Book Review published in Bulletin of Latin American Research (Journal of the Society for Latin American Studies; United Kingdom) 29.2 (March 2010): 244-45
University of California,
The Inner Life of Mestizo Nationalism by Estelle Tarica.
Minneapolis: Press, 2008. 240 pages. ISBN 978-0-8166-5004-0 University of Minnesota
Estelle Tarica’s study, The Inner Life of Mestizo Nationalism (2008), deals with discourses of mestizaje and the intersection of race and nation in
Mexico, Bolivia, and . In particular, it focuses on the novels Surumi (1943) by the Bolivian Jesús Lara, Los ríos profundos (1958) by the Peruvian José María Arguedas, and Balún Canán (1957) by the Mexican Rosario Castellanos, around which three of the four chapters are centered. As she explains, the autobiographical, subjectivist, and “intimate” indigenista literary aesthetic that they proposed in the mid-twentieth century (the point of maximum strength of this discourse since its inception in the sixteenth century by Bartolomé de las Casas) challenged widely accepted racial hierarchies. Their identity narratives also promoted the national self: using a confessional and expiatory mode, they echoed alternative ways to construct and conceive the nation and promoted the dream of a unified national consciousness. Yet, developing an idea that had already been suggested in the conclusion of Juan de Castro’s Mestizo Nations (2002), Tarica acutely postulates that Mexican and Andean indigenista ideology, together with its offspring, the national-populist ideologies of mestizo nationalism, perpetuated discrimination and disempowered Indians politically. Peru
Indeed, under the guise of modernization and integration, indigenistas contributed to the creation of new forms of marginalization with a paternalistic discourse that depicted Indians as dependents or children who needed protection before the law. Likewise, while they described Indians as the true essence of the nation, they simultaneously turned them into incomplete citizens. Writers such as Lara and Castellanos, continues Tarica, claimed to be indebted to Indians, whom they described as embryonic and incomplete citizens. With this rhetoric, however, they only empowered themselves and affirmed themselves as “full citizens.” Furthermore, indigenistas, explains Tarica, demonized indigenous activists and equated their activities with insanity. They cynically masked the justification of populist state power as its opposite and tried to nationalize and “civilize” Indians by presenting their purported powerlessness, vulnerability (exclusion from the law), and innocence as the core of the national self. Therefore, indigenismo was, according to this book, simultaneously racist and anti-racist: it challenged existing social and racial hierarchies by introducing and justifying new ones.
The main innovation in The Inner Life of Mestizo Nationalism is its overturning of the dualistic notion that indigenismo was a top-down discourse about Indians written by non-Indians elites. Instead, Tarica challenges the ideas introduced by Peruvian critics and thinkers José Carlos Mariátegui (during the 1920s) and Antonio Cornejo Polar (in the 1970s) and demonstrates that, although indigenismo was indeed a discourse about the Other, it was neither stable nor dualistic. She then coins the term “intimate indigenismo” to describe autobiographical and “intimate” texts by Lara, Arguedas, and Castellanos. All these writers, she argues, spoke of themselves as Indians and from within “Indianness.” In fact, these narratives of overcoming stigma influenced their authors’ “evolving ways of thinking about Indians and indigenismo” (xxix). Reaching a spiritual self-encounter with the “Indian within,” they evoked the innate affiliations and connections between Indians and non-Indians. In this way, indigenistas and indigenous voices became blended, a process that would be the basis of mestizo nationality. They turned to an interior sphere of Indianness shared by both ethnic groups that opened the way to describing a new type of regional and national self. With this goal in mind, Lara, Arguedas, and Castellanos emphasized and even exaggerated the Indian nature of their autobiographical first-person authors-narrators in writings that took the shape of therapeutic and liberating confessions. Interestingly, as Tarica notes, indigenismo went from being a marginal and oppositional discourse to enjoying a hegemonic and dominant position. The Indian was suddenly converted into the norm and the nation was seen as a redemption from colonial legacy. Indigenismo, therefore, attempts to liberate Indians and non-Indians alike by trying to convince the latter to accept their Indian inner self.
The first chapter describes how indigenismo influenced ethno-racial national identifications. The author proposes an understanding of indigenismo as a process of destigmatization of Indianness by which the nation itself began to be understood as being essentially Indian. Chapter 2 focuses on the Bolivian indigenismo and revolutionary nationalism reflected in Jesús Lara’s Surumi and in his bilingual essay-anthology La poesía quechua (1947). In particular, it studies the rhetorical strategies that the novelist used to create a sense of mestizo nationality, including the subject’s “refusal to refuse” his Indian heritage and the populist story that narrates how the Indian plantation slave is transformed into a man thanks to a revolutionary sentimental education. The same protagonist who had longed to become unmarked and destigmatized will later proclaim his loyalty to the Indian race. Lara’s repudiation of the stigmatization of his mother tongue that filled his childhood with shame and self-denial is translated into his Indian author-narrator’s condemnation of the stigma of race in national schools. This chapter is linked to the next through its attention to Quechua-Spanish bilingualism as one of the elements at the core of Andean autobiographical indigenista discourse. Chapter 3, then, uses this approach to analyze the evolving image of the bilingual mediator of the indigenous spirit in José María Arguedas’s writings from Yawar fiesta (1941) to Los ríos profundos (1958). Moving between resentment and a call for national redemption, Arguedas portrayed his own formative childhood experiences in a Quechua world and later in a reactionary Hispanist Lima. In the end, indigeneity, which is unproblematically linked with moral innocence in Los ríos profundos, signifies for the author “redemption from the tragic divisions of the modern nation-state” (136).
If Chapters 2 and 3 studied Lara’s and Arguedas’s disenfranchisement because of their mother tongue, Chapter 4, in turn, denounces the internalization of women’s inferiority by both the local oligarchy and the revolutionary-nationalist ideologies in Castellanos’s Balún Canán. To study the “intimate” indigenismo of this novel, Tarica conceives of some of Castellanos’s letters and poetry as its prehistory and looks at her experimental use of the first- and third-person narrative voices. Toward the end of the chapter, she concludes that, while indigenismo had an empowering effect on Castellanos as a Mexican woman, “It also signals how that self-transformation becomes most meaningful when it is harnessed to an ideology of progress and civilization that marginalizes and infantilizes Indians” (182). The conclusion of The Inner Life of Mestizo Nationalism links this indigenista tradition to the political discourse of Evo Morales in
Bolivia, Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, and Ollanta Humala in . However, Tarica disagrees with the belief that indigenismo has given way to indigenous discourse proper; instead, “indigenous people have seized hold of it themselves as an instrument in their struggles for greater social and political power” (200). Peru
If I had one small quibble with this impressive study, it would be that sometimes the language slips into phrases that sound essentialist, even though the book aims at exactly the opposite goal. In the introduction, for instance, Tarica states: “It is worth pointing out, however, that despite these differences between the
and Latin American, both societies are profoundly racialized” (xiv). Needless to say, to speak of United States Latin America as a single society evokes the same Orientalist reductionism that the author herself actually mentions in this excellent book.
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