April 2014

Removing Generalizations of the Mestizo/Cholo

A central debate in the historical and sociological studies of Cochabamba has been that of the mestizaje and the cholaje. The labels “mestizo” and “cholo” were established during the colonial period, but have survived until the modern day, depicting certain people as neither “indigenous” nor “Spanish.” What impression do we have of the mestizo or cholo? The central metaphor is the mixture. The mestizo/cholo is a type of human that arose from the medley of two groups conceived bio-politically as “pure”: the Native American and the Spanish..

By: Walter Sánchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones
Antropológicas
UMSS


An old photograph of mestizos and cholos
Photo: Courtesy of Instituto de Investigaciones Antropològicas

It is sustained that this classification arose from the colonies in two ways: (1) the blood – literally a mix of indigenous and Spanish blood for having one parent from each group and (2) the cultural – for having both a Spanish and Andean background. In the first case, a mestizo would be someone with a mix of Spanish and Native American genes and is thus considered “neither Native American nor Spanish.” In other words, the person with a mix of genes would be considered a completely different race by the original two “pure” groups. In the second case, the cultural mestizo appears to be someone carrying both traditions of the “pure civilizations” (idiomatic, officially, and character) and who picks the worst of both traditions. In both cases, being seen as the mestizo-cholo – not pure – the collective minds of the locals regarded this group as “dangerous,” a sort of “third republic” with distinct blood and culture (both impure and contaminated).

That last element generates their essence; in other words, they are endowed with an intrinsic, natural, and almost genetic substance that characterizes them. However, they are considered by non-cholo/mestizos to have a homogeneous identity, one that naturally turns towards evil, characterized phenotypically by certain alleged “racial” political, mora,l and even psychological traits, all considered “deviant.”

The native population is small and divided between indigenous and landless outsiders.


A mix-raced man (mestizo) on his horse
Photo: Courtesy of Instituto de Investigaciones Antropològicas

One look at the history of the cholo/ mestizo identity shows that it was not (and still isn’t) homogeneous, nor do they have some intrinsic substance that characterizes all of them. More to the contrary, the groups and/or individuals are characterized by their differences, their plurality, and their intent to enter various fields, including the two “pure” republics. Their evolving history shows that one cannot speak of a “petrified” cholo/mestizo; they are a being characterized by their change, their fluidity, their permeability, and their ability to transform constantly into various “others.”

Being seen as the mestizo/cholo – not pure – the collective minds of the locals regarded this group as ‘dangerous.

Some descriptions made by Intendent Francisco de Viedma about the activities of the cholo/mestizos towards the end of the 18th century in various places in Cochabamba corroborates that the cholo/mestizos are not part of a uniform group. On the contrary, it depicts them as having a complex culture and identity. For example, Viedma, when identifying the different groups that living in the Partido de Ayopaya, notes: “The indians carry all the weight of agriculture, those who serve under the people living in the estates… The mestizos in general work in the transportation business. They provide grains, flour, and cured meat -- which they call ‘charques’ -- to the Yungas in La Paz and other places.” In the case of the village named Quillacollo, he highlights that “In no other village do they dedicate themselves more to the weaving of tocuyos … where there are over 500 cholo/mestizos doing this work.” In the case of the curate of Capinota, he notes that “Although there are pure indians, the composition is more made up of mestizos, mulattos, and Spanish; and they are more dedicated to transporting goods than to agriculture.” In the case of the mayor of the Mizque Province, the description is illustrative: “The population is quite short and is composed of Spanish, mestizos, sambos, and natives …. The mestizos and sambos, who should be working the land, live an idle life, and are content with harvesting a small crop, which is barely enough for them to live off of, and the excessive consumption of chicha… The native population is small and divided between indigenous and landless outsiders.” The same mayor notes that the “estates are for the Spanish and a few select mestizos and only agriculture is the means for making a living.”

They are the tireless pilgrims of the republic, and the most curious historical stories are told about them.

These quotes show the diversity of the group. It is important to remove the concept about the identity of the mestizo and of the cholo as being one that is intrinsically the same. More to the contrary, they should be viewed as historical entities, characterized by their members’ ability to use, manage, and manipulate their varied identities based off of the relational context and social interaction.

A clear example of this identity manipulation can be found in Cochabamba. José Aguirre Achá, in his book De Los Andes Al Amazonas (1901), says: “Little has remained from the indigenous race of America in the valleys of Cochabamba.” He describes the mestizo/cholos of the valley of Cochabamba with the following words: “Although rustic and simple, they share, with the Caucasians, the Spanish customs. Their clothes are those of a mainland villager, they loosely wear a poncho, cross walkways behind their donkeys, and pluck the strings of their charango, from which they are inseparable. They are the tireless pilgrims of the republic, and the most curious historical stories are told about them, exaggerating their malice, distrust, and poor Spanish. But they rarely have reason to stop speaking their native language. Similar to how it is difficult for them to give up mote, tostado, and chicha given to them by their cornfields.” This image is not consistent with Viedma’s century old writing nor with the modern day conceptions we have of the mestizo/cholos.

They should be viewed as historical entities, characterized by their members’ ability to use, manage, and manipulate their varied identities.

In actuality, the mestizo/cholo has been an object of persecution similar to how it was in the past, but this time not from groups of “Spanish blood” (be they politicians or intellectuals), if not from the other “pure bloods.” It is not coincidence that the garbage trucks in the city of Cochabamba have been bestowed with the name “cholangos;” in other words, with the name of cholos that take pride in their “choledad.”

Calendario abril 2014

> LUNES DE CINE FRANCÓFONO
Todos subtitulados en español
7 de abril - 19h
Queen of Montreuil
14 de abril - 19h
La Flor del Mal
21 de abril - 19h
Jimmy Rivière
28 de abril - 19h
Cleveland contra Wall Street

> Recital: Analía Abat
“Es tiempo de volar”
4 de abril 19h30
Entrada: Bs 20

> Cuenta Cuentos Infantil
Cuenta cuentos a cargo del grupo de Narración
oral “Hecho cuento”
28 de abril - 16:00

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