Howl’s moving castle and a bit about race

SPOILER ALERT

 

 

I loved this book.  

 

It is a beautiful story that borders on happy-go-lucky, without being too cheesy. But I found a detail in the end a bit disturbing; that is when Calcifer decides to come back to castle after everything happened. 

This reminded me a bit too much of Stockholm Syndrome, and I think without the proper context it might send the wrong message to some (by making it seem so trivial). But I don’t think authors are necessarily in charge of the own social message they carry (at least I’m fiction)-if they want to make a commentary, they are more than welcome- so that some responsibility is carried over to the reader.I realized later, that the book does try to give a proper context to the relationship of Calcifer and Howl in light of the nature in which i interpreted it. Even more so, the following books explain this matter much  better and deeper; problem is, I don’t know what to make of their relationship. Is it co-slavery or co-mastership? Does this even matter? Regardless, there is the perception of a unequal power relationship and that caught my attention and was always in the back burner while I was reading the book. The author made this even more exciting by weaving the plot in ambiguous clues into the relationship of Calcifer and Howl (Howlifer as the tabloids would call it…no?)

 

 

On an unseeingly unrelated point, this made me think about conversations that I have had with friends and co-workers about race and Latin America. The main point in these discussions being that race in Latin America is so much more complex than in the US; and as such, trying to compare the black/white dichotomy of the Anglo colonial/republic discourse falls short when trying to talk about Latin America. The problem further complicates itself when all these studies (and scholars) that reside here in the north (see allusions to USA) accuse the Central and South Americas (including of course the Caribbean) of rampant racism and of using colonization as an excuse to ignore our blackness. Racism exists, but the situation is so much more complex than that, and more than often these accusations reek of ethnocentrism; and I’m more than willing to bring my lemon pledge.

 

 

One has to think of the colonization processes and histories of each country and their respective metropolises in Europe. While rampantly racist, Spanish colonization characterized itself with mestizaje (intermixing). The late enlightenment in Ibero-America brought to Spanish Speaking American countries a criollo (creole, local, native) pride in their respective national identities, so that the 19th century became a focal point of ethnic differentiation from Europe and independence movements that highlighted their mixed ethnicity as Mexicans, Venezuelans, Colombians, etc (of course this needs deeper discussion, but of course this intermixing was of course mostly ‘white’ with a bit of color-not too much, cause…apparently that was not cool back then…being brown and all). This happened in some Latin Americans countries where these conditions surfaced; except in the countries where indigenous people were still alive (they were mostly ignored by the new elite); except also in those countries where indigenous people were driven to extinction, (e.g. most of the Caribbean) and where these indigenous identities, now long gone, were romanticized; except in those places where blacks were the majority… maybe it wasn’t that homogenous after all.

My point exactly…

There is too much diversity from place to place to talk about race in one sentence and try to express national identity, ethnic origins and racial politics. Sadly, the constant in many of these places was the reproduction of how we look at our African ancestry. In Puerto Rico, the extinct Taíno society became an emblem of the original settlers to drive out the Spanish colonizers; all the while reconstructing this past in lieu of our African culture.

 

 

Everyone (most) knows and acknowledges the influences of our African Ancestors as heritage and genetics; thankfully this heritage is not limited to people who phenotypically look ‘black’ (whatever that is). Also, nobody in Puerto Rico says they’re Spanish, or Taíno (except a few people, and I have a strong opinion about this, but alas another time), or African. The shared knowledge of being Puerto Rican permits a fluid identity that has been discoursally fed through the state and cultural apparatuses; the same apparatuses that feed racism to all of us.

Nonetheless, the discourse and collective consciousness of being a mestizo society does not mean that our ideology is an excuse, but more so a different reality than the one in the US. Therefore, being Puerto Rican (in the island I must add, for pseudo methodological and theoretical reasons) allows you to not think about race in the same way that they do here in the US. To be honest, we are made ‘aware’ of these nuances and dichotomies of the racial headache of the US when we come to the mainland. The fluidity is amazing… and complex.

Why did Howl made me think of this? Maybe it was the connotations of negotiated meanings

in the relationship between Calcifer and Howl. Their co-dependency was filled with borderline hate, love and the life debt they owed one another. Who was really the slave and who was the master? Who was negotiating the meaning of the existence of the other? Why oh why did Calcifer come back?

 

 

Paradoxes, complications and a dash of racism? of course, but again, not just black and white. It’s more grey, and we all fall in the middle.

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