Friday, April 5, 2019

Offsite Post: ‘The Bond between Dixie and Latin America’

The Southern people have always had a certain kinship with the folks of Latin America.  This has shown itself in different ways at different times in Southern history.  Today, when there is so much animosity towards the United States because of Washington City’s ridiculous policies in that part of the world, we hope that by exploring that old kinship, warm ties between Latin America and Dixie can be renewed.

In Dixie’s early life, when she was secure as a feudal society, with the plantations playing the role of Western Europe’s fiefdoms, Southerners tended to dwell on the virtues of the Spanish and Portuguese knights who settled in what is now Latin America.  In the Iberian chivalry, they saw patterns worth emulating:  martial prowess, a proper veneration of womankind, fearlessness in dangerous situations, a disregard for one’s life for the sake of helping another, etc.  William Gilmore Simms of South Carolina (1806-70) illustrates this in his short story about Juan Ponce de Leon:

His [de Leon’s] narrative,—the boldness of his achievements, in Old and New Spain alike, have won for him no small share of that renown which, at one period, the Spanish cavaliers seemed to have divided among themselves to the exclusion of all other nations.

 . . .

Ponce de Leon, like Basco Nunez, was rather a better gentleman than the greater number of his neighbors.  He was neither so brutal nor so reckless as the rest, though quite as great a rogue; and, as a knight of romance, we find him fulfilling, to the end, all the dues and duties of the courts and codes of chivalry in its most elevated periods.  He was a cavalier after the best fashion, and did no discredit to his order.  He was brave and daring to a proverb—strong in person, fiery in spirit—true to his affections—earnest in his devotions—a lover of valorous deeds for valor’s sake, and fond of the sex, as became a distinguished disciple in the schools of that gallantry which made woman a goddess or a creature, according to the fancy and caprice of a most unprincipled order, whom a long period of warfare had made vicious and licentious to the last degree.

--‘Juan Ponce de Leon’, Tales of the South, Mary Ann Wimsatt ed., U of S. Car. Press, Columbia, S. Car., 1996, pgs. 32-3.

Southern praise from this era of the Spanish culture translated to Latin America may also be found in other sources.  Robert Lewis Dabney, in his lifewrit of one the South’s great heroes, General Stonewall Jackson, relates Gen Jackson’s experiences in Mexico shortly after the Mexican-American War had ceased in 1848:

After the quiet occupation of the city. Major Jackson became a part of the garrison, and resided there, in a state of pleasant military leisure, until the diplomatists had matured a peace, and the American army was withdrawn. This season of rest continued several months. He was one of those who were quartered in the national palace, . . . His duties were light, and easily despatched in the early forenoon; the climate was delicious; every object around him was full of grandeur or interest to his active mind; and the cultivated hospitality of the Castilians was alluring. It is well known how easily the luxurious society of a capital can forget national prejudices and humiliations, at the call of social enjoyment, and learn to consider the accomplished and courteous professional soldier as no longer an enemy. . . . Immediately after the occupation of the city, therefore, the places of amusement were re-opened, and frequented by a mingled crowd of Americans and Mexicans, the ladies walked the streets in crowds, and the young officers began to cultivate the acquaintance of the most distinguished families.

