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Los hijos de Cuauhtémoc : Mexican national identity in primary school history textbooks Alcaraz Escárcega, Alberto


This paper analyses how the hegemonic Mexican national identity is constructed in Mexican primary school history textbooks. Specifically, the paper argues that history textbooks portray a narrativized history that traces a teleological development from the Aztec Empire to contemporary Mexico. In other words, history textbooks co-opt Indigenous histories and render them as Mexican vis á vis Indigenous. First, the paper establishes working definitions of “nation,” “state,” and “nationalism,” relying chiefly on Anderson’s (1983) conception of “nations” as “imagined communities” and Billig’s (1993) notion of “banal nationalism.” Putting these conceptions in dialogue begins to clarify not only what “nation,” “state,” and “nationalism” are in the Mexican context, but also some of the ways they are connected. The analysis centers on two aspects. First, it explores how two prominent national interrogation essays, José Vasconcelos’s La Raza Cósmica [The Cosmic Race] and Octavio Paz’s “Los Hijos de la Malinche” [The Sons of la Malinche], portray Mexican national identity. In Mexican literature, the national interrogation essay is a type of essay concerned with discerning what exactly the substance of Mexican-ness is. Second, using the two essays as a foundation, the paper analyzes the current history textbook used for instruction in the 4th grade of Mexican public primary schools. The analysis pays particular attention to how “Mestizaje ideology” (Sue 2013), race mixture as the basis of national unity, provides Mexico qua nation-state with a claim to appropriate Indigenous histories and cultures. Furthermore, the paper examines how the cartographic techniques of mapping and place-naming establish a direct continuity between Mesoamerican civilizations and the contemporary Mexican nation-state. The paper concludes that the national narrative put forth by the textbook emphasizes mestizaje ideology as an essential part of the Mexican national identity in a similar manner to Vasconcelos. That is, both have a romantic notion of mestizaje, which – on the one hand – glosses over colonial violence and – on the other – is used to appropriate Indigenous histories.

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