Ethno-Racial Dynamics In Mexico: An Approach To The Racist Discourses In The Yucatecan Elite

Reception: March 27, 2020

Acceptance: April 29, 2020

Las elites de la ciudad blanca: discursos racistas sobre la otredad

Eugenia Iturriaga, 2016 UNAM, Mexico City, 356 pp.

Mexico continues to have a historical debt in the approach to studies on racism, its various expressions and manifestations in society, culture and politics. Independence in Mexico did not solve the problems of racism in the country; on the contrary, its forms were camouflaged in practices that are often imperceptible in social relations in the country, including, since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas (1994), a definitive turn took place from Mexican anthropology in which people began to speak of a “resurgence of racism”, which in reality begins to challenge, on the one hand, alliances between political and academic elites to maintain racist practices in the social way of understanding human relationships, and on the other hand, the ethnocidal practices that are they were running.

In a brief state of the question of racism in Mexico, Eugenia Iturriaga rescues the contribution of Jorge Gómez Izquierdo (2002), who dedicated more than a decade to the study of racism, made visible the discrimination of the Chinese and showed in his later contributions the way invisible to practice racism from the elites. Another important area in the study of racism in the country is led by Claudio Lomnitz (1995), who begins to relate racial ideologies with Mexican nationalism. In addition to both authors, it is also important to highlight the contribution of Olivia Gall (2004), who like Gómez Izquierdo (2002) is dedicated to contributing to the analysis of racism from 1998 to 2014, and whose main contributions are the studies of identities and the generation of otherness with racism. Finally, the work of Alicia Castellanos (2001) is highlighted, who, among other contributions, addresses two proposals: a first on understanding the relationship of racism with national and regional education, as well as, on the other hand, proposing methodologies that contribute to the study of racism.

Eugenia Iturriaga's proposal is part of this current of studies on racism in Mexico and generates a critical proposal that addresses an interlocution between the white elite and otherness in the city and in public space. Iturriaga began his anthropological studies on indigenousism in Mexico, the construction of the national state and the role of anthropologists. Currently, as a research professor at the Faculty of Anthropological Sciences of the Autonomous University of Yucatán (wow), seeks to contribute to discussions about racism and elites.

The author obtained the Fray Bernardino de Sahagún award from the National Institute of History Anthropology for her doctoral thesis in 2011. With this work, the author raises a profound challenge to Mexican anthropology to take up that historical debt of the discipline for broadening the focus of research on racism, also understanding the dynamics and rituals that are generated from the traditional elites.

In her work, Eugenia Iturriaga presents a deep analysis in which she reveals dynamics that societies in public spaces do not dare to mention or make visible, racial dynamics that are embedded in everyday life and are strengthened by the elites of the cities . Through his analysis, he presents a deep and complex work on the racial dynamics of the Yucatecan city of Mérida, a space that for Mexican anthropology has an important peculiarity in terms of ethnic-racial relations and the Mayan peoples.

In a context of multiculturalist politics and social movements, it is relevant to blur the gaze of otherness. It is very common for the analysis to focus on racialized, excluded groups when speaking of racism, discrimination or otherness; However, in the so-called “white city”, how is racism understood and experienced by the elites? Are they aware of the racial dynamics that are generated from the elites? How do they read their white city? These are questions that arise from the reading of Iturriaga.

The elites of the white city represents the author's inquiry into the spaces that generate, strengthen and disseminate racist discourses from everyday life, and tries to delve into racism and the way in which it is structuring the traditional meridian elites. The work consists of seven chapters and an important prologue written by Alicia Castellanos, who highlights the relevance and great contribution of this work to an area very little observed from Mexican anthropology: the elites. Castellanos affirms that it is an important contribution to the analysis to counteract the constant denial of racism and classism, from the State and society, the manifest existence of racial and class dynamics in all private and public daily spaces.

The first three chapters seek to place the reader methodologically, theoretically and historically. In the author's intention to reflect on the multiple racism and the strategies for its study, raises a theoretical-methodological proposal that seeks to account for the racist dynamics in daily practices, in public discourses and in hidden discourses. The author dialogues with Taguieff (2001), Wieviorka (1992), Todorov (2007) and Balibar (1988), each with a multidimensional proposal for the analysis of racism that serves as the basis for the author's statements.

