A history of Modern Latin Summary read all PDF readings AND chapter 7 & 8 in book ” a history of modern latin” THEN summarize all readings together within

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The Cosmic Race
jOSE VASCONCELOS*
In Mexico, a confluence of armed revolts succeeded in toppling the prolonged autocratic presidency of Porfirio Diaz who fled the country in 1911. Compdsing a series
of violent upsurges in the battle for political power, the Mexican Refolution lasted
more than a decade thereafter. During those turbulent years, cultGral philosopher
Jose Vasconcelos (1882-1959) had campaigned for Francisco Madero, the democratically elected head of state, assassinated within two years of his term during a
1913 coup d 1etat staged by General Victoriano Huerta. Vasconcelos was forced to
seek exile in France and, later at odds with Venustiano Carranza’s presidency, sought
refuge in the United States. Eventually in 1920, under the presidency of General
Alvaro Obregon, the nation was now prepared to begin a material, ideological, and
cultural reconstruction. Vasconcelos had returned to Mexico as rector ofthe National
University of Mexico, and later as Minister of Public Education (1921-4). In that
capacity, he gathered artists and intellectuals to contribute to the emerging revolutionary culture: a progressive agenda aimed to provide social welfare, widespread
literacy, and art for the people. The muralist movement in Mexican art flourished
thanks to the support of Vasconcelos who commissioned painters to cover walls of
public buildings with nationalist content.
Jose Vasconcelos and the muralist painters sought to reverse the aesthetic and
intellectual dependency of Mexico on foreign models by firmly grounding art and
culture in native tradition. Indigenismo, that is, a renewed attention to Mexico’s
ancient civilizations and indigenous culture, linked art to the nation-building project,
* Jose Vasconcelos (1997 [1925]) The Cosmic Race (trans. Didier T. Jaen, pp. 7-40). Baltimore,
MD: The johns Hopkins University Press.
Modern Art in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: An Introduction to Global Modernisms, First Edition.
Edited by Elaine O’Brien, Everlyn Nicodemus, Melissa Chiu, Benjamin Genocchio,
Mary K. Coffey, and Roberto Tejada.
© 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2013 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
The Cosmic Race
even as indigenous subjects could be portrayed emptied of active historical participation and meaning. Mexico was forging an image of itself by foregrounding the value. of
its Indian ethnicity1 its ancient ruins, its manual arts, the country’s long history and
volcanic landscape, and with mythologies old and new.
Vasconcelos published La raza c6smica [The Cosmic Race] in 1925. It is a dense
piece of rhetoric filled with internal contradictions and ambivalent motives. Just as
science fiction is ot~rwise known as speculative literature, one might consider The
Cosmic Race a speculatil(~ ethnography. Its argument is with Anglo-European and
US American “exceptionalism/’ even as it makes special claims of its own.
Vasconcelos sought to refute those attitudes that considered the Iberian Americas as
some sort of” lesser new world.” To this end, he found recourse in the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Andes, along with that unique phenomenon resulting from the conquest’s foundational violence: namely, mestizaje, the sweeping
integration .over ,time of peoples and cultures from Europe (above all Spain and
Portugal) with native peoples of Indo-America. A diagnostic and a philosophy of the
future, The Cosmic Race submits mestizaje as “the moral and material basis for the
union· of all men into a fifth universal race, the fruit of all the previous ones and amelioration ofeverything past.”
The Cosmic Race may strike readers today as alarmingly racialist or utterly
• outlandish. Itis important to recall the unifying nationalist goals of Mexico’s new
state formation at the time this was written, as well as the audience to which the
essay was directed – namely, the cultural elites of “Our America” (see Roberto
Fer·nandez Retamar on Jose Marti, this volume). Vasconcelos opposes the notion
that there can be anything resembling an impartial empirical history. Instead,
he offers what Fernandez Retamar refers to as a “vast col}lprehensive theory”
grounded in ex[ierimental intuition. For Vasconcelos, Europe’s expansionist project
had served as “a bridge” uniting the “four racial trunks: the Black, the Indian, the
Mongol, and the White.” An overarching cultural difference remained between the
dominant colonizers of the modern period, Spain and England, but more precisely,
between “Latinism” and “AnglocSaxonism.” As a child, Vasconcelos had grown up
on the US-Mexico border and attended school in Eagle Pass, Texas. Having experienced the United States first hand, he would claim that, “ideologically, the Anglos
continue to conquer us.”
In a 1932 issue of a US journal Vasconcelos later came to his own defense against
those who depicted him as an “anti-foreigner” or as “a racial patriot overzealous for
the interests of Mexico and Spanish America.” He did not object to the United States,
he clarified; he opposed its “political influence in Mexico because it has always been
exercised for the benefit of the big business interests, and for the behoof o( a few
Mexican traitors whose conduct is that of despots and military dictators.”
