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Mulattas and Mestizas

Representing Mixed Identities in the Americas, 1850-2000

Suzanne Bost

Publication Year: 2003

In this broadly conceived exploration of how people represent identity in the Americas, Suzanne Bost argues that mixture has been central to the definition of race in the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean since the nineteenth century. Her study is particularly relevant in an era that promotes mixed-race musicians, actors, sports heroes, and supermodels as icons of a "new" America. Bost challenges the popular media's notion that a new millennium has ushered in a radical transformation of American ethnicity; in fact, this paradigm of the "changing" face of America extends throughout American history.

Working from literary and historical accounts of mulattas, mestizas, and creoles, Bost analyzes a tradition, dating from the nineteenth century, of theorizing identity in terms of racial and sexual mixture. By examining racial politics in Mexico and the United States; racially mixed female characters in Anglo-American, African American, and Latina narratives; and ideas of mixture in the Caribbean, she ultimately reveals how the fascination with mixture often corresponds to racial segregation, sciences of purity, and white supremacy. The racism at the foundation of many nineteenth-century writings encourages Bost to examine more closely the subtexts of contemporary writings on the "browning" of America.

Original and ambitious in scope, Mulattas and Mestizas measures contemporary representations of mixed-race identity in the United States against the history of mixed-race identity in the Americas. It warns us to be cautious of the current, millennial celebration of mixture in popular culture and identity studies, which may, contrary to all appearances, mask persistent racism and nostalgia for purity.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-17

In its provocative fall 1993 special issue, "The New Face of America," Time magazine sensationally represents hybridity as a dramatic development that is forcing a "new" look on America. The issue highlights how racial mixture is redefining American identity...

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ONE: Mulattas and Mestizas

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pp. 18-87

Paule Marshall's novel Praisesong for the Widow describes the origins of Thomasina Moore's uncertain racial identity: "He forced my mother / late / one night. / What do they call me?" (19). Her light skin enables her to pass and to perform in the chorus line at the Cotton Club. ...

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TWO: Creoles and Color

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pp. 88-129

Caribbean identity is built on both mestizo and mulatto mixture. While Mexican usage of mestizaje often elides the Africanist presence, this presence is more visible in the racial makeup of the Caribbean. In defining her Puerto Rican–American identity, Rosario Morales includes...

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THREE: The Transitive Bi-

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pp. 130-182

In its constructions of race, sex, gender, and nationality, the television show Designing Women provides more than a popular feminist message. The main characters of the show are four white southern women and an African-American man (predictably enough, an ex-convict) who works for them. ...

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FOUR: Millennial Mixtures

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pp. 183-210

African-American feminist science fiction writer Octavia Butler explores the limits of fluid identities. In Wild Seed (1980), her African heroine Anyanwu is a "shape-shifter": she can change the shape, color, or species of her body at will. ...

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pp. 211-212

The mulatta/mestiza has held the attention of American media for more than a century. Her influence is significant enough to unleash a tremendous body of representations on the popular, the literary, the governmental, and the academic fronts, as all try to claim her with their rhetoric and their ideals. ...


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pp. 213-239


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pp. 241-259


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pp. 261-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780820327211
E-ISBN-10: 0820327212
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820323251
Print-ISBN-10: 082032325X

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 608691560
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mulattas and Mestizas

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Identity (Psychology) in literature.
  • Human skin color in literature
  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
  • Group identity in literature.
  • Miscegenation in literature.
  • American literature -- Minority authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Latin American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Women and literature -- Latin America.
  • Racially mixed women -- Intellectual life.
  • Women and literature -- United States.
  • Racially mixed people in literature.
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