The Science and Politics of Race in Mexico and the United States, 1910-1950

The Science and Politics of Race in Mexico and the United States, 1910-1950

The Science and Politics of Race in Mexico and the United States, 1910-1950

The Science and Politics of Race in Mexico and the United States, 1910-1950


In this history of the social and human sciences in Mexico and the United States, Karin Alejandra Rosemblatt reveals intricate connections among the development of science, the concept of race, and policies toward indigenous peoples. Focusing on the anthropologists, sociologists, biologists, physicians, and other experts who collaborated across borders from the Mexican Revolution through World War II, Rosemblatt traces how intellectuals on both sides of the Rio Grande forged shared networks in which they discussed indigenous peoples and other ethnic minorities. In doing so, Rosemblatt argues, they refashioned race as a scientific category and consolidated their influence within their respective national policy circles.

Postrevolutionary Mexican experts aimed to transform their country into a modern secular state with a dynamic economy, and central to this endeavor was learning how to "manage" racial difference and social welfare. The same concern animated U.S. New Deal policies toward Native Americans. The scientists' border-crossing conceptions of modernity, race, evolution, and pluralism were not simple one-way impositions or appropriations, and they had significant effects. In the United States, the resulting approaches to the management of Native American affairs later shaped policies toward immigrants and black Americans, while in Mexico, officials rejected policy prescriptions they associated with U.S. intellectual imperialism and racial segregation.


I stayed in Tepoztlan but a short time in the spring of 1930. Some
months later there came into my hands a book by Mr. Robert
Redfield, an American ethnologist from the University of Chicago,
who had remained there nearly a year, studying every phase of the
town’s life. With this invaluable document, I was able to check my
own impressions, and still better, to draw evidence for a more serious
study in comparative civilizations. Robert Redfield’s Tepoztlan, laid
upon Robert and Helen Lynd’s Middletown, provides as exciting a
series of parallel columns as any sociologist could wish. One can
compare item by item the work habits, play habits, religious habits;
the food, houses, clothing, education, social organization of two
communities, one north, the other south of the Rio Grande, but a
whole world apart. The one is still following the leisurely pattern
of the handicraft age, with many cultural traditions from the
greatest indigenous civilization which the Western Hemisphere
produced; the other is firmly locked into the culture of the machine
age, deriving most of its traditions and mores from the Eastern
Hemisphere. The machine has entered Tepoztlan, as we have seen,
but it is as yet the shyest of visitors. If it and its products were
barred tomorrow, the white pyjamas of the men would have to give
way to native cloth woven from a local tree fibre (the old looms
still survive). Otherwise the village life would proceed largely

—Stuart Chase, Mexico: A Study of Two Americas (1931)

In 1930, Stuart Chase, a Harvard- and MIT-trained economist, vacationed in Mexico with author Marian Tyler, his wife. He had just published two books condemning the ill effects of industrial capitalism, and like many intellectuals of his generation, he found in Mexico a preindustrial idyll. Chase and Tyler soon returned to Mexico, spending a total of five months there, mostly outside the capital. Back in the United States, they wrote a book that compared Tepoztlán, Cuernavaca, to Muncie, Indiana, the presumably . . .

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