Mexican Anthropology

Date: 1916
Owner: Libreria de Porrua Hermanos
Source Type: Images


In the decades following the Mexican Revolution, Dr. Manuel Gamio (1883-1960) was Mexico's foremost anthropologist and was very involved with indigenismo, a movement that took pride in the country's pre-Columbian heritage. He is famous for his studies of Teotihuacan, creating the journal Ethnos, and heading the state's effort to conduct "applied" anthropology. These pages from his Forjando Patria (English: Forging A Nation), present pre-Columbian civilizations as equivalent to those of Greece, Egypt, and Rome and discusses the greatest aspects of Mexican mestizaje.

Gamio's studies of indigenous peoples and sites must be understood in their cultural and political context. After the Revolution, the state sought to create new grounds for nationalism, most important of which was promoting the idea that racial mixing (mestizaje), which had been discouraged in the Porfirian era, should be a source of Mexican identity and pride. To help achieve this shift in perspective, the government patronized social scientists (especially anthropologists, demographers, and sociologists) who could promulgate in their publications the idea that the mixing of races glorified as it constituted Mexico. Thus anthropology, which is often considered the study of human diversity, became part of the project of showing national unity.

Perhaps surprisingly, Gamio and the Mexican state promoted this idea of racial unity concurrently with social hygiene efforts and eugenics efforts designed to eradicate "plagas sociales" like alcoholism, venereal disease, and inheritable abnormalities. Eugenic science is usually considered to be the opposite of racial unity but, circa 1920-1940, Mexico managed to make these policies overlap, largely due to the legitimizing influence of social scientists like Gamio. Mexico thus articulated a policy that promoted racial unity as well as "whitening": the whites who immigrated to Mexico would intermarry with indigenous peoples and, by this mixing of blood, help "improve" Mexico's racial composition on the whole. According to contemporary eugenic ideas, such genetic improvement was requisite for social improvement while, according to Mexico's nationalistic rhetoric, racial mixing itself was inherently good.

The fact that anthropologists and other social scientists initiated and supported such endeavors shows just how closely science and politics can be tied. Although this relationship is not always so explicit, it always exists, and historians must consider how contemporary social circumstances affect the kind of knowledge that scientists, social scientists, and even historians produce.

Reference: Horcasitas, Beatriz. "Las ciencias sociales en la encrucijada del poder: Manuel Gamio (1920-1940)." In Revista Mexicana de Sociologia, vol. 64, no. 3 (Jul.-Sep., 2002), pp. 93-121.

CITATION: Gamio, Manuel. Firjando Patria (Pro Nacionalismo). Mexico: Libreria de Porrua Hermanos, 1916.