Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of “Black” Mexico

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs on 2013-04-05 04:44Z by Steven

Chocolate and Corn Flour: History, Race, and Place in the Making of “Black” Mexico

Duke University Press
April 2012
292 pages
43 photographs, 2 maps
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-5132-0
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5121-4

Laura A. Lewis, Professor of Anthropology in Modern Languages and Linguistics
University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom

Located on Mexico’s Pacific coast in a historically black part of the Costa Chica region, the town of San Nicolás has been identified as a center of Afromexican culture by Mexican cultural authorities, journalists, activists, and foreign anthropologists. The majority of the town’s residents, however, call themselves morenos (black-Indians). In Chocolate and Corn Flour, Laura A. Lewis explores the history and contemporary culture of San Nicolás, focusing on the ways in which local inhabitants experience and understand race, blackness, and indigeneity, as well as on the cultural values that outsiders place on the community and its residents.

Drawing on more than a decade of fieldwork, Lewis offers a richly detailed and subtle ethnography of the lives and stories of the people of San Nicolás, as well as of community residents who have migrated to the United States. San Nicoladenses, she finds, have complex attitudes toward blackness—both their own and as a racial and cultural category. They neither consider themselves part of an African diaspora nor do they deny their heritage. Rather, they acknowledge their hybridity and choose to identify most deeply with their community.

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The Elusive Variability of Race

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2013-03-31 04:59Z by Steven

The Elusive Variability of Race

Council for Responsible Genetics
Volume 21, Issue 3-4 (July-August 2009)
Pages 4-6

Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law
Columbia University

The question of race is, at its core, a questioning of humanity itself.  In various eras and locales, race has been marked by color of skin, texture of hair, dress, musical prowess, digital dexterity, rote memorization, mien, mannerisms, disease, athletic ability, capacity to write poetry, sense of rhythm, sobriety, childlike cheerfulness, animal anger, language, continent of origin, hypodescent, hyperdescent, religious affiliation, thrift, flamboyance, slyness, physical size, or presence of a moral conscience. These presumed markers may appear random in the aggregate, but they have nevertheless been deployed to rationalize the distribution of resources and rights to some groups and not others. Behind the concept of race, in other words, is a deeper interrogation of what distinguishes beasts from brothers;  of who is presumed entitled or dispossessed,  person or slave, autonomous or alien, compatriot or enemy.

In the contemporary United States, race is based chiefly on broad and variously calibrated metrics of African ancestry. To get a full sense of the ideological incoherence of race and racism, however, one must also include the longer history: the centuries-old Chinese condescension to native Taiwanese Islanders; the English derogation of the Irish for “pug noses”; the plight of the Dalit (i.e., untouchables) in India; or comprehensively eugenic regimes like Hitler’s.

Despite the enormous definitional diversity of what race even means, and despite the fact that the biological studies – from Charles Darwin’s observations to the Human Genome Project – have patiently, repetitively and definitively shown that all humans are a single species, there remain many determined to reinscribe a multitude of old racialist superstitions onto the biotechnologies of the future.  Despite the biological evidence – and a towering body of social science that is cumulative (observations over time), comprehensive (multiple levels of inquiry) and convergent (from a variety of sources, places, disciplines) – we are still asking the same centuries-old questions…

…So what is race if not biology?

Race is a hierarchical social construct that assigns human value and group power. Social constructions are human inventions, the products of mind and circumstance. This is not to say that they are imaginary. Racialized taxonomies have real consequences upon biological functions, including the expression of genes. They affect the material conditions of survival-relative respect and privilege, education, wealth or poverty, diet, medical and dental care, birth control, housing options and degree of stigma…

…If history has shown us anything, it’s that race is contradictory and unstable. Yet our linguistically embedded notions of race seem to be on the verge of transposing themselves yet again into a context where genetic percentages act as the ciphers for culture and status, as well as economic and political attributes. In another generation or two, the privileges of whiteness may be extended to those who are “half” this or that.  Indeed, some of the discussions about Barack Obama’s “biracialism” seemed to invite precisely such an interpretation. Let us not mistake it for anything like progress, however: biracialism always has a short shelf life. For example, by the time he was elected President, Barack Obama was no longer our first “half and half president” but had become all African-American all the time. Indeed, Obama himself seemed to acknowledge the more complex reality of his own lineage in an off-the-cuff aside, when, speaking about his daughters’ search for a puppy, he observed that most shelter dogs are “mutts like me.”

