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Chapter One Anatomy of Indigenismo Since the 1970s, scholarly accounts of indigenismo have focused on its status as a discourse of cultural and political domination of Indians, which is indeed a central and defining aspect of indigenista discourse. Although challenging existing racial hierarchies, indigenismo remains a kind of colonialism and a kind of racism, and has rarely been a friend to organized and self-identified Indian resistance movements, or to ideas of collective indigenous autonomy and self-determination. Despite its origins as a contestatory political discourse, indigenismo has perpetuated Indians’ subordination to the state in the name of civilizing them. Furthermore, because in the latter half of the twentieth century indigenismo became the instrument of authoritarian regimes in Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia, which aggressively promoted mestizaje as a national ideal, it is difficult to uncouple indigenista policies from the repressive force of the state. Critiques of indigenismo, and especially of the mestizo nationalism that it sustains, have emphasized that, like other kinds of populist rhetoric, it is often little more than an empty charade, an illusion to mask a profoundly undemocratic reality. State indigenismo politically disempowers the people it continuously proclaims itself to be empowering. The fact that indigenismo tends to support the development of mestizo nationalism is particularly problematic, for in such cases, indigenista-oriented political regimes insist that Indian cultural assimilation to a mestizo ideal is the price of equal participation in national life. Thus indigenismo has either directly or indirectly promoted the disappearance of indigenous groups as collective entities in the name of fostering a homogeneous national culture. One of the main indigenista strategies for the domination of Indians has been what anthropologist Johannes Fabian terms the “denial of coevalness ,” whereby the colonizer “assigns to the conquered populations a different Time” (Fabian 30, original emphasis).1 The denial of coevalness is used to render Indian political claims illegitimate or invalid because it 1 2  Anatomy of Indigenismo posits indigenous cultures as archaic, primitive, premodern, out of step with history. An analysis of indigenista discourses from the early and mid-twentieth century shows how Indians are placed at the prehistorical origin of the nation, at its metaphorical roots. However, as I will further discuss, indigenismo is also responsible for creating a discourse of coevalness, for promoting an understanding of Indianness as lodged in the metaphorical gut, heart, tongue, soul, and blood of the nation and national selves; that is, it also promotes an awareness of “shared” time and space between Indians and non-Indians, the core of the mestizo nation . Keeping in mind that indigenismo wields both of these strategies, both denying and affirming Indians’ coevalness, a new set of questions arises regarding the workings of indigenista ideology. Who wields these “affirmations of coevalness” and to what are they responding? How is the shared time-space that indigenistas invoke positioned with respect to that other time-space where Indians and Indianness are denied coevalness and considered backward or primitive? Does the indigenista affirmation of coevalness indeed empower indigenous claims? Although indigenista discourse developed differently in Mexico, Bolivia , and Peru, in all three cases it became an instrument of revolutionary nationalism in the early twentieth century and thus shares a number of important characteristics. Indigenismo was the preferred discourse for responding to a general crisis in oligarchic regimes and for channeling the modernizing aspirations of rising social sectors. One of its primary aims was to “nationalize” Indians. It sought to rehabilitate the Indian from the position most often accorded it in the liberal and positivist thought of the mid-to-late nineteenth century: that of an alien and inferior being, one who is extraneous, if not dangerous, to the integrity of the nationstate .2 In contrast to these views, modern indigenismo in Mexico and the Andes envisions the Indian as proper to the nation — as, in fact, its most valuable and integral asset, key to modern progress and prosperity. Seen from an economic perspective, the Indian becomes a potential labor force for nascent industry. Seen from a political and military perspective , the Indian becomes an ally in power struggles between oligarchic elites and a newly empowered urban middle-class. Seen from a symbolic perspective, the Indian becomes, as had already happened in the period of Spanish-American Independence, a sign of the distinct historical origin and cultural formations of Spanish-American nations: a sign of that which makes them unique with respect to the United States and Europe Anatomy of Indigenismo  3 and...


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