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La Raza and race

12 November 2017

Officially, since Independence, Mexico has done everything it can to erase the differences between “race” in favor of creating “la raza” — the people.  But, with ethnic identity movements gaining momentum in recent years, there is more awareness by people of their own “race”… for good or ill.  I tend to think the recent interest in racial identity — as evidenced by the inclusion of “Afrodescendiente” (of African descent) in the latest census — has much to do with U.S. influence.

Given that, historically, the Bourbon “casta” system of racial classification was used to prevent people from rising above their assigned station in life, and such classification was considered inherently unfair… and most people, regardless of what their casta was — as long as they couldn’t claim to be pure European — claimed to be mestizo. And, the Afrodescendientes, as a separate community, were forgotten.  That much of the Afrodesceniente community* has been historically neglected may have as much to do with geographical and cultural isolation as racism, but the new ethnic awareness does have positive results, at least identifying areas where more resources are required.

No one believes that racism has disappeared from Mexico, or anywhere else in the Americas (or on planet Earth). But, “race” being a cultural construct in the first place, how do we write about it, when trying to interpret one culture’s constructs for another culture?

Gods, Gachupines and Gringos was written for a U.S. audience.   The U.S. concept of “race” not being exactly the same as the Mexican (or general “Latin American”) sense of raza has presented something of a conundrum.  U.S. critics have noted that I “brown-wash” the whole question of race in the first edition, in accepting the prevailing theory that Mexicans have largely assimilated into the mestizo majority.

Although mestizo simply means “mixed”, it’s usually understood to mean a person of European and Indigenous American ancestry. It’s not a 50-50 proposition.  Is a person of 90% indigenous and 10 percent European “mestizo”?  I’d argue yes, if the person’s culture was that of the Mexican mainstream, and no if the person’s culture was indigenous .  But, it’s much more complicated than that… depending on what part of Mexico one comes from, people likely to also have some Sub-Saharan African, Arab, or East Asian ancestry as well.

Writing for a U.S. audience, what race a historical figure is matters a little more to me while working on GGGV2.0   While I mention that this or that figure was “Afro-Mexican” or that non-European communities like the Chinese and Koreans have played a significant role in various developments, records aren’t always clear as to how the person in question considered him or herself.  Sometimes it’s a toss-up.  The 19th century novelist Guillermo Preito  was, or wasn’t, Afro-Mexican.  It’s interesting that he was the grandson of Padre Morelos (who was described as mestizo, but was at least partially Afro-Mexican) and… having modeled much of his own writing on the Afro-French novelist, Alexandre Dumas, perhaps his ethnicity (or mixed ethnicity) is of some significance.

This video, from “Masaman” deals with the same problem, from the U.S. side of the border:


*Surprisingly, while the Costa Chica (in Guerrero State) and Oaxacan Afro-Mexico community has below average educational and earning levels for their state, Afro-Mexicans in Veracruz and Tabasco have higher educational and earning levels than average.  (Mexico’s Black Population)

One Comment leave one →
  1. 17 November 2017 3:08 pm

    wow very good

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