“Our sense of time spans two generations back in the past and two generations forward into the future. That’s it. Most people cannot name a single great-grandparent. Few parents can conceive of the possibility of their child someday becoming a grandparent. It’s our historical and future-looking myopia that makes it pretty much impossible to for us to even imagine the distant future.”

Why we won’t stop climate change” an op-ed of doom published by Al Jazeera today. (via climateadaptation)

Is it suggested that in order to save the future we must be able to focus on genealogy?

In Colombia (and in other parts of South America, I presume) there has existed a set of naming conventions that express a fixation on genealogy. Every person carries and uses both paternal and maternal last names, daily. Take for example the Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Márquez. His paternal last name, the one we in the US use as our last name, is Garcia. His maternal last name is Márquez. This is still patriarchal in that the paternal lineage always precedes the maternal lineage, and it is the co-joining of the paternal last names from both parents that form the pattern. It is nevertheless possible to track matrilineal heritage with this pattern too.

The ancestry is interleaved, leaving clues. I am Rafael Alberto Fajardo Blanco Rodriguez Cabrera. In the US my identity has to be truncated at Fajardo, my patrilineal heritage. My maternal grandfather’s patrilineal last name was Blanco. My paternal grandmother’s patrilineal last name was Rodriguez. My maternal grandmother’s patrilineal heritage was Cabrera. My mother’s official government documents retain Blanco as her last name, with an insulting “of” to append Fajardo.

The principle ice-breaking conversation in polite Colombian society is to track one’s heritage as many generations as possible given the mnemonic of these naming patterns. My sister was able to to recite seven generations back. We’ve found ourselves to be deeply embedded in a vast cousin network. It has connected us, even though our parents migrated out of this culture.

This convention is not hyphenated and databases that privilege the anglo-centric worldview cannot parse this complexity. Facebook users from Colombia of my parents generation are particularly frustrated.

The Colombian focus on genealogy is a remnant of the colonial era, and was meant to ensure and reinforce class and race disparities, in spite of a de facto intermingling, an inter-breeding to form a mestizaje. Can we look-backward-to-look-forward without reinscribing the historic injustices?

January 22, 2013