Sunday, January 29, 2012


The Racial Politics of Culture and Silent Racism in Peru

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."

I call it silent racism, because in the case of Peru, as we shall see, culturalist forms of discrimination are neither new, nor without race. The debate about racial mixture (or mestizaje) that took place in Peru in the first half of the 20th century, is a good window to explore the reasons that Peruvian intellectuals might have had in developing this presumably peculiar definition of race which eventually allowed for the current denial of racist practices in Peru. Illustrative of these denials Jorge Basadre, one of Peru s most eminent historians declared in the mid 1960s.

Historically, racism as it is understood in South Africa or in parts of the Southern United States has not existed in Peru. (...) This is not to say that there do not exist prejudices against Indians, cholos, and blacks, however these prejudices have not been sanctioned by the law and more than a profound racial feeling, they have an economic, social, and cultural character.

Colour does not prevent an aborigine, mestizo, or Negroid from occupying high positions if they can accumulate wealth or achieve political success. (If there exists a distance between them and us) it is not racial, (...) rather it corresponds to what can be termed an historical state of things.

Basadre acknowledges the existance of prejudices, but acquits those prejudices of the charge of racism because they do not derive from biological race. This acquittal, which continues to characterize the Peruvian racial formation, is not a whimsical national peculairity. Rather, I argue that it is historically rooted in the scientific definition of race that Peruvian intellectuals coined at the turn of the century.

Then they used it to contest European and North American racial determinisms which positioned intellectuals from my country (and Latin Americans in general) as hybrids and thus potentially if not actually degenerates. During this period Peruvian intellectuals delved into the scientific interconnection of "culture" and race," and produced a notion of "race" through which --borrowing Robert Young s words-- "culture" was racially defined and thus historically enabled to mark differences.

When, roughly in mid-century, the international community rejected race as biology, it did not question the discriminatory potential of culture, nor its power to naturalize differences. Then Peruvian intellectuals--like Basadre-- dropped race from their vocabulary and criticized racism, while preserving culturalist interpretations of difference to reify social hierarchies, and to legitimate discrimination and exclusion.

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.

To this, Gonzales Prada, a Peruvian radical anarchist, responded:

We are always running into Chinamen who dress, eat, and think like the silk-stocking, suave gentlemen of Lima. We see Indians in the legislatures, town halls, courthouses, universities and academies, where they reveal neither more corruption nor more ignorance than other races.

Le Bon and Gonzales Prada’s ideas were part of the discussions that created and enlivened the scientific definition of race in the late 19th century. Then, race was not questioned, and disputes were not aimed at subverting its existence.

Thus, notwithstanding his outrageous radicalism, Gonzales Prada did not denounce racism. That came afterwards, and the very first quote that I read, the one that denied the existence of racism in Peru, represents that later historical moment. (Pronounced in the mid-sixties, his denial of racism was informed by the scientific dismissal of biological notions of race that resulted from various political and scientific events, among which the most visible were the Jewish holocaust, the civil rights movement in the US, and the consolidation of the science of genetics.)

Yet, there are differences between Le Bon’s and Gonzales Prada’s respective quotes, and one of the most obvious ones regards the role each of them assigns to education and culture. For the French thinker racial essences were inalterable, fixed and determined by heredity, and--therefore-- education could only polish external appearances. Peruvians could not have disagreed more.

"Thanks to education man can today transform the physical milieu and even the race. It is his most glorious triumph," asserted the aristocrat Javier Prado, who was also the leader of Peruvian philosophic positivism and Comtean sociology. And these beliefs could become state policies.

The minister of education of the modernizing oligarchic government that ruled the country from 1893 to 1919 declared: "Luckily it has been proved that no race exists that cannot be molded by education: clearly, ours can be so molded, even in the remotest regions of our territory. The myth that the Indian does not want to abandon his miserable condition is rapidly falling into discredit."

Indeed, followers of the Le Bonian type of ideas existed among Limeños, but they were politically marginal, and derided as "racial pessimists." The optimists, however, did not deny the ultimate superiority of Western civilization.

