Colombia is a country that has over the past two centuries defined itself as a mestizo nation, but almost no one identifies as mestizo. During the colonial period (16th to 18th centuries), an early modern epistemology of race different from our own was founded in the notion of an ever-changing human body and on a society whose members were only in certain contexts classified by race, fostering fluid taxonomies that cannot be adequately represented by the canonical triad of “white,” “black,” and “Indigenous,” and their admixtures. If, in the 19th century, “scientific” notions of race spread across the globe, this racial discourse took particular forms in each location. In Colombia, racial categories were adjusted to mark geographic, as opposed to individual, diversity. Regions of the nascent Colombia were defined by their “whiteness” or their “blackness,” in a civilizing discourse that attempted to erase but at the same time maintain social hierarchies. This redrawing of racial taxonomies had at its center the goal, for the Andean heartlands at least, of a progressive movement toward whiteness.
Colombia and the Legal-Cultural Negotiation of Racial Categories
Franco A. Laguna Correa
The representation of both individuality and collectivity in Latina/o literatures can be understood in terms of racial representation as well as in relation to colonial and neocolonial Weltanschauungen or worldviews. The colonial past of Spanish/Latin America imposed economic and biopolitical conditions based on a casta system that assigned different levels of humanness and determined the life expectations of human beings depending on a racial structure of signification that placed skin coloration and racial phenotype at the center of the colonial biopolitical order. Within the US context, this structure of racial signification has historically relied on the conceptualization of Brownness as a starting point to access the overarching terms of mestizaje/miscegenation, which through the early stages of the formation of the Latina/o literary canon have been both racial and literary tropes that have distinguished the coming-of-age process of Americanization—without losing their ties to Latinidad—of Mexican Americans/Chicanas/os, Puerto Ricans/Nuyoricans, Dominican Americans, U.S. Central Americans, and Cuban Americans, among other communities with cultural and ethnic links to Spanish/Latin America. Although since the first decades of the 20th century mestizaje became in Spanish/Latin America a synthetic racial category that underscored dark Brownness as the result of the racial intermix between Spanish and Indigenous people, the historical development of the term mestizaje hasn’t had the same connotations among U.S. Latina/o communities. Mestizaje in the United States, instead, has been read mostly in relation to Mexican Americans and Chicana/o collectivities, with a geopolitical focus on Mexican American people from the Borderlands. From approximately 2010 to 2020, the emergence of the term “Latinx” has shed critical light upon historically erased collectivities that in both the United States and Spanish/Latin America have been placed within the racialized boundaries of Blackness. Thus, the biolegitimization of “Afrolatinx” and “Afro-Latin American” communities not only has acquired an identity politics signification but has also entered the literary imagination of new Latina/o literatures. Departing from this critical perspective, the maintenance of the Latina/o literary field requires the development of an organic engagement with the political and cultural signifiers “Latinx” and “Afrolatinx,” as each of these terms brings into the Latina/o literary realm the continuous exploration of racial, gender, and national identity fluidity among Latina/o communities.
The Pasts and Futures of Latina/o Indigeneities
Simón Ventura Trujillo
The question of indigeneity in the study of Latina/o literature and culture points toward conflictive histories of colonization and invigorates a set of global directions for the future of Latina/o studies. The pairing of the two terms—Latina/o and Indigeneity—appears initially counterintuitive. Conventionally understood as an ancestral relation of Latina/o communities that has been vanished or lost over the duration of the European colonization of the Americas, Indigeneity opens a set of insuperable problematics that continue to pattern and shape multiple and incommensurate iterations of Latina/o politics and culture. While “Latina/o” in some instances denotes ancestral relation with Native tribes in the Americas, for many the term has also come to signify decidedly non-indigenous mestiza/o, settler, or migrant identities, imaginaries, and belongings. The literary, cultural, and intellectual production of Latina/o Indigeneity offers a unique window into the ways in which Native politics continue to compete with, accommodate, and challenge multiple regimes of colonial occupation and periods of modern state formation. Indigeneity illuminates places of Latina/o literary and cultural production through which to engage the historic ascendance of a number of fundaments of modern life across the globe, including capitalism, nation-state sovereignty, and the transnational social structures of race, sex, citizenship, and gender.
The Spanish Language in Latin America during the Colonial Period
Language was an essential tool in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Starting in 1492, a series of Iberian fleets arrived in the so-called New World with horses, gunpowder, and the printed word in their possession. These artifacts served a major role in the submission of the native population, not only physical but intellectual and spiritual. To appreciate the spread of el español in the newly found territories, it is important to look at how Spanish was perceived by medieval philologists such as Antonio de Nebrija, author of Gramática de la lengua española; to appreciate the registers in Christopher Columbus’s journals (as edited by Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas); to analyze the status of native tongues like Nahuatl, Quechua, and scores of others, as well as the selection Spanish missionaries made of a few of those languages—called lenguas generales—for pedagogical instruction; to look at translators like La Malinche, Melchorejo, and Julianillo; to consider the role the printing press and translations of the Bible played in indoctrinating the indigenous population; to listen to the parlance of African slaves brought from the early 16th century onward; and finally to appreciate the verbal and aesthetic evolution of Spanish in the pens of Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz and many other important Spanish-language colonial authors.
