Nation and racism. October 12 in the construction of Latin American societies

Received: July 19, 2018

Acceptance: August 21, 2018

WOn October 12, 1492, the ships chartered by the Crown of Castile under the command of Admiral Christopher Columbus touched down in what would later be known as America. This date is so charged with symbolism that it is part of the civic calendars of almost all the countries of the subcontinent, referring to the relationship between the "mother country" and the republics, their "daughters" despite the sacred independence.

In almost all these countries this commemoration appeared at the beginning of the century xx as "Columbus Day", in reference to that crossbreeding of blood and cultures that supposedly defined the Spanish occupation, and with that name it continues to be celebrated in Mexico and Colombia. It was also known as “Hispanic Day” –as it was celebrated in Spain and continues to be done in Guatemala–, which seems to appeal to a Creole and sentimental version of the Commonwealth British. But the ups and downs of ethnic politics brought changes after the attempt to celebrate in 1992 "the Encounter of Two Worlds", and thus the date was named in Chile. Indigenous pressure for recognition and the multicultural imprint of that decade can be seen in Costa Rica, where it is called “Day of Cultures”, or in Argentina, where “Respect for Cultural Diversity” is celebrated. The advances of the decolonizing left in the south of the continent make Ecuador celebrate "Interculturality and Plurinationality", in Venezuela "Indigenous Resistance" and in Bolivia "Decolonization."

Thus, October 12 reflects that unresolved aspect of social organization in Latin America, that internal gap product of oligarchic exclusion that was renewed with Creole liberalism and peripheral capitalism, it was sought to redeem with homogenizing popular nationalisms and that now the same indigenous and Afro-descendants question their recreation in the neoliberal context.

We take this date to ask three social scientists how the always conflictive relationship of the Latin American republics with their colonial origins, with the original populations and with the Creole legacy in their formation as nations occurs in their respective countries.

What role do race and racism play in the construction of society and in the myth of the nation, and specifically, what do these high-sounding names show and hide about the presence of “white”, Europe and the West, and about the absence of the original or the African in the national imaginary?

During the process of colonization, race and racism are embedded in a classification system of socio-racial and ethnic hierarchies based on color, “blood” and the incessant interbreeding between Spaniards, Indians and Africans. The new Mexican nation decrees the end of the Republic of Indians, the equality of all; race disappears from the lexicon of power, but its presence in this discourse is late in the northern states of Mexico and in the southeast. In the founding myths of the Mexican nation, race and racism are transmuted into the ideology of miscegenation from Hispanism and criollismo, which deny the presence of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants. In the institutional discourse, based on the principle of equality of all citizens and miscegenation - forms that racism adopts in Mexico -, race and racism have acted for more than a century through indigenist institutions of a paternalistic nature, which promote policies of forced assimilation and some initiatives to recognize the difference of peoples and cultures.

Native peoples are fixed in the glorious past of the national imaginary, while regional political elites deny their existence or racialize their presence: the color white, Europe and the West represent superiority, their bodies and cultures are models of beauty and civilization and the whiteness will be an aspiration and obsession that is reproduced structurally and institutionally. In this national imaginary, Afro-descendants will be absent until the end of the century xx, when the State recognizes the "Third Root" and begins its visibility in the public space and on the national agenda, but its emergence as a new political subject is produced by its presence in social movements and in academia. The founding myth of the nation with three roots is reconfigured: the original, the Spanish and the Afro-descendant.

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SSurely all nations are socially and culturally more heterogeneous than their national imagination indicates. Argentina is an example of a relatively successful homogenizing hegemonic project. The national narrative that states that Argentina is "a melting pot" has its origins in a modern nation-state project. This story affirms that Argentines "descend from ships" (Spanish, Italians, Poles, etc.). Thus, it cuts and naturalizes in this statement the predominant character of the white and European population, hiding the indigenous and Afro-descendant population.

The supposed “races” of this “melting pot” do not include, as in Brazil, indigenous and Afro peoples. Around 56% of the current population have some indigenous ancestry: it is not that they are indigenous, but that they had some original ancestor. But Argentina denied this miscegenation, as well as the indigenous presence and the territorial, religious and linguistic heterogeneities. Since the end of the century xix the State sought to create the structure of a “civilized” country by promoting immigration, economic progress, and the development of public education. This type of conception relied on the ability of European immigration to displace the cultural habits that the native population represented and that, from the dominant perspective, constituted one of the greatest obstacles to development.

The result was that every Argentine who could join the sectors of the elites or the urban middle classes would go "whitewashed." But a founding split was maintained with respect to large masses of workers and popular sectors, over which a strong classism and racism spilled over, which considered them –especially if they starred in major political events– as poor, black, barbarian and “internal migrants”. The other thing about that barbarism was that civilization conceived as Argentine, white, European, educated.