Even the radical Gonzales Prada, wrote: "Whenever the Indian receives instruction in schools or becomes educated simply through contact with civilized individuals, he acquires the same moral and cultural level as the descendants of Spaniards." If during this period, race was an undeniable fact, civilization was the ultimate goal. Fortunately--from the viewpoint of Peruvian racial optimists-- it could be achived through education.

Significantly, the racial optimism of elite Peruvians was not only a project to uplift the inferior races. It provided the obviously nonwhite elite of my country with racial sanctuary, inasmuch as from their viewpoint, education and intelligence could replace "whiteness" as the exclusive marker of racial worth. Dismissing European forms of whiteness as marks of racial status, a conservative writer Manuel Atanasio Fuentes reported: "In Lima, even those men who immediately descend from the European race have a trigueño color [literally like wheat, light brown] which is pale and yellowed," and the iconoclast Gonzales Prada outrageously denied whiteness as follows: "Nobody deserves qualification as white, not even if they are blue-eyed and have blond hair."

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]."

For Limeño politicians, it meant a nation-building project that celebrated mestizaje, and defined it as achieving Western civilization, while maintaining national peculiarities. The following quote, produced in the 1920s, colorfully depicts this smooth process:

The destiny of Peru is to racially integrate into one and the same blood the reverberations of the Spanish guitar, the melancholy of the indigenous flute of the Andes, and the sadness of the African funerary drum.

The quote, which belongs to an aristocrat gentleman, also illustrates the conflation of race, blood, geography and culture undergirding the Limeño mestizaje project. Referring to the interconnectedness of race and culture, the historian of anthropology George Stocking remarked that U.S. academics, used "race" as "a catchall that could be applied to various human groups whose sensible similarities of appearance, of manner, and of speech persisted over time, and therefore were to them, evidently hereditary.

" There was, he said "no clear line between cultural and physical elements or between social and biological heredity." Peruvians therefore were not exceptional in conflating race and elements of what we know consider "culture." Neither were they the only ones to postulate the eugenic might of education to improve the races. In fact this was common to other racial projects, who optimistically rejected the dominance of heredity in determining race.

What I find peculair of Peruvian racial thought and racial relations during this period, is that there existed a tendency to subordinate manifest phenotypic markers to allegedly invisible racial characteristics (yet very visible class markers) such as "intelligence" and "morality."

When this tendency translated into academic pronouncements, intellectuals downplayed biology as a definer of race and suggested instead the relevance of culture or civilization. Neither of this rejected the existence of race of course. Francisco Garc a Calder n a Limeæo aristocrat who spent most of his life in Paris and had his writings translated from French into Spanish was very clear in this respect: "Race persists as a synthesis of the diverse elements of a defined civilization while biological notions of race, are losing prestige."

The relatively non-phenotypical, and culturalist tendencies peculiar to Peruvian racial thought were reaffirmed and sharpened by Indigenismo. At the turn of the century this was a nationalist doctrine, embraced mostly by provincial intellectuals from the Highlands that anchored the Peruvian nation in its pre-Hispanic past, and most specifically in the Inca legacy.

Artists, literary writers, and politicians, Indigenistas are usually identified only after their pro-Indian leanings. Yet they were specially explicit in defining race as culture. Luis Eduardo Valcarcel, a Cuzco resident historian and lawyer, and the undisputed intellectual leader of this nationalist movement was exceptionally clear in this respect:

The universal relationship between human beings and the natural world is resolved through culture. We are the offspring, that is, the heirs, of a being that has been shaped by the interaction of Nature and Culture. We repudiate the idea that spontaneous generation, mutation, or any form of biological life determine history because they lack history" . (La generaci n espontánea, la mutación, la vida, sin historia, la biologia por si sola no significan nada, ellas repugnan a nuestra mente ) (Valcarcel 1927: 109)

Valcarcel aimed at discrediting the idea, stirred by Social Darwinism, that the progress of human races could be reduced to biological competitions. From an evolutionary perspective, and with civilization as his goal, ValcÆrcel believed (as did W. E. B. DuBois in his early writings "Souls of Black Folk" and in the "Conservation of Races") that the history of a people determined their essential peculiarities. In his view, culture was the imprecise concept, yet powerful force, that determined races.

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).

