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Viva La Raza?

Jose Vasconcelos
And The White Supremacy
Behind The Concept of "La Raza"
In His Book "La Raza Cosmica"

By Carlos Cordova

July 2009
(last edit December 1, 2009)

During the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 70s, the term “La Raza” emerged as a means of self-identification for people of Mexican and "Central American" descent. The word was eventually incorporated into mainstream organizations, including La Raza Unida Party (RUP), and The National Council of La Raza. According to several scholarly works on the history of the Chicano Movement, the idea of “La Raza” as a term recognizing a distinct ethnic group originated with Mexican author Jose Vasconcelos and his book, La Raza Cosmica (published 1925) . In his history of La Raza Unida Party, UC Riverside professor Armando Navarro writes, “Chicanos adopted Mexicano philosopher Jose Vasconcelos’s call for a ‘Raza Cosmica,’ with its emphasis on meztizaje (Spanish and indigenous parentage)...”(264). The idea that Vasconcelos' work was the basis for the emergence of the “La Raza” concept also comes from Ignacio Garcia’s work Chicanismo; The Forging of a Militant Ethos, Indigenismo represented a part of the new heritage that Chicanos were trying to develop…The search for this past also took them to Jose Vasconcelos' ideas on the raza cosmica. This concept of a new race of mixed blood and origin…captivated Chicano activists. To them, Chicanos were the raza cosmica” (71-72).


In published interviews with recognized leaders of the Chicano Movement, it becomes evident that Vasconelos’ concept of La Raza Cosmica had a strong influence on the ideas and philosophy of the movement.

In his book, A Chicano Theology, Andres Guerrero interviewed several intellectuals involved in the movement, among them Jose Angel Gutierrez, Reies Lopez Tijerina, Lupe Anguiano, and Ruben Armendariz. What is particularly revealing about Guerrero’s work is the candid discussions about the importance of Raza as a term for self-identification, and the influence Vasconcelos’ concept had on those who have been identified as major players in the movement. For example, Gutierrerz, who was a co-founder of Raza Unida Party, stated, “It is important for us to use the word raza nowadays because we have to first identify ourselves. In order to be we have to know who we are and in order to know who we are…we tell ourselves who we are, give ourselves our own identity” (127). Guerrero expounds upon Gutierrez’s meaning, by stating that this identity is a mixture of the European and the “indigenous”: “Somos mestizos. Somos la raza” (128). More revealing is the idea expressed by Reies Lopez Tijerina (who promoted Hispano as an identity), who has been described as one of the four major leaders in the Chicano Movement. When asked by Guerrero if the La Raza concept is real to us, he replies, "Of course, I think La Raza is the one that absorbed the other one. When the Spaniards came here, they gave their name to the Indian. The Indian did not absorb the Spaniard. Intermarrying with the Indian only shows that La Raza was flexible and had a mission and was not racist"” (129). Tijerina's comments are particularly disturbing for two reasons, the first being his inability to see that the “absorption” was actually a genocide that killed 95% of the Nican Tlaca population, and secondly, the marriages were in actuality rapes. The fact that Tijerina is considered by many to be one of the main leaders of the Chicano movement and that his views must have had an influence upon others he helped organize, makes one pause.


Unfortunately, Tijerina’s whitewashed and rosy view of the Spanish conquest of Cemanahuac is shared by many of those interviewed by Guerrero. For example, Lupe Anguiano, who was president of the National Woman’s Employment and Education, Inc, at the time stated that this idea of Mesitzaje worked well, and that it, “accomplishes through action what humanists believe in theory. Two different races can marry and make it work…Two cultures can blend to create a new humanity…” (130). Vasconcelos’ writings also influenced Ruben Armendariz, director of the “Latino Studies Program” at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago who states, “Vasconcelos was trying to put across that Hispanics represent all the rainbow of colors of people…once you belong to the family of La Raza, color is not an issue.” (129). Armendariz went on later to defend Vasconcelos against charges of white supremacy, by stating that the theme of La Raza Cosmica is not racist itself.


It is this false and ignorant understanding of the term La Raza that this article seeks to address. When one takes the time to read the works of Vasconcelos, it is immediately clear that this man was a white supremacist who viewed the Spanish conquest of Cemanahuc as the best thing to happen in the history of this continent. Even in his book, La Raza Cosmica, his disdain for all things Nican Tlaca is so evident, that one has to wonder if any of the above “leaders” actually took the time to read his work. A quick analysis of Vasconcelos’ ideas will undoubtedly lead anyone with an ounce of Nican Tlaca pride to see that the term Raza should not be used as a self-identifier for people of Mexican or “Central American” descent.


