From blanqueamiento to reindigenización: Paradoxes of mestizaje and multiculturalism in contemporary Colombia

From blanqueamiento to reindigenización: Paradoxes of mestizaje and multiculturalism in contemporary Colombia

European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Number 80, (April 2006) Constructing Ethnic Labels
pages 5-23

Margarita Chaves, Researcher
Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia (ICANH), Bogotá

Marta Zambrano, Associate Professor of Historical Anthropology
Universidad Nacional Colombia, Bogotá

During the past two decades Latin American projects of nationhood have experienced an unexpected shift towards multiculturalism. This move, accompanied by the reconfiguration of local and translocal ethnicities and constitutional reforms recognizing cultural diversity, has produced a surge of recent and provocative academic research (Gros 2000a; Kymlicka 1996; Van Cott 2000; Wieviorka 1997; Zapata 2001). Earlier, and from a different perspective, the role of ideologies and practices of mestizaje has also provoked sustained scholarly inquiry and political debate. Erstwhile cast within polar approaches that highlighted either the inclusive or the exclusive consequences of hegemonic ideologies of racial mixing, in the past years the debate has shifted focus to include a plurality of discourses and practices.

This article interweaves these two key threads of investigation. We argue that academic discussions about pluralism and multiculturalism in Latin America have paid little attention to mestizaje as a crucial dimension of nation-making projects. Following a critical examination of the pluralist as well as the neoliberal inclination towards ‘la nación mestiza’ linking cultural recognition with rising social inequalities, we examine recent cases of indigenous resurgence and strategies of reindigenización of subaltern groups in Colombia. We explore the current pluralist turn of the Colombian imagined national community to ponder the shifting political and social elements of mestizaje, understood as a multifaceted and conflicting terrain. We argue that while in the recent past mestizaje promised a secure but ambiguous avenue to becoming white (blanqueamiento), it has now become an equally muddled path to becoming indigenous again (reindigenización).

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