El mestizaje como legado / Antonio López Ortega

Mestizaje as a Legacy

In these days honoring the centennial of Arturo Uslar Pietri's birth, in which luckily many cultural institutions and universities from all corners of the country have participated, we are once again obliged to ponder the value the master gave to the concept of "mestizaje" in defining Latin America's cultural specificity. Obviously, the concept is not of his exclusive invention nor does it belong exclusively to his time. We find antecedents in the texts of the Emancipation, in Simón Rodríguez, in Andrés Bello, and later on in a large portion of the intellectual developments of the XIX and XX centuries. The novels of Rómulo Gallegos, to give one example, are a cultural wager that makes a melting pot of cultures live alongside each other with coinciding vocations. The union of opposites, or of differentiated elements, can be seen in the founding doctrines of the Republic, and fortunately the constitutions we've had have continued to employ the term as a defining lever.

The situation is no different in Latin America, where the great thinkers and artists have established in mestizaje the foundation for their ideas and the fountain of their prodigious images. From José Vasconcelos to Alejo Carpentier, from Octavio Paz to Carlos Fuentes, cultural mestizaje has been seen mostly as a discursive strength, as a unique gift of our historic specificity, as a legacy that is profusely enriched by cosmovisions. A narrator as curious as Juan José Arreola went further and sustained that our mestizaje could not be circumscribed merely to the constitutive trilogy of the Indian, the African or the Spanish.

Through Spain we inherit—he acknowledged—the Islamic culture, the imprint of the Visigoths, the final consequences of the Roman empire. The simple culture of the Iberian settlers, previous to the Roman conquests, survives 2,000 years later in our Andes in a word as beautiful as "páramo." Moreover, in idiomatic peaks such as the work of José Lezama Lima, the concept of "Baroque culture" would seem to be an evolutionary state of mestizaje. According to the Antillean master, the imago is the expressive tool with the greatest power of aesthetic concentration. And that concentration is inadmissible without the synthetic faculty of mestizaje.

By cultural mestizaje we should understand mixture, crossing, synthesis, the cannibalization of certain senses by others. It is found in customs, in habits, in ways of dressing, in the kitchen, in music, in urban rites, in country chores. It is found in our prodigious faces, which range from an Andean austerity to a Barlovento voluptiousness. It is found in our beliefs, in our religious faith.

It is found in our family values, in what we've inherited from ancestral cultures and in what we've adapted from outside cultures. A certain cosmopolitan vocation, present from the moment Venezuela follows the literature of the Enlightenment, provides a doctrinal base for the Emancipation, and it also speaks of a culture open to influences and crossings. An expression of traditional music like the Veleño drums, from La Vela de Coro, is inexplicable without the human, commercial and cultural trafficking that historically have characterized the relations between the coasts of Falcón state and the Dutch Antilles; and another such as the Guayana Calypso is inconceivable without the crosssing of influences and the migratory waves that went from the British or French Antilles to the mining town of El Callao.

A food historian such as José Rafael Lovera reminds us that the similarities between the Veracruz tamal and our December hayaca could perhaps be due to the commercial traffic during colonial times that carried Venezuelan cocoa to the ports of Veracruz and brought back Mexican dishes and spices to the shores of La Guaira.

During times when the temptation of the originary consumes wills, passions and false proclamations, it is to our benefit to keep in mind the intellectual and human effort we have spent over several centuries defining the mestizo condition of our culture. The supposed original purity—which leads people to knock down the statue of Columbus, to replace institutional logos with Panare tribal ideograms or to defend a concept of the endogenous that implies pure races and cultures—reminds us what Nazism postulated about a supposed Aryan purity. Facing reductionist temptations, which truly reflect a profound ignorance of our cultural processes, we should remember along with Carlos Fuentes that the most prodigious experiment in mestizaje in our continent has been the reappropriation of the Spanish language. To write in the Spanish of the Americas is the equivalent of placing all our cosmovisions on the sacrificial altar. But from that arduous, substantial effort, which invents unforeseen images and pushes syntactical properties to extremes, has surged one of the world's greatest literatures.

{ Antonio López Ortega, El Nacional, 27 June 2006 }

No comments: