CLS 322 Social Science Race & Racism in The History of Mexico Paper

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According to Alan Knight’s analysis and critique of the social construction of race and national identity in post-revolutionary Mexico (1920s to 1930s),

During this time, what was indigenismo, and what were its empowering contentions & ironic contradictions?

What were the contradictions between the ideals of the government bureaucrats & intellectuals (i.e. advocates for indigenismo), and the masses of the Mexican people who were mobilized by the patriotic construction of indigenous people as “mestizos?”

What were the realities of social class, ethnicity, and race in Mexico that were obscured by the state’s construction of indigenismo and mestizaje?

Race & Racism in the History of Mexico

Alan Knight, is a renowned scholar of Latin American history.
In “Racism, Revolution, and Indigenismo: Mexico 1910-1940″ he provides a meticulous exploration of the social construction of Mexican national identity in the early 20th Century.  

In short, the 1910 Mexican Revolution gave rise to a new national patriotic culture, promoted by prominent intellectuals and embodied in the nation’s social policies, which focused on idealizing Mexico’s indigenous past as a means of mobilizing the country’s population towards industrialization and economic development.  

However, Knight, and the crucible of Mexican history, raise the specter as to whether the developments of the early 20th Century Mexican government and intellectuals were really in the interest of the people they purported to represent; specifically Mexico’s indigenous population.

But keep in mind that Mexico still has a large indigenous population and many Mexican women carry mostly Native American or indigenous DNA as part of their heritageLinks to an external site., compared to the U.S., where Native American people have been reduced by Anglo settler colonialism and genocide to just 1% of the populace.Many Mexican people are assumed to be “mestizo” (mixed Spanish and indigenous), when, in fact, many of their cultural traditions and customs are derived from their indigenous ancestry, and, arguably, much of their genetic heritage is native to the Americas. Just like the U.S., racial categorization in Mexico can be very vague.

For centuries, the Mexican government’s census categories denied the existence of African-descent peoples in their population (see the content on the course blog), despite the fact that African people were brought to Mexico by the Spanish conquistadores in the early 16th Century. 

In a peculiar way, the racial concept of a mestizo, created by the Spaniards and reinforced by Mexican elites, intelllectuals, and the Mexican government in the 1920s & 1930s (the historical period Knight discusses) is…

a homogenizing construct (to make something similar or alike) , and

a homogeneous construct (of the same or alike)

…akin to how whiteness makes all people of European descent alike in the U.S. But unlike how whiteness was constructed on top of the genocide perpetrated by Europeans against the original Native American peoples of North America, the label mestizo makes all Mexicans (and Central Americans by extension) conform to an imagined “brown” identity that appropriates its culture from the original indigenous people of the Americas who were colonized, conquered, and enslaved by the Spaniards and their descendants. 

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