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August 27, 2007


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Patrick J. Mullins

'I saw the popular soft drink, Inca Cola, allthough I didn't drink any.'

I love Inca Cola, and drink it at a Bolivian restaurant in Queens and also a Peruvian restaurant in Queens and an Ecuadoria steak house on Corona Blvd. and a Mexican Chicken Mole place on 10th Avenue.

Bob Allen

your comments on non assimilation confirm what I suspected, good to see someone articulate this as most people I know (maybe it's my midwestern zip code) celebrate assimilation, in my view as a means to hang on to privileged "whiteness".


Thanks! Certainly more than I expected in reply. As part of my work, I have had to have almost a complete reorientation with respect to race issues. I had spent nearly a decade in the south when I moved to Toronto and am used to seeing black homeless folks in major U.S. cities. In nearly every major Canadian city, by way of contrast, aboriginal folks are far and away the most visible minority among the street population. I've never met up with any in native dress, and don't expect too. I did encounter Cree and perhaps a few Ojibway (Chippewa) in native dress at a National First Nations day celebration in Timmins on the first day of summer. More thought provoking was a learning/camping trip Jodie and the kids and I took with MCC on the Mattagami first nation reserve earlier this month.


In Japan, assimilation isn't even an option. With an immigrant population of 1.57%, foreigners can't help but stand out, if only physically. A little anecdote about two of my wife's co-workers there: both white men in their early 30s who had lived in Japan about a decade. One celebrated his inherent otherness, prefering not to fit in but rather act as an outside observer who threw Japanese culture back in the face of its people; he's one of the happiest people I know. The other so, so, so wanted to be Japanese - totally fluent, ate hamburgers with chopsticks, etc. And he was fuckin' miserable, because no matter how he tried, he would never be a member of the club.

Here in Germany, I was speaking with a Jamaican who's lived here for five years, following stints in the US, Britain, and France. He prefers Germany (the only place he's been physically attacked for being black, I'd add) because, in his words, "At least here, they come right up to your face and tell you they don't like you. And then you can talk about it honestly."

John Drabinski

This is so interesting, this question about "Incas." It points to something about Peru that is unlike so many other parts of "Latin" America (Mignolo makes that term hard; it's especially relevant for my thoughts on Peru).

Peru, in my experience (huge caveat, but I'm confident enough), doesn't have the cultural and political experience of mestizaje. You have blancos people and you have indios people. (Everyone forgets afro-Peru...yet another chapter for black people in the Americas...). Mixture is just not as constantly present as one expects in, say, Ecuador or Brasil or Colombia. Or the rest of Central America.

So, Peru has this familiar-alien thing built into its citizenry that structures its politics and culture. Mestizaje, for all its complicated stories in the Americas, changes the familiar-alien character of life from its walkabout to its administrative politics. Mixture means complicated identifications and solidarities, where ideology becomes increasingly central, rather than race. Without mestizaje as a defining feature, there is in Peru this strange lingering of colonialism that is maybe more than lingering. More like a confused colonialism - confused by the lack of a colonial power, yet all the same social relations in-country. This was Sendero's fantasy: an indios country for indios, reclaiming everything for the majority and the rooted (we'll set aside the kooky stuff and the fact that it was led by a white philosophy professor...Guzman wrote a dissertation on Kant. Ack!).

Peru's left has never been radical enough to overturn the colonial social structure. Without mestizaje, I think it is an overturning that has to be political. It can't be cultural

I thought of this when you mentioned the hats and skirts. In the Andes, that's all you see, really, with only a few exceptions. Why? Because there aren't really any white people. I know your experience, too, of being unsure how to perceive the hat-skirt in Lima. Going to the Andes reminded me of an old Paula Poundstone joke about going to England, when she says in self-mockery "I thought to myself, 'hey, over here they use those accents ALL THE TIME!'"

The Andes made me see how confused my own perception was, really, where I thought the "traditional dress" was a nostalgic phenomenon. But, it turns out, they use those accents all the time.

(I imagine we went to the same show. I think all visitors to PCUP get it!)

Was "Victor" Victor Vich? His Discurso del Calle is excellent, but especially his El canibal es el otro. I'm translating the latter for him, actually, which makes this a tiny world. (Welcoming all publisher offers...ha.)


Yes, same Victor. Really smart and interesting guy. I read an article of his in English on Toledo and tourism. Terrific piece.

Your analogy with the English accent is very funny. My very southern aunt thought that my kids, with their flat upstate NY accents were, 'puttin' on,' (since all kids really speak with Southern accents).

What is mestizaje? It's also in the title of a book that my host wrote and that has been reissued, Racismo y mestizaje?