Although this may represent an early version of today s European "cultural fundamentalism" (a term coined by Verena Stolcke), in the 1920’s Valcarcel s ideas had an oppositional thrust. His view questioned the power of biological inheritance to rule human destiny, and in so doing, he dismissed the definition of culture as "varnish," "appearance," or "superficial memory" that undergirded Le Bonian racial pessimism, and instead postulated culture as the essence of human racial differences.

In turn-of-the-century Peru, statements like "The Incas were a culture," or "Gentlemen have culture," and "The working classes can be improved by culture" not only conflated race and culture. They also conveyed the might of culture to shape races.

This conviction inverted the internationally dominant opinion namely, the belief that race determined culture. Contrasting with Franz Fanon’s experience of the irremovable fact of his blackness, Peruvian culturalist racial thought served to soothe the fact of the elites’ skin color --and in some cases even exonerate them from it. The personal, intimate convenience of this tolerance, made of culturalist racial determinism a relatively consensual belief among Peruvian racial thinkers.

Yet complete agreement among Peruvian intellectuals regarding the cultural racial destiny of Peru was interrupted by Geography. And I will tell you how. As important as dismissing phenotype, and probably influenced by popular nineteenth century Lamarckianism and environmentalism, the Peruvian racial taxonomy assigned cultures to imaginary geographic ’transects’ which ranged from the Coast to the Amazonian tropics.

The coast was culturally Spanish, the Highlands was the realm of expansion of Inca culture, and the Jungle, was allegedly peopled by savage tribes (who were not called Indians but chunchos )-- and therefore "empty" of culture, devoid of civilization.

Significantly, Limeños (from Lima, the coastal capital of the country) evaluated the racialized geography within evolutionary temporal schemes. The modernized and culturally allegedly Hispanicized spaces of the Coast ranked higher than the "Indian" Highlands.

This implied that, Limeæos considered highland dwellers (contemptuously called serranos) were culturally/racially inferior to coastal inhabitants, regardless of social origins. Within this view Limeæo elite intellectuals were at the cusp of the Peruvian racial formation.

Competing with coastal gentlemen for national leadership, serrano male intellectuals--and most specifically Cuzqueæos--contested Limeños evolutionary geographical scheme with gendered images of the national territory, as in the following quote:

Numbed by the ocean’s undulating sensuality, the sky and the tropical climate, the Coast has nurtured only weak individuals and like a Greek Lesbos it has trembled before the stern, masculine vigour of the Sierra. The Coast has been the mistress of every Conquest, midwife of all exotic concoctions, it has deformed the contours of the national self .

The above passage is so disgusting that it called my attention to the role sexuality played in articulating the turn-of-the century dominant racial imagination in Peru. To challenge Limeæos legitimacy as leaders of the nation, Cuzqueño politicians emasculated the coastal geography, smothered Limeños in an environmentally determined feminity and, charged them with an alleged consequence: the cowardice that had led them to compromise the purity of the coastal culture/race, by allowing, even promoting its Hispanization.

By contrast, Cuzco, and its intellectual/political class--the Indigenistas--emerged in masculine authenticity as leaders of the only Peruvian nationalism, the one that had valaintly preserved the purity of Inca heritage. Listen to another quote:

Lima and Cuzco are, in the nature of things, the two opposing hubs of our nationality. Lima is the yearning for adaptation to European culture; Cuzco represents the millenary cultural heritage of the Incas; Lima is foreign-inclined, Hispanophile, Europeanized; Cuzco instead is vernacular its nationalism is pure.

Cultural racial purity--and the nationalism it inspired-- was gendered, sexualized, and imprinted on the geography. To articulate these arguments, Indigenistas borrowed from North Atlantic racial thinkers the idea that races degenerated if they were moved from their proper geographical places.

"Every personality, every group is born within a culture and can only live within it," wrote Valcarcel who finished his sentence: "El mestizaje de las culturas no produce sino deformidades" ("cultural miscegenation only yields deformities").

From this widespread Indigenista view, Limeños’ hispanophilia was a deformed result of early colonial displacements. Similarly, mestizos were ex-Indians who had abandoned their proper natural/cultural environment the countryside and migrated to the cities.

