South America’s Cosmic Race
By Terence Roberts
Guyana Chronicle
March 18, 2007

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“IN the famous words of Jose Vasconcelos, the Mexican philosopher, it is in Latin America that a new race will come into being, made of all the previous races, the final race, the cosmic race. It is true that Vasconcelos’ words in his book: “Raza Cosmica” (1952) are abstract and cultural. Nevertheless, his vision of a new tropical race does reflect on exciting situation. No part of the world has ever witnessed such a gigantic mixing of races as the one that has been taking place in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1492.”

That is the opening paragraph of a precious book “Race mixture in the history of Latin America” by the famous Swedish sociologist Magnus Morner, first published in 1967.

To some, Morner’s study may seem incomplete, since it does not mention or include Guyana (or Suriname, or French Guiana), yet in one of the Smithsonian Institute’s volumes titled “The Handbook of South American Indians”, British Guiana/Guyana is recorded as having some of the most racially mixed people in the world, in quality, not quantity.

A good example of this quality is easily evident if we look at the racial makeup of some of Guyana’s greatest writers: Edgar Mittelholzer is a mixture of African, German, Swiss; Wilson Harris is a mixture of African, French, East Indian, English; Jan Carew is a mixture of African, Dutch, English; Martin Carter is a mixture of Amerindian, African, Dutch, English. And we can go on and on citing other Guyanese. Morner’s omission of Guyana in his book is not a denial of Guyana’s unique role in South America’s miscegenated population; rather his omission of Guyana meant that Guyana had not as yet produced a positive human vision of its polymorphic achievements, like its Latin American neighbours.

Guyana was interesting as a place where one could study stubborn and embarrassing oral and written justifications for racism, where imitative and imported North American styled racially bigoted and exclusive attitudes caused an enormous waste of time, and chronic stagnation for the social and economic future of the nation.

Unlike other South American nations Guyana did not produce thinkers who realised that local miscegenated people were products of a fresh human start on local soil, rather than simply victims of by-products of colonial domination and abuse.

Many local thinkers in colonial South America, unlike Guyana, realised that if South Americans were to progress and prosper in pleasant circumstances on the continent where they lived, they would have to respect and admire themselves as they are, regardless of what anyone thought.

Creoles, whether of European, African or other old world racial origins, laid the foundation for South America’s independent movements away from servile exploitation, led by open-minded young South American gentlemen like Bolivar, O’Leary, Sucre, San Martin, etc.

The idea of the “Cosmic Race” gradually emerged in South America after more and more people emigrated to the continent from around the world, because they respected its racial harmony which resulted from centuries of cultivating a creole racially inclusive philosophy. Such a view meant that every race within such nations had a rule to play in producing the new national and continental identity, as a priority above concerns of racial purity.

A nation cannot grow or stabilise if its citizens remain obsessed or interested only in someplace elsewhere, where they originated rather than where they were born and now reside. South Americans and Guyanese, of pure or mixed race, are fresh local human products, created by transplanted ancient original peoples of Pre-Columbian America, Europe, Africa, India, Asia, etc.

For some social-thinking South Americans, especially of Guyanese origin, the important issue is not the stabilising ability of local polymorphic creole culture (some even deny South America’s leading role in racial harmony, and call it a myth), but the gap between rich and poor.

The same attitude is often echoed by British and North American University students who study South American societies. Such academics notice that the poorer citizens of South America often have darker skins. That is all they see not the historical legacy where both transplanted Africans (even after abolition) and Indigenous peoples were not part of western culture, western skills, which gave birth to “developed” societies with economic advances.

Native Indians and freed slaves were poorer by comparison because they came from lifestyles outside westernised structures, they now had to learn and adjust to some new educational, technical, social and linguistic skills that were transforming South America with ideas from Spain, Italy, Portugal, and France, especially. Yet all those beautiful colonial buildings and cathedrals in Latin America were built by skilled workmen from Native Indian, African and miscegenated backgrounds. Their creative skills were used and advanced under the educational guidance of European monks, proving that their combined knowledge and human values were beneficial to all involved.

Wherever local creole cultures, of pure or mixed races, were allowed to develop unhindered, as in Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Mexico, progressive nations slowly emerged. A similar creole culture flourished in early Guyana up to 1781, until the first British invasions occurred. The invaders were shocked to find that the Dutch, like the neighbouring Portuguese and Spanish creoles, were creating a similar creole nation in Guyana’s Demerara, Berbice, and Essequibo regions. But the British Imperials dismissed the beautiful examples of nascent creole nationality they saw as “obscure” , inferior “tawny” people, who were little more than errors of conquest, bastards, half-breeds, etc, simply because they were not of one racial stock.

Today, only the most poisoned minds would accept such pitiful puerile slander penned by early British historians on Guyanese creoles.

Many of these historians refused to believe that Dutch and other non-Anglo European settlers in early Guyana really loved their Native Indian, African, and mixed spouses, even tough such European men sent their non-white wives and mixed children to hide in the jungle during Brit invasions, out of fear they can be taken away from and sold.

When the Brits introduced European women in great numbers to provide “proper” partners for white men, most non-Anglo “whitemen” kept to their creole loves.

The famous Spanish decree of 1501, in contrast to Anglo views, declared: “Let some Spanish (Christians) marry some Indian women, and Spanish women marry some Indian men, so that both parties can communicate and teach each other.