John Drabinski

Having moved from Seattle (college) to Memphis (graduate school), I know that experience from your kids' end. The look like "you for real?"

Victor also has something in Social Text, I think, on street comedians. Interesting and insightful about the place of indios in Lima.

The mestizaje discussion is varied in Latin American studies circles (about which I know just a bit), but what I had in mind is the idea of mixture. Mestizaje is a racial category: mixed-race people, meaning indigenous and European (with black, that's always more complicated, sometimes just creole, sometimes also mestizaje).

But it is also a cultural term. How places become mixed indigenous, maybe Afro, and European cultures. Brasil is the super-mestizaje (er, not sure the Portuguese term...) culture, as well as people. Peru, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile - these places are very different, I think. The last three have histories of near total elimination of African and indigenous peoples, and so you get the talk in Uruguay and Argentina about the "Europe of the Americas." And Chile as global capitalist success story, which I read as just another language of "Europe of the Americas." There isn't much mestizaje in face or culture.

Peru has something like that, except without the history of near elimination of non-Europeans. So, you have the non-mestizaje with the indigenous presence everywhere. That's what I meant by the colonial relation without a colonizer.

If you get a chance to see Pamela Yates' State of Fear, you see that in her aesthetic. While sympathetic to the suffering of Andeans, it is always run through a white lawyer from the cultural elite. Justice, compelling social drama, and so on operates across (colonial relation), rather than between (mestizaje), two racial, cultural, and so economic groups. Unintentionally, this rehearses the sort of thing I sense about Peru.

That's probably a lot more than you wanted to hear! Sorry! But these sort of questions are my research and writing these days, so it is (overly) on the tip of my tongue.


Strange, I've been in the process of writing a paper on this very subject for the last week. Without getting too over the top and trying not to just cut and paste from my paper, here's a few thoughts.

The somewhat pedantic archaeologist's answer to whether you saw an Inca in Peru would have to be that no, you couldn't have, because 'Inca' was a term reserved only for the head of the Tawantinsuyu state and his immediate family, who were all killed five centuries ago when their violently acquired empire was itself violently conquered by the Spanish. The subjects of that state were not Inca, only the rulers, and therefore the descendants of those subjects are definitely not Inca. Now of course this is missing the point of the question in many ways. 'History' as what is believed about the past in the present is more important, and relevant, than anything that may or may not have 'actually' happened in periods of time chronologically before the present. Which is a convoluted way of saying that when people talk about the 'Inca' in reference to contemporary Peruvians, they are talking about a concept that is central to both Peruvian national identity and to the idea of what it means to be indigenous in Peru, not anything related to what archaeologists and historians study, or to what 'really' happened in the past.

In this sense, the equation of 'Inca' with 'Indigenous' has a long history that is related to the Indigenismo movement in Mexico but has also been called Incanismo in Peru. Briefly, Indigenismo/Incanismo were/are primarily middle and upper class movements that rarefied the "Noble Indian" as the inheritor of a lost, glorious pre-conquest nation, but that at the same time continued to oppress and despise the actual Indians living just down the road. A good example of this from Peru would be the founding of the Superior Academy of the Quechua Language (originally est in 1953 under a different name) for the study and revival of 'pure' Quechua - namely an archaic allegedly Inca form of Quechua, rather than the language spoken by approximately 3,200,000 living Peruvians. The romantic ideal of the noble and imperial Indian/Inca helped the mostly mestizo elite to ignore the real Indian who, for much of the twentieth century, was considered to be impairing the progress of the nation though his/her backwardness. The mythical Indian/Inca provided the needed historical component in the national origin myth, and served as a counterpoint to a European identity after independence from Spain. Further, a seriously over-romantisied and misguided interpretation of the historical Inca economy as a system of expropriation and redistribution led many Incanismo intellectuals to see in the Inca state a model of socialism. Therefore the mythical Inca Indian was held up as both the origin of the nation and its model for future progress. Unfortunately, all this actively ignored or bypassed the plight of real, living Indians, who while making up the majority of the population had no access to social or economic power.

