Guest Blogger: Grant Silva of Marquette University “On the Orientalism of Lo Mexicano?”

As Carlos and I begin to expand our blog to be a home for all things Mexican philosophy in the US, we are publicly inviting anyone interested in Mexican philosophy to send us a post on a theme they’d like us to consider and discuss. This might be a response to a past post, as is the case here with Silva’s piece, which is longer than a comment, or it might be something new or different. As always, feel free to comment on this and other posts, as our goal is to provoke and sustain conversation.

The theme today is lo mexicano and Silva’s piece is somewhat of a response to my post a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, Grant! (Grant Silva is on the far right of the featured image.)

The Post:

First off, I’m a bit old school and this is my first attempt at blogging so thanks to those who read the following comments. Second, thanks to Robert and Carlos for the opportunity to write, and to Jim Maffie and Kim Diaz (and I guess Goyo) for contributing to the discussion I address below. Before I get into it, let me state that I’m glad to take part in the new Society for Mexican-American philosophy. I think it is an important and unique opportunity that we’ve got to take full advantage of. The debate that ensued at the conference (and here on this blog) represents the kind of seriousness and demeanor we need bring to each other’s work. Let me quickly add that I was thoroughly intrigued in the dialogue between Jim and Alex Santana regarding Nahuatl thought and their differences on normativity in teotl—when people ask, I tell them those sessions are my training in ancient philosophy!

I, too, witnessed the discussion about lo Mexicano and heard Jim’s comment that not all communities in Mexico feel adequately represented by this national identity nor do many want to be associated with it in light of the historical (and ongoing) injustices attributed to this banner. In “Neoliberal Multiculturalism” (PoLAR 28.1, 2005), Charles Hale describes recent frustrations with the type of mestizaje that undergirds such nation-building movements as lo Mexicano. Hale distinguishes between mestizaje from above, a top down approach usually driven by state actors, and that from below, an “empirical” or grassroots mestizaje, if you will. In so doing, Hale provides a nice foundation upon which to build my comments. You might already see where I’m going: as problematic as any national banner might be, if contemporary endorsements of lo Mexicano begin with a mestizaje from below perhaps they are on better ground (at the very least, not all instances of lo Mexicano are grounded in the early 20th century model, a claim that places ‘lo Mexicano’ in the same position as the concept race, an idea created with malicious intentions but now harbors positive dimensions in terms of identity, at least for some).

Jim Maffie’s response to Robert’s paper was right on (see the previous post). How are Mexican philosophers inadvertently but nonetheless perpetuating an identity originally construed so as to assist in the assimilation and “modernization” of indigenous peoples? That is to say, how is the top-down, bourgeois mestizaje of someone like Vasconcelos inadvertently furthered by uncritically embracing lo Mexicano as a point of departure for philosophical practice? As Jim put it, why is tequila the official spirit of Mexico and not mezcal or pulque? In other (more damning) words, are those of who are us willing to take our Mexicanidad seriously when philosophizing participating in another instance of coloniality?

In light of Jim’s question and in terms of Robert and Carlos’ project, here’s my advice (for whatever it’s worth): At some point, perhaps in the introduction or a subsection of the book, I’d be open and honest about addressing the fact that loMexicano is a contested and problematic term—assuming that this idea is the anchor for Mexican thought in the first half of the 20th century. Articulate the criticism that Jim put forth—don’t hide from it or let it derail the project (I don’t meant to suggest that you are). Lo Mexicano was a cultural phenomenon that played a vital role in shaping the history of Mexico and thus Mexican philosophy. It had a negative impact on various indigenous cultures in the region, one that is well documented and ongoing. Nevertheless, as I take it, the project of describing Mexican philosophy is just that, a description. I don’t see an endorsement of lo Mexicano in the presentation of the history of this idea, thus I don’t see Maffie’s critique having much of an impact, yet.

