Recognizing Heritage and Diversity on Dia de la Raza


Recognizing Heritage and Diversity on Dia de la Raza 

Tara A. Spears                                                                         

October 12 is still designated as a holiday but is rarely commemorated outside of schools any more. The current feeling among the intellectuals and general public is that the invading explorers beginning with Columbus should not be the focus of this special day but rather it needs to be a celebration of the native populations of Mexico who survived in spite of the Spanish genocide.  According to Mexican poet Homero Aridjis, “The Spanish were conquered in turn by those they conquered”.raza-2

It was in 1918 that the philosopher Antonio Caso took October 12th as an opportunity to praise the “Mexican mestizo race”, La Raza, the rich mixture of Spanish and indigenous cultures which characterizes Mexican people. He was perhaps the first to coin the term La Raza, which has now been adopted by Latinos from all across the continent. Ten years later, the Día de la Raza was declared an official national holiday by Congress, after only minor debate.

In 1941, Alfonso Reyes, one of Mexico’s most distinguished scholars and men of letters, said that “America was the invention of poets, the charade of geographers, the boasting of adventurers, the greed of companies and, in short, an inexplicable appetite and an urge to transcend limits”.  The anti-Columbus movement continued to gain supporters throughout the twentieth century.

Historian Edmundo O’Gorman, author of La invención de América, (The Invention of America, 1958), felt so passionately about the issue (honoring Columbus and the invasion of Europeons) that he resigned as Director of the Mexican Academy of History in 1987, because of his objections to concepts such as the “discovery of America”, “the encounter of two worlds” and “cultural fusion”. To him, the appropriate terms for the historical phenomenon were “taking over” and “domination”. The key to resolving the problem of the historical appearance of America, in his view, was to consider this event as the result of an invention of western thought, and not as a merely physical discovery, which occurred by chance: Columbus was trying to create a new travel route, not find new land. raza-3

In modern Mexico the controversy is far from over. However, it has produced some positive results. One of the positives is that keeping October 12 as Dia de la Raza has brought attention to many of the important issues of today, such as the plight of the indigenous populations of America. Mexico is involved in a broad range of efforts to improve the living conditions of its indigenous population. Mexican legislation to that effect is pending before Congress and there is a new culture of respect for them.            

In the words of President Zedillo: “Mexico’s cultural strength, which is recognized and admired the world over, is the result of the very rich cultural diversity of our states and regions. It is the government’s responsibility to make it a priority to recognize that diversity and its contribution to the country.”raza-4

Whether one believes that the chance event which took place five hundred twenty years ago was a blessing or a curse, October 12th is an excellent opportunity for all people to consider the ramifications that the discovery of the North American continent has had on all of our lives.

Today Mexico has evolved into a society that blends the influence of the European colonists with the indigenous cultures to form a rich cultural diversity that varies by region. Recognizing the importance of a multi-ethnic society should not only be on October 12 –Dia de la Raza- but throughout the year.

raza-5 raza-6