The Americas 59.3 (2003) 438-440
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This book is a remarkable historical ethnography centered on a set of interviews with ex-Indian Mestizos who consider themselves to be the true guardians of indigenous [End Page 438] culture in Cuzco. The study also works in background archival and secondary historical material to provide a social history of racial or cultural discourse in the city of Cuzco from the Leguia oncenio (1919-1930) to the ethnographic present (1991). De la Cadena also has her arguments with conservative Peruvian intellectuals and "neo-indigenista" historians and anthropologists, and these spice up the narrative from time to time. The central argument of the book is that "race" was a culturalist construction in twentieth-century Cuzco, and that this construction was enduring even though it underwent several important transformations, including the dropping of "race" in the ethnographic present, albeit within a continuing culturalist and moral framework which marks individual and class distinctions based on educational achievement, decency or respectful behavior, and cultural authenticity. At the close of the book de la Cadena deftly wields this historical argument to address the question of why, in Peru, unlike neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia, no significant Indian ethno-nationalist movement has emerged in recent decades.
Perhaps the primary attraction of the study is de la Cadena's reflexive insertion of her own cognitive framework and ambiguous metropolitan "mestiza" identity as the guiding fiction or optic of the study. This insertion is, as it must be, also a limitation. This is because de la Cadena's central question (Why are the indigenous not Indians?) emerges from a very mid-to-late twentieth-century Peruvian (and North American anthropological) notion that the two terms/identities must be one and the same. This "presentist" optic makes the book very useful for correcting such blurred vision.
Such would not have been the case in early nineteenth-century Peru, when the term "indigene" and the concept of "indigenous race" were invented for particular reasons of decolonization and state formation. The point is that de la Cadena's thick analysis of racial and cultural discourse, whose point of departure is always its relevance for the ethnographic present, passes over this critical period of postcolonial discursive formation. Following a well-worn but for some now questionable chronology in Peruvian studies and Andean anthropology, de la Cadena appears to assume that the relevant racial discourse began in the late nineteenth century, and before that all was "colonial" (viz. p. 321). But from the perspective of the nineteenth century some of the historical arguments de la Cadena makes would seem less novel. 'Indian' is an old colonial caste and juridical denomination which in nineteenth-century everyday parlance was applied by non-Indians to common rural folk, and normally not to urban Andean elites (which did indeed exist in the nineteenth century). Such elites became "citizens" and "neighbors" and, yes, "gente decente" and "familias decentes" in that century of "civilization and barbarism" as well. But in official state discourse "Indian" had been banished in favor of the francophone "indigene." Later the concept of "our indigenous race" was developed, but Andean elites were not part of this "race," most having passed over into the ranks of citizenship. Indians, however, were. "Indigenous" thus underwent a mutation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the hands of the indigenistas. This is the point to which de la Cadena's analysis reaches back. Given the indigenist rehabilitation, centered in Cuzco, it is unsurprising that urban "mestizos" should [End Page 439]identify themselves as indigenous and not Indian, since the negative associations of "indigenous race" had been shed and reassigned to the "Indian."
University of Florida