There, Valcarcel claimed, they degenerated morally. The same author claimed: "The impure Indian woman finds refuge in the city. Flesh of the whorehouse, one day she will die in the hospital."

Thus, while opposing terminal racial hierarchies, the culturalist definition of race had room for discrimination and it was opened and confirmed by images of sexuality. Indigenistas emasculated Limeños to empower themselves and authenticate their project. But they also used sexualized images to create moral racial distance, and thus subordinate commoners and justify discrimination morally.

According to cultural/racial purists, the crucial characteristic of female Indians sexuality was their inherent rejection of "foreigners," a trait that had subtly preserved the "purity of the Indian race." The belief was embodied in a mythical figure, whose Quechua name was Cori Ocllo, which writers translated as Seno de Oro Golden Breast. About her it was said:

Seno de Oro the most beautiful wife of Manko was the heroine. Don Gonzalo wanted her for himself, and she was faithful to her race. How could she offer her body to the impure assassin of her gods and of her kings? she would die first; so she lay tranquilly, without further vexation; to her cold flesh the white beast would not dare come close. (...) Kori Ojllo [sic] in order to frighten away from her the Spanish gallant had covered her perfect torso with something repugnant capable of driving away Don Juan himself. But still more virulent was the hatred that her eyes distilled. (...) Kori Ojllo has revived in the Andes. There where the Indian returns to his Pre-Columbian purity; there where they shook free of the filth of the invader. Kori Ojllo lives, a fierce female, whom the white man can no longer conquer. The hatred, stronger than ever, inhibits the latent sexuality, conquers the temptations, and the Indian woman of the hostile clans prefers to die than to surrender herself. What disgust if she gives up. She would be exiled from the ayllu. She would return no more to her adored native region. Even the dogs will come out to bite her.

The racial xenophobia imputed to indigenous female sexuality constituted the invisible very intimate touchstone that allowed Indigenistas to define mestizaje as immoral, and primarily sexually so.

Mestizaje was the impure consequence of rape or female sexual deviance. It had resulted in mestizos, sexually irrepresible, culturally chaotic, and therefore immoral social beings. Hence, hybridity in Cuzco represented not biological but moral degeneration, stirred by the alteration of the original order, by an inappropriate cultural environment, and furthured by a deficient education.

The elite regardless of skin color and of cultural mixture were sheltered from the stains of mestizaje. They were educated, occupied their racial proper places both geographically and socially and thus lived within the dictum of moral order. They were gente decente, people of worth. Men were gentlemen, their women were ladies, and as such they displayed appropriate sexual behavior.

Caballeros were responsible patriarchs and damas virtuous women, but more importantly decencia inspired them to fall in love with each other, thus preventing the transgression of racial boundaries. Sexual disorder was not normal among gente decente: it was the attribute of urban commoners, the mestizos.

Anti mestizo feelings colored Indigenista nationalist activities, including the most cultural ones, like stagings of "Inca Theater." This was a local dramatic genre, performed and written by elite intellectuals, considered the only ones versed in Capac Simi. This term translates as "the language of the chiefs" and was a colonial, hispanicized Quechua sociolect, imagined as a kind of High Quechua, the allegedly exclusive language of the Inca aristocracy.

Non-elite playwrights, deemed mestizos, and therefore denied the category of intellectuals, were prevented as much as possible from staging Inca Theatre because they supposedly used Runa Simi, which translated as "the language of the people" and was considered a low class quechua, polluted with Spanish words and devoid of the supposed philological individuality of Capac Simi.

Indeed the search for cultural racial purity transcended guardianship of Inca tradition. It also organized urban and rural regional policies. In the city, market women abhorred and known as mestizas--were a direct target of Municipal sanctions and supervision. Guards strolled the market place to prevents abusive mestizas from increasing foodstuff prices at their will.

Similarly, in order to ease the supervision of cleanliness, city authorities obliged market women to wear white aprons and to cut their hair: their indigenous woolen clothes and long braids nested bugs of all sorts. Meanwhile, in the countryside, anti-mestizo policies acquitted gentlemen hacendados from abusing Indian peons and from catlle rustling, charges that were leveled instead to plebeian owners of newly acquired properties, considered illegitimate because they were not backed by colonial aristocratic titles.

