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Four— Women, Literature, and National Brotherhood
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Indigenismo , The Madre Indígena , and The Women of Amauta

One of the oldest and most durable myths of self-definition in Spanish America is that of the sexual appropriation of the indigenous woman by the European invader. It is a true narrative of origins, dating back to the tale of Cortés and the princess la Malinche (or, in North America, to Pocahontas and Captain John Smith). Endless repetitions and variants have mythified this figure, simultaneously victim and traitor, as the mother of the American mestizo peoples. At the same time, she has stood for all the indigenous peoples conquered (feminized) and co-opted (seduced) by the Spanish. Nowhere have such symbols been more active than in the Andean region.

In 1924 the Peruvian writer and francophile Ventura García Calderón published a short story, almost a vignette, titled "Amor indígena,"[8] which grotesquely reenacts the classic American drama of conquest as rape. Three Spanish (i.e., non-indigenous) Peruvians—a landowner, a businessman, and an anonymous but educated narrator—are traveling together on horseback in the Peruvian sierra. They stop for a midday meal in a town that is celebrating the feast of its patron saint. They spot a beautiful young Indian woman in the procession and playfully flip a coin to decide "whose she will be." The narrator wins the toss. Led by the feudal landlord Don Rosendo, the trio amuse themselves terrorizing the town at gunpoint and laughing at the desolation of the inhabitants as their prized possessions are destroyed. "Éramos ya los dueños de aquel poblado solitario, y la vida tenía el color dorado de las mañanas de otoño en tierra bárbara," exults the narrator [Now we were masters of that lonely village, and life had the golden color of autumn mornings in barbaric lands]. Deciding it is "a matter of duty" that they fulfill their intentions toward the young Indian woman, Don Rosendo with his horsewhip disperses the crowd of relatives around her and brings her by force to the narrator. The pair are left alone in the tambo (tavern). "Aquello fue salvaje," reports the narrator, "como en las historias de la Conquista" [It was savage, as in the times of the Conquest]:

Me encerré, despedí al chino aterrado, y la indiecita fue mía, sollozando palabras que yo no acertaba comprender. Estaba primorosa con su alucinado temor y su respeto servil al hombre blanco. Me alentaba por vez primera esa alegría de los abuelos españoles que derribaban a las mujeres in los caminos para solaz de una hora y se alejaban ufanos a caballo, sin remordimiento y sin amor. La linda niña me miraba sumisa como a su dueño.

[I shut myself in, dismissed the terrified mestizo, and the Indian girl was mine, sobbing words that I could not understand. She was exquisite in her hallucinated fear and her servile respect for the white man. For the first time I was animated by the joy of the Spanish forefathers who would knock over the


women on the road for the pleasure of an hour and ride off proudly, feeling neither love nor remorse. The lovely girl looked up at me submissively as if at her master.]

The group saddles up and leaves town, only to hear footsteps behind them. The narrator turns around to find "his little girl" ("mi chiquilla") following him, looking up "con tan desamparada súplica de esclava, que sentía un vuelco de orgullo en el corazón" [with such a helpless, slavish pleading, that I felt a burst of pride in my heart]. The narrator picks her up and places her on the back of his horse, concluding that he has found the best woman society will ever afford him:

¿ Quién iba a quererme así, pisando las huellas de mi caballo, en busca del Amado por los caminos, como en el excelso cantar de Salomón? ¿ Cuál otra me perseguiría también, desmelenada, olvidando a los suyos y entregándose para toda la vida? Resucitaban en mi sangre los abuelos magníficos, y obedecí a su atavismo.

[Who else would love me like that, following the hoofprints of my horse, searching the pathways for the Beloved, as in the holy song of Solomon? What other woman would follow me, disheveled, forgetting her family and giving herself for life? My lordly forefathers were reawakening in my blood, and I obeyed their atavism.]

As in Doña Bárbara , a stereotype of the rural, uneducated woman is presented as an erotic ideal for the urban, educated man. Again, one is justified in seeing such images in part as reactions to the feminist images of sexual equality to which these urban writers (Garía Calderón lived nearly all his life in Paris) were inevitably exposed.

García Calderón's contemporary version of the rape story is startling precisely because of the mechanical exactitude with which it simulates the ideology of conquest (right down to the guns and horses). It is as if nothing at all had happened in the nearly four hundred years between Pizarro and himself. Conscious but not critical of the drama's anachrony, the narrator sees himself as recuperating a lost self, and at the same time regards the contemporary colonial figure, Don Rosendo, with a parodic distance. It is this combination of conscious anachrony and a touch of parody that marks this brief text as the reactionary document that it is. Garía Calderón reaffirmed the image of the conquest precisely at the moment in which both were being intensely questioned in Peru. The "problema del indio" was coming to occupy the center of the political agenda, and a reworking of Peruvian national imaginings was in the making.

The status of the indigenous population in Peru fueled one of the great national dialogues of the 1920s and 1930s. Intensely exploited under semi-feudal conditions or withdrawn into marginal regions, the indigenous inhabitants had never been integrated into the imagined national fraternity—


despite the fact that they formed the great majority of the population, of the work force, and of the army. Indeed, it is usually argued that Peru's military defeat by Chile in the Guerra del Pacífico (1879–1884) first called attention to the need to make full-fledged citizens of the indigenes: the defeat was blamed on their lack of national identity and purpose. (One recalls Anderson's view of military sacrifice as the ultimate test of nationalist imaginings.)

