Mexican Anthropologization of Aesthetics in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: Landscape, Nature, and the Indigenous Female Body

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Rick A. Lopez, Amherst College
On the heels of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1921, the nationalist promoters of the India Bonita Contest touted their effort as the first attempt to celebrate a denigrated segment of the population that previously had been excluded from the national community. Unfolding parallel to a de facto all-white Miss Mexico contest, the India Bonita contest was part of a broader effort within postrevolutionary Mexico to shape an inclusive national identity by redefining aesthetic value, beginning with the female indigenous body. Similar beauty contests of the time, such as one that occurred simultaneously in France or others that emerged later in other countries emphasized regional types, but the India Bonita Contest, by contrast, sought to idealize a nationalist type. What emerged was a gendered aesthetic that treated the indigenous female as a blank slate upon which to inscribe nationalist historical and ethnological narratives. My essay juxtaposes this with the ways Mexican nationalists since before the revolution had constructed archaeological, mythological, and historical associations in order to claim the mountains, plains, rivers, and even specific plant species, on behalf of the Mexican nation (eg associating particular hills or flower species with Aztec myths and changing rivers names from Spanish to Nahuatl). By juxtaposing the nationalist construction of gendered anthropologized aesthetics and historically-charged associations for nature, on the one hand, and for the indigenous female body, on the other, I trace the changing ways Mexican elites tried to define a nationalist aesthetic. I suggest some of the implications of the continuities and differences across these two examples (that is, between nature and the female indigenous body).
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