Race & Nationalism

From the beginning, national identities have been closely tied to race and ethnicity. But that does not mean that the connection has always been clear and consistent, especially in Latin America.

We will be studying this nexus of national identity and race a great deal over the semester. It is a complicated history. During the colonial era, there was an official racial hierarchy, with Europeans on top, indigenous people below that, mixed-race people below that, then people of African descent, and unconquered indigenous nations at the very bottom.

But after independence, the national government (in theory) was supposed represent “the nation” and this included all people within its borders. This dynamic inspired two centuries of social movements as oppressed groups struggled for inclusion and as new definitions of Mexicanness, Brazilianness, Peruvianness, etc. shifted in response.

Scholars are unanimous that race is not a biological fact. Although homo sapiens come in many variations, these cannot be coherently categorized as races. Indeed, there is more genetic diversity within so-called races than there is between them.

Instead, race is a product of the human imagination, one that emerged from the processes of European imperialism. We call it a social construct. As such, the meanings and parameters of racial labels have changed over time. We will be studying how mutating ideas about race and nation intersected.

For now, discuss with your peers your own experiences with race and national identity.