Clearly, Indigenista anti-mestizo practices targeted urban and rural, female and male commoners whose income could be considerable, yet who lacked the education (and allegedly the consequent morality) that would allow their entrance into the elite.

Ultimately, Indigenista anti- mestizaje rhetoric represented a conservative class rhetoric against an incipient, obviously nonaristocratic, petty bourgeoisie that was emerging from among the popular classes. Hence being mestizo in Peru was a racialized class fact, where class was not only judged in terms of income but of education and origin.

The idea of "race" linked to education (and indeed to class and gender) leads me directly to address--if briefly-how my own identity has shaped the research of which this paper is part.

I am a brown-skinned, middle class, Limeña intellectual. As result of my background-- and, crucially, of my academic training-- I belong to Peruvian elite intellectual circles where "whites" predominate, and where as a result of implicit racialized feelings, people either politely ignore my skin color, or consider me "trigueña", that "wheat like" version of Limeño blurred whiteness.

I think that most less privileged Peruvians would not make a crucial distinction between me and individuals considered white by North American standards. This contrasts sharply with the perception that my US friends have of me, particularly those who met me in this country and not in Peru. For them, I am a Latina, therefore inevitably and overtly marked as a ’woman of color,’ as a friend of mine recently called me (to my surprise, so much had I internalized the colorlessness of my Peruvian trigueño whiteness!!!)

These experiences motivated my initial reflections about the Peruvian racial/cultural processes and their linkages with class, gender, geography. Memories of my elderly grandmother constantly reminding me that I was una seæorita muy decente, "a very decent young lady" called my attention to the fact that, although I look like working class mestizos, neither my Limeño intellectual peers, or my grandmother were willing to consider me a "mestiza."

Telling me that I was "a very decent young lady," my grandmother was deflecting attention from my skin color and instructing me on the social construction of whiteness, and crucially as an average middle class Limeæa, she was also expressing her culturally ingrained dislike of mestizos. Obviously it was not my grandmother s dislike of mestizos which prevented my identification as one; rather this was the result of the historical intellectual and political itinerary of mestizaje in Peru.

Although mestizaje was initially embraced by Limeños in the nineteenth century, it never became in peru an official, stare-led nation-building project. And this might have been one of the hidden legacies of Indigenismo.

Valcarcel became Minister of Education in the 1940s, and since then either overtly or surreptitiously, Indigenismo--and its undergirding anti-mestizo feeling-- inspired significant official cultural policies. For example, since mid-century--and for a long period under the leadership of Jose Maria Arguedas--the state promoted the training of Quechua-speaking rural teachers.

Similarly, the state promoted purist manifestations of indigenous folklore, while emphatically discouraging those considered "inauthentic" or "mestizo." In sharp contrast, and during the same period, Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Ecuador implemented "assimilationist" policies that promoted Spanish literacy and explicitly or implictly fostered the elimination of vernacular languages and indigenous cultures.

Evidently I do not think that the Peruvian state represented the Latin American pro-Indian vanguard. Yet I want to link this Peruvian exception to another one: while in the countries that I have just mentioned powerful ethnic social movements have emerged since the late seventies, similar efforts in Peru are still very marginal.

Some analysts have interpreted the absence of "ethnic social movements" in present-day Peru to reflect indigenous "assimilation" and cultural loss. According to this perspective, Peruvian Indians are either behind in terms of ethnic consciousness or have yielded to dominant mestizaje projects.

The conceptual reification implied in this view accounts for its ahistoricism. It contains indigenous Peruvians within the parameters of "an ethnic group," and forgets that ethnicity is only one among the host of social relations race, gender, class, geography, generation (to name commonplaces) that organize (and disorganize) indigenous and nonindigenous life processes. But, most importantly it disregards that "indigenous culture" exceeds the scope of Indianness. I know this sounds strange, but I will tell you what I mean and how I leraned about it.

From the 1950s to the mid 1970s, indigenous peasant leaders from all over the country, but most specifically from Cuzco, led a long political insurrection against the traditional hacienda system.