Circumventing Racialism through mulataje
José F. Buscaglia-Salgado
Mulataje is a neologism, reclaimed in 2003 in Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean by José F. Buscaglia-Salgado. Prior to this reclamation, the term was used sparingly and in a very limited way to refer to “racial mixing” in societies that were predominantly composed of Afro- and Euro-descendants in the Caribbean and Brazil. As such it was simply an adaptation and a synonym of mestizaje, used in the context of the Afro-diasporic populations of the Atlantic World. Conceptually reformulated, in its current acceptation, mulataje identifies a counterhegemonic culture that, since the earliest times in modernity, has moved against all colonialist calculations aimed at the possibility of moving beyond and leaving behind all things racial. As a most fundamental practice of being and of knowing informing individual self-conception and social action in the modern colonial world, mulataje speaks to the movements, great and small, individual and collective, that have attempted to outmaneuver all racial codes and racialist conventions as they have informed the distribution of labor and the allocation of natural resources and political rights past and present. Ultimately, the movement of mulataje points to the possibility of dethroning race as a valid and privileged category of knowledge.
Asian Dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o Identity and Cultural Production
Throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, intellectuals and politicians have focused on three main groups as foundational to national and cultural identities: indigenous, African, and European. Mestizaje or racial mixing as a political project has worked to silence the presence and contributions of people of African and Asian descent, while favoring intermixing among European and indigenous. Researchers in the fields of history, anthropology, and sociology have long debated the role of Asians in the transition from slavery to wage labor and produced studies on the transnational and diasporic dimensions of Asian migration and settlement in the region. However, literature and cultural production captures aspects of the Asian presence in the Caribbean Latina/o world that remain absent or underplayed in most empirical studies. Prominent Latina/o writers and artists from the Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic) incorporate Asian characters and themes into their work on history, migration, and diaspora. They explore the Asian dimensions of Caribbean Latina/o racial, ethnic, gendered, and class identities and pose a challenge to foundational discourses of national and cultural identities based on mestizaje and syncretism that serve to subsume and erase the Asian presence. Secondary migrations of Asians from Latin America and the Caribbean to North America has produced a small but significant demographic of Asian Latina/os, some of whom reflect on their experiences through essays, memoirs, fiction, poetry, and art. The cultural production of Asian Latinas/os resists hegemonic concepts of race, nation, citizenship, and identity.
Mestizaje, Racial Discrimination, and Inequality in Latin America
Marcelo Paixão and Irene Rossetto
Latin America ranks highest in the world in markers of social and economic inequality, as well as in the negative effects of inequality on other realms of social life, such as access to basic services, political power, and, in many countries, unfair treatment by police and the justice system. Yet in Latin America it is not possible to talk about racism, ethnic-racial discrimination, and inequality without taking into consideration the hegemonic narratives of mestizaje and racial democracy that shape the way many Latin American nations think about themselves today. Can a region characterized by extreme levels of social inequality also be ethnically and racially democratic? The pattern of ethnic and racial relations in Latin America is marked by discrimination, but at the same time, it creates mechanisms that prevent individuals from recognizing the existence of discrimination against themselves. This reality carries several complications for census-taking and other forms of statistical data collection intended to measure ethnic-racial inequality. Because the main paradigms of analysis of social inequality prioritize economics and class, they have directly or indirectly strengthened the discourse that in Latin America, there is no racism. Certainly, the future of research on race relations and inequality in Latin America will benefit from new demographic data and public opinion surveys, carried out since the turn of the century, which include the identification of indigenous and Afro-descendant people. This trend may advance the production of studies grounded in more robust empirical evidence of ethnic-racial asymmetry.
Spanglish (also referred to as Espanglish, Espaninglish, and Casteinglés, among other appellations) is the hybrid language that results from the cross-fertilization between Spanish and English and, more broadly, between traits in Anglo and Hispanic civilizations. A byproduct of mestizaje with distinct linguistic varieties (Tex-Mex, Chicano, Nuyorrican, Cubonics, Dominicanish, etc.), it is used by millions in the United States, where Latinas/os are the largest and fastest-growing minority, as well as throughout Latin America, Spain, and other parts of the world. Spanglish, like any other language, has acquired its present characteristics through a slow development, in this case one lasting almost 200 years. Seen traditionally as a way for immigrants to communicate, it is actually used by all social classes; on radio, TV, theater, movies, Broadway musicals, the Internet, and social media; in political speeches and religious sermons; in sports and marketing; in the banking and food industries; and in literature, including young adult and children’s books. There are also full or partial translations of literary classics like Don Quixote of La Mancha, Hamlet, Alice in Wonderland, and The Little Prince.