In fact, of course, we’re all mutts – and as Americans, we’ve been mixing it up faster and more thoroughly than anyplace on earth. At the same time, we live in a state of tremendous denial about the rambunctiousness of our recent lineage. The language by which we assign racial category narrows or expands our perception of who is more like whom, tells us who can be considered marriageable or untouchable. The habit of burying the relentlessly polyglot nature of our American identity renders us blind to how intimately we are tied as kin.

In the United States’ vexed history of color-consciousness, anti-miscegenation laws (the last of which were struck down only in 1967) enshrined the notion of hypodescent. Hypodescent is a cultural phenomenon whereby the child of parents who come from differing social classes will be assigned the status of the parent with the lower standing. Most parts of the Deep South adhered to it with great rigidity, in what is commonly called the “one drop and you’re black” rule. Take for example, New York Times editor Anatole Broyard, who denied any relation to his darker-skinned siblings and “passed” as white for most of his adult life. There were many who expressed shock when it was uncovered that he was “really” black. Some states, like Louisiana, practiced a more gradated form of hypodescent, indicating hierarchies of status with vocabulary like “mulatto,” “quadroon,” and “octaroon.” And even today, despite our diasporic, fragmented, postmodern cosmopolitanism, there is a thoughtless or unconscious tendency to preserve these taxonomies, no matter how incoherent. Consider Essie Mae Washington-Williams, the daughter Senator Strom Thurmond had by his family’s black maid. She lived her life as a “Negro,” then as an “African American,” and attended an “all-black” college. But in her 70s, when Thurmond’s paternity became publicized, she was suddenly redesignated “biracial.” Tiger Woods and Kimora Lee Simmons are alternatively thought of as African-American or “biracial,” but rarely as “Asian-American.”

In contrast, many parts of Latin America, like Brazil or Mexico, assign race by the opposite process, hyperdescent. That’s when those with any ancestry of the dominant social group, such as European, identify themselves as European or white, when they may also have African or Indian parents. As more Latinos have become citizens of the United States, we have interesting examples of this cultural cognitive dissonance: Just think about Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Lopez. Phenotypically they look very similar. Yet Knowles is generally referred to as black or African-American; Lopez is generally thought of as white (particularly among her Latino fan base) or Latina (among the rest of us), but she is never called black or even biracial…

Read the entire article here.

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Am I that Race? Punjabi Mexicans and Hybrid Subjectivity, or How To Do Theory So That It Doesn’t Do You

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Asian Diaspora, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Law, Media Archive, Mexico, United States on 2012-03-10 20:34Z by Steven

Am I that Race? Punjabi Mexicans and Hybrid Subjectivity, or How To Do Theory So That It Doesn’t Do You

Hastings Women’s Law Journal
Volume 21, Number 2 (Summer 2010)
page 311-332

Falguni A. Sheth, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory
Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts

This paper explores the conceptual and racial status of “Punjabi Mexicans” at the turn of the twentieth century. I refer primarily to marriages between East Indian men and Mexican or Mexican-American women on the West Coast and in the Southwestern United States. The scant information available about these alliances has been uncovered by several historians and an anthropologist.  In that literature, this group appears to be a “given,” i.e., it is portrayed as a coherent identity that emerges from a simple set of circumstances.  Yet, it is anything but a given; its existence and its collective and individual consciousness is created out of a complex nexus of legal, political, social, and natural environments that spurred the migration of East Indian men and Mexican women from their homelands and to their adopted lands. I am interested in examining the collective consciousness of individuals who are located in the same moment, but who are living in distinct but overlapping contexts. The structural sources – laws, institutions, explicit and implicit prohibitions, cultural trends, and economic interests – converge to give this population its subjectivity. By subjectivity, I refer to the complex existence of human beings, whose self-understanding is found in the nexus of historical, political, and social circumstances; juridical and social institutions such as laws and government; as well as in their creativity and imagination in negotiating and resisting those circumstances in order to survive or flourish. In other words, as Michel Foucault says, “There are two …

Read or purchase the article here.

