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  • Mestizo Nations: Culture, Race and Conformity in Latin American Literature
  • Amaryll Chanady
Juan E. de Castro. Mestizo Nations: Culture, Race and Conformity in Latin American Literature. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 2002. xvi + 161 pp.

Mestizo Nationsexamines the "discourse of mestizaje," which, according to the author, proposes the "creation of a homogeneous culture or race" to reconcile different ethno-racial groups and is still relevant today in spite of its contradictions. In a careful reading of Latin American and Chicano novels, short stories, poems, essays, and songs since the beginning of the nineteenth century, Castro discusses their contradictions in the context of nationalism and the search for identity. After briefly presenting the concepts of transculturation (Angel Rama) and hybrid cultures (García Canclini) as important precedents for current debates on multiculturalism, Castro explores the links between culture, nation, and race, discusses mestizaje as acculturation and assimilation, and locates the Amerindian as a sign of specificity. In the third chapter, he examines Ricardo Palma's Tradiciones peruanas, in which Amerindian expressions are incorporated into a specifically Peruvian Spanish and independence is seen as a continuation of indigenous resistance to colonization, while inequality and conflict between criollos and Amerindians is ignored.

The fourth chapter describes the novel Iracemaby the Brazilian José de Alencar as an archetypal story of mestizaje and nation-building that excludes Afro-Brazilians and advocates the assimilation of the Amerindians while lamenting their lost world. Castro argues that Brazilian versions of mestizaje play down the conflict between colonizers and Amerindians and foreground the continuity between Portugal and Brazil (both seen as hybrid). The next chapter offers a perceptive study of the contradictions in Gilberto Freyre's optimistic depiction of mingling between criollos and blacks in Brazil, in which miscegenation is presented as a democratic influence on society and a constitutive trait of national identity. In spite of Freyre's celebration of black culture, however, his influential work is "compatible with the ideology of whitening" and colonialism, since the nation is portrayed as a patriarchal family in which social conflicts become family squabbles, black and mulatto women occupy subordinate positions in the white master's house as mistresses and servants, and the field slaves are usually invisible. Miscegenation therefore only takes place on the margins of the white family.

In chapter 6, Castro examines the Peruvian essayist José Carlos Mariátegui, who attempted to reconcile social justice and modernity with cultural specificity by portraying the Amerindians as protocommunist and arguing that a just society could be achieved through agrarian socialism instead of the transformations prescribed [End Page 495]by orthodox historical materialism. Mariátegui is not entirely free of racism, however, since he establishes hierarchies among Amerindian populations, minimizes their extermination in North America, and writes disparagingly of blacks, mestizos, and Chinese, albeit without subscribing to racial determinism. Furthermore, he considers Amerindian culture important only insofar as it contributes to the creation of a modern industrial state. In spite of these contradictions, Castro considers Mariátegui to be an important precursor of alternative models of modernity.

The seventh chapter discusses the Afrocentric lyrics of the Cuban dance band Los Van Van, which celebrates African traditions. In chapter 8, Castro examines the application of the discourse of mestizaje and the concept of Vasconcelos's cosmic race to the United States. He situates the Chicano writer Richard Rodriguez in the context of border theory and describes how his writing evolves over time, as he accepts his Mexican-American identity and replaces the initial binary oppositions between public and private by depictions of a hybrid, constantly changing "brown America." Similar to Gloria Anzaldúa's and José David Saldívar's border/borderlands theories, Rodriguez's view of mestizaje, however, minimizes the violence of the Conquest and continuing conflict and advocates a "hybrid homogeneity," contrary to Anzaldúa's model of plural identity and heterogeneity in the "new mestiza."

In the ninth chapter, Castro discusses the Peruvian José María Arguedas, who deconstructs the monolithic self in his version of personal biculturalism and the multicultural space of the Peruvian coastal borderlands, thus foreshadowing later postmodern models of identity. However, Arguedas's depiction of the Andean migrant communities is also...


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