Understanding "La Raza"
By Al Giordano
Only someone in the most paranoid mindset - former US Rep. and 2007 Republican presidential also-ran Tom Credo is Exhibit A - would jump to the conclusion that the term "La Raza" as it is widely used across the hemisphere is somehow "racist."
The opposite is, in fact, the case.
In the CNN clip above (hat tip to Rikyrah at Jack & Jill Politics), Tancredo claims "if you belong to an organization called La Raza... which is from my point of view is just nothing more than a... Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." That was Tancredo's response to the anchor's question of whether Judge Sonia Sotomayor "is a racist."
Tancredo's reference was to the National Council of La Raza, the largest national immigrant-rights organization. And the whacky claims he made about the NCLR's logo were demonstrably false. Here, see for yourself:
The reasoning (if you can call it that) behind such a charge relies on an incomplete translation of the words "la raza," which in one set of contexts means "the race." But one need only venture as close by as Wikipedia to understand the cultural and topical use of the term as it applies in this hemisphere. It comes from a best-selling book published 84 years ago by an esteemed Mexican educator:
Published in 1925, La Raza Cósmica (The Cosmic Race) is an essay written by late Mexican philosopher, secretary of education, and 1929 presidential candidate, José Vasconcelos to express the ideology of a future "fifth race" in the Americas; an agglomeration of all the races in the world with no respect to color or number to erect a new civilization...
The phrase, "La raza cósmica", in English "the cosmic race", embodies the notion that traditional, exclusive concepts of race and nationality can be transcended in the name of humanity's common destiny. It originally referred to a movement by Mexican intellectuals during the 1920s who pointed out that Latin Americans have the blood of all the world's races (White Europeans, Asian-descended Native-Americans and Black Africans), transcending the peoples of the "old world".
Vasconcelos also used the term when he coined the National Autonomous University of Mexico's motto: "Por mi raza hablará el espíritu".
It has come, often in its shortened version "La Raza", to refer to the mixed race people of Latin America, i.e., primarily mestizos, mulattos, and zambos or all three combined. Vasconcelos also used the expression, "la raza de bronce" ("the bronze race"), in this same sense.
This shouldn't require too many brain cells to decipher: At the very time when the now disgraced philosophy of an Aryan "pure race" was gaining traction in Europe and other parts of the world, Vasconcelos came forward to debunk it. The Cosmic Race was also written as a tool to be used in the national literacy campaign he headed. Vasconcelos is quite literally the man who taught millions of Mexicans how to read and write. His legacy is still felt today as the economically poor population of Mexico enjoys a 91.6 percent literacy rate (better than those in other highly populated developing world countries including China, Brazil, India, Egypt and Turkey).
The big point of the term "la raza" is to say that no race is superior to any other and to suggest that humankind can only achieve its full potential if it rejects the theories of racial purity and pedigree and instead combines the cultures and DNA of all its races, as has occurred more rapidly in Latin America than in other parts of the world. Vasconcelos, in reality, formulated the highest expression of anti-racism for his era and including up to the present.
Tancredo's single-issue anti-immigrant hysteria didn't succeed in firing up the electorate, not even the GOP base. He had such paltry support that he had to drop out of the contest on December 20, 2007 - before a single caucus or primary was held - and threw his support behind Mitt Romney.
Tancredo's recent Cable TV show tour blasting Judge Sotomayor as allegedly "racist" begs more scrutiny onto Romney, too. Eyebrows were raised when the billionaire former Massachusetts governor received Tancredo's support given that Tancredo had raised only $774,360 for his presidential campaign whereas Romney had raised more than $60 million for his own, at least $8.5 million that came from his own pockets. It is an open question as to how Tancredo - who did not seek reelection to Congress last year - now makes his living, and whether there was a quid pro quo from Romney in exchange for his support. The question is: Who is now paying nut-job Tom Tancredo's bills so that he can go on TV and make such inflammatory statements?