Noted Americanist Scholars Will Examine the Myth of Pan-Americanism at UB Symposium

Release Date: September 7, 2001 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The glittering Pan-American Exposition that was held in the then burgeoning city of Buffalo in 1901 was conceived of as marking a turning point in the history of hemispheric relations.

At the time, this was no small thing, given that in previous years the region had seen wars between the United States and both Mexico and Spain. Unfortunately, the ideal of "pan-Americanism" would continue to be eclipsed by what our geopolitical neighbors saw as the overbearing U.S. hegemony.

As part of its centennial celebration of the Pan-American Exposition, UB on Sept. 13 will sponsor "Pan-Americanisms: Myths and Realities," an international symposium that will look at the myths and realities embodied in the concept of pan-Americanism.

The symposium, sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences and its Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, will be free of charge and open to the public. Events will be held in the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, 453 Porter Ave., or in the Screening Room in the Center for the Arts on the UB North (Amherst) Campus.

Information on lecture times, topics and speakers can be found at For additional information, contact the UB Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at 716-645-2191.

The symposium will feature presentations by widely published historiographer Ricardo Quiza-Moreno, a research fellow at the Instituto de Historia de Cuba in Havana, and Bruce Novoa, professor of Spanish at the University of California at Irvine, who is the author of four books on Chicano literature. A third speaker, Sara Castro-Klarén, is a noted author and professor of romance languages and literatures at The Johns Hopkins University.

They will examine why the nations and the nationless peoples of the Americas are no closer to a mutual hemispheric understanding than they were 100 years ago.

"It interests us that the 1901 exposition brought to a close a century marked by multiple national independence movements in the Americas under the sign of a new, ostensibly non-national hegemony by the two American continents," says Margarita Vargas, UB associate professor of Spanish, chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and a conference organizer.

The questions to be addressed by the symposium are simple ones, she says. How was the determination of a "pan-Americas" arrived at in 1901, and what does the term mean today? What political, ideological and mythological work does the modifier 'pan' mean?

"Is it possible," she asks, "that the Americas, in their plurality and singularity, can be thought about and imagined only within the framework of 'pan'? Under such an inclusive hemispheric inclusiveness, who or what is excluded?"

The symposium conveners say that the 1901 Pan-Am was touted as an opportunity to launch an era of peace and progress under a banner of transcontinental unity.

Vargas points out that the political and cultural conditions of the time did not allow for a serious exchange of ideas about pan-Americanism itself. The 1901 Latin-American discourse on the Americas, which dated to the early 19th century, was fundamentally incompatible with the U.S. course of "Manifest Destiny" and the Anglo-Saxon philosophical pragmatism that propelled it in the late 19th century.

In the 13 years that followed the Pan-Am, the U.S. annexed Puerto Rico, declared its unilateral right to intervene in Cuban affairs, encouraged Panama's independence from Colombia in order to acquire the Panama Canal rights, declared itself in the "Roosevelt Corollary" to be the policeman of the Caribbean, placed the Dominican Republic under a customs receivership, invaded Nicaragua (and occupied it until 1933) and shelled seized parts of the Mexican city of Veracruz because the Mexicans refused to salute the U.S. flag.

"The myths we hold about 'pan-Americanism' today continue to diverge from transcontinental realities," says Vargas, noting that most North Americans have no idea of the way their southern neighbors view them, nor do they understand the expectations and concerns Latin Americans have about the exclusionist economics practiced by the United States.

The symposium speakers, all of whom have written and spoken eloquently to these questions, are among the top scholars in the field of Americanist studies.

In addition to the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, the symposium's UB co-sponsors are the Department of English, the Eugenio Donato Chair in the Department of Comparative Literature (Rodolphe Gasché), the Julian Park Chair in the Department of Comparative Literature (Elizabeth Grosz), the James McNulty Chair in the Department of English (Dennis Tedlock), the David Gray Chair in Poetry in the English department (Charles Bernstein), the Samuel P. Capen Chair in American Culture, also in the English Department (Bruce Jackson) and the Samuel P. Capen Chair in the Department of Philosophy (Jorge Gracia).

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