Forging People: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in Hispanic American and Latino/a Thought

Forging People: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in Hispanic American and Latino/a Thought

University of Notre Dame Press
376 pages
ISBN 10: 0-268-02982-2
ISBN 13: 978-0-268-02982-1

Edited by:

Jorge J. E. Gracia, Samuel P. Capen Chair; SUNY Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature
State University of New York, Buffalo

Forging People explores the way in which Hispanic American thinkers in Latin America and Latino/a philosophers in the United States have posed and thought about questions of race, ethnicity, and nationality, and how they have interpreted the most significant racial and ethnic labels used in Hispanic America in connection with issues of rights, nationalism, power, and identity. Following the first introductory chapter, each of the essays addresses one or more influential thinkers, ranging from Bartolomé de Las Casas on race and the rights of Amerindians; to Simón Bolívar’s struggle with questions of how to forge a nation from disparate populations; to modern and contemporary thinkers on issues of race, unity, assimilation, and diversity. Each essay carefully and clearly presents the views of key authors in their historical and philosophical context and provides brief biographical sketches and reading lists, as aids to students and other readers.


  • Contributors
  • 1. Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality in Hispanic A merican and Latino/a Thought—Jorge J. E. Gracia
  • Part I. The Colony and Scholasticism
    • 2. The New Black Legend of BartolomĂ© de Las Casas: Race and Personhood—Janet Burke and Ted Humphrey
  • Part II. Independence and the Enlightenment
    • 3. Men or Citizens? The Making of BolĂ­var’s Patria—JosĂ© Antonio Aguilar Rivera
    • 4. AndrĂ©s Bello: Race and National Political Culture—Iván Jaksica
    • 5. Undoing “Race”: Martí’s Historical Predicament—Ofelia Schutte
  • Part III. New Nations and Positivism
    • 6. Sarmiento on Barbarism, Race, and Nation Building—Janet Burke and Ted Humphrey
    • 7. Justo Sierra and the Forging of a Mexican Nation—Oscar R. MartĂ­
  • Part IV. Challenges in the Twentieth Century
    • 8. RodĂł, Race, and Morality—Arleen Salles
    • 9. Zarathustra Criollo: Vasconcelos on Race—Diego von Vacano
    • 10. The Amauta’s Ambivalence: Mariátegui on Race—Renzo Llorente
    • 11. Mestizaje, mexicanidad, and Assimilation: Zea on Race, Ethnicity, and Nationality—Amy A. Oliver
  • Part V. Latinos/as in the United States
    • 12. Latino/a Identity and the Search for Unity: Alcoff, Corlett, and Gracia—Elizabeth Millán and Ernesto Rosen Velásquez
    • Bibliography
    • Index


The discussion of race in the United States reflects to a great extent the situation in the country. The adoption of the one-drop rule, according to which anyone who has a drop of black blood is considered black, has too often been taken for granted, resulting in a polarization that characterizes both the formulation of problems related to race and the purported solutions to those problems: a person is either black or white but not both; there is no in between. It also has tended to move to the background the visible dimensions of race and to pay undue attention to biological and genetic conceptions of it; heredity, rather than appearance, has often been regarded as most significant. Finally, it has contributed to the widespread use of the metaphor of purity associated with whites and of impurity associated with blacks: to be white is to be uncontaminated, whereas to be black is to be contaminated. That a mixture is generally different from the elements that compose it but partakes of them, that races involve gradation and fuzzy boundaries, and that visible appearance plays an important role in racial classifications are facts too often neglected.

This model of race takes insufficient note of what much of the world thinks and illustrates the insularity that characterizes some segments of the U.S. community. Indeed, it is seldom that proper attention is paid to the views of other societies. Although the views on race of some European philosophers, such as Kant and Hume, have been studied in some detail, treatments by Latin Americans or Africans, for example, are generally ignored by North American philosophers concerned with race.

The inadequacy of this parochial approach becomes clear when one considers how conceptions of race vary from place to place. In Cuba, for example, to be black entails a certain kind of appearance. A person who appears to have mixed black-white ancestry is not usually considered black or white but mulatto. In the United States, according to the one-drop rule, to be black requires only one black ancestor, even if physical appearance tells another story. But in Cuba persons of mixed black and white ancestry who look white are generally taken as white, whereas those who appear black are considered black. Clearly the criteria of racial classification used in the United States and Cuba are different. Similar differences can be found between the views of race in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

This neglect of points of view in other parts of the world also applies to ethnicity and nationality. Societies differ substantially in how they establish and think about ethnicity or nationality. Some societies use skin color and physical appearance to establish ethnic and national distinctions; others use lineage or culture. Indian is a racial term generally associated with ancestry in the United States, but in some contexts in South America it is used to refer to culture: to be an Indian indicates that one has not adopted the ways of Europeans, thus carrying with it the disparaging connotations that this entails in the eyes of those who are European or have adopted European culture. Nationality is taken in some cases to be a legal marker—whether involving birthplace or ancestry—and in others to be an indicator of kinship, race, or culture. As in the United States, in some parts of Latin America blacks and mulattoes were denied citizenship because of their race or racial mixture, whereas in other parts of that region it was denied on other grounds, including culture.

Considering these differences in conception, it would seem to make sense that theories of race, ethnicity, and nationality need to take into account as many of the various ways in which different societies use these notions as possible. But the tendency in the United States has been to concentrate on Western European views. This has resulted in inadequate theories, based on cultural and social biases. If U.S. thinking is to make any progress toward an understanding of these phenomena, it needs to go beyond parochial boundaries and consider other societies where race, ethnicity, and nationality also play important roles. How are these notions used in the East, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America?

Latin America is especially important because it is the place where Africans, Amerindians, and Europeans first came together in substantial numbers. Indeed, some scholars have made the argument that the concept of race in particular developed in the context of the encounters between these peoples in the sixteenth century. The details of the story have still to be worked out, but one thing is clear: Latin America is significant in this development. And the significance is not restricted to the fact that Latin America is a meeting place of Europeans, Amerindians, and Africans; it involves also the complex subsequent history of racial, ethnic, and national mixture in the region. Scholars who have studied the pertinent populations do not tire of repeating that Latin America is one of the places in the world where mixing has been most prevalent…

Read the Preface and Chapter 1 here.

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