Somos una raza privilegiada: Anthropology, Race, and Nation in the Literature of the River Plate, 1870-2010

Kerr, Ashley, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Lagos, Maria-Ines, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia
Opere, Fernando, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia
Gies, David, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia
Brickhouse, Anna, Department of English, University of Virginia
Hill, Ruth, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Vanderbilt University

This study examines the ways in which ethnographic and anthropological theories of race arise and evolve in the literature of the River Plate (travel literature, the novel, poetry, scientific discourse), ca. 1870-2010, through the prism of critical gender and race theory. Beyond presenting potential solutions to the cuestión del indio, concepts such as prehistory, degeneration, evolution, and miscegenation enabled positive representations of the criollo that directly addressed criticisms emanating from both within and outside of the region. Thus, ethnography and anthropology were fundamental to the forging of national, group, and individual identities. The authors studied in the first three chapters are canonical, forgotten, and best-sellers in turn, including Lucio V. Mansilla, Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, Eduardo L. Holmberg, Francisco “Perito” Moreno, Vicente Fidel López, and Clemente Onelli. Although their focuses were distinct, as a whole these texts work to laud the Creole as fit, fertile, and White, while erasing the Indian from the nation due to their alleged innate, or racial, inferiority.
The fourth and final chapter is devoted to contemporary romance novels by Florencia Bonelli and Gloria Casañas that aim to subvert and/or repurpose the concepts and ideologies analyzed in the first three chapters. Given their immense popularity both in Argentina and abroad, these novels exercise an influence over the racial imaginary of contemporary Argentinians that the older texts do not. In spite of their authors’ good intentions, these twenty-first century racial projects reveal that older, discriminatory models of indigeneity and Whiteness continue to structure even neoliberal narratives that explicitly reject the past. Indeed, these bestsellers closely resemble their predecessors in their racial suppositions and characterizations of both Indians and criollos.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Spanish American literature, Critical Race Theory, mestizaje, nationalism, indigenous tribes, scientific racism
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