjua said initially but if you read all of her tweets on the matter she makes real points that absolutely deserve discussion & attention. I suspect that if most of the people who care about our community like Gina does read Marjua’s tweets without frustration they’d see her comments aren’t disagreeable (or at least as disagreeable as they initially thought) and could provoke really educational conversations if explored. That being said: I read some of the comments, not by Marjua which were harsher in my opinion at least, and I get why Gina was frustrated.

Why Are People Criticizing Gina’s Statement & What Does Sound Like It Is Sanitizing?

It uses fluffy language to describe colonialism & all of the nasty things that come with colonialism. What the Spaniards did when they came over was more than migrate or immigrate. The Spaniards invaded the Americas (and calling it an invasion is more accurate than calling it “migration” given that they brought soldiers and had military leaders with them seeking to rapidly expand the Spanish empire) and they waged war on Indigenous individuals & civilizations who refused to submit to them. The Spaniards, bolstered by the Catholic Church and desiring to gain converts to Catholicism also went out of their way to destroy indigenous culture & language and to forcibly & violent “integrate” Indigenous individuals to a new societal order.

The “mixing” Gina mentioned wasn’t people from different societies coexisting, it was the end result of a society forcibly & violently invading other societies, bringing slaves with them, and then ordering their slaves, the survivors from the societies they invaded and inflicted massive damage too who lived on the land they now occupied long before they did, & their own unhappy children to form a new larger & mixed society and that’s without getting into the fact that the Spanish also took away the cultures, ways of life, & religions, of the peoples whose homes they invaded.

Critics of the statement see Gina as having sanitized colonialism and recognize the dangers in that. We know that it’s bad to make such simple statements and such fluffy sounding statements about that period in history because it was a brutal period in history filled with war, brutality, & greed including greed for “souls” which resulted in the theft and/or attempted destruction of countless Indigenous cultural artifacts, Indigenous literature, & the theft of Indigenous rights by colonial & Catholic authorities.

Also: despite what an update to this article says, nothing about Gina’s initial response to the question indicates that she wanted this movie to be from the perspective of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas even if they would have been characters in her hypothetical superhero film. I’m not doubting the sincerity behind this update I am merely pointing out that it’s not in what she is quoted as saying. There’s a section of the article that says this:

History retold from the perspective of the victims of colonization could certainly make for a mind-blowing blockbuster.

Literally, no part of her quote suggests the movie would be told from the point of view of victims of colonization and if she said something indicating that it was from the perspective of Indigenous people, that should have been in the original article which it wasn’t, despite what I just quoted being in the original article. Carlos clearly put this section in for the sake of helping make Gina’s response ruffle fewer feathers, especially because Gina herself doesn’t use the word colonization or call the Spanish colonizers, which is once again an accurate label for what they were & what they did.

Some Final Thoughts:

This was a bad moment for our community and a frustrating one for me. I like Gina, I enjoy her work, and she & I have interacted very briefly in the past online which led to her seeing tweets of mine talking about being an irreligious Latino and I think she is a fantastic storyteller and a talented actress. I want her to be the best leader & storyteller possible. At the same time: I don’t know what her thoughts were when she said those comments & I’m not about to jump to conclusions about her statements or her understanding of history.

I know people, including Hispanic & Latinx people who have an understanding of Latin-American history that syncs up with the wording Gina used in her statement. People in & out of Latin-America have been taught that Latin-America’s history isn’t a history of conquest, religious conversion, political movements, but a history of different races and societies coexisting and influencing each other. Those differences of understanding color the language people use, and it might well have led to this moment but the reality is that that understanding of our history is immensely sanitizing and is bad for us as a community because knowing & understanding our true history helps us realize that our struggles are intersectional and that we need to work with others and embrace them to move ourselves forward. We need to address colonialism directly because many of us acknowledge that we’re affected by colonialism even now and not calling it by name is bad.

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