To qualify himself for enjoying this society more freely, Jackson, with a young comrade, addressed himself to the study of the Spanish language. His active mind was, besides, incapable of absolute repose, and he wished to improve his leisure by acquiring knowledge. He was ignorant of Latin, which is not taught at West Point, and the only grammar of Spanish he could find was written in that ancient tongue. Yet he bought it, and nothing daunted, set himself to learn the paradigms of the language from it; and by the help of reading and constant conversation with the people, became in a few months a good Spanish scholar. It was an amusing trait of his character that he appeared afterwards proud of this accomplishment, and fond of exercising it, so far as his modest nature could be said to make any manifestation of pride. He ever took pleasure in testifying to the cultivation, hospitality, and flowing courtesy of the Spanish gentry in Mexico; and, like Napier, among their kindred in their mother-country, acknowledged the fascination of their accomplished manners, and their noble and sonorous tongue, and the indescribable grace and beauty of their women. Having formed the acquaintance of some educated ecclesiastics of the Romish Church (probably of the order of Canons), he went, by their invitation, to reside with them. lie found their bachelor abode the perfection of luxurious comfort. Upon awaking in the morning, the servants brought him, before lie arose from bed, a light repast, consisting of a few diminutive spiced cakes, and a single cup of that delicious chocolate which is found only in Spanish houses. He then dressed, went out, and attended to the drill of his company. Later in the morning, when the sun began to display his power, he returned to a breakfast of coffee, fruits, and game. The greater part of the day was then spent in study or visiting; and it closed with a dinner in which Parisian art vied with the tropical fruits native to the climate in conferring enjoyment. One family especially among his Spanish acquaintances extended to him a hospitality for which he was always grateful, and it possessed the attraction of several charming daughters. He confessed, years after, that he found it advisable to discontinue his visits there; and when asked the reason, said with a blush, that he found the fascination of some of the female charms which he met there was likely to become too strong for his prudence, unless he escaped them in good time. He declared that if the people of the city had been equal to their beautiful climate, in integrity and character, Mexico would have been the most alluring home for him in the world.

--Life and Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, Blelock & Co., New York, 1866, pgs. 52-5, available online at

Later, after the great war between the revolutionary Yankee North and the tradition-minded South, when Southern society was grappling with how to adjust to the new world it found itself in, when her pre-Modern, agrarian, Christian worldview was being assaulted by scientism, capitalism, and the like, she began to view the Latin conquest of South America in a different light:  The dissonance between the Christian claims of the conquerors and their actions became the focus, along with some praise of the virtues of the native peoples.  Andrew Lytle of Tennessee (1902-95) is a good representative of this era.  His short story ‘Alchemy’ follows a group of Spanish conquistadors as they move across Peru.  He writes,

The next day it was the same.  Not once did that road bend or turn.  I thought of the Holy Empire over which our Catholic sovereign is lord, with its borders lying uneasy against the lands of the infidels, how all its kingdoms and principalities for lack of good roads lie as remote from one another as though divided by water.  And then hour by hour as I rode along, following this smooth and direct route, I asked myself what must these heathen be to outdo Christendom and bind their provinces so well together.  I looked towards the mountains where we were told they dwelt, and suddenly they seemed more present, more threatening than the famished sands.  . . .

Without warning we walked into the green fields of Poechos.  We held a mass of Thanksgiving and then took possession.  From here we overran Parina, Tangarala, Piura, and the Chira valley.  These valleys on the banks of the mountain rivers were heavily peopled.  There was food and water aplenty, but little gold.  Everywhere we sent foraging details we found the ground intelligently worked.  At regular distances water from the streams was turned into the fields under laws regulating its distribution.  Where it gave out or sank uselessly into the sand, areas of the desert had been excavated and sunken gardens built up in circular terraces.  The Indians added fish heads and the droppings of the bird called guano, so that where nature had left all barren or poor, herbs blossomed and had their season.

Tribute of food and personal service was laid upon the inhabitants, a measure that worked for the glory of God and brought the heathen to a knowledge of the true faith.  And were we Moriscos to make our own bread?  Soon the Governor began building a town in Piura.  He called it San Miguel in honor of that saint who had brought him such timely help in the fight with the islanders of Puna.

--Stories: Alchemy and Others, U of the South, Sewanee, Tenn., 1984, pgs. 112-3.

As it was long ago in those days, so it is today.  The modern Yankee American conquistadors, lusting after the oil, gold, etc. of Venezuela, are overlooking the true riches of agrarian wisdom of the local peoples for the false and fading riches of a cruel and exploitative empire.

Wendell Berry (born 1934), a contemporary Southern writer and farmer from Kentucky, continues the themes Mr Lytle dwelt upon in some his writings.  He is more strident in his denunciations of Spanish (and other forms of) imperialism and also more generous in his praise of the traditions of the native Latin American farmers.  After staying for a time in Peru to learn about the ancient farming practices there, he shared some of his reflections in his essay ‘An Agricultural Journey in Peru’.  A few of them are as follows:

 . . .


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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