Based on this perspective, he proposes working in a juxtaposed way with three general dimensions: ideological, doxa and practices. Likewise, he resorts to Austin (1990) and Judith Butler (2002) to weave the previous dimensions with the generation, transformation and reproduction of discourses, the performativity and citationality of ideas and words. This multidimensional proposal is the one that offers a superior approach in depth and complexity of the ethnic-racial dynamics from the elites, of their strategies of reproduction, distinction, privileges, power and legitimations.

On the other hand, it also takes up the theoretical reflections on the elites and social classes of Jorge Alonso (1976) and Pareto (1980), who address the dialectic between social classes and elites, establish a heterogeneous composition between, in Pareto's words, drivers and driven; both delve into the dynamics of elites and strategies for social, economic and political balance. The author is going to return to this proposal, also including the ethnic variable and the symbolic capital that belongs to a traditional elite in Yucatán.

Later, he makes a historical journey through Mexican anthropology and history, rescuing as a common thread the use of the concept of “race”. It goes through the nineteenth-century positions of the existence and classification of "races", the Darwinian, biological and cultural references that result in the foundation of eugenic policies and actions.

The importance of this process for reading is to understand how the scientific and social criteria on the classification and values that were assigned to the different populations of Europeans, Creoles, mestizos, indigenous people and Afro-descendants were evolving, in this way to delve into the representations and racist practices that were building alterities in Mexico.

An important contribution of Iturriaga is to take a historical tour of the responsibilities of the different sciences, and especially to identify anthropology and history as fundamental tools in the establishment of social order, evangelizing practices and the diffusion of the ideology of a "Pure race", or a "cosmic race" in terms of Vasconcelos (1948). The author writes: "Anthropology, with the help of other sciences, was a crucial instrument in the nation-building process since the ultimate goal was the integration of Indian cultures to modernity" (p. 83). Later, in the conclusions, he highlights the debt of Mexican anthropology in terms of breaking the scientific and biological approach with which indigenous peoples are conceived.

Already from the chapter iv up to the chapter vii it enters the focus of the discussion. It begins by locating the meridian society spatially and identifies a segregated geographical distribution between the traditional elites and the Indian peoples. The methodological tools used for this geographic mapping are very interesting. An analysis of the surnames of the Mérida telephone directory was carried out, in which it states that “those of Mayan origin predominate in the numbers assigned to the southern colonies of the city, while those of Spanish or foreign origin predominate among the numbers of the northern colonies ”(p. 138).

It is important to analyze this geographical distribution identified by the author, since, if the ideologies generated about world distribution are also taken into account, the conformation of the south, or the impoverished and underdeveloped south, with the north or north is realized. as economic powers and first world countries. On the other hand, it also identifies places as key spaces for the generation and experience of racial discourses: schools, recreational clubs, sharing dates of vacation periods, and diacritical features such as language and clothing. For these analyzes the author resorts to the concept of habitus, in order to understand the practices and social conditions in which the traditional elites of Mérida have been built, understanding their historical and group schemes coupled with everyday life.

The schools demarcate the type of training and social relations generated by the traditional elites; In the author's words, “the schools where the children of the elite attend are very important because there the fabric of networks begins, the socialization process is reinforced and social positions are defined. The schools make clear the group to which they belong ”(p. 153). The "whose son / daughter is it?" it has relevance for elite families; The same is true for exclusive recreational clubs for certain families; the last name is relevant for access to schools and clubs. It is in these spaces that both cultural and social capital are installed in a preponderant way to generate a sense of belonging.

Rituals that are immovable due to a matter of status and that correspond to social milestones of the elites are also highlighted, such as the debutante ball, the carnival balls, the Catholic missions and "the season." The role of women in these spaces of cultural and ideological transmission of the meridian elites is very striking; the author mentions it at certain moments and opens an interesting discussion about women and their reproductive role of strategies and perpetuation of segregation dynamics, which promotes maintaining the closed circle of elites.