The conflict, organized in alliance with leftist parties, and waged under the colors of class struggle, destabilized the political order and eventually forced a military coup, and a radical Agrarian Reform in 1968. Blinded by the success of class rhetoric, leftist social scientists have ignored the indigenous cultural aspects of the struggle, which were abundant.

Ardent insurrectional speeches were delivered in Quechua in its Runa Simi version and the the massive demonstrations in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco were attended by peasants wearing ponchos and chullos, clothes that express indigenous identity and which were specially and symbolically worn for those occasions.

I would not have paid attention to the significance of these symbols, without the help of Mariano Turpo, a self-identified indigenous leader, active since the 1930s, and who took part in the 1960s-1980s struggle for land. From him I learned that indigenous utilization of class rhetoric was a political option, and it did not represent the loss of indigenous culture, but rather a strategy towards its empowerment.

The huge peasant meetings in the Plaza de Armas, and the struggle for land that they were part of, expressed a political practice that was not an either/or choice between ethnicity and class. Instead it coupled both.

Don Mariano’s Turpo’s personal experience illustrates this. He is a paqo--an Andean ritual specialist, somewhat like a diviner. During the years of the struggle, this role was crucial in his capacity as a regional politician. In his own words, "they did not follow anybody but me, they accepted me because I was the only one that knew, I consulted the Apu Ausangate [the regional Andean deity] before going on any strike, before signing any document." Don Mariano who speaks Quechua and Spanish, has signed many documents.

In one of them, written while imprisoned under the charges of being a communist, he urged his compaæeros to QUOTE "learn how to read and write, as being illiterate, makes us more Indios, easy preys of the hacendados and their lawyers, we have to stop being Indians to defend ourselves."END OF QUOTE Indeed, I was surprised at this call for de-Indianization.

Yet, I gradually learned from don Mariano and from many other indigenous Cuzqueæos-- that "not being Indians" did not mean shedding indigenous culture.

Rather de-Indianization implied shedding a social condition entailing absolute denial of civil rights. This definition of Indianness was reinforced when, in the midst of the struggle for land--and while state cultural activists were busy promoting indigenous folklore-- other state representatives--the police--used the label "Indian" to deny peasant leaders their rights to public speech while torturing people like Don Mariano.

De-Indianization meant--as Don Mariano had urged in his letter-- becoming literate, being able to live beyond the hacienda territory, in general obtaining civil rights. And non of this meant shedding indigenous culture, on the contrary it meant empowering it, and thus pushing it beyond the scope of disenfranchised Indianness.

After my lessons with Don Mariano, it was impossible for me to assume that "the loss of indigenous culture" explained the lack of ethnic movements in Peru. Don Mariano helped me realize that the absence of overt culturalist (or ethnic) political slogans during that period, resulted from the need to take a distance from state-sponsored Indigenismo and its allegedly pro-Indian, and highly anti-mestizo language.

I thus returned to the notion of mestizaje and found it had had more than one trajectory, and more than one meaning. Despised by the state, and by leading historians and anthropologists, indigenous Cuzqueños have appropriated the word mestizo and given it an alternative meaning: they use it to identify literate and economically successful people who share indigenous cultural practices yet do not perceive themselves as miserable, a condition that they consider "Indian."

Far from equating "indigenous culture" with "being Indian"-- a colonial label that carries a historical stigma of inferiority--they perceive Indianness as a social condition that reflects an individual’s failure to achieve educational improvement.

As a result of this redefinition, "indigenous Andean culture" exceeds the scope of Indianness; it broadly includes Cuzqueño commoners who claim indigenous cultural heritage, yet refuse to be labeled Indians. They proudly call themselves "mestizo," while refusing to disappear in the cultural national homogeneity that the dominant definition of mestizo conveys.

Adriana and Isabel, two young university students whom I befriended, were among the first to alert me about this, to me totally unusual, meaning of mestizo. They danced in a folk troupe called Pasña Coyacha, in part, they told me, because of their proud identification with regional indigenous culture.

Their dance represents ’the people of the highlands," la gente de las alturas, individuals regionally identified as Indians. Since I was aware of the stigma Indianness carried in Cuzco, one day while we were chatting at the university cafeter a I asked them if they had problems performing the dance. The response and the ensuing conversation merit being quoted at length:

Isabel: Last year we had a problem with one young man. He did not want to dance because they had insulted him as "cholo Indian." We told him not to pay attention. I said: "After all, you’ re acting... the fact that they see you in those clothes doesn’t mean that you are entirely that way...