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Articulating Space: The Free-Colored Military Establishment in Colonial Mexico from the Conquest to Independence

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico on 2012-03-09 04:25Z by Steven

Articulating Space: The Free-Colored Military Establishment in Colonial Mexico from the Conquest to Independence

Volume 27, Number 1 (Winter 2004)
pages 150-171
DOI: 10.1353/cal.2004.0052

Ben Vinson, III, Vice Dean for Centers, Interdepartmental Programs, and Graduate Programs
Johns Hopkins University

Introduction: Questioning the Question of Non-White Military Service in Colonial Mexico

At the close of the seventeenth century, even with Spain feeling the heat of war and with streams of pirate raids still punishing the coastlines of the crown’s New World holdings, Spanish bureaucrats cringed when considering the prospect of using black troops to defend their possessions. Francisco de Seijas y Lobera, the former alcalde mayor (district governor) of Tacuba, a distinguished member of the Spanish gentry, a scientist, merchant, and a traveler, seemed to capture the spirit of the times in his fourteen-volume history of the Spanish kingdom. Written between 1702–1704 as a counseling guide for the new monarch, Philip V, Seijas dedicated an entire tome exclusively to Mexican affairs. Within, he described in detail the existing military landscape, the scope of enemy threats, the parameters of existing defenses, and most importantly, he offered a series of recommendations for improving the mechanisms for protecting the crown’s borders. During times of emergency, Seijas suggested that Mexico could probably count upon the military services of 200,000 coastal and frontier defenders. His estimates tallied that a full 175,000 of these would be drawn from the negro, mulatto, pardo, Indian, and mestizo racial classes.

But in his enthusiasm for advocating the expansion of the military to include nonwhites, Seijas also revealed certain prejudices that seemed characteristic of his times. Sure, negros and mulattos (i.e. free-coloreds) could be called upon to serve; however, the terms of their service had to be constricted:

With respect to the formation of the two companies, considering (as one should) that the said negros and mulatos cannot be allowed to use swords and daggers, sharp weapons, or firearms of any type… it is not convenient or safe for the service of the king that the tremendous number of negro and mulatto rabble that exist (sic) in the Indies use such weapons. This is because they could use these arms to revolt. Moreover, there is no just or political reason why these people, who are of the same species as slaves (being their offspring), should enjoy the same privileges (preeminencias) as Spaniards. For these reasons, and because [negros and mulattos] have already been involved in many uprisings and tumults in the Indies, it is best for the crown that free negros and mulattos not be permitted to use offensive or defensive weapons.

Seijas proceeded to state that only salaried, full-time free-colored soldiers should be allowed to carry such armament. By contrast, the bulk of his proposed negro and mulatto militia forces, including mounted lancers, were to wield long spears and machetes, weapons that were light, easy to handle, and that could inflict harm on the enemy while minimizing the threat to the colony itself. Junior and senior officers within these militia units might be permitted to carry daggers, swords, and pistols, but mainly to demarcate differences in rank and to inspire their loyalty to the Spanish crown.

I provide Seijas’ comments here because they are emblematic of larger trends that permeated the colonial world. They reveal, in stark terms, the predicament of partial citizenship experienced by colonials of color. On the one hand, from as early as the 16th century, mulattos, negros, and pardos were processed in the colonial social framework as gente de razón (rational people). They were distinguishable from Indians in this respect and placed on par with Spaniards in that they were considered “responsible” for their own actions in ways that could be upheld in colonial courts. In other words, whites, mestizos, and free-coloreds participated in the same colonial legal sphere, one that was, in many ways, distinct from Indians. But on the other hand, the shadow of slavery followed the mulatto and negro population into freedom. Their heritage caused them to be described simultaneously as gente de razón and gente vil (base folk), which referenced a supposedly innate set of vices that were inextricably linked to their African bloodlines. Miscegenation with white colonists theoretically extended the possibility of “improving” these “malicious” traits by blending them with the benefits of Spanish “whiteness.” However, more often than not, racial mixture was believed to accentuate the worst racial qualities. Hence, under the rubric of the caste system that gradually evolved over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, free-coloreds were routinely described as haughty, cruel, shiftless, prone to licentiousness, and malevolent. Partly in an effort to contain these vices and to prevent them from “contaminating” the indigenous population, restrictive legislation was decreed, resulting in a deeper, formal articulation of the Spanish colonial caste system.