Before discussing the pro-Hispanic/anti-Nican Tlaca basis of “La Raza Cosmica,” let us begin with a broad overview of Vasconcelos’s philosophical outlook, which can be gleaned by examining some of his less popular works. In his book, “Breve historia de Mexico,” Vasconcelos begins by stating matter of factly that the history of Mexico begins with the Spanish discovery of the “New World.” In a tone eerily similar to contemporary white supremacists who seek to justify the European conquest of Anahuac, Vasconcelos writes that, “Before the Spaniards’ arrival Mexico did not exist as a nation; a multitude of tribes...lived in the regions that today form our homeland’s territory” (Marentes, 63). Vasconcelos’ Eurocentric view seeks to classify all Nican Tlaca peoples as small bands of savage wandering tribesmen, and refuses to acknowledge the great urban cities of Anahuac, which included Tenochtitlan (minimum population of 200,000) and Cholula (approximately 100,000), among others. Vasconcelos also praised the Spanish invaders as a “wonderful sort of men,” who brought “genuine democracy” to the people of Anahuac (“Aspects of Mexican Civilization,” 46). In his autobiography, “Ulises Criollo,” Vasconcelos further derides the Nican Tlaca people of Anahuac:

“You cannot find in the peoples of history any that are more limited in the power to change and progress than the aboriginal races of the two Americas…imagine what our peoples would turn into if suddenly they were pried loose from their European colonial matrix” (Crawford, 130).

Vasconcelos’ disgust of Nican Tlaca elements also manifested itself in his views of Emilano Zapata, and the movement he represented. Vasconcelos disdainfully referred to the Zapatistas as nothing more than “a lower-class movement,” whose aim was the “return of Mexico to the primitivism of Montezuma” (Crawford, 105). In Vasconcelos view, the idea that Mexicans could embrace Zapata’s “Indian Movement” was absurd because the “Indian has no civilized standards upon which to fall back” (Aspects, 90). Vasconcelos goes on to write that cities with large European populations in Mexico are “centers of culture” and “islands in a sea of ignorance,” which suffered from periodic invasions that unleashed “forces which have swept away the transplanted values of Europe so laboriously cultivated” (Crawford, 69). Vasconcelos believed that the only way to bring Mexico into modernity was to transform what he saw as the nation’s main problem, its underlying “Aztec way of life."

In 1921, Vasconcelos was given an opportunity to try and eradicate this “problem” when he was appointed the first Secretary of Public Education by Mexican president Alvaro Obregon. It was during this time that Vasconcelos organized the Department of Indian Education, which he modeled after the colonial missions of the 16th century, “the inspiration for the education of the Indians came to us, as was natural, from the Spanish tradition” (Marentes, 130).

This approach is very insightful, because it demonstrates Vasconcelos’ complete disregard for the physical and cultural genocide committed by the Spanish missionaries in the name of Christianity. Vasconcelos saw his new education corps as fundamental to bringing the “Indians out of their ‘primitive’ and ‘idle’ habits” and into “modern” civilization" (Marentes, 57). Of course this meant the replacement of Nican Tlaca languages with the Spanish language and customs, or what noted scholar Guillermo Bonfil Batalla calls de-Indianization: “In Mexico, civilizing has always meant de-Indianizing, imposing the ways of the West” (Batalla, 105). The imposition of Spanish onto the Nican Tlaca communities of Mexico served two purposes for Vasconcelos. The first, and most obvious, was the eventual extinction of Nican Tlaca peoples. The second was more intellectual and revolved around then current ideas of defining nationhood. One must remember that Vasconcelos served as Education minister in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution, in a period when the country’s leaders were concerned with forging a new national identity. For Vasconcelos and many others in the early 20th century, a major component of national identity was language. In order to compete against what he saw as more homogenous nations, Mexico itself would need to adopt a more uniform culture, a culture based on Spanish cultural norms.


Another example of Vasconcelos’ disdain for the people of Anahuac can be found in his opposition to the Indigenismo movement in the 1920's and 30's. Lead by people such as Manuel Gamio, Diego Rivera, and others, the idea behind Indigenismo was the celebration and acknowledgement of Nican Tlaca contributions and existence in Mexican culture. For a white supremacist like Vasconcelos, such an idea was nothing short of Hispanic blasphemy. In his autobiography A Criollo Ulysses, Vasconcelos writes:

"I point out there the danger of an Indianism which does not build on the work of Spain, and by means of which the Indian now has an Indian country, that destroys or abuses the work of Spain. Otherwise, having no worthwhile tradiion of his own, the Indian would be left to the mercy of new and strange ideologies." (Crawford, 172).

This view also leads Vasconcelos to clash with, and denounce, the works of such muralists as Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Early in his job as Education minister, Vasconcelos made available dozens of public buildings on which the muralists could create their works. Thinking that the paintings would celebrate the “Hispanic” tradition of Mexico, what emerged was something quite different. As Siqueiros relates, “the more our work developed, the more it found roots in our tradition…the more detestable it seemed to Vasconcelos” (Marentes, 143).