IT IS difficult and rare to find a similar flexible and civilised official approach to racial co-existence and integration as that of the Spanish/Portuguese, in the huge Anglo-colonial colonies of North America, Canada, and the Caribbean islands, even though many Anglo individuals in these areas chose non-white lovers and spouses.

Whereas the Spanish/Portuguese in South America led in fostering and creating a distinct continental polymorphic creole modern culture, expressed and projected in “avant-garde”, or unusual fiction, poetry, visual art, films, and music, celebrated around the world for its inventive social vision and lack of racial obsessions, the Anglo-colonial view discouraged and obstructed the birth of new creole cultures based on hybrid racial and cultural values.

What was more useful to their divide-and-rule social ideas was the encouragement of ethnic exclusiveness, frozen cultures transplanted elsewhere and forever looking back to their racial origins, while their labour remained exploited for “the Empire”, rather than the collective creole nations they were now citizens of, and for which they had been taught little appreciation.

Guyanese who grew up receiving, and continue to receive only exclusive Anglo worldviews on race and ethnicity, would hardly ever be exposed to a concept like Vasconcellos’ “Cosmic Race”, and many similar ones from Bolivar, Freyre, Amado, Marti, Carpentier, etc, since they were almost completely brainwashed for centuries to believe that Latin American creole cultures had no equality or authenticity comparable with Old World Cultures like Europe, Africa, India, Asia.

This self-abusive idea meant that like the British colonial, who was too great to every change, Africans, Orientals, etc. in Guyana, simply had to stagnate as imported races and cultures and everything would be fine. What resulted was racial ideas and attitudes comparable to Anglo North America, one of the most racially paranoid and confused areas in the world, ideas imitated and brought back to Guyana by many Guyanese who returned after adjusting to North America’s specific racial reasoning and attitudes.

On the other hand, South American concepts like the “Cosmic Race” refused to stagnate, refused to use ethnic or cultural ideas in order to justify racial and cultural fragmentation.

To accept the idea of race as no longer specific or “pure”, no longer self-obsessed but relaxed and open to simply the human form, the human as a precious value, is to accept the “cosmic race”. It is probably a human state that comes about naturally, if people really felt free to mix, associate, learn, and love, without feeling they have lost something, but rather gained, on one way or another.

Racial mixing or miscegenation can involve giving up one’s racial and personal vanity based on colour, features, etc; relinquishing such outward possessions to the inner beauty of character and personality formation in humans. Also, South America’s “cosmic race” does not mean the end of the continent’s ethnic whites, blacks, and other peoples, since it is they who have created the “cosmic race” among themselves, and they too belong to it as a potent and necessary catalytic part.

All parties should therefore once again see and appreciate their interdependence, whether as a minority or majority.

It would be an error to think that South America is the originator of miscegenation as a major factor in its development from abusive colonial to freer modern times.

By now most people know that many Spanish and Portuguese who came to South America, came from countries that were already largely miscegenated. The Romans (already very miscegenated) first conquered Spain, mixed in, then later the Moors of North Africa also conquered Spain/Portugal to a large extent, and their customs of impregnating harems of secluded women led to hundreds of children bearing one man’s name.

Some of these same attitudes towards conquest continued in South America among Native Indians and Imported African slaves. So only a very small minority of Spanish/Portuguese, if any, were ever pure-blooded in colonial transferal. However, later in the 20th century South America saw millions of Europeans from everywhere, flowing into the continent, where they too added to the mixed batter, enriched it, and help to modernise nations like Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, etc.

In 1971, the brilliant French structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in his essay “Race and Culture” for UNESCO, wrote: “According to certain anthropologists, the human species must have given birth very early to differentiated sub-species, which, in the course of pre-historical times, produced all kinds of exchanges and cross-breedings.

“Indeed, going further back in time to Ancient Greece and Roman times, we find preserved evidence in visual works of art, often highly erotic and romantic, of Africans and white women (at Pompeii, for example) engaged in sexual pleasures; and even before 1492’s European voyages to America, evidence of a minority of Africans in pre-Columbian Mexico and Central America is generally accepted, to the extent that since 1929-45 the gigantic mural titled “Market at Teotihuacan” by the famous mestizo Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, distinctly depicts Africans in their unusual robes among the multitude of native Indians in this famous pre-Columbian city very long ago.

Human knowledge increased and was shared only because different civilisations encountered each other. Often the first meeting of different races and cultures resulted in misunderstanding, resistance, pillage, and violence.

Everywhere on earth forced intimacy resulted in rape by uncivilised men who simply wanted to release their passions, or create replicas of themselves through women they saw as a commodity in which to increase their own race or tribe or customs. Women were seen as no different than possessions of food, gold, treasure, land.

However, when the opponents are of different race, all the resulting crimes seem to double in the eyes of the opponents. The slow civilised reform of this negative stereotype usually attached to conquests, imperialism and colonialism, would result in an educational, sensual, and new vision of the role of culture, first promoted as open-minded cosmopolitan visual art by fiercely individual European artists, especially from nations like Italy, Flanders, Holland, France and Spain, then later Latin America.

The individual non-conformist personality of many such national artists asserted and sustained their freedom of expression, even in the face of skeptical public response still waiting to be convinced.

Eventually, today, these various nations in Europe and Latin America, would see millions of viewers pass through their museums yearly to ponder and be intellectually and sensually stimulated before paintings celebrating the pleasure of romance, intimacy, food and drink, miscegenation and family values among people of different race and cultural origin.