Genealogy of Racism in Mexico: Technological Devices of Race and their Transformation in Modern Mexico




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The genealogy of racism in Mexico can be traced to colonial times. This dissertation argues that the framers of the modern Mexican nation-state found useful social practices that I identify as technologies to carry the idea of race throughout the process of construction of the nation and the state. Three main eras defined major changes for the technological devices of race. One of the major changes occurred in the transitional period of pre-Independence Mexico (1767—1810), when the aspiration of emancipation brought by the European Enlightenment met the needs of a country that had been oppressed for almost two hundred years. Local elites faced the challenge of leaving colonial practices behind in order to face the birth of a republican life. The elite’s need of stratification of a diverse society found in the artistic representation of castas a valuable ally. Hence, casta paintings as a technological device of race carried a message of a social taxonomy for a new socio-economic era. A second change followed when the idea of race was affected in the post-Independence era by liberalism and its multiple confrontations with conservative parties and thinkers. In a way, liberalism weaponized the idea of race while creating a homogeneous nation for a modern state. The intersection of political power and language was registered in important nineteenth century documents. Newspapers, edicts, journals, bulletins, and even popular sayings reflect how political power expressed in the public sphere carried a racialized message in which the indigenous people appeared as lesser beings, while the criollos, or Spanish descendants, became the model citizen for the nation. A third period of change for the idea of race and its technological devices occurred with the arrival of liberalism in its positivist version. In a country where most of the population was of Indian descent, the only possible discourse favorable to create a unified nation was a narrative of mestizaje. The discourse of one mixed people, symbolized by the mestizo, took over discourses of progress and order vital for the development of the nation-state. Hence, the technological devices of race had two main functions: to make visible all race markers that defined a person in terms of social and economic status, and to make invisible the indigenous origins of the mestizo. Expressions of art, as in casta paintings, or written expressions in the form of journalism, carried clear messages of social classification. From making visible the differences between races to assigning moral value to human groups, and from creating a discourse of a national subject—mestizo—to declaring a war against the Indians of Northern Mexico, this dissertation establishes that the idea of race has been a protagonist in Mexican history, and has transfigured into the perennial and ubiquitous component that fuels the technological devices of race.



Racism, Nation-state, Liberalism -- Mexico, Mexico -- Civilization -- European influences, Mexico -- History