Editor’s Letter: Monuments and Counter-Monuments

by | Sep 6, 2021

Cuba may be the only country on the planet that sports statues of John Lennon and Vladimir Lenin. Uruguay may be the first in planning a full-fledged monument to the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic. Venezuela sets the record for the sheer number of statues to Liberator Simón Bolívar and to the country’s deceased leader, Hugo Chávez. And Colombia has the distinction of having transformed a drug dealer’s confiscated replica of the Statue of Liberty into the Doll of Liberty, a symbol of peace and reconstruction.

When I began working on this issue of ReVista, the Harvard Review of Latin America, about a year ago, statues of Christopher Columbus and of colonizers like Juan de Oñate and Californian missions founder Junipero Serra were being tumbled, beheaded or taken down by officials after protests. Throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, citizens wreaked wrath against injustices by tearing down visible symbols.

At that time, I reached out to friends and scholars (most often, friends who are scholars). Alba Aragon, a professor at Bridgewater State University who has her Ph.D. from Harvard in Romance Languages and Literatures, described her “mixed emotions about figures and monuments that commemorate the Hispanic legacy in the United States being taken down.”

This issue on  Monuments and Counter-Monuments takes a look at what monuments represent and what their legacy means. It also examines a trend towards counter-monuments, an effort to seek other ways to create memorials.

I admit that I initially saw the primary question as whether statues should stay up or be taken down. I viewed an invisible score card of what was going up and what was being torn down. If I have learned anything in the process of putting together this issue, it’s that there is a lot of creative thinking and imaginative in-betweens.

Jeffrey Schnapp, who occupies the Carl Pescosolido Chair in Romance and Comparative Literatures at Harvard University, in his article “Monument Cemetery,”  observes, “[I]n the long run, modification, recontextualization and even substitution are more productive propositions than outright elimination, particularly when these practices involve the critical or creative reuse of elements from the predecessor monument.”

Each monument, each statue, is a story, a place of memory, a history. Even though we’ve categorized the articles into five themes—Counter-Monuments, Focus on Afro-Descendants, Focus on Venezuela, Places of Memory and In Search of Identities—the sections interact with each other in a quest to look at the meanings and uses of monuments and counter-monuments in our evolving societies.

Winter 2003Volume II, Number 2

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