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"Assimilating the primitive:" Parallel dialogues on racial miscegenation in revolutionary Mexico

Kelley Rae Swarthout, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is a study on the role of race mixing in the formation of national identity in Mexico. It analyzes the cultural and political phenomenon of mestizofilia in 1920s Mexico, examining the national and international ideological crosscurrents that shaped it. This first chapter uses post-colonial and anthropological paradigms to explore the concept of the Other as a Western construct that objectifies the primitive, and rationalizes colonialism. ^ Chapter two of the dissertation examines the history of thought on race mixing in Mexico, from the Conquest to the Revolution of 1910. The study looks at the effects of Western models for assimilation of the ethnic Other in New Spain and Mexico, as well as examines how negative European stereotypes of the primitive influenced Latin Americans' collective self-perception. ^ Chapter three of the dissertation studies the ideological polemic of early 20th century between science and culture, and how it affected notions of the primitive as related to the post-revolutionary project of national construction. This chapter highlights the thought of three writers whose ideas express the socio-political and aesthetic sensibilities of the era: Manuel Gamio, premier Mexican anthropologist during the Revolutionary period; José Vasconcelos, writer/philosopher and Minister of Education under Obregón; and D. H. Lawrence, British travel writer and novelist who resided in Mexico during the mid-1920s. For the two Mexican writers, assimilating the primitive was part of their country's project of national construction. Both sought to create a sense of national unity around the symbolic figure of the Mestizo. The indigenous Other must become a part of the mixed-race body politic if Mexico was to progress. D. H. Lawrence was a vitalist thinker and primitivist artist who journeyed to the New World in order to write his novel, The Plumed Serpent (1926), about the necessity of assimilating a primitive “blood consciousness” into the modern experience. For the European writer, reintegration of primitive tendencies was part of an aesthetic awareness and a personal endeavor that modern man must undergo in order to save Western civilization, but he denied that mestizaje could solve the problem of the lack of a shared collective consciousness in Mexico. ^

Subject Area

Latin American literature|Latin American history

Recommended Citation

Swarthout, Kelley Rae, ""Assimilating the primitive:" Parallel dialogues on racial miscegenation in revolutionary Mexico" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3012185.