Modern National Discourse and la Muerte De Artemio Cruz: The Illusory "Death" of African Mexican Lineage1

By Cuevas, Marco Polo Hernandez | Afro - Hispanic Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Modern National Discourse and la Muerte De Artemio Cruz: The Illusory "Death" of African Mexican Lineage1


Cuevas, Marco Polo Hernandez, Afro - Hispanic Review


The ideal of mestizaje, so pejoratively translated as miscegenation, was based in the reality of mixed races to which the positivists ascribed different virtues and failings, and which had to amalgamate if anything like national unity was to be produced. Unity, in positivist rhetoric, was not so much a political or economic concept as it was biological. Since growth meant modernization and Europeanization, the most extreme ideologues (like Argentina's Domingo F. Sarmiento) advocated a combined policy of white immigration and Indian or Black removal, while others...[as the Mexican ideologues] settled for redeeming the "primitive" races through miscegenation and ideological whitening.

Doris Sommer

The modern Mexican nation emerged in the third decade of the 20th century during "the cultural phase of the Mexican Revolution."2 The criollo (white) controlled government disseminated officially the myth that mestizos were the offspring of Spaniards and Amerindians exclusively, in that order.3 Thereafter, this discourse was reproduced and reinforced through various means of mass persuasion, including the novel, until 1968.4

The black African heritage of Mexican mestizaje was replaced in the collective memory and national imaginary with Jose Vasconcelos' "cosmic race" myth. This philosophy, a continuation of Spanish colonial beliefs, codified blacks as tame and their genes as recessive. By insisting that Spanish genes were dominant and that black African genes were recessive in the mestizo, criollos, as supposed heirs of the Spanish genes, "legitimated" a paternity claim; hence, a protagonist role in carving out the Mexican nation. This enabled them to transfer historical glory to their name. The history of cimarronaje was erased and African Mexican national heroes were whitened, thus African Mexican national achievements became criollo based.

According to Vasconcelos' creed, exposed in the first forty pages of his La raza cosmica, the black characteristics of the Mexican were receding through natural selection.5 In his Christian-rooted vision, "beauty" was overpowering "ugliness" and the mestizo population was steadily and eagerly whitening. The modern nation builders adopted Vasconcelos' views as the unequivocal road toward modernization. La muerte de Artemio Cruz (1962) (The Death of Artemio Cruz),6 by Carlos Fuentes, reintroduces and reinforces the myth of the Mexican populace's willing submission to whitening.

In this canonized post-modern novel, the central character, a post-revolution Mexican prototype, on a level, appears as a "mestizo" oblivious of his African family tree; but as he reels through memory from his death bed, the reader is informed that in the depth of his heart he despises his negritude. he is convinced that "the whiter the better." La muerte is read in this study as a link in the chain of canonized criollo works reflecting the cosmic race-discourse on nation whose iron-like determination, from the start, was the cleansing of blackness from the population, if at least psychologically.

Richard L. Jackson explains that defining "superior and inferior as well as the concept of beauty," on the basis of how "white" a person is perceived to be, is a "tradition dramatized in Hispanic literature from Lope de Rueda's Eufemia (1576) to the present" ("Black Phobia" 467). he has found in Latin American literature that the black image rendered by non-black authors, save a noticeable few, has unjustly represented black Africans and their descendents. Jackson reveals certain patterns wherever blacks are or have been (Black Image 1). He shows that these patterns have affected the manner in which writers and readers identify people of black African heritage in general (BlackImage 37).

This study adopts Jackson's views as a critical approach and further subscribes to James Snead's angle on the coding of blacks. For Snead, the coding of blacks "in the wider society, involves a history of images and signs associating black skin color with servile behavior and marginal status" (142). …

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