As the differences between black and white, free-colored, and mestizo began to  sediment, at the same time the distinctions between them began to blur. The phenomenon of partial citizenship rested on the ambiguity produced by questions over the proper station of peoples of color. The military was one arena where the seemingly contradictory elements of caste clarity and caste doubt played themselves out. Beginning in medieval times and extending into the sixteenth century, military service, particularly mounted duty, was construed as a marker of nobility. On a more abstract level, bearing arms in the name of the king was one of the greatest tangible expressions of Spanishness that one could project. Implicit in the act of dressing for combat was expressing interest in defending the colonial order. That meant upholding the principles of conquest, supporting the caste framework of racial dominance with its inherent favoring of white privilege, and sanctioning colonial modes of exploitative labor (including slavery). Yet at the same time, the act of having nonwhites participating in the military establishment threw these issues into question. To what extent were free-colored actions reflective of their commitment to the colonial regime, and to what extent were they not? Did their fragmented, partial citizenship produce fragmented and partial loyalties? How did their participation in the military alter its mission and objectives? How did their participation affect and shape the policies of the colonial state? What were the types of interactions that existed between the state and free-colored military actors?

This article takes these concerns as a point of departure for examining the way free-coloreds became integrated into the colonial Mexican military establishment. But it is important to point out that the focus here is on militia duty, not regular army service. This is a significant distinction. Militias represented localized, provincial expressions of a broader military apparatus. In other words, some of the objectives of imperial service that existed within the regular army, and that often went unquestioned by regular soldiers, became re-worked, filtered, and re-articulated at the local level. Militiamen brought to the military specific understandings of the functioning of the state that emanated from their provincial experiences. As militiamen, they projected their local worlds unto imperial affairs. Regular troops, arguably, represented more concrete instruments of imperial control. As a consequence, the militia probably wielded more social power. Through its chain of command, the militiamen held the attention of high officials such as the viceroy, the auditor de guerra (senior military justice official), and top administrators in the treasury department. Militiamen, even those at the lowest levels, could utilize both the symbolic and material support they acquired from senior crown bureaucrats to frontally contest the policies of local and regional officials. They could also use their political capital to fortify patron-client relationships, to secure privileges for their townships (such as fishing and land rights), to cement racial and regional identities, and even to undermine the structures of racial privilege by challenging the meaning of caste legislation. For instance, matters such as tribute policy could be re-examined in context of the services that free-coloreds rendered in uniform. In more dramatic instances (as occurred in seventeenth and eighteenth century Cuba), militia service could transform the meaning of slavery itself, providing access for people in bondage to become office-holding vecinos (landed citizens or residents) and therefore, eligible for participation in the political life of colonial affairs.  The history offered below provides some flashpoints of duty, tracing a number of the key moments in the evolution of the colonial Mexican free-colored militia institution, while examining some of its concrete effects on the colony’s pardos, mulattos, and negros. At various points throughout the article, the interplay between the militiamen’s local (sometimes racialized) understanding of service and the broader imperial perspective of duty will be highlighted…

Read the entire article here.

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Afro-Mexican History: Trends and Directions in Scholarship

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico on 2012-03-08 02:36Z by Steven

Afro-Mexican History: Trends and Directions in Scholarship

History Compass
Volume 3, Issue 1 (January 2005)
14 pages
DOI: 10.1111/j.1478-0542.2005.00156.x

Ben Vinson, III, Vice Dean for Centers, Interdepartmental Programs, and Graduate Programs
Johns Hopkins University

This article surveys the development of a relatively new and vibrant subfield in Latin American History, mapping out the major stages of its evolution and signaling key intellectual debates. While much of the scholarship on Afro-Mexican history has been produced in the last thirty-five years, this article aims to contextualize these writings within a broader historical framework. This process shows more clearly the various independent and interdependent tracks that exist within the study of Mexico’s black population.

Until very recently, the study of Mexico’s black population could not be categorized as forming any particular school of thought or intellectual inquiry. The impressionistic nature of the writings on blacks, which persisted even well into the 20th century, frequently worked to subordinate Afro-Mexican history to broader themes, such as nationalism, the economy, regional development, and general social conditions. Nevertheless, it is still possible to outline the evolution of historical scholarship on blacks in Mexico, extending back into the colonial period. What we discover is that in many ways, the discussion of blacks has followed the trajectory of the political development of the nation. Writings on Afro-Mexicans can be grouped into periods that correspond to (1) Mexico’s colonial and independence era (1521–1821); (2) the pre-revolutionary period (1822 –1910); and (3) the post-revolutionary period (1921 to current). Within these periods there is much nuance to account for, but by and large, they provide useful markers by which to evaluate the progression of the intellectual conversation on Mexico’s blackness.

