Comparative Orientalisms in the Americas: Race Patriots and Indigeneity in 20th-Century Mexico and El Salvador

Friday, January 6, 2017: 8:50 AM
Room 401 (Colorado Convention Center)
Jason Oliver Chang, University of Connecticut at Storrs
In the early twentieth century, nationalist revolutions swept across Latin America. In the tumult of these violent reformulations of Latin American national states Chinese immigrants and their descendants became a vilified presence. This paper compares the formation and evolution of anti-Chinese Orientalism in Mexico and El Salvador in the first half of the twentieth century. The comparative methodology employed here relates the Mexican and Salvadoran political contexts of anti-Chinese discourses and both nations’ cultural logics of race. Both Mexico and El Salvador broke into violent nationalist revolutions at the beginning of the twentieth century and were transformed by the new governments that emerged from those protracted wars. Each nation persecuted its Chinese population with violence and an array of discriminating legislation. This comparison of similar patterns of discrimination reveals a deeper analytical problem of Mexican and Salvadoran racial rule and their respective indigenous populations. To answer this problem the paper compares the development of Mexican and El Salvadoran mestizo nationalism discourse, indigenous resistance to revolutionary nationalism, and the path of each nation’s anti-Chinese campaigns. These factors help to explain the role of anti-Chinese politics in the popularization of racialized nationalism in Mexico and El Salvador. These insights add to ongoing conversations about race and national states in Latin America by illustrating the ways that popular consent by an indigenous peasantry to rule by revolutionary governments was facilitated through anti-Chinese campaigns and the national idioms of belonging they engendered.