Parsing Race and Blackness in Mexico

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2014-10-30 16:02Z by Steven

Parsing Race and Blackness in Mexico

Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews
Volume 43, Number 6 (November 2014)
pages 816-820
DOI: 10.1177/0094306114553216a

Enid Logan, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Minnesota

Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico, by Christina A. Sue  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. 234pp. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 9780199925506.

In Land of the Cosmic Race, Christina Sue offers an ambitious, data-rich ethnography set in the “blackest” area of Mexico: the port city of Veracruz. She asks how the local population understands and negotiates racial and national identity, and in particular, how they make sense of the tricky issue of blackness in Mexico. Sue is one of a comparatively small number of sociologists who study race relations in Latin America, as most scholarship in this area has come from the fields of anthropology and history. Though the study is grounded in Veracruz, Sue’s larger intent is to analyze racial dynamics in contemporary Mexico writ large.

Sue “centralizes the racial common sense” of Mexican mestizos, a population that she estimates to comprise up to 90 percent of the total (p. 6). Mestizo is a broad category including anyone of “mixed-race” ancestry: Spanish, indigenous, or African. And in large part because Mexico defines itself as a mestizo nation, almost everyone in Mexico identifies as mestizo as well. Within the broad racial category of mestizo, Sue states, there are crucial distinctions of color, which are too often ignored. She sets out to analyze these distinctions in her study.

She writes that Mexican mestizos negotiate the dynamics of race and color in “an ideological terrain littered with contradiction” (p. 18). While elite ideology asserts that racism in Mexico is non-existent, implies that there are no blacks in Mexico, and is officially celebratory of race-mixing (or mestizaje), the lived experiences of most Mexicans, Sue claims, are “replete” with contradictory attitudes and events (p. 5). Sue uncovers in her research a general distaste for intercolor relationships from the point of view of those whose racial capital they would degrade, a clear aesthetic preference for whiteness, and a wealth of strongly-held negative beliefs about blacks and…

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Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs, Social Science on 2013-02-09 02:24Z by Steven

Land of the Cosmic Race: Race Mixture, Racism, and Blackness in Mexico

Oxford University Press
January 2013
256 pages
2 photographs; 6-1/8 x 9-1/4
Hardback ISBN13: 978-0-19-992548-3; ISBN10: 0-19-992548-8
Paperback ISBN13: 978-0-19-992550-6; ISBN10: 0-19-992550-X

Christina A. Sue, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Colorado, Boulder

Land of the Cosmic Race is a richly-detailed ethnographic account of the powerful role that race and color play in organizing the lives and thoughts of ordinary Mexicans. It presents a previously untold story of how individuals in contemporary urban Mexico construct their identities, attitudes, and practices in the context of a dominant national belief system. The book centers around Mexicans’ engagement with three racialized pillars of Mexican national ideology – the promotion of race mixture, the assertion of an absence of racism in the country, and the marginalization of blackness in Mexico.

The subjects of this book are mestizos—the mixed-race people of Mexico who are of Indigenous, African, and European ancestry and the intended consumers of this national ideology. Land of the Cosmic Race illustrates how Mexican mestizos navigate the sea of contradictions that arise when their everyday lived experiences conflict with the national stance and how they manage these paradoxes in a way that upholds, protects, and reproduces the national ideology. Drawing on a year of participant observation, over 110 interviews, and focus-groups from Veracruz, Mexico, Christina A. Sue offers rich insight into the relationship between race-based national ideology and the attitudes and behaviors of mixed-race Mexicans. Most importantly, she theorizes as to why elite-based ideology not only survives but actually thrives within the popular understandings and discourse of those over whom it is designed to govern.


  • The first serious study to address how race functions among Mexican mestizos

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: Mapping the Veracruz Race-Color Terminological Terrain
  • Chapter 3: Beneath the Surface of Mixed-Race Identities
  • Chapter 4: Mestizos’ Attitudes on Race Mixture
  • Chapter 5: Inter-Color Couples and Mixed-Color Families in a Mixed-Race Society
  • Chapter 6: Situating Blackness in a Mestizo Nation
  • Chapter 7: Silencing and Explaining Away Racial Discrimination
  • Chapter 8: What’s at Stake? Racial Common Sense and Securing a Mexican National Identity
  • Epilogue: The Turn of the Twenty-First Century: An Ideological Shift?
  • Appendix
  • References
  • Index
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Race and national ideology in Mexico: An ethnographic study of racism, color, mestizaje and blackness in Veracruz

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Media Archive, Mexico, Social Science on 2012-03-07 22:17Z by Steven

Race and national ideology in Mexico: An ethnographic study of racism, color, mestizaje and blackness in Veracruz

Univerity of California, Los Angeles
191 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3280987
ISBN: 9780549234821

Christina A. Sue, Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Colorado, Boulder

