Theories of Mixture: Mestizaje

Posted by: | February 7, 2009 | Comments Off on Theories of Mixture: Mestizaje

I’ve covered the topic of “mestizaje” in my previous Latin American Studies course, and what I got out of previous discussions was that this idea of mestizaje is a complex topic. My perceived complexities of mestizaje were furthered confirmed after reading the articles for this week. I felt like the articles were good compliments for each other, and provided varying views on the topic of mestizaje.

Within the first few pages of “The Cosmic Race” by Vasconcelos, I was already astonished by some of the arguments and views taken by the author. For example, to end off the Prologue, Vasconcelos mentions that “A religion such as Christianity made the American Indians advance, in a few centuries, from cannibalism to a relative degree of civlization.” There are so many aspects of this quote that I have a problem with. First of all, the author doesn’t take a neutral stance in regards to Christianity and religion, basically saying that without Christianity, these people would be lost. The author also perpetuates the dichotomy of uncivilized vs. civilized. What, exactly, does it mean to be civilized? And how did this “relative degree of civilization” manifest itself within the American Indian community? Cannabalism has long been associated with certain indigenous peoples, and it seems the author is saying that cannabalism is an uncivilized practice, as it is not practiced by people of the Western world. However, who are we to judge those people with customs different to our own? Just because we may not practice certain customs, does not make those customs uncivilized or inferior to ours.

Vasconcelos also argues that “Even the pure Indians are Hispanized, they are Latinized, just as the environment itself is Latinized.” However, to reflect back on the article written by Rowe and Schelling, they presented a different argument on the topic of mixing. Rowe and Schelling argued that while Indians may be Hispanized, Hispanics are also, and equally so, Indianized. A reciprocated exchange exists between cultures. However, Vasconcelos seems to believe that one culture is more dominant than the other (Hispanic culture dominates Indigenous culture).

I believe that many of the argmuents brought up by Vasconcelos were rather idealized and fantastical. He describes a world where “the aesthetics of cloudiness and grays will be seen as the sickly art of the past.” He seems to believe that the mixing of races will bring about not only a so-called “cosmic race” but also a utopian land as well. Vasconcelos argues that with the creation of this cosmic race, racism and prejudism and other such “isms” will be erased, as there will be no racial divides anymore. The thought of this is quite appealing, however, Vasconcelos seems to contradict himself when describing various races. While he believes in a future without racial divides, he describes certain races as an “inferior race,” presumably the black and indigenous. In his description of the various races, he perpetuates racist discourse. In conclusion, I found the overall article quite contradictory as Vasconcelos is describing how mestizaje will bring about a cosmic race, eliminating racism and racial divides, but in his descriptions of the various races that will mix to create this cosmic race, he continues to use racist and prejudist discourse.

I found Wade’s article easier to read, and also more optimistic in its discussion of mestizaje. I liked how he stressed the fact that mestizaje is not just an ideology for creating a national identity, but is rather a way of living for the people. I think this is an important point to keep in mind. In overlooking the fact that living people are actually involved in the process of mestizaje, we ignore the implications and effects that processes of mestizaje have on the people. I feel like this is an aspect that was missing from Vasconcelo’s article. He didn’t touch on the profound effects and power struggles that occur under the processes of mestizaje. Wade, on the other hand, takes the discussion of mestizaje to a more grassroots level. I enjoyed the specific examples he gave of music and dance in the Colombian coast as well as mestizaje within families in Brazil and Colombia. Through examples, I had a clearer view of how racial mixing affects the people who are actually mixing. It is not as simple as mixing two different races together. There are issues with mixing cultures as well. “Mestizaje is a space of struggle and contest.” This is a key point in the discussion of mestizaje. In mixing races and cultures, there are certain perceptions of which is the more ideal race and which is the more inferior. Wade’s article brought to light the many difficulties that arise through mestizaje; difficulties which Vasconcelo’s article seemed to gloss over.


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