Posted by: | February 10, 2009 | Comments Off on Mestizaje

I loved both of the pieces this week, not only because they were easier to grasp than previous weeks, but also because they both conveyed quite interesting perspectives of the meaning of mestizaje in Latin America.

The first piece ‘A Cosmic Race’ by Jose Vasconcelos, was actually quite a fun read. Written in 1948, it reflected a somewhat outdated way of thinking. Taking elements of a Darwinist approach, Vasconcelos describes “mestizaje” as the formation a superior race, or what he refers to as the ‘fifth race.’ This new race is achieved by combining the prime characteristics of the European colonists, the Latin America indigenous people and Africans. Instead of these cultures clashing, they will come together in celebration and combine the strong and beautiful traits from each culture to create this super-race. The ugly, the bad, the lazy traits will be rejected due to the increased options of breeding and will be discarded from the new race. Vasconcelos claims there are limitless possibilities with interbreeding, and that to “imitate, we lose.” Such as the English colonists did, attempting to maintain ‘pure’ all-white bloodlines, especially when this process leads to incestuous relationships, their development is halted and they are unable to move forward and branch out in our ever changing world. Therefore, to move forward is to come together, and to share. Latin America is the ideal site for this fusion of all peoples as the ‘warm climate is ideal for the gathering of all people” (Page 26).

Of course, Vasconcelos does not believe this 5th race will be automatically created, rather there is a series of steps, three to be precise, that must occur for this process to take place. The three steps, starting on page 28, describe a transition of interbreeding that goes from necessity to desire. The first of these is ‘Material and Warlike,’ where interbreeding is a product of power and not of cordial fusion. Second, it is due to intellectual and political reasoning. Rather than choice, there are binding religious, ethical and political reasons for inter-racial ties. Lastly, after becoming comfortable with one another’s cultures and differences among them, unions are ‘born from a feeling,’ as desire and curiosity overcome the norm.

Before, I said that this was an enjoyable read. Not because I think the author brings up a lot of good points, because it is quite apparent that  this is not the shape mestizaje has taken in Latin America, rather it is simply an interesting perspective of such a hypothetical outcome if cultures were going to meet under these circumstances. However, I think Vasconcelos undermined his ‘first step,’ of the desire for power from the colonists, counteracted by the strong cultural traditions of los indios o los negros. Due to this, I thought Peter Wade’s article was an excellent follow up to this piece.

Wade describes the process of mestizaje not as the combination of races to create a new race, or new identity, but rather a mosaic of different identities. Rather than Vasconcelos ‘puzzle’ that different races come together to create a completely different picture that is its own entity, Wade describes a patchwork quilt. Each piece of the mixed race he describes holds a different meaning, and for the people that are of mixed race, they can identify with different pieces of themselves to different extents.

Another point that differs is that Vasconcelos ‘survival of the fittest’ prediction, this new race will live harmoniously and former differences will no longer matter. However, Wade provides an opposite perspective claiming that the new mixed race will be the site of struggle rather than harmony between races. Each individual has a hierarchy of traits of which they identify with (Page 255). Wade introduces a number of good examples of local dances where although they are practiced in modern day are consistently attributed to their origins, claiming certain parts of the same dance to be from African influence, or indigenous influence rather than simply claiming it to be of a ‘mestizaje’ influence. On the individual level, this allows them to feel connected to certain elements of their being over others leading to questioning on where they fit in, and what they value.

Overall, these are two enlightening articles over mestizaje. It is apparent that it is a unique experience depending on the individual and their life’s circumstances. It does not directly correspond to harmony or displacement; rather it is a much more complex process of self-identification.


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