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Mestizo Democracy

The Politics of Crossing Borders

By John Francis Burke; Foreword by Virgilio Elizondo

Publication Year: 2003

It can come as no surprise that the ethnic makeup of the American population is rapidly changing. That there are political repercussions from these changes is also self-evident. How the changes can, must, and should alter our very understanding of democracy, though, may not be obvious. Political theorist John Burke addresses these issues by offering a “mestizo” theory of democracy and tracing its implications for public policy. The challenge before the United States in the coming century, Burke posits, will be to articulate a politics that neither renders cultures utterly autonomous from each other nor culminates in their homogeneous assimilation. Fortuitously or ironically, the way to do this comes from the very culture that is now necessitating the change. Mestizo is a term from the Mexican socio-political experience. It means “mixture” and implies a particular kind of mixture that has resulted in a blend of indigenous, African, and Spanish genes and cultures in Latin America. This mixture is not a “melting pot” experience, where all eventually become assimilated; rather, it is a mixture in which the influences of the different cultures remain identifiable but not static. They all evolve through interaction with the others, and the resulting larger culture also evolves as the parts do. Mestizaje (the collective noun form) is thus process more than condition. John Burke analyzes both American democratic theory and multiculturalism within political theology to develop a model for cultivating a democratic political community that can deal constructively with its cultural diversity. He applies this new model to a number of important policy issues: official language(s), voting and participation, equal employment opportunity, housing, and free trade. He then presents an intensive case study, based on a parish “multicultural committee” and choir in which he has been a participant, to show how the “engaged dialogue” of mestizaje might work and what pitfalls await it. Burke concludes that in the United States we are becoming mestizo whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not. By embracing the communitarian but non-assimilationist stance of intentional mestizaje, we can forge a future together that will be not only greater than the sum of its parts but also freer and more just than its past.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

You don’t have to be a political scientist to recognize that the face of our country is rapidly becoming a composite of faces from the entire world. The old racial and ethnic categories of identification are rapidly becoming obsolete. Will we become a new disunited tower of Babel with no possibility of communication, or will we become an ever-more united humanity, a unity as radical a breakthrough in the history of humanity as was the very ...

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pp. xi-xv

This book is the culmination of ongoing research I have been doing on multicultural relations for the past dozen years. Even in the early 1990s the United States was clearly becoming a more culturally diverse nation, but this reality has become unequivocal today. Yet, our discourse on multiculturalism, whether in the academy or society at large, seems incapable of ...

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Introduction: Enriching Community through Diversity

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pp. 3-18

The capacity to cross geographic and figurative borders will be one of the political virtues of the twenty-first century. Increasingly across the United States, each of us is encountering ‘others’ supposedly different from oneself in terms of race, religion, ethnicity, and language, among other categories. More and more of us are mingling with diverse people in our neighborhoods, ...

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1. Moving Beyond the Either/or of Unum v. Pluribus

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pp. 19-51

At present most commentaries on the growing multicultural character of the United States fall into two camps: assimilationists and separatists. Assimilationists contend that multiculturalism treads upon the very ideals of Western civilization; they maintain that there has to be a universal American identity held by everyone for the sake of political civility and order. Separatists, on the other hand, contend that there is little hope for constituting ...

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2. Mestizaje as Holistic Engagement of Multiple Cultures

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pp. 52-82

Historically, mestizaje refers to the commingling of the races and cultures of the African, European, and indigenous peoples in the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of the Americas. In contrast to the English decimation of the indigenous tribes in North America, the Spanish conquistadors, especially through the rape and subjugation of indigenous women, ...

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3. Attributes of a Mestizo Democracy

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pp. 83-114

Anzaldúa’s and Elizondo’s depictions of mestizaje provide the basis for realizing a unity-in-diversity that culminates neither in assimilation nor separatism. In this chapter, I put forward and discuss the following attributes of a mestizo democracy that I find embedded in the works of Latino theologians and scholars: ...

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4. A Post-liberation Philosophy and Theology

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pp. 115-145

In this chapter I consider the relevance of Enrique Dussel’s liberation philosophy to the realization of a mestizo democracy. Although I am sympathetic to Dussel’s critique of Eurocentric modernity and his articulation of transmodernity, I contend—principally through the work of Octavio Paz—that Dussel’s arguments ironically manifest a Eurocentric “hangover.” By contrast, the mixing of heritages on a lateral and equal basis intrinsic to a mestizo ...

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5. Reconciling Multiculturalism with Democracy

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pp. 146-178

My recasting of mestizaje as a political theory that brings about a just unity-in-diversity is by no means the only perspective that aims beyond the unum-pluribus divide in contemporary democratic theory. In this chapter I compare and contrast a mestizo democracy with cognate undertakings in mainstream political theory. I use the term “mainstream” advisedly, for part of the import of a mestizo democracy is that ...

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6. Fostering Unity-in-Diversity

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pp. 179-203

Throughout the United States, religious communities, like their political counterparts, face increasing racial and ethnic diversity in their memberships. In this chapter I offer and analyze my own experiences during the 1990s while cultivating multicultural relations at a Catholic parish with over thirty-five hundred families in Houston. Specifically, I peruse the philosophical, ...

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7. Crossing Borders as Public Policy

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pp. 204-245

In the previous chapter I focused on the implications of a mestizo democracy for creating forums that enable diverse ethnic, linguistic, racial, and religious cultural groups to engage in constructive dialogue in a lateral and egalitarian fashion. In this chapter I reexamine prevailing public policies from the standpoint of mestizaje. Having considered the process of deliberation, I now suggest how ...

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Conclusion Embracing the Future of Mestizo Democracy

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pp. 263246-260

The preceding seven chapters have been an odyssey through which I have tried to pinpoint both the basis and justification for a mestizo democracy that can constructively engage the challenges posed by diversity from the local to the transnational arenas. In these concluding reflections, I synthesize the themes that weave in and out of these very distinct chapters and suggest further research directions for those willing to pursue the challenge of articulating a substantive sense of community through multicultural relations ...


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pp. 261-282


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pp. 283-294


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pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9781603446426
E-ISBN-10: 1603446427
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585443468
Print-ISBN-10: 1585443468

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: Bib. Index.
Publication Year: 2003