by Marisol de la Cadena
(Paper prepared for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) Conference on Racism and Public Policy, September 2001, Durban, South Africa )
In this talk mestizaje is both the topic and a pretext. Treating it the topic of the paper, I want to explain why, in contrast with other Latin American countries such as Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador mestizaje--or the project of racial mixing--never became an official national ideology in Peru. But I also want to use mestizaje as a pretext to analyse the historical production of the Peruvian culturalist scientific definition of race, which is partially similar to what analysts of contemporary European forms of discrimination have called racism without race or "new racism."
To tell you how this happened, I will start with two quotes, which were produced at the turn of the century. The first one belongs to Gustav Le Bon, a detractor of cross-breeding among what he saw as "distant races," and one of the most popular and controversial European racial thinkers among Peruvians. He opined:
A Negro or a Japanese may easily take a university degree or become a lawyer; the sort of varnish he thus acquires is however quite superficial and has no influence in his mental constitution. What no education can give him, because they are created by heredity alone, are the forms of thought, the logic, and above all the character of the Western man. Our Negro or our Japanese may accumulate all possible certificates without ever attaining to the level of the average European. (...) It is only in appearance that a people suddenly transforms its language, its constitution, its beliefs or its arts.
Acknowledgement of widespread racial mixture--and of the non-whiteness of the elites-- translated into the Limeæo popular saying: En el Perœ , quien no tiene de inga, tiene de mandinga" "In Peru, whoever doesn t have inga [Indian heritage] has mandinga [black heritage]."
He thus claimed: "Conocemos, pensamos, sentimos segœn el conocer, el pensar y el sentir de la propia cultura" (We know, think, and feel in the manner of knowing and feeling proper to our own culture ( 1927: 109).
Adriana: Well you see, Marisol, in Cuzco, el pueblo, we can all be Indians, and some Indians are also mestizos. Like us... we are not entirely Indians, but we are indigenous, aborigines, whatever you want to call us, because we are not like... for example you .
Neoliberalism: The End of Silent Racism?
But Toledo s mestizo identities aside, and considering the historical trajectory of race (and racism) in Peru, a question remains pending: What happened at the end of the twentieth century that allowed for the profusion of racial images in a country used to silencing the racial identity of public figures and to the denial of racism?
The anti-racist saga was complex: The Institute for the Defense of the Consumer had taken on the denunciations and had leveled fines against the businesses accused of discrimination. Revealing that the state is not monolithic (and also making visible the corruption that affects its practices) several judges were bribed into revoking the Institute s sanctions.
People believe that the free market has no laws. But let me tell you, the free market has one law, and that law is that as consumers we are all equal. The free market does not tolerate any form of discrimination against consumers. Every individual, regardless of gender, religion, ethnic, or racial .
And a law was passed unanimously in 1999 to legally sanction discriminatory actions for the first time in Peruvian history. The hegemony of Peruvian racism --its mute reign-- was apparently over, and although this did not mean it would disappear, it did mean that it could be publicly censured. Racism s silent rule, however, was being challenged by the potential hegemony of neoliberalism, and its capacity to displace former discriminatory practices and embrace the excluded as consumers, regardless of their self-identity.
Indeed the cholo image that Toledo casts is highly compatible with that of the persona neoliberalism requires: a solitary achiever, able to succeed without the intervention of the state. The public version of the candidate s life story describes Toledo as a micro-entrepreneur since his childhood, working as a shoe shiner, a soda and popsicle vendor during Sunday soccer games, and a door-to-door peddler of the tamales his mother cooked.
Obviously, I do not think neoliberalism needs to raise anti-discriminatory banners, or to generalize the advocacy of multiculturalism. Yet I do think that in countries like Peru neoliberalism has a certain amount of seductive room for selective class-blind multiculturalisms. Alejandro Toledo s "market economy with a human face" can also come with a cholo face.
Undoubtedly, the markers of indigenous mestizaje that Toledo used throughout both his campaigns represent an unprecedented public challenge to "decency," and this has provoked the explicit revulsion of the upper classes.