Theories of mixture II: transculturation

Posted by: | March 10, 2009 | Comments Off on Theories of mixture II: transculturation

After reading Vasconcelos and Wade’s discussions on mestizaje, this weeks readings presented an interesting follow up regarding the limitations of certain terms when discussing this topic of cultural and racial mixture. Mestizaje seems to talk about an almost natural process of people coming together and how it plays out. In Vasconcelos opinion, this leads to the creation of a superior race, and in Wade’s it serves as a platform for misplacement and questions of identity.

The readings this week challenge some of what these authors are saying. Mestizaje seems to be too narrow a concept. Although it represents much more than a simple racial mixture, it does not delve deep enough in to the economic, social and political processes which allow for some societal traits to triumph others. As well, unlike ‘the cosmic race,’ where when the conquistadors succeed in assimilating the native cultures the new race is complete, transculturation acknowledges the contributions of all parties involved in mixture.

The first article by Ortiz explains why the use of ‘transculturation’ is used rather than the commonly known term ‘acculturation.” On page 98, Ortiz explains that ‘acculturation is used to describe the process of transition from one culture to another, and its manifold social repercussions.” Ortiz then goes on to describe that ‘transculturation is a more suitable term as it has the ability to encompass more of the complex ‘transmutations of culture’ such as “in the economic or in the institutional, legal, ethical, religious, artistic, linguistic, psychological, sexual, or other aspects of life” (Page 98).

Ortiz uses Cuba as an example for this as the coming together of so many diverse groups on the island, the survival of some, and demise of others, has lead to the “problem of disadjustmment and readjustment, of deculturation and acculturation—in a world of transculturation.” (Page 98). Ortiz talks of not only the various economies and political systems (or lack thereof) influencing this process of transculturation, but also the manner in which the groups came to the island influencing how they influenced or were affected by transculturation.

Most interesting to me was when Ortiz talked of the ‘white men’ from European countries who “brought with them a feudal economy, conquerors in search of loot and peoples to subjugate and make serfs of” (Page 100). Although they came with these lavish intentions, they weren’t necessarily coming from a similar hierarchal status. Ortiz describes these men as having “left their native lands ragged and penniless and arrived as lords and masters” (Page 100). They had visions of power and wealth that they may not have had back in their homeland. Hence, these ‘white men’ had a thirst for domination and power that has carved in to the history of Latin America.

On the reverse side of the spectrum, Ortiz describes the Africans brought in to the country as slaves, ‘socially equalized by the same system of slavery’ (Page 101). Thrown on to ships while soundlessly being assigned their position in the new world, the Africans may not have been allowed their ‘institutions or implements’ but they did bring with them ‘their bodies and souls’ (Page 101). Although the African people were subordinated their culture did and still does leave an imprint on what is Cuban culture. This past summer I went to Cuba and witnessed an all day celebration of ‘Santeria’ in the streets of Havana. Santeria is a good representation of the combination of cultures, as the religion itself is a fusion of the Catholic church and the African’s own God’s, a necessary combination so its presence would be allowed. Transculturation is an appropriate term as it doesn’t involve the loss of one culture in exchange for that of another. All parties involved have an influence on one another’s lives.

I chose to focus predominantly on the first article, however, the following two articles were great supplementary readings. The two articles by Cornejo Polar was excellent, especially in pointing out how cultural representations are influenced by artistic works of other cultures. Such as in the written works of indigenismo which have a European flare by being executed in similar written prose while describing indigenous culture.

The last article by Millington drove home the point that trans-culturation is superior to acculturation, describing ‘acculturation’ as referring to cultural take-over which is too definite a process and undermines the influences cultures have over one another regardless of power position. For balance, Millington does use literature which argues the effectiveness of this term. In an excerpt from author Neil Larsen, the point is brought up that ‘transculturation’ seems to present some sort of fairness of cultural influence, acting as a ‘false solution to the underlying problem of social duality” (Page 266). While this is valid to some extent, I think he is giving too much credit to the term, I see it more as being explanatory then some sort of cure (or band-aid as he would describe).


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