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  • Histories of Race and Racism: The Andes and Mesoamerica from colonial times to the present ed. by Laura Gotkowitz
  • Elizabeth Shesko
Histories of Race and Racism: The Andes and Mesoamerica from colonial times to the present Edited by Laura Gotkowitz. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2011.

The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples attests the growing power of Native peoples to make demands on the nation-state. Establishing a "universal framework," the Declaration promotes the "full and effective participation [of indigenous peoples] in all matters that concern them" while guarding "their right to remain distinct and pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development."1 Indigenous social movements over the last thirty years have profoundly affected Latin America, where elites have long grappled with what they saw as "the Indian problem." Driven by indigenous demands, nine countries in the region have modified their constitutions to recognize the rights of Native peoples.

This volume, edited by Laura Gotkowitz, offers historically and ethnographically grounded analyses of the colonial and internally colonial conditions that have produced Latin America's "Indians." Yet, unlike the UN Declaration, it shies away from ideas of universality and instead seeks to identify the regional and national differences that have shaped the racialization of Native peoples. As such, the volume takes Bolivia as its main subject of analysis—a logical choice given the current strength of indigenous organizing in that Andean nation and the international attention it has garnered since the 2005 election of Evo Morales, Bolivia's first president to identify as Indigenous. Half of the fourteen chapters focus on Bolivia, with the others drawing case studies from Peru, Ecuador, Mexico and Guatemala that allow for the identification of factors shaped by national trajectories and those that transcend them. The essays cover not only abstract questions of identity, prejudice and nation making but also their concrete manifestations in the guise of census taking, rural education, archeological ruins, beauty pageants and rival Indigenous organizations.

An excellent introduction by Gotkowitz lays out the stakes of the volume, defines terms and charts distinct approaches to race in the Latin American context. As Florencia Mallon points out in her evaluative conclusion, this volume is less about race than it is about the construction of Indigeneity (322)—those looking to understand the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade and connections between Indigenous and African-descended peoples will not find answers here. However, Gotkowitz offers a persuasive argument for why the concepts of race, racism and racialization are necessary to understand both the history of Indigenous people and the current moment of Indigenous activism. Referring to the ferocity of the battles being fought over Morales' presidency, she notes that these "competing visions of politic al power, ethnic rights, and the nation... have been fought out in part in the language of race" (6).

Diverse chapters productively explore themes such as the role of elites' Indigenismo in forging national identity (Qayum, Poole), the importance of place and space to defining and performing Indigenous identities (Colloredo-Mansfeld, Hale, Calla and Muruchi, Qayum), how shifting boundaries and identity markers are shaped by state institutions (Taracena, Barragán, Larson), and how transnational networks and ideas shape local outcomes (García and Lucero, Lomnitz, Larson). Contributions by Deborah Poole and Charles R. Hale delve into both the dangers and the potential of Mestizaje discourse, pointing to its dependence on the Indigenous other, which as Poole points out, is an "other that shares something of substance with the mestizo self" (197).

By including research on state structures, elite projects and Indigenous activism, Histories of Race and Racism successfully navigates the danger of portraying Indigenous men and women as either passive victims or tenacious resisters. It also brings to the fore the often contradictory implications of race, given its utility for both domination and as a tool of group making by social and political movements. Nor do these essays shy away from difficult questions about how to talk about assimilation and divisions within Indigenous movements. In particular, contributions by María Elena García and José Lucero and by Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld grapple with struggles over representation, policing the boundaries of Indigenous...

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