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology

The literature on race relations has shown that racial and color categorization, racial consciousness, national ideologies, discourses on racism and patterns of discrimination have developed very differently in Latin America compared to the United States. Although a number of studies have explored these differences in countries such as Brazil, little research has been done on questions of race and color in Mexico, beyond studies of the Indigenous population. This dissertation begins to fill this gap in the literature by focusing on the role of race and color among Mexico’s population. Using participant observation, semi-structured interviews and focus groups, findings from this study provide detailed insights regarding the real life implications of race and color in Veracruz, Mexico. Specifically, I discuss how Veracruzanos reconcile the national ideology of non-racism in Mexico with their everyday lived experiences with discrimination. In addition, I interrogate the meaning of blackness in the region, both in the sense of racial identification and in reference to the construction of the category “black.” Not only is there extreme hesitancy to identify as “black” and a general dismissal of the role individuals of African descent played in Mexico’s development, blackness is seen as something foreign to the nation. Furthermore, in this dissertation I discuss the role of color in the region and its relation to the national ideology promoting race mixture, discourses on racism and meanings of blackness. I found that the national ideology is not embraced at the ground level in a way in which the founders intended. Instead, there is a clear trend for individuals to adopt mestizaje [race mixture] as a strategy to whiten themselves within the mixed-race category. Regarding discourses on racism, I describe how Veracruzanos, while being extremely reluctant to talk about racial divisions, engage in a proxy discourse based on color to incorporate such distinctions into everyday conversation. Finally, in relation to blackness, a color-based discourse is used by Veracruzanos to distance themselves from the category “black.”

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Racial Ideologies, Racial-Group Boundaries, and Racial Identity in Veracruz, Mexico

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Mexico, Slavery on 2011-07-31 22:02Z by Steven

Racial Ideologies, Racial-Group Boundaries, and Racial Identity in Veracruz, Mexico

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 5, Number 3 (November 2010)
pages 273-299
DOI: 10.1080/17442222.2010.513829

Recent scholarly interest in the populations of African descent in Latin America has contributed to a growing body of literature. Although a number of studies have explored the issue of blackness in Afro-Latin American countries, much less attention has been paid to how blackness functions in mestizo American countries. Furthermore, in mestizo America, the theoretical emphasis has oftentimes been placed on the mestizo/Indian divide, leaving no conceptual room to explore the issue of blackness. This article begins to fill this gap in the literature by focusing on blackness in the western Caribbean cities of Port of Veracruz and Boca del Río, which lie in the Mexican state of Veracruz. Specifically, it looks at the racial-based and color-based identification of individuals of African descent, societal construction of the ‘black’ category, and the relationship between national and racial identities. This article relies on data from participant observation conducted over the course of one year and 112 semi-structured interviews.

…Blackness in Mexico

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Mexico and Peru were the largest importers of African slaves in Spanish America (Palmer, 1976). Most scholars estimate that approximately 200,000 African slaves reached Mexico’s shores, although the number may be higher since many slaves were imported illegally (Aguirre Beltrán, 1944). When the slave system collapsed in the early 1700s, the biological integration of the population increased as the African-origin population increasingly mixed with the Indian and Spanish groups (Cope, 1994). After 1821, when Mexico gained independence from Spain, legal distinctions pertaining to race were terminated (González Navarro, 1970). By this time it was generally assumed that the black population had ‘disappeared’ through biological integration with the broader population.

Mexico’s early-20th-century post-revolutionary ideology further solidified the narrative of the disappearance of Mexico’s black population. This ideology promoted the mixed-race individual (mestizo) as the quintessential Mexican (Knight, 1990; Vasconcelos, 1925). In doing so, however, it not only glorified the mestizo, but sought to assimilate the Indigenous (Knight, 1990) and African (Hernández Cuevas, 2004, 2005) components of Mexico’s population through integration. The erasure of the African element in Mexico continued in the following decades through the Eurocentric re-interpretation of particular aspects of Mexican culture (Gonzalez-El Hilali, 1997; Hernandez-Cuevas, 2004, 2005).

The supposed disappearance of the African-origin population was first questioned in the 1940s when Gonzalo Aguirre Beltrán (1946, 1958) studied what he defined as a ‘black’ population in the Costa Chica region of Mexico’s southern coast. Aguirre Beltrán’s pioneering study set the stage for the re-emergence of the issue of blackness in Mexico. In the past few decades, there has been a surge of scholarly work on the topic, much of which has focused on the historical experience of Africans and their descendants (Aguirre Beltrán, 1944; Alcántara López, 2002; Bennett, 2003; Carroll, 2001; Chávez Carbajal, 1997; García Bustamante, 1987; Gil Maronã, 1992; Herrera Casasús, 1991; Martínez Montiel & Reyes, 1993; Martínez Montiel, 1993; Motta Sánchez, 2001; Naveda Chávez-Hita, 1987, 2001; Palmer, 1976; Rout, 1976; Vincent, 1994; Vinson III, 2001; Winfield Capitaine, 1988) and the African contribution to Mexican culture (Díaz Pérez et al., 1993; Gonzalez-El Hilali, 1997; Hall, 2008; Hernandez-Cuevas, 2004, 2005; Malcomson, forthcoming; Martínez Montiel, 1993; Ochoa Serrano, 1997; Pérez Montfort, 2007; for more general overviews and/or discussions of Afro-Mexicans, see Hoffman, 2006a, 2008; Martinez Montiel, 1997; Muhammad, 1995; Vinson III & Vaughn 2004); less attention has been paid to the contemporary experience of Mexicans of African descent. When the contemporary experience is addressed, most scholars focus on the Costa Chica region (Aguirre Beltrán, 1946, 1958; Althoff, 1994; Campos, 2005; Díaz Pérez et al., 1993; Flanet, 1977; Gutiérrez Ávila, 1988; Hoffman, 2007a; Lewis, 2000, 2001, 2004; Moedano Navarro, 1988; Tibón, 1961; Vaughn, 2001a). However, Hoffman (2007a, 2007b) argues that the Costa Chica represents an exceptional case in Mexico, and that identity formation in this region is not based on negotiation with state-sponsored institutions due to their limited presence in the area…

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