The debate about nation building in Spanish America emerges with its
political emancipation. The sudden rupture and remapping of the conti-
nent left Spanish Americans caught between their colonial heritage and
the modernizing influences of Northern Europe. Without a consensus as
to the political program to be implemented, Spanish Americans began
debating their future. United by a common language, the independent
republics, as well as the territories that remained under Spanish control
(Cuba and Puerto Rico), reached within their boundaries to assert their
own uniqueness while defining themselves as an integral part of
rica. Whether politically independent or not, the need to define one's
national identity became a crucial issue throughout the continent after
postindependence; it was the first step toward securing a future.
In discussing what constitutes a nation, Ernest Renan concluded that
the essential element is the creation of a strong sense of unity, which
must come from sharing a past and envisioning a future together:
To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the
present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still
more-these are the essential conditions for being a people.1
Consequently, one could say that the past is the definitive element in
nation building; it is a precondition for the construction of a future.
Without a consolidated past, a firm and tangible project cannot be de-
vised. A common past must be retrieved for a sense of wholeness to
emerge. Only then can a community begin to "imagine" itself. Thus, it
is in the past where the common bonds uniting a people lie. Reclaim-
ing those bonds, however, implies not simply rescuing traditions and
customs but rather a much more complex process of inscription and
erasure. On the one hand, each community will highlight the valorous
sacrifices made toward the consolidation of its place and identity; on
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