In this sense, the role of women in these families is connected with the patriarchal dynamics that pigeonhole them in the home, the family and their care. In these families, care is not limited only to health or food, but also includes care for the social position that family has in the elites, care for elite schools, elite clubs, marriage alliances closed between elite families and even the bars and clubs where their offspring can go.

An interesting ambiguity also arises about diacritical features; for example, the relationship that the meridian elite maintains with its roots of the Mayan language, with phonetic aspects such as intonation, accent, and even the incorporation of complete words in Mayan. It can be affirmed that there is pride in those Mayan roots and in their "bludgeoned" way of speaking; However, there is also a deep discrimination of the Mayan speakers, which is evidenced through the contempt of the Mayan surnames, the contempt, the subordination and the exploitation of the nannies and nurses who are mostly Mayan-speakers.

The author also contrasts these dynamics with stereotypes and prejudices according to the phenotype of the people; To do this, he carries out a photo-interpretation exercise with young students from schools in the traditional elites of Mérida that consists of presenting images of people in different locations and with different phenotypes, and inviting the students to recreate the history of the photographs, which then it contrasts with the "true" story that the researcher has about the profiles. The analysis brings together stereotypes and prejudices that develop based on phenotype, ethnicity, and class. Fair complexion profiles are related to success, superiority, important professions and positions in society; On the other hand, the relationship with “brown skin” bodies is with vices such as alcoholism and violence, with poverty and marginalization.

The author also addresses an extensive archival work on the local media in search of identifying the ideological dimension of racism through representations of the Mayan. It deals with open access television channels and focuses especially on two television programs: The Pechs, a real family and The kitchen is culture, and on the journalistic side, makes an analysis of the copies of the Yucatan newspaper, addressing the use of photographs and the discourse used in editorials.

The analysis shows a deep contradiction in the relationship with the Mayan people. On the one hand, an image of protection of the ancient Mayan culture is socialized; in some way, those responsible for the Mayan culture and origins enduring through time are also understood in an ahistorical way; and, on the other hand, the contempt, humiliation and deep discrimination naturalized from speeches to daily dynamics are also highlighted. The discourses fluctuate between the pride, idealized and essentialist of the Mayan origins of the Yucatecan elite, and the rejection of indigenous bodies, the rejection of their languages, surnames, cultural practices and racialized bodies.

Through this work, Eugenia Iturriaga gives an account of the multidimensionality of racism in discourses and practices, shows how racial reading continues to be a filter that determines social relations, inclusion and exclusion in certain spaces, and establishes itself as a reference for the reading of the phenotype and cultural differences. Theories of power and its use by traditional elites to perpetuate and naturalize stereotypes and stigmas that racialize indigenous groups are reinforced; It is understood how complex power relations are outside of a classic relationship between power and politics or government, understanding power as a relation of forces that are exerted in all social relations, in all societies built on the basis of inequality.

On the other hand, it is also understood that despite maintaining "the Mayan" as an essential part of the Yucatecan legacy, indigenous, Indian, and Mayan bodies are racialized, impoverished, and disparaged. In this sense, the author reinforces that "in Mexico, discrimination against indigenous peoples is colonial, subordinate, it is racial and cultural discrimination, although discrimination by social class often makes racial invisible" (p. 326). Class analysis is also deeply approached through historicizing the location and development of the middle and upper classes in Yucatán.

Among the stereotypes and stigmas that continue to naturalize in the speeches of the Yucatecan elites are alcoholism, lack of morals and decency, violent and savage behaviors, laziness and idleness. These elements were constant responses in the methodological strategies used by the author. In the same way, the symbols and codes established by the Yucatecan elite to determine the belonging and status of the subjects in society were identified. Among them, the geographical location in the state stands out definitively: necessarily the north is the shelter for the elites, prestigious schools, social clubs, status rituals, Catholic missions and Spanish surnames.

