Julie GibbingsNov 9, 2020
Our Time is Now
Race and Modernity in Postcolonial Guatemala
Cambridge University Press 2020
Our Time is Now: Race and Modernity in Postcolonial Guatemala (Cambridge University Press, 2020) is an ambitious exploration of modernity, history, and time in post-colonial Guatemala. Set in the Q’eqchi Maya highlands of Alta Verapaz from the 19th century into the 20th, Julie Gibbings explores how Q’eqchi, ladino, and German immigrant actors created the overlapping, messy and contentious political worlds of modern Guatemala, with attention to the “asymmetric information, expectations, and power ...their mutual misunderstandings and distinct worldviews” of each of these groups. More specifically, Gibbings argues that in the state and coffee planters’ active erasure of Maya political ontologies and worldviews in the nineteenth century created an explosive twentieth century where modernity was always unfulfilled and imminent, but deeply desired by ladino and Maya communities alike.
Gibbings seeks to unsettle our view of Guatemalan modernity, and demands that readers attend to the innovative politics and the historical agency of Q’eqchi elites and laborers as well as that of ladinos and Germans. In order to do this, Our Time is Now makes use of sources as diverse as myths about half human cows who haunt German plantations and community interpretations of devastating weather patterns in order to show how Q’eqchi activists’ engaged with both liberal political worlds and their own autonomous values. While Ladino liberals and German settlers both insisted that Mayans were anti-modern, uncivilized, and thus not ready for citizenship by definition, Mayan patriarchs and Q’eqchi liberals argued for their own rights and developed distinct visions of progress. Q’eqchi actors’ engagement with liberal modernity and insistence on their own agency created a “revolutionary time” that “diverged from nineteenth century teleological and linear history.” In the twentieth century, the unfulfilled promises of modernity created revolutions and unrest over and over again.
Dr Gibbings is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Modern and Contemporary History and a Lecturer in the History of the Americas for the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh. She is also the co-editor of Out of the Shadow: Revisiting the Revolution in Post-Peace Guatemala, out this year from the University of Texas Press.
Dr Elena McGrath is Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Union College. She is working on a manuscript about mineworkers, race, and revolution in Bolivia.