Vasconelos also sneered upon archeologists who took an interest in investigating the great historical sites of Cemanahuac. Vasconcelos looked upon such scholars with alarm for he felt that the glorification of the Nican Tlaca past was detrimental to the continuation of a Euro-centric nation in Mexico. He particularly frowned upon what he called white Mexicans going to universities in “North America” to study archaeology, for he felt that the courses made “Indians fashionable” with the ultimate goal of burying “the Spanish sediment which the colony bequeathed us.” This abhorrence to all things Nican Tlaca probably originated in Vasconcelos’ realization that the pure white race living in Anahuac was actually quite small, and was eventually destined to disappear in the next several hundred years, a fact that continues to become more evident every decade. Vasconcelos was himself a Criollo, by definition a Spaniard born in Anahuac, whose revisit to his hometown of Oaxaca caused him to pause and contemplate the large number of Nican Tlaca people that lived in the area:

“I noticed how small the white population was, and how many Indians from the surrounding highlands were invading the streets, wrapped in their blankets, silent and impassive. And I understood the whole tragic process of the history of Mexico; it lies in this displacement, in the exhaustion of the conquering and civilizing Spanish blood” (Crawford, 191).

While I do not claim, nor desire, to be an expert on Vasconcelos, it is my opinion that his fears and racism were motivated by this realization. In a debate with archaeologist Manuel Gamio at the University of Chicago in 1926, Vasconcelos stated that the ideas of those who seek to argue for the importation of Europeans to better the country and to “do away with the mestizo and the Indian population” are futile. Not because it is a racist idea, but because it is too late to do so! Vasconcelos laments that there is no other alternative but to accept that “the mestizo is the predominating element in Mexico” (Aspects, 89). So if the so-called mestizo, or the “de-Indianized Indian” as Batalla defines the term, is predominate in numbers, the next best thing is to make sure his cultural and mental allegiance remains colonized to Spain. Herein lies the foundation, in my opinion, of Vasconcelos’ idea of La Raza Cosmica.


To begin, it is interesting to note that the subtitle to Vasconcelos’ La Raza Cosmica is Mission of the Ibero-American Race, with Ibero being a reference to the Iberian Peninsula, or modern day Spain and Portugal. To those unfamiliar with the actual work of Vasconcelos, his idea of La Raza Cosmica is often misunderstood to be a celebration of the coming together, or the mixture of two distinct cultures into a new, more inclusive race. More specifically, it is the mixture of the Nican Tlaca, or Indigenous peoples with the European Spaniards. Unfortunately for many of our people who identify with the La Raza concept, the reality could not be further from the truth. In A Criollo Ulysses, Vasconcelos writes that his idea of a new race was not based on the idea of regressing to the “primitive,” i.e. Nican Tlaca, but on building upon the “solid basis of our Spanish tradition” (215).


One of the major misunderstandings of those who have never taken the time to actually read Vasconcelos’ work, is the idea that Vasconcelos supported Nican Tlaca and Spaniards mixing racially. Quite the contrary. Vasconcelos looked with favor upon the mixing of similar people of the white race, and questioned the results of mixing those with diverse backgrounds. For example, Vasconcelos wrote in La Raza Cosmica that the reason the United States was so powerful was that it was a homogenous country comprised of a people that were a melting pot, yes, but a melting pot of European races. This is what he sees as the key to success. Vasconcelos also looked with favor upon Argentina, where the predominate population is once again a mixture of European races, albeit primarily those from the Mediterranean regions as opposed to the Northern Europeans of the United States (La Raza, 5). As for nations with sizable Nican Tlaca populations like Mexico, Vasconcelos felt that the “mixing” stage was prematurely interrupted by the revolution, and the decision to halt Spanish immigration to the country. As for nations like Peru and Ecuador, politics and poverty prevented wholesale Spanish immigration in large enough numbers to literally fuck the Nican Tlaca peoples into extinction. As a result of this failure to fornicate effectively, the resulting “mixed” population that did exist had “questionable results” (La Raza, 5).


In addition to this white supremacist view of race mixing, Vasconcelos’ work is also full of pseudo-science and outright false history. While Vasconcelos may have been a racist, he was not blind, and to help explain the existence of such sacred sites as Teotihuacan or Chichen Itza, he wrote that the “Indians” of America were descendents of the lost civilization of Atlantis. Obviously for Vasconcelos, the “Indians” of Mexico and Peru were too stupid to have come up with their civilization themselves. As a matter of fact, Vasconcelos writes that in the distant past, the civilization of Atlantis flourished on the American continent, and eventually fell into decline, until it degraded to the point of the “lesser Aztec and Inca empires, totally unworthy of the ancient and superior culture” (La Raza, 9). According to Vasconcelos, after its decline, the ancient Atlanteans left America and flourished in other nations such as Egypt, India, and Greece. Eventually, white Europeans inherited the reigns of civilization from Greece, and again reached the “unforgotten shores” of America, “in order to consummate the task of re-civilization and re-population” (La Raza, 9). So, according to Vasconcelos, the “mission” of the whites is to serve as a “bridge” in the creation of a new race here in America.