Marisol: Why did you tell him that he was "not entirely that way?" Is he "a little" that way?
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 .

Marisol: What do you mean you are not like me? We are all university students, we have the same skin color, the same kind of hair, we are speaking in Spanish...

Isabel and Adriana (alternating): Yes but you don’t believe in the things we do, you may go to Coyllur Rit’i, (a regional pilgrimage) but you don’t really care about it, besides you don’t even know the ritual... we go like the Indians do, we follow their example, we respect them, but we are not entirely like them . . . we follow many, some, of their beliefs, but we wear shoes and not ojotas (rubber sandals), we sleep in beds, we eat properly, right? We are different and alike, do you understand? mestizos like us are also indigenous, aborigines, oriundos, because of our beliefs . . . we respect our costumbres.

Thanks to Adriana, Isabel, and many others from whom I elicited responses during many months, I gradually began considering the ways in which subaltern Cuzqueños have lived, practiced and created alternative meanings for the term ’mestizo.’ Like Don Mariano’s coupling of ethnicity and class, this subordinate meaning of mestizaje is not meant to be resolved in "either indigenous or mestizo" evolutionary choices.

Rather, as a lived experience that has redefined Indianness by decoupling it from indigenous culture, the subordinate notion of mestizaje exceeds the bounds of binary racial discourses, and can thus bring sameness into difference, and difference into sameness. I repeat Adriana s and Isabel s words: "We are different and alike, do you understand Marisol? "

Obviously, dominant definitions of mestizaje--and the racial cultural projects they entail--have not disappeared from the national political scene. They have remained latent either among leftist or conservative ideologues. Incidentally, the celebrated writer Vargas Llosa revived it, when he said:

Indian peasants live in such a primitive way that communication is practically impossible. It is only when they move to the cities that they have the opportunity to mingle with the other Peru. The price they must pay for integration is high-renunciation of their culture, their language, their beliefs, their traditions, and customs, and the adoption of the culture of their ancient masters. After one generation they become mestizos. They are no longer Indians.

Although used to promote mestizaje, Vargas Llosa s words illustrate the survival of earlier Indigenista culturalist rhetoric, this time dressed in the evolutionary ethnic lexicon to which Peruvian anthropology, resorted when race was evicted from scientific discourse. Within this new framework, Indians were an ethnic group that represented an earlier stage of development and were culturally different from mestizos.

This allegedly nonracial yet evolutionary lexicon, which allows for images of "indigenous improvement" and speaks of hierarchies of reason is facilitated by the culturalist talk, provided by certain notions of ethnicity. They also give a nonracist allure to images like those produced by Vargas Llosa, and lead to the manifold current denials of racism in Peru.

Analysts of contemporary European "racism without race" (Barker, 1983, Gilroy, 1987, Balibar 1988, Targuieff, 1991) explain that the new European version of racism is a culturalist rhetoric of exclusion resulting from the reformulation of former biological discriminatory procedures.

My historical study of racial discourse in twentieth century Peru shows that the concepts of race and culture were thoroughly intertwined and that race was not only biology. When the international scientific community rebuked race as biology, the culturalist tendency to explain and legitimate racial hierarchies preserved its academic, political, and social authority. It was smuggled in the apparent egalitarianism of culture talk.

Unlike scholars of current European forms of exclusion, I claim that--at least for the case of Peru--culturalist forms of exclusion and discrimination are not new, nor are they without race.

Neoliberalism: The End of Silent Racism?

In 1990, the now infamous Alberto Fujimori ran for president against the renowned writer Mario Vargas Llosa calling upon "chinitos" (an allusion to himself) and "cholitos" (working class Peruvians) to join forces against "blanquitos" ( Vargas Llosa and the elite circles surrounding him).

El Chino, as he came to be known, promised a government that would promote "technology, honesty, and work." Once in power, he implemented a neoliberal economic plan and requested that the chinos and cholos forget their collective battles and instead struggle individually against poverty by becoming microentrepreneurs.

