La Raza Cósmica

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The preeminent Mexican intellectual José Vasconcelos first published his treatise on La Raza Cósmica ("the cosmic race") in 1925 and then continued to develop his thesis over the Portes Gil, Ortiz Rubio, Rodriguez, Cárdenas, and Ávila Camacho presidencies for a second edition that was published in 1945, during which time he also ran for president against Ortiz Rubio. Though he set himself up in direct opposition to the indigenistas[1], his perspective is important for the influence that in had on Mexican indigenismo as well as its parallels with the ideas that were produced by that intellectual trend.

The book discussed Vasconcelos's ideas on the issue of racial mixing or mestizaje, a preoccupation for Mexican thinkers long before Vasconcelos, one which has continued even into the present and has since been mobilized as a major source of national identity. Vasconcelos hoped to do more than merely solidify nationalist sentiment: he discussed the Latin American region as a whole. Indeed, Vasconcelos saw nationalism and nationalist rhetoric as a plague for the unity that the latino "race" ought to have. By the publication of the second edition, he had set the Latin Americans and the Anglo-Americans against each other in what amounted to an epic struggle for dominance in the Western Hemisphere. He blamed Napolean for having literally sold out to the Anglos.

Racial mixing was more than a little problematic for thinkers of Vasconcelos's day. Social Darwinism, which was heavily influenced by the work of Herbert Spencer, was the theory du jour among sociologists and philosophers of Europe and North America. Spencer and his followers had created a hierarchy of men which placed Anglos at the top and Native Americans at the bottom with Blacks. Racial mixing was considered contamination of the European stock. Vasconcelos responded to this theory by turning it on its head: mestizaje represented the glorious future of humankind.

Vasconcelos considered Latin Americans and Anglo-Americans in opposition to one another. Mexico's northern neighbor, he observed, had "committed the sin of destroying [the Indian] races"[2] and had isolated black and white populations from one another. This meant that the "races" which had blended to form the nation were all very similar, having all originated in Europe. Vasconcelos suggested that, in addition to the inferior climate, Mexico had been set back by the fact that it had incorporated the indigenous peoples who occupied the land prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors and the Africans who were brought to the Spanish colonies as slaves: the Mexican people were thus constituted by a mixture of very different "races" and their development as a nation had been retarded.

That is not to say that mestizaje was bad; Vasconcelos thought the exact opposite. He described the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations as not only advanced and flourishing but also racially mixed. He believed that the blending of the world's four races - white, black, red and yellow - would produce "the definitive race, the synthetic race or the integral race, made up of the genius and the blood of all peoples and, for that reason, more capable of true fraternity and of truly universal vision" (Vasconcelos: 36), which is what Vasconcelos believed the future held. This process he saw taking shape in Mexico, and while he believed that successful intermingling would be harder to accomplish than it had been in the United States where only very similar races mixed, he believed that each race would inject its own best qualities into the fifth, cosmic race and that the result would be a superior society.

The cosmic race thus literally incorporated the Indians and used them as bridges to its own incarnation. The faster the different races were all blended together in the mestizo, the sooner the glorious future would come. Vasconcelos's thoughts on Mexican society ran along the same lines: he believed that "the Indian does not have any other bridge to the future than the door of modern culture, nor any other path than the already cleared path of latin civilization."[3] That is to say, the Indians' only hope for the future was to assimilate to Mexican culture. This sentiment ties Vasconcelos to the indigenistas whose work he held to be "counterfeit".[4]
  1. Nicola Miller. 1999. In the Shadow of the State: Intellectuals and the Quest for National Identity in Twentieth-Century Spanish America. New York: Verso. Pp. 143.
  2. José Vasconcelos. 1966. La Raza Cósmica: Misión de la Raza Iberoamericana. Madrid: Aguilar. Pp. 31.
  3. Vasconcelos, Pp. 30.
  4. Miller, Pp. 143