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Latin America perspectives a series of information and comment about Latin America with Dr. C. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University. These programs are recorded by station w s i u FM. Here now is Dr. Gardner. Some day that complacent proclamation. The middle class is the backbone of America will probably provoke a counter attack. I can almost see it now. A volume entitled The American middle class roadblock of progress. We have long entertained the idea that Mr Nobody. Be he recent immigrant or native born can lift himself by dint of hard work and can guarantee the better life for his children if they will but couple education and work in this manner. So American history folklore and mythology put it one makes it into the middle
class. But sometimes routinely with certain minority groups the helping hands of economic and educational opportunities are limited if not totally lacking. It would appear that all too often as regards chances of admission to a labor union chances of renting or buying desirable property and other chances too numerous to mention it would appear that middle class America is bent upon preserving its privileged sanctuary so busy maintaining status quo that it not only blocks progress it also contributes to revolutionary potential. In Latin America as in this country a generous and somewhat misleading concept of the middle class prevails. Most historians viewing the moment of independence for Latin America back in the 18th 20s belabor the fact that the lack
of preparation that the citizens had for the newly gained independence a lack of preparation in the management of their affairs politically a lack of preparation in the level of literacy that they had attained the complaint is made that Latin America's greatest lack was a middle class that indeed there was an unbridgeable chasm between the haves. A minority of less than 1 percent and the have nots who made up the great mass of the population and the inference of course is that when a bridge is built in the Latin American countries between the haves and the have nots the aristocracy and the peasantry when the middle class appears you will have a sort of open sesame way to progress. The indefinite prospect for improving the way of life will be before the people.
I turned to this theme the middle class in Latin America Inspired by one of seven essays in a volume penned by Charles White Glee anthropologist. The title of which is the Latin American tradition essays on the unity and the diversity of Latin American culture. The volume is published by Columbia University Press. In his essay dealing with the Latin American middle class Professor waggly advances the thesis that this sect or of the Latin American population is caught up in a dilemma between its liberal democratic ideals and the realities involved in the extension of liberal democracy between a desire to extend the benefits of modern technology to the whole body politic and the terrible cost of
doing so. And if indeed this dilemma seems to have relevance to areas closer at hand and Latin America that it be said then that some of their dilemma is shared by us in Latin America the middle class by and large composed of people apt to model themselves in social behavior and cultural values on that smaller aristocracy above them. They for example place great value unusual value on white collar occupations. This despite the fact that many so-called white collar occupations may pay less than skilled manual labor. But in Latin America more so than in our area. There is such an abhorrence traditionally of manual labor that many will settle for the dignity of the white collar though along with it is the indignity of smaller income. And this of course poses a
continuing problem for them. The people of the Latin American middle class invariably value the classical literary tradition of education over the more technical and scientific training that may lead to the invents ment of the entire economy. Indeed the gross national product the per capita income call it progress if you like. Furthermore there is with the average member of the Latin American middle class an overweening tendency toward conspicuous consumption. If in this country there's a bit of that social problem of keeping up with the Joneses in Latin America it might be called loping after the locus is you have it quite commonly the case that be at a birthday celebration or some fiesta event that an individual or family will take upon itself. What amounts to a massive
indebtedness. It is one thing to buy a refrigerator. It is one thing to buy an automobile and have indebtedness but it is yet another thing to have merely one's social inclinations of keeping up with the neighbors of doing as well as other elements of your family do and causing through this conspicuous consumption and ostentation that amounts to a debt that hangs uncomfortably around one's neck for an indefinite period of time. The Latin American middle class is even more overwhelmingly Urban that it is in the United States. I mean to say that in rural Latin America the land is held by the large land holder and there is as yet a great chasm between him and the landless laborer who works upon that land. There are no small land owners self-sustaining farmers in the customary sense of the word. As we know it and there is little likelihood of this
developing because as we well know technology has led us more and more to what can be called corporate agriculture and so they are moving from the feudalism of the great landlord to call it a new feudalism of corporate agriculture and so rural Latin America lacks to a greater degree than we do. Any viable middle class. There is also in the Latin American middle class a desire to have the educational opportunities of one children advanced as far as possible. This means that books are to be bought that lectures are to be attended that many opportunities are to be given the children. This is expensive but it of course develops an awareness of political problems and out of this awareness of political problems. There can be on occasion and even greater frustration. And yet the middle class of Latin
America is traditionalist thick and nationalistic. A Mexican is proud of what becomes a super expression of his Mexican nature and this very insistence upon his nationality can find the member of the Latin American middle class possessed of limited perspectives of appetites that indeed become problems for him. One great American Mexican historian describing Latin American nationalism wrote it was seldom born suckled by faith in its own values but was born grew and flourished as a reaction of protest suspicion and even hatred and contempt for the wrong done by foreign individuals companies and governments. This then suggests that the nationalism on which this middle class feeds is one that emphasizes the negative rather than a positive program that
would find them participating in the advancement of their own nation. In the past of course the ogre's the bogeyman have been France and Britain and Germany along with the United States but no more completely. The United States is the butt of the suspicion and the hatred and yet one must say there is a positive side to the middle class nationalism. There was a time years ago when Mexicans were ashamed of their Indian origin of their mixture of European and Indian blood. But the Mexican Revolution has so reversed things that today in Mexico one is fortunate to have Indian blood. It's so much like being born in a log cabin to help one his way politically in the United States. The same is true in reference to Guatemala and Brazil and other areas where in the mixture of blood once led to one believing that one was less than he should be because he was less
European than some of his forebears. The middle class in Latin America varies with the different countries. Argentina Uruguay Chile and Costa Rica have perhaps more than 20 percent of their respective populations in the middle class. Others vary below that. And yet it is noteworthy that there is no key to political stability evident in this matter of the percentage dominance the middle class knows in a given country. Some countries have had a great deal of political instability and violence and yet the middle class is strong there. By and large the middle class in Latin America like United States foreign policy prefers stability to progress. And what happened in Brazil from 1964 to the present when they shifted to a military government the middle class willingly supporting it suggests that the promise of stability was
very important but now the middle class is almost a prisoner of that government. And in Cuba what seemed to begin as a middle class revolution against a dictator became a communist revolution which has driven most of the middle class into exile in all of these situations the middle class. Might have been the crucial element for social and political change. It was not so however rather it faltered and acquiesced in favor of the status quo. The Latin American middle class must face and solve its Dial-Up it must decide to promote social and economic progress no matter what the cost. And it will be costly and a difficult task to extend the education the health the housing the food the public services that are called for and the middle class will itself suffer as it gives to others. To make this the progress of the nation possible. But the alternative is to live in a nation policed by the military
as in Brazil or face a left wing authoritarian regime as in Cuba which would aim at its destruction. The question facing the next generation in Latin America is whether or not the middle class is willing to pay the price of a peaceful revolution. The essay on the middle class relates to the volume the Latin American tradition by Charles waggly published by Columbia University Press. This was another program in the series Latin America perspectives with Dr. C. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University. Join us for our next program when Dr. Gardner will comment on another interesting aspect of Latin American affairs. These programs are recorded by station WFIU FM and are made available to this station by the national educational radio network.
Latin American perspectives II
Episode Number
Episode 6 of 38
Producing Organization
WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3544. This prog.: The Latin American Middle Class
Global Affairs
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Producing Organization: WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-3-16 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:13:17
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Chicago: “Latin American perspectives II; Episode 6 of 38,” 1968-03-11, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 8, 2023,
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APA: Latin American perspectives II; Episode 6 of 38. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from