A fundamental aspect to ensure that these codes are maintained and last through the generations is the role of elite women. Wives control every social and symbolic aspect of the younger generations, in order to maintain power, respect and relationships in elite closed spaces. Much has to do with an analysis of gender and power that undoubtedly remains an open source for future approaches. Further studies on Afro-descendant and Asian peoples, which are apparently not observed by the Yucatecan elite, are also pending.

As the author mentions at the end of her work, "only by knowing how elites operate can a society be understood" (p. 334), reinforcing what was mentioned at the beginning of the text. It is also important to problematize the way in which research on racism, racialization and "race" has been guided, observing only otherness, on the one hand, and its link with social classes (Jorge Alonso, 1976). In this sense, the author's contribution opens an important field of analysis and construction of ethnic-racial relations, also thought from the groups that have remained in power and that, in general, are the main generators and perpetuators of racial speeches.

Bibliographic references

Alonso, Jorge (1976). The class-elite dialectic in Mexico. Mexico: La Casa Chata.

Austin, John (1920). How to do things with words. Barcelona: Paidós.

Balibar, Étienne (1988). “Does neo-racism exist?”, In Immanuel Wallerstein and Étienne Balibar, Race, nation and class. Madrid: iepala, pp. 31-48.

Butler, Judith (2002). Bodies that matter: on the material and discursive limits of "sex". Buenos Aires: Paidós.

Castellanos, Alicia (2001). "Notes to study racism towards Indians in Mexico". Population Papers 28: 165-179.

Gall, Olivia (2004). "Identity, exclusion and racism: theoretical reflections and on Mexico". Mexican Journal of Sociology 2: 221-259.

Gómez, José (2002). Studies on racism in Mexico: pre-existing approaches, antecedents and state of the research. Puebla: buap.

Lomnitz-Adler, Claudio (1995). The exits of the maze. Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz.

Pareto, Vilfrido (1980). Social form and balance. Excerpt from the Treatise on General Sociology. Madrid: University Alliance.

Taguieff, Pierre-André (2001). "The racism". Feminist Debate 12 (24): 3-14.

Todorov, Tzvetan (2007). Us and the others. Madrid: Century xxi.

Vasconcelos, José (1948). The cosmic race. Mission of the Ibero-American race. Buenos Aires: Espasa Calpe.

Wieviorka, Michel (1992). The space of racism. Barcelona: Paidós.

Angie Edell Campos Lazo She is a candidate for a doctorate in Social Sciences with a mention in Social Anthropology from the Ciesas-Occidente (Mexico), she has a Master's degree in Community Development from the State University of Centro Oeste do Paraná unicentro (Brazil) and a degree in Social Work from the Federico Villarreal National University (Peru), with more than eight years of experience with Afro-Peruvian youth and as a member of the Board of Directors of Ashanti Peru-Red Peruana de Jóvenes Afrodescendientes. Her line of research includes gender, interculturality and human rights. Among his publications stands out the book Afro-descendant Women in the South of Brazil: Perceptions under the dimensions of justice. Email: orcid: 0000-0002-8488-4610.

Jorge Rafael Ramirez He is a candidate for a doctorate in Social Sciences from the Autonomous University of Nayarit (Mexico), a master's degree in Social Policy from the State University of Londrina (Brazil) and a degree in Social Work from the Federico Villarreal National University (Peru), with more than ten years of experience with Afro-Peruvian youth and as a member of the Board of Directors of Ashanti Peru - Red Peruana de Jóvenes Afrodescendientes. He has published articles with an emphasis on the political participation of Afro-descendants and is the author of the book Political participation of young people of African descent in Peru. Email: orcid: 0000-0002-8488-4610

Inline Feedbacks
See all comments


ISSN: 2594-2999.

Unless expressly mentioned, all content on this site is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Download legal provisions complete

EncartesVol. 5, No. 9, March 2022-August 2022, is an open access digital academic journal published biannually by the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, Calle Juárez, No. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte Norte, A. C.., Carretera Escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, No. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, No. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434, and El Colegio de San Luis, A. C., Parque de Macul, No. 155, Fracc. Colinas del Parque, San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Tel. (444) 811 01 01. Contact: Director of the journal: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Hosted at Responsible for the last update of this issue: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Date last modified: March 29, 2022.