Claudia Zapata, académica de la Universidad de Chile.

Essays on Indigenous Intellectuals in Latin America Wins International Prize

Rick Kearns

The increasing influence of indigenous intellectuals in parts of Latin America is the subject of an essay collection that just won a prestigious literary award.

The book entitled "Indigenous Intellectuals in Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. Difference, colonialism and anti-colonialism" by Chilean Historian Claudia Zapata won the 2015 Casa Las Americas Honorary Award for essays.

According to Zapata, an historian and Director of the Latin American Cultural Studies Center at the University of Chile, the book came about as a result of the powerful political actions of the indigenous movements starting in the ’80s and addresses one of the principal achievements of these movements: the installation of indigenous intellectuals, with their own voices, into the public arena.

“What I propose is to deepen the analysis of a figure that has been key in this process but that has not, nevertheless, been sufficiently studied and even more, appears to have been avoided, surely because it does not fit well into the classical ethnographic model, and I am referring to indigenous intellectuals,” Zapata stated.

“This deals with a sector in which we can include leaders, professionals and writers,” Zapata said. “What I do is to spend time on the indigenous authors that enter into the public sphere through their writings, and I emphasize their importance and currents of thought with their own sensibility and paths in the areas of culture and intellectual activity in our countries.”

The historian said that she chose authors who were Quechua from Ecuador, Aymara from Bolivia and Mapuche from Chile and studied certain characteristics of the writers: one was how their work has “continental reach” in terms of influence; and two, the historical context of their work along with the political-theoretical conditions that had made them invisible before.

The indigenous writers she examined are historians, sociologists, journalists, and “humanists in general.”

“The book tries to see how, and under what conditions, and from where these intellectuals took charge of a project of indigenous decolonization with a continent-wide influence, and whose bases of operation were established in the late 1970s by ethnic organizations that were the founders of the present indigenous mobilizations,” Zapata stated.

"Indigenous Intellectuals in Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile. Difference, colonialism and anti-colonialism" was published by Editorial Abya Yala of Ecuador which has published many works by indigenous authors.

Casa Las Americas is a Cuban cultural institution that has been giving out literary awards to Latin American writers since 1959. Winners of this year’s awards for poetry and novels came from Colombia, Cuba, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico.

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