Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America

Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America

Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America

Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America

Synopsis

Latin America is characterized by a uniquely rich history of cultural and racial mixtures known collectively as mestizaje. These mixtures reflect the influences of indigenous peoples from Latin America, Europeans, and Africans, and spawn a fascinating and often volatile blend of cultural practices and products. Yet no scholarly study to date has provided an articulate context for fully appreciating and exploring the profound effects of distinct local invocations of syncretism and hybridity. Latin America's experience of mestizaje through the prisms of literature, the visual and performing arts, social commentary, and music. In accessible, jargon-free prose, Marilyn Grace Miller brings to life the varied perspectives of a vast region in a tour that stretches from Mexico and the Caribbean to Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina. She explores the repercussions of mestizo identity in the United States and reveals the key moments in the story of Latin America's cult of synthesis. Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race examines the inextricable links between aesthetics and politics, and unravels the threads of colonialism woven throughout national narratives in which mestizos serve as primary protagonists. Illuminating the ways in which regional engagements with mestizaje represent contentious sites of nation building and racial politics, Miller uncovers a rich and multivalent self-portrait of Latin America's diverse populations.

Excerpt

This book sprang from ideas that began to intrigue me when I was at work on a doctoral dissertation in comparative literature at the University of Oregon. My dissertation, titled “Miscegenation and the Narrative Voice,” explored the relationship between the notion of “mixed race” and narrative production. While addressing textual representations of miscegenation in Latin America, the English Caribbean, the United States, and South Africa within a temporal frame that stretched from the colonial moment to the late twentieth century, I noticed that radically different vocabularies and discourses were used to describe the phenomenon.

The most glaring difference, perhaps, was between the vocabulary of the United States and that of Latin America. These “other” Americas provided a showcase of historical engagements with mestizaje, a term that may concurrently signify both biological and cultural mixture. in the United States, the absence of a corollary term or suitable translation revealed the refusal to create a parallel ideological space in the national imaginary and its projects. This crucial distinction was nowhere more evident than in modernist approaches to peoples whose backgrounds combined indigenous or Native American and European or Euro-American elements: in Latin America they were “mestizos,” a name with an enormous range of meanings and a centrality to discussions of citizenship; in the United States they were referred to pejoratively as “half-breeds,” as subjects who were somehow incomplete or fragmented, and whose status was marginal to these same national discussions.

Despite this fundamental difference between the United States and its southern neighbors, the impetus for the current project was the degree of cultural difference I experienced, not in moving from the United States to Latin America, but from living in different sites within Latin America. I had been educated to conceive of Spanish America as a unified space, and I had been inculcated with the precept that mestizaje was the predominant characteristic which distinguished Latin from North America. As a . . .

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