In the colonial period, outside of the abundant ecclesiastical and government documentation that can still be found in the colonial archives, very few published works concentrated directly upon blacks. What survives comes mainly in three forms: traveler’s accounts, narrative accounts of the Conquest of Mexico, and political treatises. In terms of travelogues, the narratives of men such as Thomas Gage, Juan F. Gemelli Carreri, Fray Francisco de Ajofrín, and Alexander von Humbolt are revealing for the patterns of discourse that they uncover. By and large, their writings depict mulattos, pardos, and negros in a negative light, to the extent that they cite these populations as bearing a corrupting influence on the social development of the colonies. Meanwhile, the accounts of the Conquest, frequently referred to as the “chronicles,” represent a different, although related genre. More historically grounded, the writings of men such as Francisco López de Gomara (c. 1552), Bernal Díaz del Castillo (c. 1562), and Fray Diego Durán (c. 1580) make reference to the black military auxiliaries who accompanied the Spanish conquistadors. As can be imagined, blacks appear as ornaments to the main story, or as scapegoats and anti-heroes that complemented the dominant Spanish presence. Finally, in colonial political treatises, blacks make equally brief appearances in works discussing social conditions, military organization, and municipal control. Perhaps more than in the other types of texts however, the Afro-Mexican population appears less of a novelty, being discussed as an embedded element of colonial life. It is here where we find blacks becoming more tightly associated with the colony’s amorphous “plebeian” class…

…Debates about the worth of blacks took a slightly different course in the context of the Mexican Revolution. Indeed, the cultural landscape produced by this seminal event had a lasting effect on Afro-Mexican historiography. After the revolution, Mexico placed a heightened emphasis on the hybrid nature of its population to demonstrate the strength of its national character. But a certain type of hybrid phenotype was praised – the mestizo, or mixture of white and Indian. Blacks were literally written out of the national narrative. Excluding blacks from the national image was a process that was long in the making, but arguably, it was in the 1920s when the process had some of its strongest influences…

Read the entire article here.

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Race and national ideology in Mexico: An ethnographic study of racism, color, mestizaje and blackness in Veracruz

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2012-03-07 22:17Z by Steven

Race and national ideology in Mexico: An ethnographic study of racism, color, mestizaje and blackness in Veracruz

Univerity of California, Los Angeles
191 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3280987
ISBN: 9780549234821

Christina A. Sue, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Colorado, Boulder

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology

The literature on race relations has shown that racial and color categorization, racial consciousness, national ideologies, discourses on racism and patterns of discrimination have developed very differently in Latin America compared to the United States. Although a number of studies have explored these differences in countries such as Brazil, little research has been done on questions of race and color in Mexico, beyond studies of the Indigenous population. This dissertation begins to fill this gap in the literature by focusing on the role of race and color among Mexico’s population. Using participant observation, semi-structured interviews and focus groups, findings from this study provide detailed insights regarding the real life implications of race and color in Veracruz, Mexico. Specifically, I discuss how Veracruzanos reconcile the national ideology of non-racism in Mexico with their everyday lived experiences with discrimination. In addition, I interrogate the meaning of blackness in the region, both in the sense of racial identification and in reference to the construction of the category “black.” Not only is there extreme hesitancy to identify as “black” and a general dismissal of the role individuals of African descent played in Mexico’s development, blackness is seen as something foreign to the nation. Furthermore, in this dissertation I discuss the role of color in the region and its relation to the national ideology promoting race mixture, discourses on racism and meanings of blackness. I found that the national ideology is not embraced at the ground level in a way in which the founders intended. Instead, there is a clear trend for individuals to adopt mestizaje [race mixture] as a strategy to whiten themselves within the mixed-race category. Regarding discourses on racism, I describe how Veracruzanos, while being extremely reluctant to talk about racial divisions, engage in a proxy discourse based on color to incorporate such distinctions into everyday conversation. Finally, in relation to blackness, a color-based discourse is used by Veracruzanos to distance themselves from the category “black.”