Skip to the present, and Incanismo in various forms still exists everywhere you look in Peru. The imaginary Inca still serves as the foundational stone of national identity, leading to much interest by both Peruvians and foreigners in the archaeological heritage. Archaeologists working in a post-colonial frame of mind emphasis that the indigenous population should rightfully have a say in what happens to their archaeology, recognising them as 'descendants'. Museums (especially in Cusco) frequently contain exhibits on the continuity of customs and beliefs between the Inca past and the indigenous present, in the belief that doing so will inspire a respect for indigenous peoples and a pride in the past. Recently, however, both archaeologists and anthropologists have started to pay attention to the fact that the indigenous people they are working with *actively reject* any identification with the pre-conquest past. Working in Bolivia and Peru on archaeological excavations I was at first surprised, having heard so much about the fight in North America by Native Americans to stop the disturbance of their ancestors by archaeologists, that people were not at all upset by us digging up burials. When I asked around it became clear that, although there is concern over controlling archaeological work, it is not due to a fear of disturbing 'ancestors'. One part of this was that people consider themselves to be Christian, and those that we are digging up are 'pagan', therefore there is no connection. But there was little to no identification with the archaeological past of any sort - rather a rejection. People have their own histories that do not include the Inca. There is an active rejection of the identity of 'Inca' because of its association with the past, with 'primitiveness', and with 'Indianess'. People prefer to self-identify in other ways, for instance as workers, as "campesinos", as mestizo etc. At times this leads to a form of identity making that draws on alternative interpretations of archaeological and historical evidence to emphasis a community history that has no connection to the 'pagan primitives' who were conquered by the Spanish. While this shame at being Indian is beginning to change thanks to a pro-Indigenous movement finally led by Indigenous people themselves (see the Bolivian example of Evo Morales), its still the case that racism prevails and many people choose not to self identify with the past and with being 'Indian'.

While the best solution in the long term would be to undo the stigma attached to being Indian and to dismantle the negative and racist connotations of the term, in the meantime is it ethical to continue to insist on the connection between the Inca and contemporary peoples, if those people reject it? Its a difficult question, and one I don't have an answer to. But certainly I would reject an image of a contemporary population that is almost entirely based on the past, and that only adds to the idea of non-Western people being essentially timeless and outside of modernity.

In the meantime, however, its worth going back to the original pedantic answer. The Inca as they appear from the historical and archaeological record were the rulers of a state just as oppressive and brutal as any other state that has ever been. Behind the golden myth (and bearing in mind that all nations build golden era myths, not just Peru) is a society as socially complex as our own. Not only are real Indians ignored by the focus on mythical Inca/Indians, but so are the real Incas. The simplification of the past reduces its ability to speak to issues that are still of tragic importance, such as how power is created and maintained, and how a minority of people are able to repress a majority. While refusing to look at the complex and brutal nature of life in the Tawantinsuyu state, we have no means of discussing the tension and resistance to the Inca that existed before the Spanish conquest and helped it succeed, and as a result have no way of explaining the conquest other than through the natural superiority of the Europeans over the Americans. If all non-Europeans indigenous inhabitants of the Tawantinsuyu state are termed uniform 'Incas' and we ignore the cultural and social inequalities that existed in the past, we lose the opportunity to examine the historical rather than natural nature of inequality in human societies. If we do not pay attention to the policies of colonisation and cultural assimilation practised by the Tawantinsuyu state as it sought to homogenise and control all those it conquered, then we are continuing those very colonial practices in the present. Further, do contemporary indigenous people really want to be seen as the inheritors of this kind of regime? In short, Incanismo creates imaginary Indians out of imaginary Incas, thus avoiding any discussion of the reality of oppression and exploitation both in the past and in the present.

Ok, I have been very anti-social in posting this enormous comment and I think I should stop. And I haven't even got round to talking about dress, or pride, how the concept of indigeneity in South America is so very different from that in North America, or the significance of Inca Kola! But I should get back to finishing that paper instead...


Moll--this is fascinating. Than you so much for posting it. If you don't mind, I would love to read your paper when it's done.

Some college student

Well, about identifying with the Inca... It's not so easy for most of people. I'd have to write my personal experience before all. Perhaps this will explain why I think it's not necessarily a problem of identification, but of culture and education.

I'm Peruvian, I'm still young and I finished high school a few years ago. There, I experienced what it feels to be a 'cholo' (Because my skin is somewhat dark and my physical appearance is a little like a Peruvian Amerindian). I felt what I call "an ambiguity of feelings", because in school the history books and our teachers "lie to us", maybe without knowing or without bad intentions, or because history was written by the victorious side. They make us, Peruvians, feel ashamed about Incas (and ancient Peruvians with them), and at the same time, they try to make us feel proud and identified with them (But especially ashamed... maybe the media has an influence on this).

For example, my teachers always said that Incas were in the stone age, and that they were a silly and an undeveloped culture (Two teachers I had made fun of them sometimes). They also didn't explain things well, because I thought that Machu Picchu wasn't impressive at all, when our teacher just told ud to buy some figures and didn't explain us too well. Finally, they just mention pre-Incan cultures a couple of times, not as it should be, almost telling us "how primitive they were "(The books I had just described some fabric and cloth working, and not as marvelous as those I've seen in some books)... Well, in the end my vision of the Incas was in part like pity of them, in part shame, because they were ancient Peruvians, and we, obviously, descend from them (Not necessary the Inca, but they are always related to ancient Peruvian people).

