Indigenous Mestizos

Author: 
Marisol de la Cadena

Marisol de la Cadena. Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919-1991. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Marisol de la Cadena’s Indigenous Mestizos tracks the roots and practices of what she calls “de-indianization,” or the process by which the racism that differentiates between categories of “Indian” and “mestizo” is reproduced and contested by working-class Cuzco residents. Balancing intellectual history and ethnography, the book charts elite ideas of race throughout the twentieth century and then examines the ambivalent reprocessing of those ideas by indigenous organizations, other intellectuals, as well as in daily practice in markets, and public and religious rituals.

She argues that Cuzco elites first developed a discourse of indigenismo as a way of distinguishing themselves from the modernist discourses of mestizaje that were associated with Lima. Meanwhile indigenous groups like the Comité Pro-Derecho Indígena Tawuantinsuyu perpetuated a vision of Indian-ness steeped in modern rhetoric of progress through education. By the 1930s and 1940s indigenista elites found competition in the form of “neo-indianist” ideas that, rather than exalting an idealized Inca past, promoted a discourse of mestizaje. Finally there were the Marxists, who, in the form of the Federación de Trabajadores del Cuzco in the 1950s and in the form of the government by the time Velasco famously turned Indians into peasants, represented the closest allies of indigenous cuzqueños. In the waning days of indigenismo, after the defeat of the Tawantinsuyu’s racialized pro-indigenous project, the alignment of indigenous issues with unions meant a confluence of race and class. While de la Cadena argues biology had never served the basis for twentieth-century racial categories, the general trajectory that she describes is one in which Indian-ness goes from being defined by culture, to being defined by class.