Heroes & Hero Cults in Latin America

Heroes & Hero Cults in Latin America

Heroes & Hero Cults in Latin America

Heroes & Hero Cults in Latin America


Latin American history traditionally has been defined by larger-than-life heroes such as Símon Bolívar, Emiliano Zapata, and Evita Perón. Recent scholarship, however, tends to emphasize social and cultural factors rather than great leaders. In this new collection, Samuel Brunk and Ben Fallaw bring heroes back to the center of the debate, arguing that heroes not only shape history, they also "tell us a great deal about the places from which they come." The original essays in this collection examine ten modern Latin American heroes whose charisma derived from the quality of their relationships with admirers, rather than their innate personal qualities. The rise of mass media, for instance, helped pave the way for populists such as radio actress-turned-hero Evita Perón. On the other hand, heroes who become president often watch their images crumble, as policies replace personality in the eyes of citizens. In the end, the editors argue, there is no formula for Latin American heroes, who both forge, and are forged by, unique national events. The conclusion points toward Mexico, where the peasant revolutions that elevated Miguel Hidalgo and, later, Emiliano Zapata are so revered that today's would-be heroes, such as the EZLN's Subcomandante Marcos, must link themselves to peasant mythology even when their personal roots are far from native ground. The enduring (or, in some cases, fading) influence of those discussed in this volume validates the central placement of heroes in Latin American history.


Ben Fallaw and Samuel Brunk

Modern Latin American history is brimming with heroes. Since the independence movements of the early nineteenth century, the politics of the region have been profoundly personalistic, as attested to by the many groups that have coalesced around leaders with a strong personal draw: the Zapatistas, Porfirians, Peronistas, Sandinistas. Some storied Latin American heroes of the past have, in death, transcended their national settings to become international icons, emblems of the region: Frida Kahlo, Che Guevara, Pancho Villa, Chico Mendes, and Evita Perón spring quickly to mind, but there are many others. and some figures whom we must consider at least potential heroes are with us still—witness the charisma with which Brazil’s Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva—pursued and ultimately won the presidency of that nation, the symbolic flair of the ski-masked rebel Subcomandante Marcos in the Mexican state of Chiapas, or the success with which Fidel Castro has persisted in Cuba and the singular legacy he will leave.

What exactly is a hero? Our definition is that a hero is a person to whom remarkable courage, talent, and other noble, even godlike traits are attributed by members of a community and who thus acquires a lasting place of importance in that community’s culture. No one, of course, is likely to be granted such qualities by everyone in a given group of people. Indeed, the best that most heroes can hope for, especially those who are involved in politics, is to win the enduring affection of many and the enmity of a few. Still, most cultures—probably all cultures—have produced individuals who have achieved that lasting place of importance despite the dissent.

One thing a hero surely needs is charisma. Indeed, sociologist Max Weber’s classic definition of charisma is quite similar to ours. Charisma . . .

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