Fragment from 2013

…The concept of raza is thus not a merely a particular system of classification, but a racial order in which culture and cultural identity have an important role and the meaning of color varies. It is nonetheless administered by the state as racial, and despite its flexibility as a category, it remains inflected with questions of color and descent. Piedra’s discussion of the Hispanic self as a text into which Otherness is woven in a “tactical compromise” shows why mestizaje as state policy has not meant racial tolerance but “literary whiteness,” or subjugation to the colonial letter (307).

The estatutos de limpieza de sangre, created in 1449 to identify descendants of converted Jews, persisted through much of the nineteenth century. In the Americas, they were used to exclude people of African and indigenous descent from access to education and from some government posts. Latin America’s fabled valorization of mixture, furthermore, coexists with racial hierarchies in which European descent is highly valued (Portocarrero 2007). The idealization of mixture reconsititutes originary or essentialist identities, reinforcing the bases for racism (Wade 2004). Nicola Miller notes that “ideologies of racial mixing were based on racialized state structures and official national iconographies” and excluded darker or less Europeanized people (2006: 304). Joshua Lund discusses mestizaje as a statist discourse that hardly moves beyond race, as it purports to do, but rather confirms racialization as a state project (2012).

This is to say that inclusivity does not resolve the problem of racial difference but functions to mask or render unspeakable the mechanisms of exclusion and hierarchization which still persist. The elasticity of the category Hispanic does stand in contrast to the less flexible categories that have operated in the United States or South Africa, enabling José Martí to posit in 1891 the existence of a specifically Latin American cuture where “[n]o hay odio de razas, porque no hay razas” and “El alma emana, igual y eterna, de los cuerpos diversos en forma y en color” (38-39). Yet inclusion in the raza hispana does not confer recognition as blanco, as Martí’s own text suggests by positing a Latin American “we” that is identifiably criollo (Ramos 1989). Bolívar’s earlier call for mestizaje had come in the wake of the challenge to elite classes that the Haitian revolution represented, and he expressed concern toward the end of his life that Venezuela would become a “pardocracia” (Helg 2003). …


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