The project acquires a normative hue when one asks lo Mexicano to do work in the context of comparative philosophy. Depending on how far one goes with the idea of practicing philosophy as a Mexican, and in light of the cultural displacement you seem to be asking for in terms of your project (with your cultural immersion metaphor, Robert), one might be forced into assuming or buying into a historically problematic identity. To make things worse, how are we as Mexican-Americans participating in a kind of cultural orientalism by embracing an idea, lo Mexicano, that doesn’t seem to have the reality we think it does outside of the minds those who have used it for manipulative reasons? I’d even venture to say that the Mexican-American conception of lo Mexicano doesn’t completely graph onto to that a person in Mexico might have, nor does it carry the same weight.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that novel understandings of loMexicano cannot learn lessons from the past or adopt Hale’s version of a grassroots mestizaje, a mestizaje from below that begins outside of hegemonic national narratives with actual, existing communities who are doing the real work of “inter-communal” (not “multicultural”) exchange. The burden is then to show how there is something common between these forms of mestizaje, a move that runs the risk of validating the assimilatory efforts of the bourgeois model.

In sum, in terms of the historical dimensions of the project, describe the history of loMexicano, its context and its role in shaping Mexican philosophy. In terms of its contribution to comparative philosophy: perhaps acknowledge that philosophizing as a Mexican (especially Mexican-American) means that the particularities of one’s existence somehow permeate the philosophical process. We live in a place/time where being “Mexican” means something and we hold that whatever this is it impacts our philosophizing in some way. We ought not try to pinpoint what that is since it will cause us to essentialize and then enter a metaphysical trap where themes of authenticity or originality abound. Instead, we ought to take a cue from SUN Ge’s “How does Asian Mean?” She writes, “In the end, in thinking about the Asia question, we are not led to being absorbed in the question of ‘What is Asia?’, but rather to reflect on ‘What sort of issues in fact are set forth in discussion with regard to Asia?’ In other words, Asia is merely a medium, through which we are effectively led to our history, and it is precisely because of this historical significance that it is important we keep asking ‘How does Asia mean?’” (14) Thus, we should continue to explore the ways in which lo Mexicano is meaningful and important in our efforts to “the reframe the practice of philosophy,” as George Yancy put it. I think this is somewhat different from adopting an identity in practicing philosophy like a Mexican.

To address this last comment, I’ll end with a boyish example from the boxer, Gennady G. Golovkin (“Triple G”). Triple G, a half Korean half Russian fighter from Kazakhstan (talk about mestizaje from below!), is one of the best boxers in the sport who honestly and respectfully boasts about fighting like a Mexican. I don’t want to get into what “Mexican style” boxing entails or how badass it is. Instead, I ask, how is “Mexican style” meaningful in boxing? What are the contexts in which “Mexican-style” makes sense and how does it therefore contribute to boxing as a whole? While perhaps this makes for an overly hermeneutical or contextualized approach, we are nonetheless realizing part of the goal of comparative philosophy when we begin from historical, particular contexts (Goyo: “experience”) and then aspire to a general discussion. That’s at least better than starting in abstraction and then achieving a kind of universality that ignores the particularities of human existence.

A concept like lo Mexicano can never be separated from whatever goal or end one wants to achieve through/with it. In this sense, Lo Mexicano might be meaningful for us in the United States in light of our predicament as the other Mexicans, those who, due to our cultural, linguistic and geographic distance from Mexico (not to mention our cultural alienation from “America”) are desperately holding onto an idea that is the product of 20th Century Mexican nation building efforts. Must lo Mexicano be limited to the context in which it came about? I don’t know. Can’t this idea start to mean something else given the goals we now have? Perhaps. Golovkin might not be Mexican, but he realizes that Mexican-style will get him where he wants to go. Perhaps I’m instrumentalizing too much and I apologize if this makes light of anyone’s identity, but if our goal is to promote Mexican-American philosophy what else can that mean?


7 responses to “Guest Blogger: Grant Silva of Marquette University “On the Orientalism of Lo Mexicano?”

  1. Hola Grant (I hope you get this)….I love your comments. I think you suggestion is the way to go. There is no doubt that we have learned the serious dangers of appealing to “lo mexicano” or “mestizaje” or any other identity or ideal. Villoro was aware of these dangers in also any “Latinoamericanismo”. However, I do not think it follows that the project is impossible or that something important can be properly reconstructed for today. Dangers are only dangers. As Grant suggest, with enough explicit qualifications it may be a great project, and that identity may serve good purposes in different contexts (and for different purposes).
    One just have to be explicit about the purpose and in what context.
    It is obvious to me the benefits that the “lo mexicano” just as “lo boricua” can have in different contexts and for a particular purpose.
    (Grant, thank you for mentioning my faith in the starting point of lived experience! in doing philosophy 🙂 abrazos! )

  2. Grant, thanks for writing this! I recently wrote a paper titled, “Mestizajé & Colorblind Ideology: From Bolívar to Zea and Latin@ Identity Issues in the US” that considers (I think) many of the issues you address here–I’m presenting it at SAAP in March, but I’d love to send it to you for your thoughts and comments, if you’re not going to be attending (and if you’ve got the time, of course).

