Americans celebrating the Fourth of July this weekend might be surprised to learn that our country’s battle for independence was deeply intertwined with Latin America’s struggles against colonialism.
A new exhibit at the Newberry Library, “¡Viva la Libertad! Latin America and the Age of Revolutions,” uses maps, manuscripts and rare books to illustrate the trials and triumphs of countries from Mexico to Chile as they fought for their own independence.
Curator Will Hansen says that the Newberry felt 2021 was the perfect time for this exhibition, as it is two centuries after a number of Latin American countries won their independence in the 1820s.
“One of the things we’re pointing out in this exhibit is all of these independent struggles happening around this time period, some of them, sparked by the United States’ successful revolution and winning of independence,” Hansen said.
Among the artifacts tracing the connections between the U.S. fight for independence and Latin America is a pocket-sized book titled “Necessary Ideas for All Independent American Peoples Who Want to Be Free.”
“It is a compilation of the U.S. founding documents and writings by people like Thomas Paine and John Adams compiled by an Ecuadorian patriot named Vincent Rocafuerte who was in the United States at the time. And it’s in Spanish, even though it was published in Philadelphia, as a way presumably to be smuggled into the Spanish colonies,” said Hansen. “At the time, 1821, they’re starting to think they will actually win their independence and thinking about what forms of government those new nations will take.”
The exhibit also features artifacts and items from the Indigenous people in these countries, including the Codex Zempoala.
“It’s a Techialoyan document, a village land book essentially, where Indigenous people in central Mexico are asserting their rights to the land they’ve lived in, in Zempoala, for hundreds of years,” Hansen said. “They’re doing it to show the Spanish administrators that they have been on the land for a very long time as a way of asserting their sovereignty, their autonomy on the land against Spanish encroachment.”
The exhibition “¡Viva la Libertad! Latin America and the Age of Revolutions,” which is presented in both Spanish and English, is free to the public on display at the Newberry Library through July 24.