A lot of time spent recently in Peru and Columbia reveals a very different assimilation of native people and people of colour. Most everyone is mestizo (of mized race). After the Spanish invasions, the decimation of populations from European diseases, the extensive use of slave labor, native and Black, cruel and abusive treatment — it did not prevent an intermixture of the races. Intermarriage is such that in most areas there is not only literal relationship, but also a shared understanding of culture, history, and experience. There was no stark separation of white and Black such as came to pass in the U.S. For quite a while the Spanish attempted to maintain a purity of blood. There are still echoes of this. There is still a longing to be white in many people. But the satisfaction of family life predominates. When asked about their history and racism and oppression, the answer is not loaded with anger and resentment. But they say yes there is discrimination. And certainly the economic inheritance has put these people at the bottom of the ladder for the most part. But they are patient.

So from what I have observed there is no embedded functioning racism. Is it that these people, all intermingled, mostly devout in their catholic faith, inheritors of extraordinary creative traditions, habits of living together — is it that they have not had to endure or answer to the shibboleths of white protestant America, the terrible fierce distinctions of right and wrong?

And then the people were not divided into North and South. Canada, by the way where I live, could not use slave labor in its agricultural endeavours. But its treatment of native people has been and continues to be appalling.

So there has been a very different evolution in the colonial conquest and usurpation in North and South America. The eventual easy intermingling of the races over time in South America obscured and then diminished the difference literally and symbolically of different coloured skin.

Industrialization and independence was slower to come as well. The difficulties of survival were for the most part shared in lives that continued to be for the most part agricultural. In a very general sense the patterns established in Pre-Colombian America continued and still do. People still regularly go to a doctor and to a shaman.

I can still hear my father’s voice condemning a mixed race couple when we lived in Chicago 50 years ago. I remember my confusion. “Well what’s wrong with that?” I asked him. My schoolmates there were predominantly Black and frankly I much preferred their company.

Gary R. Walters ’64 *75
Toronto, Canada