In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latino Indigenismo in a Comparative Perspective

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Bibliographies
  • Cinema

Latino Studies Latino Indigenismo in a Comparative Perspective
Luis A. Marentes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0040


Indigenismo is identified mainly with a political and aesthetic movement blossoming particularly in Mexico and the Andes in the early 20th century. As a philosophy, Villoro 1996 (cited under Indigenismo in Mexico) and Tamayo Herrera 1980 (cited under Indigenismo in the Andes and Peru), among other works, see indigenismo as an effort by Europeans or their American-born descendants (criollos) to represent an indigenous “other.” Cornejo Polar 1982 (cited under General Overviews) identifies in literary indigenismo a heterogeneous cultural system, where subject, production, and audience correspond to different cultural realms. Mazzotti 1998 (cited under Colonial Indigenismo) identifies two broad trends continuing from early conquerors and missionaries to 20th-century indigenistas: ethnography (defining and portraying the “Indian”) and advocacy (representing them in a judicial sense). Even early indigenous or mestizo (mixed origin) narratives, often considered privileged and authentic voices, are heterogeneous and complex products by lettered elites, mediators between different traditions and sign systems.Marzal 1993 (cited under Reference Works and Bibliographies) collects “anthropological” indigenista writing, beginning with narratives of early contacts. In colonial times, criollo and mestizo elites collected indigenous knowledge, extolling American accomplishments. Ironically, in independent Mexico, research into the indigenous past grew and artists represented past heroes and achievements as sources for national pride, but modernizing Liberal and Positivist projects endeavored to eradicate living indigenous cultures. This contradiction continued into the 20th century, when the post-revolutionary regime legislated indigenismo into state policy. The Andean region had a different history. Despite a long tradition of indigenista thought and mentality in the countryside, modern indigenismo was a challenge by urban modernizers to the landed elite. During the 1920s the confluence of a populist regime, the Mexican and Soviet Revolutions, and the legacy of 19th-Century Precursors to Andean Indigenismo helped Andean indigenismo blossom around Mariátegui’s journal, Amauta. Since its height the movement has lost much of its appeal, but political and cultural movements at the turn of the 21st century show new indigenous self-affirmation. Within the United States, indigenismo had a significant revival during the Chicana/o movement of the 1970s and in Chicana nationalist feminism of the 1980s. Now, well into the 21st century, recent independent film and video projects in Mexico and Bolivia indicate that, as in Alva Ixtlilxóchitl 1985 and Garcilaso de la Vega 1966 (both cited under Primary Sources), new technologies and global networks are opening up alternative avenues for indigenous self-representation and academic reflection.

General Overviews

Several sources focus on the self-identified indigenista movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Franco 1970 introduces its multiple artistic and political manifestations at a continental level. Franco 2000 and Lindstrom 1994 include authoritative and accessible introductions to literary indigenismo, contextualizing it and presenting multiple writers. Cornejo-Polar 1989 is a seminal text, which introduces the author’s notion of Latin American heterogeneous literatures with indigenismo as its highest manifestation. A very close version of this essay appears in the longer study, Cornejo Polar 1982. Along similar lines, Rama 2012 uses Fernando Ortiz’s notion of “transculturation” to look at indigenista narrative. Moraña 1998 brings together essays by influential scholars, assessing the state of indigenismo at the end of the millennium and exploring more self-critical and engaged recent trends. Pratt 2007 closes an anthology on indigenous studies, concisely raising important questions; the whole anthology is a useful contextual reference.

  • Cornejo Polar, Antonio. Sobre literatura y crítica latinoamericanas. Caracas: Ediciones de la Facultad de Humanidades y Educación, Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1982.

    Study by one of the most prominent scholars on indigenismo. The first few chapters of the second part pay particular attention to literary indigenismo.

  • Cornejo-Polar, Antonio. “Indigenist and Heterogeneous Literatures: Their Dual Sociocultural Status.” Translated by Susan Casal-Sánchez. Latin American Perspectives 16.2 (April 1989): 12–28.

    DOI: 10.1177/0094582X8901600202

    Translation of 1978 seminal text referred to by many other studies (“El indigenismo y las literaturas heterogéneas: Su doble estatuto socio-cultural”). Sets forth Cornejo Polar’s theory of heterogeneous literatures, where either referent, writer, or reader belongs to a different cultural realm. Proposes reading indigenista texts as complex embodiments of these contradictions.

  • Franco, Jean. The Modern Culture of Latin America: Society and the Artist. Rev. ed. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1970.

    Classic study. Contextualizes the focus on the Indian in different arts across the continent and in their specific national configurations. Chapters 3–5 are particularly pertinent. Reprinted as recently as 2008.

  • Franco, Jean. An Introduction to Spanish-American Literature. 3d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

    Contextualizes key literary texts at a continental level. Somewhat chronological, yet thematic. Gives short examples of different countries and authors. Chapter 8 is particularly relevant, but the Indian question also appears in other chapters. Useful to see how the thematic is retaken and contested in different contexts. Originally published in 1969.

  • Lindstrom, Naomi. Twentieth-Century Spanish American Fiction. Texas Pan American. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.

    Good general introduction, particularly chapters 2 and 4. Provides longer studies of particular works in their contexts. There are also other references toward the conclusion about new tendencies of neo-indigenismo.

  • Moraña, Mabel, ed. Indigenismo hacia el fin del milenio: Homenaje a Antonio Cornejo-Polar. Serie Biblioteca de América. Pittsburgh, PA: Instituto Internacional de Literatura Iberoamericana, University of Pittsburgh, 1998.

    Collection of essays by prominent scholars in the field. Looks at indigenismo from a variety of perspectives, not limited to the literary. Divided into three parts: “Colonialismo, culturas indígenas y discurso criollo,” “Indigenismo y nación,” and “Indigenismo y globalización: Debates actuales.”

  • Pratt, Mary Louise. “Afterword: Indigeneity Today.” In Indigenous Experience Today. Edited by Marisol de la Cadena and Orin Starn, 397–404. Wenner-Gren International Series. Oxford and New York: Berg, 2007.

    Afterword to an early-21st-century anthology treating indigeneity and indigenous movements worldwide. Proposes new theoretical paradigms and praxis as indigenous peoples organize and gain recognition. Only a couple of articles in the anthology focus on Latin America, but it is a useful reference.

  • Rama, Ángel. Writing across Cultures: Narrative Transculturation in Latin America. Edited and translated by David L. Frye. Latin America Otherwise. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

    Translation of influential Transculturación narrativa en América Latina. Proposes transculturation as a central characteristic of Latin American literature. Uses several canonical indigenista writings as examples.

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