Mestizaje and Its Critics

A word of many definitions and implications, mestizaje is usually associated with regions that have a history of Spanish or European colonization. It is an issue that has been concealed, denied, and debated upon in the cultural, social, and political sense in these colonized regions. Common issues related to this ideology are racism, racial discrimination, chauvinism, and the like. In this particular paper, the focus group of such ideology would be more on Latin America and the Afro-population or the black since this group mostly experienced the effects of the consequences of such prejudice.

 Ariel Dulitzky’s A Region in Denial: Racial Discrimination and Racism in Latin America talks about Latin America’s refusal to tackle the issue on racism and racial discrimination. It summarizes the kinds of denials that this region executes to find their way out before or when getting into discussions about the issues mentioned earlier. These denials are categorized in three: literal denial, interpretive denial, and justificatory denial.

Literal denial, as the name implies, is the rejection of the thought that racism exists.  The government does not acknowledge the presence of “race”, therefore making the existence of racism null. The second category, interpretive denial has four subcategories. In the first, it is not the color of the skin or the race but the social status of the person/group that is being criticized.  This denial is euphemism.  The next one, legislative, is somewhat related to the first category. It is said that there are no laws made about racial discrimination because there is no need for such for the reason that they don’t segregate the race of people.

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An explanation of this would be to say that these events of racism eventually happened just at this day and at this time. There is the denial that it, racism, happened in the past, therefore there can be no way that they can be called a racist region. The last category would be justificatory denial. From its root word “justify”, people who do this either rationalize things or point a finger to the victims themselves. People in control indicate that they belong to a mixed race, thus racial segregation does not exist.

Despite all these denials, the Convention Against Racism or the “Convention” pulled some strings to help these regions and the victims acknowledge that racial discrimination really does exist. Luckily, the effort became an eye opener to others. For the first time, debates about racism were done and more groups were created to protect and implement the Convention’s regulations against racial discrimination.

Associated with a region’s ability to discriminate is the huge question about that region’s identity. One article that talks about Latin America’s national and cultural identity is that written by Lourdes Martinez-Echazabal. She discusses the different view points of writers of the same nationality, Cubans, to be particular, pertaining to national identity and racial discrimination together with its effects on people’s actions and beliefs. In the given time, 1845-1959, the Afro-population had been identified with anything negative – the poor, the brainless, the filthy, and the barbaric.

As a result of this notion, the end to slave trade was once made in an attempt to stop the multiplication of the Afro-population in Latin America since more black people implied an uncivilized and diseased region that would hinder if not stop the social and cultural development of communities in their region. Some writers thought that crossbreeding with people of lighter complexion was a step towards civilization. They were into making reforms with the colonizers.

On the contrary, the other group of writers was after the independence of the region. They do this by not looking at the man’s color to judge his/her moral values or legal status. They use this argument of having a national identity, just one color regardless the mixture of race or color of the skin. Interaction and socialization among different races were encouraged in making a better and enlightened society.

To be more particular, an article by Charles Hale focused on this region divided into what they call the ladinos and Mayas, ladinos being the ones with the whiter skin and European mix, and the Indians as the Mayas. As narrated in Hale’s publication, the ladinos used to be the superior group in the past decades, and the Mayas being the inferior one. Interaction of ladinos with Mayas is prohibited by the ladino elders. As time passed by, there had been some changes in the political and social set up of Guatamela.

There were Maya cultural activists that fight for their cultural rights. Some ladinos changed their perspectives about the Mayas by somehow respecting the latter’s religious belief such as the fiesta of their patron saint for a start. Racism was definitely gearing towards the Mayas, but due to the number in population with the Mayas taking up considerably the higher percentage of the population, the ladinos started to become confused if they really are the reigning race.

The people interviewed by Hale were still hesitant, somehow, when asked about the cultural discrimination against the Mayans. Their answers were unsure maybe because there is no certainty on the cultural development of their region. Confused answers to simple cultural questions were provided. Confused people with confused cultural beliefs would definitely result to complications in interest and one confused country.

It is amazing how these writers distort ideas and beliefs. From the denial, to the national identity, to the confused region, now, we have another twist of things about mestizaje and cultural and national identity. Saldaña-Portillo’s arguments, still, are about mestizaje and how particular regions react to it. In her publication, mestizaje is promoted as a step towards citizenship, towards establishment of national culture. In the past reviews, it is usually the “whites” dominating or taking over the “blacks”.

However in this case, it is still true that Indians are viewed as a sign of an uncivilized community, but some things are viewed the differently. Not that these Indians literally taking over the region and the government, but these colonizers, the Spanish and the Europeans, actually being taken over by the Indians in other perspectives. It is about the women colonizers and the Indian men, Spanish not being the first language, and a biological trace in history.

Discussion about women having their roles and rights in the community, for the first time, were mentioned and discussed upon for these “rights” might be at odds with their group’s statute. Ethnic groups were also given right to the land they lived on. Regardless these new points that might unite certain regions, mestizaje would remain to be seen as these regions accept one another regardless the race, the face, or the beliefs.

I must admit that racial discrimination, despite all the efforts to avoid and fight it, still exists up to this day. There are similarities in situations in these articles. These readings are mostly about the search and battle for cultural and national identity mostly of people in the Latin American region. The Afro-population or the “black” as others would commonly label their group, is often, if not mostly deprived of access to property, media, and means of production. I agree when they say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It’s the same with people – don’t judge a person by his color because a person is more than just the color of his skin or the details of his face. There is the spirit. There are the values.

Maybe the good thing about classifying people is when they are proud to be of that race not because they are whiter or taller, but because people from their region, their race has done something good and inspiring that effect people of other race or region. It is when that person is proud to be of that race because his people have helped so many deprived others. But how often do these things happen? How often does a person become proud because he has “Indian” features? This is one proof that racial discrimination has been in existentfor so long that it has been part of our practices and to think and establish such notions.

Generalization should be avoided because this starts the heating debate and fight about discrimination. Every human being is different, unique. It just so happened that he/she possesses such features, that he/she was born on that region. Nevertheless, that person is no different from you and me. Mestizaje has affected so many races, if not all of them, that it actually is a part of life, of history, of the lives even of the first people on earth.. It is inevitable because it is human nature socialize, and interact.

The good thing about the present is having institutions against racism, acknowledgment of the problem, and awareness that the system applies sanctions to violators because it does not tolerate such prejudice. It is good to know that with these things, we need not be afraid for our children and our children’s children because there are people to protect them and fight for them. However, when can we really say that we, our children, and the coming generations would be free from hatred? From prejudice? From undergoing the inequality we had been experiencing since time immemorial? When?

Works Cited

Dulitzky, Ariel. A Region in Denial: Racial Discrimination and Racism in Latin America”, Neither Enemies Nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos. Ed. A. Dziedzienyo and S. Oboler. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. pp.39-60.

Hale, Charles. “Travel Warning: Elite Appropriations of Hybridity, Mestizaje, Antiracism, Equality, and Other Progressive-sounding Discourses in High Land Guatamela.” Journal of American Folklore. 112. 445 (Summer 1999): 297-315.

Martinez-Echazabal, Lourdes. “Mestizaje and the Discourse of National/Cultural Identity in Latin America, 1845-1959.” Latin American Perspectives. 100 vols. 25.3 (May 1998). 21-42.

Saldaña-Portillo, Josefina. “Who’s the Indian in Aztlan? Re-Writing Mestizaje, Indianism, and Chicanismo from Lacandon.” The Latin American Subaltern Studies Reader. Ed. I.Rodriguez. NC: Duke University Press, 2001. pp.402-423.

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