Despite the prevailing indigenismo of Mexico’s cultural renaissance, Vasconcelos
did not disavow the cultural heritage of Spain. On the contrary he values the
Spanish over the Anglo-Saxon precisely because of the former’s capacity to
assimilate “a mixture of dissimilar races.” He writes: “Spanish colonization
created mixed races [whereas] the English kept on mixing only with the whites
and annihilated the natives.” It is in Iberian America whence there will emerge a
f
403
404
i’
jose Vasconcelos
future ~as remote as Atlantis stands in relation to the pa~t- for “the definitive
race, the synthetical race, the integral race, made up of the:genius and the blood
of all peoples and, for that reason, more capable of true, brotherhood and of a
truly universal vision.”
A racial thinke~ Vasconcelos was not exempt from his own,period-based racism,
especially with regard to peoples of African and Asian descent. The ,Cosmic Race,
howeve~ was not meant as a prescriptive text submitting a form of eugenics. It was
not a plan for improving the human species: Rather, itproposes an ethics that views
complexity as an aesthetic value, and benevolence capable of producing a more dignified humanity: “Procreation by love is already a good antecedent for a healthy
progeny, but it is necessary that love itself be a work of art, and not the last resort
of desperate people.” Equally important ,as his, writings are those works he
commissioned from Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros 1 and Diego Rivera.
The latter’s murals at the National Palace are discussed by Leonard Forgaraitin this
volume. Rivera also produced an ambitious series of narrative murals ih the Palace
of Public Education in Mexico City. There, Vasconcelos had allegories carved to represent “Spain, Mexico, Greece, and India [Africa and the rest of Asia are glaring
omissions], the four particular civilizations that have most to contribute to the
formation of Latin America.”
Consider Leonard Folgarait’s analysis of Diego Rivera’s murals at Mexico,
City’s National Palace. What were the pitfalls of mestizaje as ,employed in the
ideological service of Mexico’s revolutionary regime? Who does this vision
exclude? How does Vasconcelos’s biological model of utopian advancement
account for the place of women or that of alternate sexua’lities? Does Vasconcelos
argue for the eventual disappearance of racial difference? Or does he rehearse
compelling language to cast doubt altogether on the term “race” as a methodically
quantifiable category? How is mestizaje in The Cosmic Race ofl925 comparable
to the Brazilian metaphor of consumption in Oswald de Andrade’s 1928
“Cannibalist Manifesto”? How are these two essays a response to the racial
beliefs associated with Eurocentrism? Compare Vasconcelos’s racialism with commentary by Frantz Fanon, Aime Cesaire, and ,Qusmane Sembene in the African
modernism section.
Further Readings
Brenne~ Anita Cl943) The Wind That Swept Mexico: The History ofthe Mexican Revolution,
1910-1942. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.
Brenner, Anita (2002Cl929J) Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art ahd Its Cultural Roots.
New York, NY: Dover Publications.
Hedrick, Tace, (2003) Mestizo Modernism: Race, Nation, and Identity in Latin American
Culture, 1900-1940. New Brunswick, NY: ‘Rutgers University Press:
Knight, Alan Cl990l”Racism, Revolution, and Indigenismo: Mexico, 1910-1940.” In Richard
Graham (ed.l, The Idea of Race in Latin America, 1870-1940 (pp. 71-113). Austin,TX:
University of Texas Press.
Vasconcelos, Jose Cl932) “Why I Became a Magazine Editor.” Books Abroad 6Cll: 6-9.
The Cosmic Race
Mestizaje
I
In the opinion of respectable geologists, the American continent includes some of
the most ancient regions of the world. The Andes are, undoubtedly, as. old as any
other mountainrange on earth. And while the land itself is ancient, the traces of
life and human culture also go back in time beyond any calculations. The architectural ruins of legendary Mayans, Quechuas, and Toltecs are testimony of civilized
life previous to the oldest foundations of towns in the Orient and Europe.
[ … ]
If we are, then, geologically ancient, as .well as in respect to the tradition, how
can we still continue to accept the fiction, invented by our European fathers, of the
novelty of a continent that existed before the appearance of the land from where
the discoverers and conquerors came?
The question has paramount importance to those who insist in looking· for a
plan in History.
[ … ]
Greece laid the foundations of Western or European civilization; the white
civilization that, upon expanding, reached the forgotten shores of the American
continent in order to consummate the task of re-civilization and re-population.
Thus we have the four stages and the four racial trunks: the Black, the Indian, the
Mongol, and the White. The latter, after organizing itself in Europe, has become
the invader of the world, and has considered itself destined to rule, as did each
of the previous races during their time of power. It is clear that domination by
the whites will also be temporary, but their mission is to serve as a bridge. The
white race has brought the world to a state in which all human types and cultures
will be.able to fuse with each other. The civilization developed and organized in
our times by the whites has set the moral and material basis for the union of all
men into a fifth universal race, the fruit of all the previous ones and amelioration
of everythingpast.
White culture is migratory, yet it was not Europe as a whole that was in charge
of initiating the reintegration of the red world into the modality of preuniversal

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