Mestizaje, middle class and colonialidad

Felix Patzi, March 12

There are many people going around saying that the country is everyday becoming more divided along racist lines, between indigenous peoples and the criollo [local] mestizo. This division is not a new problem in the country. It is a structural issue that dates back to colonial times. Since 1952 the dominant class – criollo mestizo – has made a strong effort to wipe out indigenous identities, trying to construct a mestizo nation with a homogenous language and culture.

Nevertheless, it was not possible to construct a biological mestizaje between indigenous peoples and the criollos, instead matrimonial relations within ethnicities were strengthened, forming a caste society, where the rule of marrying from one’s own ethnic group took precedence, above all amongst the white mestizo social group.

A negative social image was construct, above all about indigenous peoples, and a positive one for urban western culture, which had its effect on the accelerated migration from rural areas to the cities. Now, there are urban indigenous peoples distributed amongst various social classes. Thousands of children of migrants have become professionals that live from their profession. That is why they now constitute the new middle class, which is growing and will surpass the criollo mestizo middle class.

A large part of those professionals who are children of rural migrants have self-defined themselves as mestizos, whilst others have adhered to the western culture: they have musical, dance and clothing taste, and an admiration for people and artists, from other cultures; the majority do not speak their native language, that is to say, they have learnt to consume cultures that come from outside. Therefore they have nearly none or very little indigenous cultural content. This has led many to say that the majority of Bolivia’s population is made up of mestizos.

In the construction of identity, self-definition is not enough, it can not be defined only by cultural content, rather other definitions are important, that is, the definition by the other or others. Identities are constructed in the interaction of one with another.

In Bolivia, this interaction is partially due to a totally racialised social structure, that is, the opportunity curve is defined in terms of ethnic labels. The colour of one’s skin, surname, the manner of speaking, dress style etc are values that take primacy in determining the exact position or social status that a person occupies – that is what we call colonialidad.

That is why indigenous professional, at the time of looking for opportunities are subtly stigmatised as indios, and for this reason relegated to inferior positions on the social or labour ladder. For that reason, this sector of the middle class feels represented by the government of Evo Morales and is placing their support in this process of change along the lines of decolonisation, given that this would solve one of the structural problems of this country, giving opportunities according to ones capacity, professionalism and knowledge. Ethnic background would have no importance.

Without doubt, this policy will also win over the middle class of criollo mestizo origins, given that they would not be subordinated to any type of clientalism nor friendship clique in order to find any type of opportunity.

Felix Patzi is a sociologist and was Minister of Education (2006-2007)

Translated from La Razon

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