Honestly, it was unbearable sometimes. I, a cholo, had ancestors that achieved nothing, that were defeated easily, that did things without care or of bad quality, and "my white classmates were always better"... in sports, in video games... Of course, I didn't want to be like an Inca at that time. Being less Inca-Indigenous meant being more white-intelligent, and I even wanted to change my color of skin and my appearance if I could. I even was ashamed when my grandmother talked like an andean woman. No girl would look at me (For some reason I always felt that they wanted to be only with blonde or green eyed guys, and I know people that felt the same way when they were young). Even worse, in the media there were (And still are) TV and radio programmes that made fun of the Incas and their physical characteristics, and making they talk like ignorants, stupid people or some really ancient cavemen (not like the human beings they were)... that's the vision there is about them. But Incas are, at the same time, especially identified with Peruvians who look like or talk like in the Andes.

Well, I remember that one day during the last years of high school, I opened a book about the Mochica, a pre-Incan culture... and I found something really, really unfamiliar: Bronze tools, figures that looked like dragons, beautiful clothing, perfect circled plates with human figures dancing, walking or in rites, ceramic of faces that looked fantastic or ceramic of buildings and animals too, amazing golden and silver art... and then I discovered that they weren't in the stone, but in the bronze age... that they made pyramids - huge ones, and hundreds of them -, that they had a precious and great culture, and that they were as good and complex as any other people around the world. Then I started to investigate more and more. Close to my city there's a pyramid, and they had always told me that it's just a useless ruin! My vision of the world changed the more I read... It was like having had lifted something really heavy on my back all my life, and suddenly it was starting to banish! Even until now the confidence in myself is much greater than then. And when I think about it, it's simply annoying how they "hide" this from us (For some unknown reason, perhaps ignorance too). I even read ancient peruvian legends, I didn't believe that we had legends so beautiful like the Amaru, Wayra Warmi, Yaku Runa, Kon, Ichik Ollqo, Aia Paec and so many others.

Of course, there had always been that common idealization of the Incas, an idealization that falls down in dissappointment when they tell us how "quickly and easily" the Spanish conquered us (The main reason for the jokes about Incas I think). A really difficult problem to be solved, for a young student's mind... and for many adults too. Those things that they teach us when we are children, remain deeply in our subconscious mind, which defines some of our feelings and thoughts about ourselves. We Peruvians always glorify foreigners, and despise ourselves.

I think the Incas isn't something to be ashamed of, but if there's something to be proud of, that would be the Andean Civilization. The Inca were one of the many cultures from the Andean Civilization, so ancient that their origins date back to 2800 BC, probably before that; and during the long time until the Inca conquests, they developed in technology, socially and in beliefs, and achieved amazing things, especially for a culture separated from the old world. Identifying with the Incas? That would be, in my opinion, like asking the Chinese to identify with the Zhou dinasty. The role of the Qin emperor was very similar to that of Pachacutik and his son Tupac Yupanqui. All these emperors were considered cruel, but they were ancient people, and ancient people and leaders acted like that most of the time. I don't think it's ok to justify violence because of the joining of cultures/civilizations it brings, but it's something they couldn't avoid. In the end, many people were supposed to be united (Tawantinsuyu = Land of four joint parts), and the same actions would have taken the Wankas, Chankas, Chinchas or Chimus if they had conquered all the Andes, which were (and still are) particular difficult to govern. The conquest, in fact, brought benefits (Like the avoiding of the constant wars the kingdoms had with each other), but some things got worse (Like the obligatory services and the punishments). There's some very useful information here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/inca/empire.html

In the end, as there wouldn't be a China if it wasn't for their emperors, as there wouldn't be a Peru if it had been some hundreds of separated kingdoms when the Spanish arrived, or western civilization wouldn't have flourished in the same way if the Romans hadn't made their conquest. In Peru happened something like that, maybe it's subconscious. Besides, modern humanistic thought is something recent... And hopefully, we won't go back to the ancient times again.

When the Spanish arrived, they received help from all the people who didn't like te Incas, and they fought in every conquest battle side by side with the Spanish. And then many things happened after that, that defined our history. If only they gave us a good education. I think education, culture and teaching the correct history is something very important to do before being able to identify with our ancestors: Inkas, Wankas, Collas, Chimus... Andeans. Specially in a country with many self-identifications that are't even well defined.

I know it was really long, but I felt I had to share it. I hope it's useful. My best wishes for all of you.


Some college student,
thank you so much for taking the time to reflect on what you had been taught, how it influenced your sense of identity, and how you started learning more about the history of Peru.

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