It is true. Our society and culture is built among the memories we have of the past, those that bring us pride and recognition of whom we are, where our family comes from and where exactly our roots originate. ‘Dia de la Raza’ is no different. This hemispheric holiday known in the United States as ‘Columbus Day’ is also celebrated in nine other countries of Latin- America, including Mexico. The holiday imagines the Americas as a multi – cultural territory of biologically, culturally and linguistically diverse peoples of indigenous, African and Spanish backgrounds post – arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. But the holiday is nothing but a mere imagination of a colonial multicultural society.
(Mexican Institute for the Betterment of the Race by Jesús Benítez)
By referring and remembering the arrival of Columbus into the already humanly and non – humanly inhabited ‘new’ continent as ‘Dia de La Raza’, we place the ancestral and historical birth of Latinas/os at the arrival of an Italian man that in fact did not discover anything, had no idea where exactly he was sailing too and caused the death of millions of indigenous people of the new continent. Are we progressives irrational enough to believe we were born out of the ashes of crossed – burnt Tainos, massacred Aztecs or displaced Apaches? La Raza or ‘the race’ was never, and it would never be an unbiased, respectful and progressive term to celebrate our continental diverse heritages, identities and traditions.
Our current celebration of Dia de la Raza its a mere reflection of how historical multicultural violences, anti – diversity policies and ‘nazism’ politics have influenced our ways to describe our cultural and racial heritage.
(Dear gentleman of the ethnic minorities)
In 1925, Mexican philosopher and secretary of education Jose Vanscocelos published his famous essay ‘La Raza Cosmica’ (The Cosmic Race) under the premises that the Mexican people were entering a new civilization, a ‘fifth race’ or a Universópolis. Philosophically, Vasconcelo believed that differentiated cultures or peoples such as indigenous, African Mexicans, and traditional rural communities were to be immediately incorporated in the mainstream society, the Mexican mestizo society, the fifth race or as we call it now, la raza. It was then, that the legacy of erasure and obliteration of millions of self- identified indigenous and African descended peoples began. The population of indigenous communities throughout Mexico rapidly declined, not substantially in biological terms but in political ones. Vasconcelo reshaped the education curriculum opposing indigenous language and culture instruction, and several cases of violence emerged for those that continued teaching their language to their children. Thousands of urban teachers were sent to rural communities to instruct children on Mexican nationalism, patriotism, language and the new ‘raza’ ideology. This program continued in Mexico for over twenty years reducing the self – identified indigenous populations in more than half and welcoming the new era of indigenous language speakers as pure blood people and non- language speakers (due to the vascocelismo movement) as mestizos.
(Jose Vasconcelos – 1930′s)
Once again, I must reiterate that our identities are highly politicized and subjected by those that can shape domestic and international power. Wonder why you are so attached to the idea, or concept of being a proud ‘Mexican’?
In my real – life examination of the issue, I encountered the white supremacist critique of ‘La Raza’, or the race as they decided to translate it. At first, I was reluctant to their critique that Latinas/os, especially Mexican Americans and Chicanos were using the term ‘La Raza’ to emphasize their superiority as Mexicans over other so called ‘races.’ But I must admit, they are precisely right. Mexicanism is mestizaje. The idea that mixed people, whether practically true or not, are superior and ‘cosmic’ as opposed to those that are not raza. This is in whichever terms you decide to place it, a tremendous racial bias. Being said this; it is obvious that our employment of the term raza is grounded on the suffering of indigenous struggles to preserve their culture and the African long time effort to be recognized as part of the Mexican state.
Dia de La Raza celebration is the reminder that Vasconcelo’s ideologies continue to base our blurred view of who we are and where we come from. It is a reminder to all indigenous communities that we are biologically, culturally and linguistically inferior because we continue to identify as indigenous. It is a reminder to all African descendant people that unless they do not become part of the mestizo process, they cease to exist as who they are.
We must move forward and we must let our horrific past rest forever. It is the time to recognize a Diverse Peoples Day or better, an Indigenous Peoples Day, a recognition across Africa to the Americas. A day to remember, to celebrate our survival and to continue the movement for respect in our cultures, families, communities and ourselves.