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Jarocho’s Soul: Cultural Identity and Afro-Mexican Dance

Posted in Anthropology, Arts, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs on 2012-03-05 03:22Z by Steven

Jarocho’s Soul: Cultural Identity and Afro-Mexican Dance

University Press of America (an Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield)
February 2004
182 pages
Size: 5 1/2 x 7 3/4
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-7618-2775-7

Anita González, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Theatre Arts
State University of New York, New Paltz

Brown-skinned men and women move across Mexico’s national stages dancing the folkloric jarocho, a symbolic blend of Spanish, Native American, and African cultures. Jarocho’s Soul: Cultural Identity and Afro-Mexican Dance traces the evolution and transformation of an Afro-Mexican dance form into a national cultural icon. It is an ethnographic study that compares and contrasts Mexican performance of national identity with Untied States dance styles. The book uses the image of the jarocho as a window to explore the phenomena of racial/cultural mixing that is endemic to Mexico and increasingly apparent in the politics and aesthetics of United States cultural performances.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1 List of Illustrations
  • Chapter 2 Preface
  • Chapter 3 Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 4 Introduction: Crafting Self; Frames of Reference; Locale and Methodology; Chapter Overviews
  • Chapter 5 Cultural Mixing and Mexican Performance: Mapping Art: Cultural Contexts; Studies in Revolutionary Nationalism: Manuel Ponce; Amalia Hernandez; Celestino Gorostiza; A Legacy of Performance Strategies; Provincial Identity
  • Chapter 6 Roots of Jarocho Dance
  • Chapter 7 Jarocho as Folkloric Dance: State Images Ballet Folklórico del la Universidad Veracruzana; Miguel Velez and the Authenticity Mission; Raices del Pueblo (The Peoples’ Roots)
  • Chapter 8 Jarocho as Theater: Company History, Veracruz, Veracruz Interprets Jarocho; Actors’ Interpretive (Re)Circulations in Veracruz, Veracruz; Implications and Interpretations
  • Chapter 9 Remembering and Transforming the Past: Fiesta de las Cruces; Rewriting Government Agendas
  • Chapter 10 Conclusion
  • Chapter 11 Glossary
  • Chapter 12 References
  • Chapter 13 Index
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Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Localism, and Exclusion in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Posted in Asian Diaspora, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs, United States on 2012-02-17 05:23Z by Steven

Making the Chinese Mexican: Global Migration, Localism, and Exclusion in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Stanford University Press
320 pages
26 illustrations, 5 maps.
Cloth ISBN: 9780804778145; E-book ISBN: 9780804783712

Grace Peña Delgado, Assistant Professor of History
University of California, Santa Cruz

Making the Chinese Mexican is the first book to examine the Chinese diaspora in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. It presents a fresh perspective on immigration, nationalism, and racism through the experiences of Chinese migrants in the region during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Navigating the interlocking global and local systems of migration that underlay Chinese borderlands communities, the author situates the often-paradoxical existence of these communities within the turbulence of exclusionary nationalisms.

The world of Chinese fronterizos (borderlanders) was shaped by the convergence of trans-Pacific networks and local arrangements: against a backdrop of national unrest in Mexico and in the era of exclusionary immigration policies in the United States, Chinese fronterizos carved out vibrant, enduring communities that provided a buffer against virulent Sinophobia. This book challenges us to reexamine the complexities of nation-making, identity formation, and the meaning of citizenship. It represents an essential contribution to our understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

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Writing Africans Out of the Racial Hierarchy: Anti-African Sentiment in Post-Revolutionary Mexico

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico on 2012-02-13 00:20Z by Steven

Writing Africans Out of the Racial Hierarchy: Anti-African Sentiment in Post-Revolutionary Mexico

Cincinnati Romance Review
Volume 30 (2011): Afro-Hispanic Subjectivities
pages 172-183

Galadriel Mehera Gerardo, Assistant Professor of Latin American History
Youngstown State University

Over the past two decades scholars have examined Mexican racial ideology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They have paid particular attention to the positivist ideas propagated by Porfirio Díaz’s científicos in the late 19th century and the creation of the seemingly nationalist, antiimperialist concept of mestizaje most associated with post-revolutionary scholars in the early to mid 20th century (Castro, Hedrick, and Minna Stern). Most studies focus on the inaccurate, racist portrayal of indigenous people by the Mexican nationalist intellectuals of this era. They often note the influence of U.S. and European scientific racism, particularly Social Darwinism, on Mexicans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They rarely emphasize the absence of Africans in Mexican intellectuals’ discussions of race, however. The absence or near absence of Africans in early- to mid-20th century Mexican discussions of race indicates as much about the attitudes of Mexican scholars as their emphasis on the indigenous past. Likewise, excluding Africans from the Mexican racial narrative was as significant to the creation of Mexican national identity as Mexican scholars’ depictions of native peoples. Mexican intellectuals “whitened” the imagined Mexican, simultaneously writing Africans out of Mexico’s history while challenging North Atlantic ideas about race and racial supremacy by promoting the mixing of European and indigenous peoples, offering what they believed was a distinct, nationalist vision of the racial hierarchy.

