chapter  5
34 Pages

Race, Ethnicity, and National Identity, 1890–1960

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the Latin American republics wanted above all to be modern. This is a diffi cult concept. After all, the defi nition of what is modern depends a lot on what in the past is rejected, and on what the goal of modernity is. At least two paths can be taken to achieve modernity. Scholars identify one as the path of material progress. When new roads are built, cities install sewers, lights illuminate the streets, and industry develops, people can see that their country has become modern in a material way. The other kind of modernity may be called cultural. In this case, new schools are fi lled with students who are taught new ideas by trained teachers, the means of communication fl ows freely, the arts fl ourish, and many ideas are exchanged that critically infl uence politics and society. With regard to both paths to modernity, people say that reason and progress have prevailed, and social and economic power are fl uid. The fi rst question is: What role do race and ethnicity play in how modernity is reached? Second, which racial and ethnic groups are included and which are excluded in the identity of the nation? Every country in early twentieth-century Latin America answered these questions differently. In this chapter we examine some of the best-known examples.