This paper explores ideologies of difference and mobility constructed in the circulation of Middle Eastern people and texts by framing these migrations through imperial and nationalist narratives produced in the Middle East and Mexico. The aesthetic and civilizational classifications defended by intellectuals of the Mexican Mahjar debating the Mexican intelligentsia in migrant and national press which situate Mashriqi peoples as fearless explorers and rightful ‘conquerors’ of less beautiful, less modern Middle American natives have a genealogy in Ottoman representations of New World populations. Cultivated during the nahda, the Arab modernist ‘awakening,’ these hierarchizing claims were concerned, like other anticolonial nationalisms, with situating Arabs as both heirs to a glorious ancient civilization and cosmopolitan moderns. Nahda narratives, an Arab decolonizing discourse, had emancipatory as well as subordinating effects as they intersected with Criollo nationalism. Mobilizing the universalist hierarchies integral to global modernism, the discursive decolonization of an ‘Arab civilization’ afforded the subalternization of Middle American populations. It enabled Mashriqi and Middle American elites to bisect Middle American nations into ‘primitive’ Indians and civilized Criollos, so that Mahjar notables and Criollo elites could come to understand themselves as partners in a civilizing mission.


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