But what of this new race that Vasconcelos proposes? Is it truly a “mixture” of the Nican Tlaca and European peoples? For Vasconcelos the answer is obvious, NO! According to Vasconcelos, ALL the Nican Tlaca peoples of Cemanahuac have already been completely incorporated into the European matrix, “Even the pure Indians are Hispanized, they are Latinized, just as the environment itself is Latinized. Say what one may, the red men, the illustrious Atlanteans from whom Indians derive, went to sleep millions of years ago, never to awaken…The Indian has no other door to the future but the door of modern culture, nor any other road but the road already cleared by Latin civilization” (La Raza, 16).

Vasconcelos could not be any clearer. Since the “Indian” has no other option but the “Latin option,” the next stage is to incorporate him/her into the dominant Spanish culture. Eventually, once the Nican Tlaca peoples learn Spanish, put the Spanish agenda ahead of their own, fold and give in and give up their identity, the new Raza Cosmica will emerge. But this new race will not just be a “mixture” of all other races, it will be a new race that has a Spanish foundation and adopts the Catholic religion. For as Vasconcelos saw it, “this implies that our civilization…may be the chosen one to assimilate and to transform mankind into a new type…Spanish colonization created mixed races, this signals its character, fixes its responsibility, and defines its future” (La Raza, 18). So, in other words, the history of rape and atrocities committed by the European invaders against the people of Anahuac is completely justified and predestined by this more important “divine mission” (La Raza, 18).


The final aspect of Vasconcelos’ book I wish to examine returns to my initial claim that his ultimate fear was the realization that the white, European population of Cemanahuac is finite, and will eventually disappear if something is not done to counter it. In his debate with Marnuel de Gamio, Vasconcelos stated, “If we do not wish to be overwhelmed by the wave of the Negro, of the Indian, or of the Asiatic, we shall have to see that [they]…are raised to the higher standards of life, where reproduction becomes regulated and quality predominates over numbers (Aspects, 100-101). In La Raza Cosmica, Vasconcelos makes no effort to conceal his belief that the basis of this new race requires the realization that people must either “marry up,” or disappear completely! Vasconcelos hopes that eventually the old “interbreeding” system, the one where “white colonists took an Indian or black woman because there were no others at hand,” will be replaced by a systematic one in which only the best of all races will breed. For it is the practice of indiscriminate breeding that causes the world to be full of “ugliness, because of our vices”. So once only the “beautiful” people decide to breed, the ugly and useless ones will slowly disappear, “In this way, in a very few generations, monstrosities will disappear…in this manner, for example, the Black could be redeemed, and step by step, by voluntary extinction, the uglier stocks will give way to the more handsome” (La Raza, 32). And what will happen to the Nican Tlaca during this process? According to Vasconcelos, “The Indian” can “graft” himself onto the Spanish race and make “the jump of millions of years that separate Atlantis from our times,” and of course, ultimately “disappear” along with the “Blacks” (La Raza, 32). This idea is further highlighted in his debate with Gamio, where he stated that such a scenario would prevent the “overpowering of the superior few by the uncivilized many” (Aspects, 101).


So having discussed both the personal philosophy and writings of Jose Vasconcelos, does anyone still believe that his concept of La Raza Cosmica is anything other than the ramblings of a white supremacist who fears the inevitable future end of White Europeans on our continent?

In a vain attempt to combat this, Vasconcelos hopes that the large Nican Tlaca populations can be forced to assimilate into the European colonial matrix, and by extension deny its own existence. Unfortunately for members of the Chicano movement in the 1960's, such a diabolical scheme occurred, as many of its leaders began self-identifying themselves as Raza. But if we are honest with ourselves and with others, we will acknowledge that such a term celebrates the idea of Spanish culture, whether it is the language, identity, philosophy or theology, over the Nican Tlaca. This must be stated very clearly, it is not a “mix” but a continued domination of the European colonial matrix.

In an ironic turn, many white supremacist anti-Mexican and anti-Central American“activists” (Neo-Nazis, Minutemen, KKK, etc.) in the last few years have claimed that the idea of La Raza is racist. For once I agree with the
m! I agree because the concept of "La Raza" seeks to deny us our Nican Tlaca past. So if you choose to identify as "Raza", then you are denying your full Nican Tlaca heritage. Those who understand the white supremacist roots of "Raza" should refrain from using term, along with refusing the concept of "Mestizo" as an identity or Hispanic/Latino as an identity.