    One thing that I came across in my research for this paper was a book by Mario Sáenz, The Identity of Liberation in American Thought: Latin American Historicism and the Phenomenology of Leopoldo Zea (Lexington Books, 1999), in which he devotes a chapter describing what he calls “Mestizajé from above” and “Mestizajé from below”. I skimmed through Hale’s paper that you cited here, but noticed no mention of Sáenz work. In any case, if you haven’t looked at it, it may be be worth your while to take a look at what he has to say about the concepts of mestizaje from above and below. (I briefly explain his view in my paper, including my concerns regarding both forms of Mestizajé, but plan to do more work on the topic of Mestizajé in general… If you end up reading the paper, you’ll get where I’m going with it, hopefully). In any case, just thought I’d add that to the chat. Thanks again!

    • Hey Rocio, Please send the paper to my Marquette email. I am not sure if I’m going to SAAP. The society put a panel together but I’m uncertain if I’m on it. I will be at the APA Pacific, however.

      The paper where my comments come from takes Saenz’s book into consideration. In fact, overall, I think I am more indebted to him than Hale (and thanks for the reminder). It might be Mario, and not Hale, that describes the top-down model a “bourgeois mestizaje.” Anyways, I remember being a fan of that book and Mario’s work very much.

      Congrats on your book! And please send me the paper–I’m on a teaching release and i’ve got plenty of time.

      • Ay, I wish I had a book coming out, haha! Anyway, I just sent that over to you. Thanks. Looking forward to your comments.

  3. One more thing……on the important issue of whether the indigenous people are willing to embrace “Mexican” as part of their identity, this strike me as an empirical issue (or do we wish to “speak for them”? ;-)) On this I am sharing (courtesy of Hurtado) a few lines that Luis Villoro wrote in a newspaper • Villoro, Luis, “Democracia indígena”, La Jornada, 31 mayo 1995, pp. 1 y 16…….while this is not empirical research he believed at that tiime (based on his close relationship with the indigenous in Chiapas) that ****”Todos quieren seguir siendo mexicanos, pero mexicanos dignos, es decir, con el reconocimiento de su derecho a decidir sobre sus propias formas de vida.”**** I am not saying he is correct but it shows how the issue of identity for some oppressed people may be different than the issue of political autonomy.
    Here is the rest of the text: “Desde 1993 representantes de varias etnias de Oaxaca, la mayoría mixes y zapotecas, se reúnen periódicamente para intercambiar experiencias y alcanzar acuerdos comunes. Acaban de realizar su Quinto foro estatal sobre realidad indígena, campesina y negra. Las palabras que más se escucharon [1] fueron “autonomía” y “respeto a nuestros usos y costumbres”. Por “autonomía” nadie entendía separación del Estado. Todos quieren seguir siendo mexicanos, pero mexicanos dignos, es decir, con el reconocimiento de su derecho a decidir sobre sus propias formas de vida.”

    • Thanks for these comments, Goyo. And sorry for not replying to your comment before: I wanted to think about it a bit more (and still do). But for our non-Spanish-readers, here’s a VERY quick translation of the Villoro Goyo cites:

      “Since 1993 representatives of various ethnicities in Oaxaca, Mixteca and Zapoteca being the majority, periodically come together to exchange experience and reach common agreements. They just completed their fifth statewide forum concerning indigenous, rural, and black life/reality. The words that are heard the most were “autonomy” and “respect for our ways and customs.” By “autonomy” nobody means separation from the State. Everyone wants to continue being Mexican, but honorable Mexicans, that is, with the recognition of their right to choose their own forms of life.”

      Sorry for any infelicities with the translation. I gave myself 10 minutes: time to get back to teaching.

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