Beautiful MarchPhoto: Alicia Díaz-Infante                                                                            Mission Street, San Francisco

I am a Chicana

Written by Alicia Díaz-Infante

I am a Chicana, shaped by my inherited environments, past and present, but if I don’t say so, you may not know it or see it.  My appearance is only a vague illustration of the roots that run blood deep through the veins of every Latin American person.  Our history of conquest and oppression, rebellion and triumph has cultivated who we are.  The shared stories that unite us, not the physical features that divide us, should be our anchor of pride as Latinos begin to flow more heavily into North America, manifested in a clash of ideologies presented by Latinism and Anglo-Saxonism.

My journey into what José Vasconcelos describes as the “cosmic race” in his book La raza cósmica, begins with my own family dynamics and experience as a Chicana.  Whenever I hear discussions about immigration or racial prejudices, I can’t help but recall the moment in my life when I first felt like an “other” to my mom.  I was nineteen, and it was a period of controversy over Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law, signed on April 23, 2010, allowing investigation based on “reasonable suspicion.”  Getting ready for a trip to visit family members in Arizona, a moment came when my mom “jokingly” told my sister Sophia and I that one of us should probably drive after we crossed the border into Arizona.  I didn’t get why she said that, and when I asked she replied, “Well, because you guys are light skinned and I’m dark.” 

That distinction between us is something of an unexplored area.  I never thought of us as being different in that way.  From a young age, I had been aware that there were “different kinds of Mexicans,” with differing social circumstances, something I learned from growing up in the Salinas Valley where Latinos are the majority population, but I never recognized a color difference between my mom and her five daughters, perhaps because stereotypical thinking that darker skinned Latinos (in my case, Mexican) are “more Mexican” than lighter skinned Mexicans, was reversed in my family dynamics.  My mom’s side of the family has more indigenous, darker skinned traits, while my dad’s side more Spaniard and light skinned traits, and it is through his family that I have experienced more cultural traditions and Spanish.  These dynamics of my family go to show that one can’t be quick to judge based on appearance.  Latin blood has been mixed through many cultures, and carries with it many physical attributes, but we all share similar histories, and that is the beauty of Vasconcelos’ “cosmic race.”

While Vasconcelos’ work has faced much controversy and criticism, I find his discussion of Latinism and Anglo-Saxonism engaging.  His notion of the Latin race is of one that has taken the lead in the mixing of races, which over time will become so mixed it will be the end of any one race, allowing us to be “…more capable of true brotherhood and a truly universal vision.”  While this discussion of Latinos as the race to lead us towards a brighter future may be taken in terms of praising one race over another, that is not the case because he recognizes that every race needs the others, and none are superior.

During the time of conquest and colonization of the New World, several countries were vying for land and resources, yet it was Spain that came to garner much of the power in South America, while the English focused on North America. There are accounts of conquest, plunder, and genocide in both North and South America, but it is in Latinism that we see “beyond the world of empire, of gold and power, of wars between religions and dynasties; a brave new world was forming itself in the Americas, with American hands and voices.  A new society with its own language, its own customs, and its own needs, was coming into being.  In the Americas, Spain had to renew its cultural mission, which had always consisted of incorporating, not excluding, cultures” (The Buried Mirror, Carlos Fuentes).  That ideology is in contrast to Anglo-Saxonism, which, as Vasconcelos describes it, was based on a notion of keeping the white race pure, which, in 1845, journalist John O’Sullivan labeled “Manifest Destiny,” a concept declaring divine sanction of territorial expansion by the United States, along with political and military interventions in Latin America.

We now find ourselves in a period Vasconcelos describes as “[what] became, and continues to be, a conflict of Latinism against Anglo-Saxonism; a conflict of institutions, aims and ideals.  Not only were we defeated in combat; ideologically, the Anglos continue to conquer us… We keep ourselves jealously independent from each other, yet one way or another we submit to, or ally ourselves with, the Anglo-Saxon union.”

The United States, under an Anglo-Saxon ideology, continues to perpetuate an ideal of patriotism that has physically and mentally constructed borders between Latin America and the United States.  Despite that, the United States still keeps a hand in the affairs of Latin America, and Latin America continues to follow a model culturally irrelevant to its Latinism.  While domination of Anglo-Saxonism may still persist, it is only a matter of time before the majority of the population in the United States will be Latinos.  Vasconcelos’ statement that, “The white man, as well, will have to depose his pride and look for progress and ulterior redemption in the souls of his brothers from other castes,” is one that is becoming more evident as politicians in the United States become aware of the necessity to appeal to Latinos, already the swing vote in many states.

In The Cosmic Race, Vasconcelos describes humanity as one that has culminated not only in the mixing of blood, but of cultures and stories of oppression and triumph that will allow us to overcome racial prejudices through our relations.  He describes it as the “aesthetic race,” one based on personal preferences and not politics.

No race is superior to another, but as a Chicana who has roots in indigenous civilizations and the Spanish conquest but has chanted “En Huelga” and “Viva la Raza,” and whose blood has dashed across the Mexico-U.S. border, and is now connected to other Latinos in the U.S. who have strived for an education, I tell this story so that we may recall our strength to persist and adapt in the face of oppression.  Latinos come from a great history, and are honored to be able to take the lead towards a cosmic race.  When faced by obstacles and divided by borders, we must remember our ability to break down those divides and become unifying factors.