The Meaning of Mestizo in the Context of Latin American Political Culture

Lacking values of his own and suffering from a fundamental sense of personal worthlessness, Indians were social ‘hangers on’ cattle hustlers, cowboys, peddlers and petty merchants, and all the time highly mobile- both physically and culturally. Stranded culturally in a ‘no man’s land’, he despised the Indians and had often tried to imitate the Spanish, the French and even the North Americans.

The outbreak of movements for independence had brought the mestizo into his own term. Once under arms, mestizo never looked back and made his own imprint in the form of militarism and caudillaje.

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Taking advantage of the weaknesses and struggles within the Creole aristocracy, mestizos successfully set themselves as the local strongmen, and had begun entering the national politics as generals who were commanding their own personal armed followings, governors, and alongside the Creole landowners as the new hacendados.

Mestizos did not look forward to the goals of democracy and development or backward in the form of reviving the Indian culture but always upward. They understood the values of personal power and wealth, and became the dominant conservative political force by appropriating and manipulating the levers of state power in Mexico and other countries.

It was the overwhelming number of mestizos who were left outside and behind the system who took up the cause of revolution and social change in the 20th Century. They expressed the ideas of national identity in terms of the ‘mixed’ national culture, nationalism, and revolution.

They formulated new cultural and political ideas to redeem their nations and founded new political parties and unions to realise the goals of national greatness.

In short, mestizaje became the dominant discourse in the 20th Century infusing ideas of nationalism and the need to liberate the continent from the yoke of foreign domination and dependency. It also revived the ideas of continental unity and a common continental identity as distinct from North America and the Europe.

In a cultural sense, the Mexican revolution of 1910 was a mestizo revolution that helped mestizaje finally emerges as the national identity of Mexico.

Jose Vasconcelos even described the mestizo as the ‘cosmic race’ destined to attain the greatness for the Latin American continent. In countries with large Indian population, it ignited a pride in the Indian heritage of the continent and a new valuation of being Indian.

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