The 2000 electoral campaign, the first act in the year-long drama that finally drove the increasingly corrupt and dictatorial Fujimori from office, pitted him against Alejandro Toledo, a Peruvian of working class origins, whose campaign evoked the complexity of Peruvian mestizajes.Like in most stories of mestizaje, migration and education play a crucial role in Alejando Toledo s public electoral life story.

This emphasizes his poor origins in an Andean village and his success in earning a Ph. D. from Stanford, a private (and elite) university in the US. However, rather than using education to silence his origins--like the ideology of decency would have indicated-- throughout his electoral campaigns Toledo loudly claimed cholo identity.

Yet, this identity is not simple. On the contrary, "el Cholo Toledo" is multifaceted for the images he uses to fashion his electoral persona draw--perhaps independently of Toledo s intentions--from the historical rhetoric of Peruvian mestizaje and its multiple meanings .

At the most obvious level, Alejandro Toledo s electoral campaign connects with the Incanist, anti-mestizo tradition promoted by Valcarcel s indigenismo. As the symbol of their political party they chose the "Chakana," described as an Inka symbol that signaled the dawn of a new era. Within the same script, very important political gatherings have been held in Cuzco, where the candidate opened the demonstrations with a ritual salute to the Andean deities that surround the city, and Eliane Karp, (Toledo s anthropologist wife) addressed the crowds in Quechua, the indigenous language.

Less obviously, but summoning the attention of a crucial sector of the electorate, Alejandro Toledo s image wearing a chullo and a tie connects with indigenous views of mestizaje--those that, for example, see Quechua and vernacular Andean practices, as compatible, even coming to fruition, with a university degree, and economic success.

However, and notwithstanding the candidate s reverberant claims to a working class cholo identity, he also connects with elite views of mestizaje. His university degree, his "studies abroad," (and of course his marriage to a foreign white woman) loom large, and thus "Alejandro"--as his elite peers familiarly call him--represents an "ironed" choloness, one that has been tamed by education and is a useful political strategy. Alvaro Vargas Llosa--the writer s son-- praised Toledo s "cool calculating mind of a Stanford, and Harvard academic" and his ability to "understand life from a viewpoint rooted in analytic rigor and scientific information."

Coinciding with his son s opinion, Mario Vargas Llosa, expressed his support of Toledo by describing him as a "modern Indian, a Cholo without grudges or inferiority complexes."

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?

Attributing this effect to Alberto Fujimori s origins and phenotype would be too simple, and would have probably disappeared with the now fugitive President. That this has not been the case, obliges further explanation.

In 1998, in my annual summer visit to Peru, I was surprised by the outpouring of denunciations against racism set off when the employees of four separate night clubs and a coffee house in Lima barred entry to several persons seemingly because they perceived them to be non-white identity, has the right to participate in the free market.

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.

Against this backdrop, another state institution, the Human Rights Commission of the National Congress, organized a public audience to discuss the pros and cons of penalizing "racism" constitutionally.

Throughout the process, I could not but think: Why denounce racism now? And the crucial response came from a lawyer from the sanctioning Institute:

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.

This boy, the story tells us, can become the President of Peru, and even if he does not, he lives a comfortable life. Thus, Toledo also plays into the hegemony of neoliberalism, and its promotion of a consumer who can come from any background, provided that he/she can buy and sell.

The economic identity that neoliberalism requires, and the social success it offers, is not measured by the "refinement" standards imposed by "decency," because with globalization as one of its premises, identities can be multicultural.

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.

Thus it potentially decouples the dominant identification of popular classes with immorality, and perennial marginality. In so doing, it connects with popular mestizaje projects and promises an historically unprecedented possibility for the inclusion of the "unrefined" members of the so called popular classes in official politics.

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.

Thus, while neoliberalism may appropriate multiculturalism, the practices of indigenous mestizaje are not for its consumption only. Insofar as they connote images that defy exclusion, they can be used by the new social movements to resignify the traditional cultural politics of race and class in Peru. Whether this resignification serves the market or the people (by for example, furthering democracy) is a historical matter. And by history I do not mean the past. I mean present-day people acting politically.

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