This article concentrates on three Mexican scholars and their discussions of Africans (or, in some cases, lack thereof) in their most significant essays. The first two—José Vasconcelos and Manuel Gamio—emerged among Mexico’s most important intellectuals of the revolutionary period. The third—Octavio Paz—became Mexico’s most influential literary figure a generation later. While he criticized many of the previous generation’s ideas, he embraced aspects of Gamio and Vasconcelos’s arguments. Moreover, in The Labyrinth of Solitude, widely considered the definitive work on Mexican character, Paz continued both the trend of integrating indigenous people as a means of ultimately eliminating them, and of “lightening” Mexico’s racial stock by avoiding acknowledging the presence of people of African descent in Mexico’s population and history.

This study consciously focuses on three individuals who at various times in their lives worked for branches of the Mexican government (usually educational) and in some cases even founded government institutions based on their ideas. Despite their antiimperialist, nationalist mentalities, all three spent periods of time living in the United States, often seeking refuge when their ideas fell out of favor with their own government. Both their experiences in the U.S. and the influence of North Atlantic ideas on their educations are significant for understanding each of these men’s assertions about race, and particularly their decision to render invisible Afro-Mexicans by writing them out of treatises on Mexico’s future. In contrast to the científicos who worked during the Porfiriato, these 20th century Mexican intellectuals considered themselves nationalists and intended their visions of the Mexican people’s future to counter the white supremacist ideology supported by Social Darwinism and embraced by U.S. intellectuals. Yet in ignoring the historical presence of Africans throughout Mexican history, Mexican intellectuals reified the North Atlantic vision of a racial hierarchy with Anglo-Europeans and Anglo-Americans at the top and Africans and indigenous Americans at the bottom. Many recent scholars have pointed out the racism inherent to the concept of mestizaje. However, these critiques have focused on Mexican intellectuals’ treatment of indigenous people. Emphasizing the exclusion of Africans  from the racial narratives underlines the nuances of Mexican racism in the first half of the 20th century. It also suggests how firmly entrenched North Atlantic ideas about race had become in Mexico by the 20th century.

Anti-African Sentiment

The history of Africans in Mexico spans as far back as the history of Europeans there. Africans took part in the conquest of Mexico and were present throughout the colonial period. Often they held significant intermediary roles as overseers, skilled craftsmen, and merchants. Both free and enslaved Africans could be found in colonial Mexico. As the colonial period progressed, Spaniards imported more African slaves to work as unskilled laborers in the semi-tropical sugar-producing regions around Veracruz, Acapulco, and parts of Guerrero and Oaxaca. Because more male than female slaves were imported, interracial unions regularly occurred in the colonial period, particularly between indigenous women and African men. As a result of the decline of slavery combined with racial mixing, by the time of independence only a small portion of Mexico’s population was considered “black,” although a significant portion of the mixed-race population likely had some African heritage (Meyer 164-6)…

Read the entire article here.

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Making Güeras: Selling white identities on late-night Mexican television

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico on 2012-02-02 22:39Z by Steven

Making Güeras: Selling white identities on late-night Mexican television

Gender, Place and Culture
Volume 12, Number 1 (March 2005)
pages 71–93
DOI: 10.1080/09663690500082984

Jamie Winders, Associate Professor of Geography
Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York

John Paul Jones III, Professor of Geography and Development
University of Arizona, Tucson

Michael James Higgins (1946-2011), Professor Emeritus of Anthropology
University of Northern Colorado

This article examines discourses of whiteness and color in Mexico through a discussion of White Secret, a widely available skin-lightening cosmetic product. In an analysis of a televised infomercial advertising the product, we examine contextualizations of whiteness in Mexico, as figured through the product’s representations of light-skinned female bodies and advanced cosmetic technology. We consider the ways that White Secret can speak to broader conceptualizations of whiteness and identity and, furthermore, argue that such an engagement points to the need to interrogate the geographical and epistemological limits of current understandings of whiteness based in Anglo-American and Latin-American contexts.

