It’s stupid to complain about La Raza’s name being racist 

Dear Mexican:

What's with calling yourselves "La Raza"? Being Mexicans, Chicanos or whatever isn't enough? Now you're the race? Sounds pretty racist to me.

The Race Is On

Dear Gabacho:

Few things annoy The Mexican more than the know-nothing nation's deliberate ignorance with regard to this most nebulous of Mexican idioms. Despite the patient explanations of Chicano yaktivists who say the phrase doesn't exclusively mean the race but is a Mexican-Spanish synonym for community, idiot commentators insist that la raza, as used by Mexicans, alludes to a Mexican sense of racial superiority akin to Nazism and white supremacy. No group gets the brunt of criticism more than the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), one of the largest civil rights organizations in the United States, and one in the news recently because both John McCain and Barack Obama addressed its members during a recent national convention. Professional pendejos such as Michelle Malkin hissed a fit, calling the NCLR seditious and accusing the two presidential candidates of legitimizing hate by visiting the group. All this over two Spanish words.

Betcha they've never read the primary source from which la raza originated — José Vasconcelos' 1925 booklet, La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race). Vasconcelos — Mexico's first secretary of public education — wrote his piece as a reaction to the race thinking of the time, one dominated by adherents of Darwinism and Herbert Spencer's "survival of the fittest" maxim that placed the gabacho above all people. The Mexican intellectual also subscribed to racial stratifications, but whereas others saw unavoidable strife, Vasconcelos imagined something greater. La Raza Cósmica is a classic work of the prophetic tradition in which Vasconcelos predicts humanity's evolution into a fifth race, one free of each racial group's negative attributes, allowing a harmonious existence — the cosmic race, la raza cósmica. Crucially, Vasconcelos never states that Mexicans will be that race; instead, in his work, Latin America's legacy of mestizaje posits "Ibero-Americans" as prime acolytes to spread the gospel of fusion — not through violence but with "the triumph of fecund love."

The raza cósmica theory is utopian and even goofy in execution, but it's ultimately an anti-racist dream. Vasconcelos' ideal is one not very removed from that American standby the melting pot.

(Time out: Watch this week's Asks a Mexican video.)

Needless to say, Vasconcelos' theory gained fans across Latin America, but it wasn't until the 1960s Chicano movement that the concept of la raza cósmica gained further followers. As with most things they took from Mexico (food, women, the language), Chicanos corrupted Vasconcelos' vision, interpreted la raza as referring exclusively to Mexicans and forgot the whole brotherhood bit.

"It is true that mestizaje is one of the central concepts of the Vasconcelos essay," states the introduction to Didier T. Jaén's excellent translation of La Raza Cósmica, "but, of course, it is also clear that the racial mixture Vasconcelos refers to is much wider, much more encompassing, than what can be understood by the mestizaje of the Mexican or Chicano." Like Vasconcelos, however, the Chicano definition of la raza was rooted in its turbulent time. But over the decades, the cósmica part of la raza has been largely dropped, along with the ethnocentrism, leaving behind a benign synonym for Mexicans.

People can disagree with the NCLR's policies, but to classify its members and supporters as the Tan Klan because of its name is like a prude getting offended by the name of the titmouse.

By the way, haters: Don't paint me as an NCLR apologist. I think the organization's president — Kansas City's own Janet Murguía — is stupid for trying to get right-wing pundits off the air, mostly because they're so easy to prove wrong. Besides, the only raza that truly matters is mine: the nerd race. Por mis Nerds todo; fuera de mis Nerds, nada.

Submit questions to mexican@pitch.com.

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