Scholars of Latin American and Caribbean history have recently given a great deal of thought to both “race-making” and “nation-building.” [End Page 331] Many embrace the premise that race is a historical construct—a product of interactions among state policy, individual actions, and local politics—and elaborate compelling analyses of the racial dynamics on that basis. At the same time, others have used Anderson’s notion of “imagined communities” to describe the processes by which nineteenth- century (or in the case of Cuba, twentieth-century) elites and subalterns struggled over the terms of inclusion in the context of newly independent states. The authors in this volume undertake analyses of these as intertwined processes. The understanding that “race” and “nation” are mutually constituted is one of their common arguments.
In several essays, attention to region and its relationship to nation adds a layer of complexity. Barbara Weinstein, for instance, focuses on how intellectuals, journalists, and politicians in São Paulo asserted their “whiteness” during the rebellion of 1932, during which they resisted the unifying efforts of Getulio Vargas’ populist regime. In defiance of Vargas’ efforts to create a nationalist “myth of racial democracy,” in which all races were equally valuable contributors, a discourse emerged claiming Paulista superiority based on both its modernity and its racial purity in contrast to the rest of Brazil, depicted as backward and “other,” “African” or “mulatto.” Rather than taking a separatist view, however, this discourse, argues Weinstein, “was . . . the very opposite of separatism—it conflated the Brazilian nation as a whole with São Paulo identity” (243). Thus, even as she interrogates the categories, Weinstein demonstrates the salience of race and nation.
Other innovations include attention to sources often neglected in the study of racial dynamics. Sarah Chambers cross-references records of landholding and tribute payments with marriage registries, concluding that inhabitants of Arequipa who might otherwise identify as mestizo found it much more advantageous, in public settings, to claim either Indian or Spanish identity. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the label of “mestizo” was not inherently preferable, contrary to received notions of colonial society, in which Indians were thought to claim mestizo identity whenever possible.
Indeed, challenges to entrenched historiographical notions constitute the most appealing aspect of this volume. Among them are Weinstein’s critique of a hegemonic acceptance of the “myth of racial democracy,” Chambers findings about the weak appeal of public mestizo identity, and James Sanders’ simple but significant observations that indigenous people in Colombia formed alliances not just with Liberals but with Conservatives as well.
As in other postcolonial societies, many Latin American regimes confronted the problem of integrating previously marginalized populations into freshly anointed democratic regimes, which in many cases meant incorporating persons of both African and indigenous descent. Historians of the Americas have traditionally treated these efforts at integration as separate problems. However, following the insistence of Peter Wade, whose thoughtful afterword concludes the volume, the editors [End Page 332] have aimed to bring them together. Further work along these lines will enrich and expand our understandings of how race is made.