New Conversations, Starting with One on Mexican Identity

In the spirit of the new direction of the blog, we are going to host a series of conversations about provocative papers concerning the nature of 20th Century Mexican philosophy. As part of the series, we will invite colleagues to read the paper de jour and share their comments and reflections. The goal is to provide a forum to discuss a theme or topic of common interest (as conferences, colloquia, and symposia on Mexican and Latin American philosophy are far and few between).

In the first of the series, we are taking a look at Guillermo Hurtado’s “Dos mitos de la mexicanidad” (Two Myths about Mexican-ness). In this essay, Hurtado (a senior researcher at the Instituto de Inverstigaciones Filosóficas at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and a leading expert in Mexican philosophy) offers his own critique of a movement in 20th century Mexican philosophy referred to as the filosofía de lo mexicano (the philosophy of the Mexican or Mexican-ness). After offering a panorama of the antecedents of this movement, including a brief resume of the work of José Gaos, Samuel Ramos, and Octavio Paz, Hurtado offers a close examination of the work of Leopoldo Zea and Emilio Uranga in order to offer two of his own original criticisms.

Traditionally, philosophers in Mexico have dismissed the movement on the grounds (1) that Mexican identity is not a topic of philosophy per se, since philosophy is concerned with universal questions, and (2) that in any case, there is no such thing as the essence of being Mexican, i.e. a set of characteristics that applies to all and only Mexicans. And while Hurtado seems to be (roughly) in agreement with these criticisms–though he argues that they require more support than is usually given for them–he claims that there are two other problems with la filosofía de lo mexicano, which he presents on both philosophical and moral/political grounds. The first criticism, which he offers against the work of Zea, is that the philosophers of this movement have mistakenly endorsed the myth that the Mexican Revolution (which began in 1910) brought the true essence of Mexican identity to the surface. The problem with this thesis, Hurtado argues, aside from being false, is that it has (even if only indirectly) lent credibility to the official ideology of Mexican politics which was made concrete in the form PRI (el Partido Revolucionaria Insitucional, which dominated the political landscape in Mexico for seven decades and wasn’t overturned until 2000). The second criticism, leveled against Uranga, is two-fold. First, Hurtado claims that the filósofos de lo mexicano uncritically endorse the myth that the essence of Mexican identity corresponds to Mexican culture in the altiplano, the geographical center of Mexico where the conquistadores founded Mexico City on top of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital prior to 1521. So, besides dismissing the idea that there is a single Mexican identity, as others have done, Hurtado complicates the criticism by pointing out that the problem is not just that philosophers have assumed that there is such an identity, but that they have identified it with a very specific subculture of Mexico. Hurtado says, “To suppose that there is one Mexican culture that is more than the sum of the various regional cultures is a myth that, while it might some utility in public offices or in university classrooms, it is not based in concrete reality” (285, my choppy translation). Second, he claims that there is a certain inconsistency in the philosophy of Uranga (and almost all of the philosophers of Mexican identity)–namely, that while he tries to valorize the Mexican vis-a-vis the foreigner, he does so by identifying what the Mexican lacks. So, for Uranga–not entirely unlike it was for Samuel Ramos and Octavio Paz–Mexican is more human than the non-Mexican (the value of being Mexican) because the Mexican is essentially “accidental” (flawed, dependent, afflicted, anxious, half-hearted, mournful). That is, for Uranga, following Heidegger, the essence of being human is to be accidental, and while this is true of all humans, it’s lived by Mexicans more authentically than by other cultures (such as in England and the US, which pride themselves on being “substantial,” self-sufficient, optimistic, efficient, powerful, modern, etc.).

There’s no way we could do justice in such a short space to Hurtado’s in-depth analysis and response to a major movement in Mexican philosophy, and our hope is that the conversation that ensues will make up for what this all too brief description lacks (or gets wrong). But we hope that this is enough to encourage you to read the paper and follow along with the conversation. We will ask two of our colleagues for their responses by December 10, and we’ll see where the conversation goes from there. So, stay tuned…

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