Political Economy, Race, and National Identity in Central America, 1500–2000
Dario A. Euraque
The relationship between historically specific ideas of race and national identity in Central America between the onset of Spanish colonialism in the region, in about 1500, and the end of the 20th century is very complicated. The relationship is rooted not only in the political economy of the region and subregions that were under Spanish colonialism, but also in Spain’s resistance to incursions of British colonialism in the area, particularly on the North Coast, well into the late 18th century, and in some areas of Central America into the 1850s. The nexus between the political economy of nation-state formation in the postcolonial setting deepened after break of the Federation of Central America in the late 1830s, especially after the rise of coffee and bananas as major regional exports. Independent governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica tried to impose “imagined political communities” over these exports that would be different from the colonial identities designed by the Spanish imperialism of the past. In this 20th century context, mestizaje, or ladinizaje, became state sanctioned; it promoted racialized national identities in each of these countries, mostly the idea of ethnicity, albeit with critical regional and subregional differences, particularly between Guatemala and Costa Rica. Historiographies that have been influenced by postmodern sensibilities, particularly critical race theory, the new cultural history, and subaltern studies, have influenced recent understanding of the political economy of race and nationality in Central America.
Race and Social Inequality in 20th and 21st-Century Brazil
Several voices inside and outside Brazil define it as a racial democracy—that is, a nation without segregation or rigid boundaries separating the different groups of race and color. This understanding interacts with issues like nationality and a positive image that this nation conveys for itself worldwide as a land of cordiality, happiness, and racial integration. More than origin, personal appearance is the basis of social interactions. Society can identify a continuum of hues of skin color among its individuals who are racially classified according to their social class and the social spaces in which they interact. However, it does not mean that the social prestige assigned to an individual’s skin color is neutral. The literature shows that the pattern of race relations in Brazil is characteristically ambiguous, based on constant racial prejudice and discrimination against the Afro-Brazilian population while systematically denying its existence. As such, Brazil’s individuals have an asymmetrical standard of social acceptance and access to economic, political, and symbolic power, based on their physical features, including their skin color, their hair type, and the shape or size of their lips and nose. Despite methodological complexities, several research pieces from 1990–2020 confirm that a racial hierarchy system exists in Brazil and that racial injustice, violence, and inequality are prevalent. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Brazil has implemented comprehensive social policies to combat poverty and affirmative action policies that target Afro-Brazilian individuals in an effort to improve the quality of the lives of Brazil’s poorest citizens. Nevertheless, these endeavors were not enough to overcome the consequences of a long historical period of slavery, discrimination, and racial injustice.
José Vasconcelos, National Education, and Revolutionary Culture in Mexico
As Mexico’s minister of public education from 1921 to 1924, José Vasconcelos played a prominent role in efforts to create a new national identity expressing the 1910 Revolution’s goals of an inclusive society and equitable nation, opportunities created through education, and shared cultural expressions. Vasconcelos has been widely praised for his educational campaigns, especially in the countryside, among indigenous communities, and for his literacy programs in the city. According to these recent interpretations, his efforts as minister of public education have been both over- and underestimated. Nevertheless, the revolutionary national identity that he helped to foster with his discussion of mestizaje in La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race; 1925) has since been ingrained into everyday life and culture.
Indigenismo is a term that refers to a broad grouping of discourses—in politics, the social sciences, literature, and the arts—concerned with the status of “the Indian” in Latin American societies. The term derives from the word “indígena,” often the preferred term over “indio” because of the pejorative connotations that have accrued to the latter in some contexts, and is not to be confused with the English word “indigenism.” The origins of modern indigenismo date to the 16th century and to the humanist work of Bartolomé de las Casas, dubbed “Defender of the Indians” for his efforts to expose the violence committed against native populations by Spanish colonizers. Indeed indigenismo generally connotes a stance of defense of Indians against abuse by non-Indians, such as criollos and mestizos, and although this defense can take a variety of often-contradictory forms, it stems from a recognition that indigenous peoples in colonial and modern Latin America have suffered injustice. Another important precursor to modern indigenismo is 19th-century “Indianismo.” In the wake of Independence, creole elites made the figure of “the Indian” a recurring feature of Latin American republican and nationalist thought as the region sought to secure an identity distinct from the colonial powers. The period 1910–1970 marks the heyday of modern indigenismo. Marked by Las Casas’s stance of defense toward indigenous people and by creole nationalists’ “Indianization” of national identity, the modernizing indigenismo of the 20th century contains three important additional dimensions: it places the so-called “problem of the Indian” at the center of national modernization efforts and of national revolution and renewal; it is, or seeks to become, a matter of state policy; and it draws on contemporary social theories—positivist, eugenicist, relativist, Marxist—to make its claims about how best to solve the “Indian problem.” Though its presence can be found in many Latin American countries, indigenismo reached its most substantive and influential forms in Mexico and Peru; Bolivia and Brazil also saw significant indigenista activity. Anthropologists played a central role in the development of modern indigenismo, and indigenismo flourished in literature and the performing and visual arts. In the late 20th century, indigenous social movements as well as scholars from across the disciplines criticized indigenismo for its paternalist attitude toward Indians and for promoting Indians’ cultural assimilation; the state-centric integrationist ideology of indigenismo has largely given way to pluri-culturalism.