‘la güera’: fair-skinned. Born with the features of my Chicana mother, but the skin of my Anglo father, I had it made. No one ever quite told me this (that light was right), but I knew that being light was something valued in my family. (Moraga, 1981, p. 28)

These lines from Cherrie Moraga’s 1979 essay, ‘La Güera’, succinctly describe the chromatic privilege into which she was born. With her mother’s Chicana features but her father’s white skin, Moraga, in her words, ‘had it made’. The only güera in her family, she could escape the correlation between being Chicana and being ‘less’ (p. 28), a connection that haunted her mother and other family members. Although her essay goes on to chart her denial of ‘the voice of [her] brown mother’ (1981, p. 31) and her struggles to grasp the specificities of various forms of sexual and racial oppression, Moraga’s initial discussion of an upbringing that ‘attempted to bleach me of what color I did have’ (1981, p. 28) captures several processes that we analyze in this article. As Moraga quipped, she was ‘“anglicized” ’; the more effectively we could pass in the white world, the better guaranteed our future’ (ibid.).

This article analyzes one contemporary path to that ‘white world’ as it operates within the context of Mexico. We examine discourses of whiteness and coloration through an analysis of ‘White Secret’, a cosmetic product marketed across Mexico that explicitly guarantees lighter skin and implicitly offers the lifestyle associated with such a chromatic change1. Historian Kathy Peiss (2002) has recently charted the ways that US cosmetics companies have relied upon and reinforced connections between healthy bodies, ‘made-up’ (female, white) faces and modernity, in efforts to market their products globally and create international mass markets. In this article, we trace similar links between bodies, race, cosmetic products and modernity, as we raise questions about whiteness and identity in Mexico, processes neatly packaged within a 30-minute, late-night infomercial peddling a skin-care solution that can produce in two weeks a white skin tone which previously required generations of racial miscegenation.

To think through how this skin-lightening product and its marketing strategies become legible and convincing within Mexico, we draw from a number of literatures that together help unpack the secrets of White Secret and the desire for white skin on which it depends. As Moraga’s autobiographical reflections and Peiss’s documenting of ‘American cosmetics abroad’ both make evident, in many contexts, ‘light’ was—and, we would add, still is—seen as ‘right’. White Secret is located squarely within this framing, as it explicitly promises white(r) skin and implicitly offers the improved socio-economic position of white privilege. As we subsequently suggest, what remains ‘secret’ in White Secret is why Mexican women want to move away from that ‘brown body’ of which Moraga wrote—a desire for lighter skin that signals the traces of a colonial past and present in Mexico. Postcolonial studies, driven ‘to invert, expose, transcend or deconstruct knowledges and practices associated with colonialism’ (Sidaway, 2000, p. 592), provide one particularly useful means of prising open these silences around questions of bodies, race and desire, as White Secret, as both product and text, resonates with many practices linked to colonialism and its deployment of racialized discourses. Postcolonial studies, in conjunction with whiteness studies and examinations of race and ethnicity in Latin America, create a useful theoretical framework through which to engage White Secret. It is to this White Secret that we now turn…

…Stepan (1991), in her analysis of eugenics in Latin America, suggests that historically, a whitening thesis in Mexico focused on a mestizo (mixed ‘blood’) ‘cosmic race’ rather than a ‘pure’ white race. This ‘cosmic race’, made famous by Mexican intellectual José Vasconcelos, was composed, at least in theory, of a racial configuration whose racial and ethnic mix surpassed all initial ingredients. The path by which Mexico could reach this ‘cosmic race’, however, led through eugenics to a set of practices that in Latin America constituted ‘above all an aesthetic-biological movement concerned with beauty and ugliness, purity and contamination, as represented in race’ (Stepan, 1991, p. 135). At the pinnacle of this movement was lighter skin, a location at which beauty and purity were concentrated and from which the ‘brown body’ denied by Moraga was successively removed over time.

Across Mexico’s ancient practice of whitening, Latin America’s eugenics of the early 1900s and a White Secret of the twenty-first century, then, the aesthetic and the biological are imbricated in a chromatic system that revolves around purity and contamination, beauty and ugliness. In all three instances that span Mexico’s post-conquest history, the chromatic system in operation is also a hierarchy of lightness for which, as Moraga noted, light is right. In this system where darker pigments signify what Ann Laura Stoler (1995) calls the ‘enemy within’ (p. 52), being Moraga’s ‘brown’ and ‘less’ remains the unspoken…

Read the entire article here.

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