Martyrs of Miscegenation: Racial and National Identities in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

Martyrs of Miscegenation: Racial and National Identities in Nineteenth-Century Mexico

Volume 132 (2001)
pages 25-42

Lee Joan Skinner, Associate Professor of Spanish
Claremont McKenna College

The two most powerful critical paradigms for dealing with the relationship between literature and national identity in nineteenth—century Latin America have been those established by Benedict Anderson and Doris Sommer. In Anderson’s well-known formulation, “the nation [. . . ] is an imagined political community” (6). Anderson attributes the early appearance of such national imagined communities throughout nineteenth-century Latin America to the widespread popularity of the print-capitalism forms of the novel and newspaper, which created communities of readers in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and allowed for the dissemination of large-scale national imaginings. More recently, Doris Sommer has looked at the content of the novels that these potential national communities were reading in order to argue that national consolidation in nineteenth—century Latin America depended not only on the shared activity of reading but on the messages of the works that nineteenth-century readers were consuming. According to Sommer, nineteenth-century “national novels” use metaphors of romance and marriage to inscribe ideals of national reconciliation and to establish the ideology of nationalism and national identity in Latin America. In her View, the “foundational fictions” she analyzes disseminate specific messages about the constitution of national identities and play an integral role in consolidating national identities and ideologies in nineteenth-century Latin America.

Both Anderson and Sommer present “national identity” as a relatively fixed category. Their analyses focus not on nineteenth-century Latin American national identity itself, but rather on the methods through which national identity is created and consolidated. Hence, Anderson describes the ways in which administrative and communicative structures such as the mechanisms of print-capitalism work to create and disseminate national identity, while Sommer examines the ways in which nineteenth-century Latin American romances inscribe allegories of conflict and resolution whose message is that national reconciliation can and should take place based on a unified national identity. Anderson’s and Sommer’s analyses take as their point of departure the idea that in the nineteenth century a stable, pre-established national identity is inscribed in public discourses such as newspapers and novels. But what happens when the notion of “national identity” itself is called into question? In novels produced throughout the nineteenth century in Latin America, discourses of national identity are frequently shown to be contestatory and conflictive. Rather than being a fixed category from the start, national identity in nineteenth-century Latin America might more productively be thought of as national identities. National identity is not a fixed, unchanging category that comes into being full-blown and unquestioned at the beginning of the nineteenth century; instead, national identity, like the nation itself, is a site of contestatory discourses and competing definitions throughout nineteenth-century Latin America. In this essay I address the novels of the Mexican author Eligio Ancona and argue that within his works, as within nineteenth-century Mexico his repeated attempts to come to terms with the Mexican past and the variations in the way he treats Mexican history based on his own changing position demonstrate that the category itself of national identity in nineteenth-century Latin America is continually under construction. The versions of Mexican national identity that Ancona produces in his texts respond to varying political, social, and ideological pressures and are contingent upon Ancona’s own shifting self-identifications at the regional and national level…

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