Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919-1991

By De La Cadena, Marisol; Arratia, Maria-Ines | Anthropologica, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview
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Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919-1991


De La Cadena, Marisol, Arratia, Maria-Ines, Anthropologica


Marisol de la Cadena, Duke University Press, 2000, 408 pages.

Reviewer: Maria-Ines Arratia

Marisol de la Cadena has written an interesting, detailed and insightful historical-ethnographic account of the politics of identity in the city of Cuzco, Peru, a highly significant cultural centre for the entire Andean region. This is the kind of in-depth study for which an "indigenous anthropologist" is particularly well suited, since probing into the very roots and sustenance of a complex, solidly established class system, can certainly benefit from an intimate, self-reflected exposure to its values, its implications and its pervasive long-term consequences. It is a prime example of embodied learning coupled with anthropological sophistication.

The book is composed of seven chapters, each dealing with one context where the politics of identity construction become manifest. The agents involved in these politics include intellectuals, dominant elites, political ideologists, writers, and, of course, aboriginal populations dubbed "Indians" by the Conquistador. Attention is given to the relationship between the State andIndigenous peoples, the particular role of academics and the politics of representation. Copious explanatory notes decoding some otherwise implicit meanings and a broad bibliography add value both to de la Cadena's analyses, as well as to the work as a resource for Andeanists. It is important to note that references are drawn from Peruvian sources as well as from international scholars.

The volume is historically rich and replete with details of the complex dynamics involved in the construction of indianness and mestizaje in the 20th century, which are so relevant and revealing in understanding the complexities of current day, postcolonial cultural politics in Peru. The many-layered and textured account includes archival research and ethnographic examples, and provides the basis for a new style of postcolonial Andean ethnography, that incorporates historical developments, rural-urban interactions, socially dominant-subordinate dynamics, and includes the reproductive aspects of hegemony, as well as the symbolic aspects of legitimation and authenticity in the creation and reproduction of expressive culture intended to make visible and position cultural diversity as part of a regional heritage.

Indigenous Mestizos introduces the interpenetrated, patterned constructions of identities in the economic, social and symbolic contexts, carefully and explicitly attending to gendered differences. Breaking with the highly prevalent binary oppositions that characterize Andean ethnography, de la Cadena uncovers the essentialism of a "cultural racism" that constitutes the basis of the class system in Cuzco. Her ethnographic cases illustrate the currency of her historically drawn analyses bringing forth the voices of the informants, who use their own embodied learning experiences as the basis of their "native exegesis."

De la Cadena deals particularly well with the politics of representation, by unpacking complex hegemonic processes. The hegemony of "decency" is defined as the symbolic capital of the elites, to which the Mestizo cannot aspire, and the Indian, even less. Education and respect are two values that subaltern groups can harness for themselves in the process of accumulating their own symbolic capital.

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