The Other Me

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  • Topic: Culture, Aztec, The Culture
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  • Published : December 7, 2012
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The "Other" before Me:
A Bicultural Dialogue between Solange de Azambuja Lira & Arnold Gordenstein From Reflections on Multiculturalism by Robert Eddy, Editor Intercultural Press, 1992 (reprinted with permission of the author)

The Conquest of America: The Question of the Otber, by Tzvetan Todorov, was published in French in 1982 and in English in 1984 by Harper and Row. Todorov argues that the sixteenth-century, confrontation between the Spanish explorers and the Aztecs commenced a dialogue which has framed and energized much of Western social and political discourse from that time until the present and focuses our contemporary concerns regarding multiculturalism. The consequences of this historic discovery of the "other, Todorov writes, "heralds and established our present identity." Since the discovery was accidental, neither explorers nor natives could anticipate the people they would encounter, therefore the experience serves nearly as a laboratory model for the examination of an uncontaminated and unbiased "other." Todorov deals with the political, philosophical, and psychological dimensions of the interchange, examining the writings of Columbus and the events surrounding Cortez(s experience in Mexico. He analyzes the writings of two remarkable priests, Diego Durán and Bernar dino de Sahagún, who studied the culture of the Aztecs in order to convert them but, converting few, left the best books on the subject. Indeed, Sahagún flirted with heresy by publicly discussing the many parallels between Aztec religion and Christianity. Both priests lived virtually their entire lives in Mexico, both employed different strategies, but neither could prevent the virtual extinction of the people they meant to protect and convert. Todorov explores the discovery of the "other( through the words of Columbus, Las Casas, Sepulveda, Durgán and Sahagún, as well as the actions of Montezuma and Cortez. Since Columbus, Todorov writes, Westerners "have discovered the totality of which they are a part, whereas hitherto they formed a part without a whole." Since Todorov does not attempt to exhaust the discussion of "otherness" in all its aspects, the present dialogue addresses the way it infiltrates and influences a relationship between individuals of two cultures. The amplifications of the present conversation into cultural concerns, as well as the similarities between this encounter and one between members of any two cultures, should be clear to the careful reader. A native of Rio de Janeiro, Solange de Azambuja Lira is an associate professor who works with language diversity issues. Her husband, Massachusetts-born Arnold Gordenstein, is an associate professor who teaches American literature, minority literature, and Latin American literature. For more than two decades they have spent about equal amounts of time between their two countries, teaching and raising their four children, three of whom were born in Brazil. All members of the family, with varying degrees of facility, are bilingual.

Arnold:So how should we begin? Any beginning is going to be artificial but I suppose the inescapable beginning is Todorov's description of the relationship between the explorers and the natives in the newly discovered lands.

Solange:Intruders, not explorers. New to the intruders. Arnold: All right. New to the intruders. And once we've identified this relationship and tried to describe it, our job is going to be to find if these intruders' incredible experience of finding this unexpected place has any parallel in the more mundane relationship between individuals like you and me.

Arnold:All right. New to the intruders. And once we’ve identified this relationship and tried to describe it, our job is going to be to find if these intruders( incredible experience of finding this unexpected place has any parallel in the more mundane relationship between individuals like you and me.

Solange:Keep the mundane to yourself. In...
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