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Most people find it difficult to understand how race operates in societies and what the role of racism is in everyday life, so I want to answer this question with a case that I documented in recent years in Guatemala. On Saturday, August 31, 2013, it was published that the 12-year-old boy Mario Francisco Álvarez Baltazar, from a Garifuna family, committed suicide due to the ridicule and racist insults he received at his school. His mother and stepfather had come to the school for two years to complain about the racist abuses their son was subjected to, but their complaints were not heard. Faced with the death of her son, this Garífuna mother denounced the harassment so that this fact would serve to stop training racist children.

The school principal told the press that Mario Francisco “did not fit the profile of a discriminated child. He adapted very well, there was good reception by his teammates. They looked at him very happy and he never missed class ”. In these circumstances, the Ministry of Education launched a prevention campaign whose objective was "to put a stop to school violence" based on "training and awareness days on violence prevention, punishment and coexistence in harmony." The campaign focused on the prevention of violence, punishments and coexistence in harmony. And where did the attention to racism come from, if the suicide of Mario Francisco was a consequence of the racist ridicule he was experiencing?

The previous case is an example of how racism is hidden or subsumed under the phenomenon of violence. It is one of the common mistakes in nation-states that are deeply racist, where the authorities do not know anything about who they are, how many there are, or how the peoples that make up the nations they lead live - in a country like Guatemala, where indigenous people they exceed 50 percent of the total population - and less about what it is, how race operates and its best expression, racism. They do not mind learning about an oppression they are unaware of and are determined to deny that racism is responsible for suicides or genocides.

What Mario Francisco went through for being Garífuna, for the color of his skin, for the shape or texture of his hair, for having a different ethnic identity cannot be classified as a bullying event, that is to reduce racism to an act of aggression that does not express the deep historical dimensions of the racial burden faced by thousands of indigenous children around the world. For this reason, this is a terrifying case of institutional racism that no Guatemalan school authority was able to confront, avoid, and which led a 12-year-old Garífuna boy to make the decision not to want to live in that daily and social framework. This outcome shows the oppressive role of race and how, in extreme cases, racism does kill.

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With the changes in the speeches produced in the last decades, what alternative proposals have arisen in critical and subordinate sectors and how has the power and the oligarchies responded?

At the end of the last century, in the context of the neoliberal advance and the weakening of the welfare state, the supposed Encounter of two Worlds is organized, and the constitutional discursive recognition of the multiethnicity and multiculturalism of the nation, re-founding the myth of the culturally diverse nation. The narrative of power is resemantized with denominations that recognize diversity and cultural difference from an official multiculturalism that underlies the continuity of race and racism in institutional action.

But 1992 is a year of breakdown of the hegemonic discourse. No celebrations; from the towns, the story of October 12 ceases to be racist rhetoric and becomes a Day of Resistance and Struggle of indigenous, Afro-descendant, peasant and popular peoples; it is a memorial of grievances, "holocaust of the aborigines", genocides and ethnocides, forced assimilation, "original rape". 1992 announces the historic uprising of the Zapatista Mayas of the ezln, and since then the processes of autonomy of indigenous communities and peoples in the territory have been strengthened and reactivated, in the face of dispossession, exacerbated violence and impunity. The response of power and oligarchies to the resistance and struggles of the peoples against exploitation and domination continues to be the exercise of violence, the fragmentation of their communities and organizations, the co-optation of leaderships, social assistance policies and institutional indigenism. .

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The native peoples, Afro-Argentines, and immigrants from various South American countries have fought for decades for their recognition and their individual and collective rights. A relevant triumph was that the 1994 Constitutional Reform recognized the pre-existence of indigenous peoples and territorial rights. In 2004, a migration law based on the human rights paradigm was approved. In 2010, some of those struggles came to fruition in the celebration of the Bicentennial, when many of these groups participated, generating a more diverse image of the Argentine nation.

However, the Argentine State never deployed a coherent and systematic policy against social racism and for the restitution of all the lands belonging to the original communities. This was aggravated by the displacement of the agricultural frontier and the purchases of land by powerful transnational groups, which have given rise to numerous conflicts in which deaths and injuries have been reported. At the same time, the resurgence of a Catholic and Hispanic discourse to identify the nation was combined with the rebirth from the top of power that Argentines "are all Europeans." Some key articles of the 2004 migration law were also repealed by decree. Thus, today the tension and repression against indigenous peoples and migrants, as well as the expansion of social racism, have once again reached levels. extremely dangerous.

