I’m happy to report that our 2nd biannual conference on 20th century Mexican philosophy,* held at San José State University, was a great success, far surpassing anything Carlos and I could have hoped for. What was perhaps most gratifying, besides continuing to establish and strengthen friendships and working relationships with our colleagues in Mexico, a major aim of this ongoing conference, is that it’s undeniable that Mexican philosophy is growing and gaining traction in the US. And what was perhaps most striking was that, even though there was no explicit theme for the conference, and even though we are working from different positions, with different backgrounds, and on different topics, there was an encouraging amount of overlap in the talks. We may just be witnessing a “Mexican philosophy turn” in Latin American philosophy, as Gregory Pappas put it.
In San José, Luis Villoro stood out as a main figure in the conference. In the first of two keynote addresses, Mario Teodoro Ramirez spoke of Villoro as Mexico’s universal philosopher who made significant and lasting contributions to pretty much every area of philosophy – metaphysics, epistemology, analytic philosophy, ethics and political philosophy – and who worked on topics as varied as Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, at one end, and indigenous rights, at the other. Villoro, Dr. Ramirez reminded us, was committed to reconciling lo universal and lo particular, which not only led Villoro to every corner of philosophy, but also provided the defining and guiding theme in 20th century Mexican philosophy.
Aurelia Valero Pie (our second keynote speaker) and Dr. Pappas both spoke about Villoro’s constant commitment not to lose sight of either the universal or the particular, come what complications and contradictions may. Dra. Pie argued that Villoro continues to be such an important historian and philosopher because he was both. That is, rather than simply being a brilliant philosopher who could put on his historian’s cap on occasion, what distinguished Villoro’s many historical analyses was his ability to identify and articulate the broad conceptual or philosophical or universal issues and questions that guide historical inquiry. And what distinguished his philosophical contributions was his careful attention to the historical circumstances and commitments that ground, guide, and shape our need to ask philosophical questions and the answers we give. Likewise, and using Villoro’s own brand of decolonial theory and praxis as a model, Dr. Pappas leveled careful criticism (in the form of “dangers” or “warnings”) against monolithic decolonial theories that are at risk of oversimplifying, losing their self-critical and disruptive edge, and failing to account for internal differences among the widely varied history and experience of colonialism.
While Carlos Sánchez didn’t speak only or specifically about Villoro, his talk is worth mentioning here, as the influence of Villoro and los hiperiones was evident. In a response to Jorge Gracia’s criticism that Latin American and Mexican philosophy suffer from the need to write about and incorporate the history of their own philosophy, rather than produce original philosophy, Sánchez defends his own historicizing of Mexican philosophy by arguing that what distinguishes Mexican historiography of philosophy is the way in which it is deeply philosophical and urgent. Sánchez says that Mexican historians of philosophy are engaged in the kind of description, analysis, and interpretation that is both philosophical and demanded by the very history that they are writing about, particularly the need to affirm the existence of Mexican philosophy and its rightful place in the larger history of philosophy. For Sánchez, like Villoro, there simply is no clear distinction between philosophy and the history of philosophy. Or, in our way of phrasing it, doing the history of philosophy is not necessarily taking time off from doing philosophy, though this is a much weaker way of putting it than Sánchez did.
Grant Silva, too, referred to Villoro to argue that what distinguishes Latin American (and thus Mexican) philosophy is that it is done for freedom or liberation, not from freedom. In many ways, the distinguishing or characteristic nature of Latin American and Mexican philosophy might be identified by paying attention to the national independence movements or political revolutions that provide insight into the origins of Latin American philosophy. For Dr. Silva, essential to philosophizing for freedom is the acknowledgement of place, or the particularities of one’s existence, which, in the context of Latin America and Mexico, are defined by the ongoing struggles against various instances of coloniality.
If Villoro stood out as the central philosopher, decolonial thought and activism stood out as a central theme. In her careful analysis of the Raramuri (Tarahumara), Sharon Murillo discussed lessons from Mexican philosophy as she considered a new model of education, historically the primary tool of decolonization in Mexico, one that offers the Raramuri crucial resources while preserving Raramuri identity and their own philosophy. Her goal is to find a way to help the Raramuri educate themselves without imposing our own Western ideals, which we often do by believing that it is our job to educate them. (I pointed out that Murillo finds herself asking the same question as the early colonists, and so she might consider whether it’s time to turn the tables and focus on what they have to teach us.)
In a similar vein, José Jorge Mendoza argued that part of the reason we’ve yet to develop a viable approach to immigration justice – besides the inadequacies of traditional models, which Dr. Mendoza meticulously points out in his larger research program – is that the debate is led predominantly by white, European males for whom immigration is a “proxy issue.” Moreover, Dr. Mendoza argues that the traditional models – and, more to the point, that the models constitute the tradition – reproduces “a colonial division of labor.” We keep running into the same theoretical pitfalls because we only hear from or about the same theorists whose work has defined the field and conversation. In response to his diagnosis, Dr. Mendoza recommends looking for and listening to philosophical talent outside the traditional European frameworks, as we may encounter there the kind of difference and commitment to the issue that might just shake things up and get us thinking anew.
In a provocative talk, Andrew Soto reminded us that we are not only addressing the colonization of the academy; we are dealing with concrete and ongoing acts of violence against particular groups – particularly Chicanos/as – whose daily experience and possibilities are shaped by the silencing, marginalization, criminalization, and devaluation of being non-white, or, in our case, of being Mexican, Mexican-American, or Chicano/a. We should not forget, for example, how many Mexican-Americans were lynched in the US, what it’s like to be Chican/o in public spaces, or how the language of the law is set against us. Soto’s approach is radical, not just in the sense of calling for political resistance, but in the sense that his diagnosis goes all the way down. According to Soto, the violence against and silencing of Chicanos/as (our literature, history, sacrifice, and influence) is built into language, the law, the curriculum, social and cultural cues, etc. So, if I understand Soto correctly, what justice requires is a radical rejection of anything and everything that directly or indirectly indoctrinates us in a white supremacist agenda. And he recommends re-introducing, focusing on, studying, and celebrating “anything that captures the spirit, attitudes, and experience of Mexican-Americans” – even at the exclusion of traditionally dominant (i.e. white Western European) perspectives.
I, too, spoke about the need to decolonize Chicano/a or Mexican-American identity and perception, but argued that the Western canon, as well as a fundamentally Western way of seeing, is an essential part of my experience and thus an essential part of our “spirit, attitude, and experience”: I am Mexican-American, that’s my point of departure. And it is an education and perception that I’m not willing to reject outright, in part because I’m not able. To do so, I argue, would be to reject part of who I am. So, rather than introduce our own thinkers at the exclusion of European frameworks or models – my argument is that the problem is Euro-centrism, not necessarily any single European thinker – I argue that we should do so in on order to complicate and negotiate our ineliminably ambiguous and contradictory Mexican-American identity. For me, the challenge of being Mexican-American, especially a Mexican-American intellectual with a predominantly Western European education that I value as much as I critique, is to find a place for all of me.
For better or worse, these conferences serve to define what Mexican philosophy in the US is or can be. And what we’re learning is that, whatever it is, or whatever it’s going to be, it is essentially transnational, bilingual (or trilingual if you count Spanglish as a third language, as we probably should), committed to real issues without compromising rigor or the universal appeal of philosophy, intensely self-conscious, historical or historicizing, and radical. Based on the last two conferences, and looking forward to the third, I would say that it is exactly the kind of disruption needed in North American philosophy today.
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*I organized the first biannual conference on 20th century Mexican philosophy at The College of William & Mary in March of 2014.