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Among the responses that have emerged is the search for knowledge from the affected peoples themselves. Indigenous women and men are increasingly learning about how racial oppression operates in their daily lives and also how it operated and how it defined the history of their peoples. With knowledge comes conscience, then complaint, in some cases using the courts to seek justice. But the majority of women and men who face racism on a daily basis do not report it due to the lack of state institutions that collect these crimes in their communities and due to the lack of investigations and exemplary punishments for those responsible, and fewer reparations commensurate with the harm to the victims and their victims. peoples. The State itself continues to reproduce racism in multiple ways in all its institutions and public policies that impact and define the life of indigenous communities in daily life.

The Guatemalan oligarchy focuses on denying everything from racism to the possibility of sharing national power. Her class interests prevail over any learning process and she is willing to use all violence so as not to lose her privileges. They have a general knowledge of Guatemala and, in the case of the Garífuna people, they assume it as a small group of families of African descent who are at one end of the map, in a hot place, overflowing with an attractive exoticism that tourists demand. foreigners - especially men. That's how folkloric, racist, paternalistic and sexist are his approaches.

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What can be done to stop the shadow of the colony from marking these countries, and what role would anthropology and social sciences have in this process?

Decolonization is a path followed by the struggles of the peoples and an academy with a social commitment. From the Zapatista spaces, the importance of critical thinking and the imminence of an anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-racist struggle are recognized. In particular, the role of anthropology in this process resides in its long trajectory of research on otherness, which has been its object of study par excellence; travels through peoples and cultures in the world that teach the existence of other ways of life and organization of society. It is about deepening the rupture of the historical link of anthropology with colonialism, Nazism and imperialism; the involvement in wars of conquest and counterinsurgency, and opposing an anthropology that applies its knowledge to the service of peoples in struggle and the construction of a future of human coexistence. The body of knowledge accumulated after more than a century about other peoples and cultures can contribute to disappear the mark of the colony and transcend it, leaving it in the memorial of grievances.

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Anthropology and the social sciences have shown, especially in the last twenty years, that Argentine society is profoundly heterogeneous in its beliefs, practices, rituals, and identifications. However, the prescriptive and hegemonic character of homogeneity not only opposes the evidence of different regional and provincial situations, but also implies relegating to a subordinate role the sociocultural productions (artistic or scientific) that question this supposed homogeneity.

They have also shown that Argentina is a case of "racism without racists." An ancient myth says that "in Argentina there is no racism ... because there are no blacks." Although there are very few Afro-descendants, the term “black” or “black soul” shows the intersection between racism and classism as it is used as a synonym for “poor”, to refer to the inhabitants of slums, union members , those attending a street protest, Boca Juniors soccer fans and the Peronists. No political force had a good electoral performance based on an openly racist or xenophobic campaign, but social studies showed that this racism and classism, although they are concentrated in the most powerful, white and higher socioeconomic sectors, is often also incorporated. to the language of the popular sectors.

Not all Argentines are racist, nor are all racist attitudes identical. There is racism against immigrants from neighboring countries, against immigrants with dark complexions ranging from the so-called "interior" to the big cities, against Afro-descendants (with a new immigration from Senegal), against Asian immigrants and against other groups. To further complicate matters, the term "black" is also used daily in trust contexts as a term of closeness and affection between friends, children and parents, or between members of a couple. "Che, negro" is an affectionate and everyday way of speaking to someone you know.

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One of the reasons why racism continues to reproduce itself with impunity, denying the existence of indigenous peoples, is because the majority are unaware of the basic theoretical elements of racism. Critical racial theory explains race as an ever-changing social category that empowers, grants privilege, identity, and prestige, permeates and delineates historical, social, and economic relationships within social groups and peoples, but also traces the relationships. relationships within the institutions created by dominant societies, which are always small groups of families that base their power on their whiteness. For this reason, in multiracial societies such as the Guatemalan one, it is difficult to understand the persistence and harshness with which economic oppression has operated without simultaneously using a racial approach that explains the complex subordinate position of millions of human beings for a long time.

Studying racism implies leaving a seed that motivates us to think that the construction of national equities is not only the work of indigenous peoples but also of the middle classes and small world elites, because confronting racism in its multiple expressions requires work collective. Studies on indigenous populations have been influenced by the actions of indigenous women and men within their own countries, their national, regional, Latin American and global struggles. Also because of the international legal frameworks that guarantee them rights that were largely promoted and lobbied by them. This involves highlighting the different racist lenses with which indigenous peoples have been analyzed and how they have been portrayed in social history, in order to enter into the new currents of indigenous intellectuals.

Precisely, valuing the authorship of the original peoples is part of the process of dismantling racism to show the steps that have been taken from the conscious indigenous bases themselves and to point out that in the redefinition of the national policy of the countries where indigenous populations already exist their proposals and demands cannot be ignored. Especially those that seek to simultaneously overcome economic oppression, gender and racial discrimination, which together are condemning more than 80 percent of the world's women and indigenous peoples to poverty.

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