Modernization in Peru produced great pressures on the semifeudal structure of the agricultural economy, based on exploitation of the indigenous labor force. Progressive urban middle sectors made it their goal to challenge the political hegemony of the landowning oligarchy, develop industrial and commercial potential, and further integrate and democratize the country. It was with these items at the top of the agenda that socialism took root in Peru in the 1920s, under the leadship of José Carlos Mariátegui. Again, literature and journalism were actively engaged in the ideological project of reformulating national self-understanding. Discussion of nationalism, the national future, and the "problema del indio" flourished on the pages of the magazine Amauta , founded by Mariátegui in 1926. Indigenismo became a full-fledged literary movement as urban-educated writers sought to engage imaginatively with the subaltern majority of which they were so woefully ignorant.

Writings about the Indian in this period display several kinds of ideological momentum. On one hand, there is a sincere effort to come to grips with the reality of indigenous life and incorporate it into national self-understanding. On the other hand, an exoticist tendency distances, objectifies, and dehumanizes the indigenous peoples in a decidedly nonfraternal way. At best they are seen as a national "problem" that new urban elites are called upon to solve. Yet in the symbolic realm a fraternal appropriation also occurs: the new intellectuals often identify with indigenous tradition, adopting a strong cult of authenticity toward Incaic culture and language. The very title of the magazine Amauta , for example, is a Quechua word that in Inca times referred, as the magazine tells us, to "un sabio que al ejercer función de maestro socializaba en cierto grado sus conocimientos y, formando así a los funcionarios que el imperio requería, se había convertido en pivote de la administración" (Amauta 1: 10) [a wise man who, in his capacity as teacher, socialized his knowledge to some extent and, as educator of the public servants required by the empire, had become the pivot of the administration]. And it is of course this iconic male figure who adorned the cover of the magazine when it first appeared (should one speak here of republican fatherhood?).

This elite intellectual in the service of the state readily sums up the Amauta group's aspirations for themselves. The "problema del indio" in their writings is a terrain on which the group works out its own self-identification as a national political force. It becomes a mirror for the self-understanding of a young, oppositional sector of the bourgeoisie committed to transforming a


national social structure and economy dominated by the landed oligarchy. Thus, at a time when nationalism itself was often questioned as retrogressive and provincial, the preoccupation with the Indian seems to operate as a kind of displaced nationalism. In identifying with the interests of the Indian, the new intellectuals identified themselves as authentic Peruvians, while distinguishing themselves from other sectors of Peruvian society and of their own class.

As an iconic figure, the amauta radically displaced the traditional icon of the indigenous woman violated by the Spanish conqueror. This displacement is often vividly dramatized in the indigenista poetry and fiction of the period (for which Amauta was also an important mouthpiece). One particularly memorable example is found in a story titled "El campeón de la muerte" by Enrique López Albújar. López Albújar was one of the early progressive indigenista writers, and this story was published in 1920 in a collection titled Cuentos andinos , which according to one critic "convulsed the literary scene" when it appeared.[9] As this story opens, an indigenous father is trying to locate his only daughter, who has been carried off by a renegade indio malvado . As he chews his coca, seeking a vision of her whereabouts, he hears a voice behind him. In the dark there appears the hand of the renegade, holding a bloody sack whose contents are dumped out on the ground. It is the dismembered corpse of the violated daughter, who has not appeared alive in the story. This almost allegorical scene of horror inaugurates a long tale of revenge in which the grieved father hires a mestizo professional gunman to join him in hunting down and methodically killing the rapist-murderer one bullet at a time.

Several key transformations occur here. First, the point of origin is an indigenous father, not a mother. Second, the rape is transferred from a gun-toting European conqueror to a knife-wielding (i.e., premodern) Indian. Third, the symbol of the raped woman is literally disposed of, in the most aggressive and misogynist fashion. It is substituted by a fraternal pair (the father and the hired gunman) who suggest a new masculinized and militarized symbolic space. This new fraternal pair is explicitly modern: they bear guns; their relation is horizontal; it is mediated by professionalism and cash. More important, they represent an alliance of mestizo and indigenous individuals, long-standing enemies in Andean society. López Albújar is credited as being one of the first Andean writers to create complex indigenous characters, literary candidates for full membership in the imagined national fraternity. At the same time, his narratives inaugurate an intensely masculinized universe in which images of female power and agency are virtually absent.

Given the masculinist thrust of nationalist and indigenist imaginings of the period, it is hardly surprising that women writers and intellectuals in this period seem not to join in them. For example, the early women collaborators


in the Revista Amauta , notably Dora Meyer de Zulen, Blanca Luz Brum, Magda Portal, and María Wiesse, tended to write on contemporary politics, art, and everyday life. Their lack of engagement with the "problema del indio" contrasts, however, with the activism of the previous century, when race was very much a women's issue. Antislavery movements were heavily female, for example, while in the literary sphere, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda's Sab (Cuba, 1841), Clorinda Matto de Turner's Aves sin nido (Peru, 1889) and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (United States, 1852) attest the engagement of women intellectuals with issues of racial oppression. In Peru, the torch apparently passed into the hands of men, and into mainstream politics. Indeed, this shift is explicitly ritualized in the opening issue of the Revista Amauta . The issue includes an article by Dora Meyer de Zulen, cofounder of the Asociación Pro-Indígena, one of the first public lobbies for indigenous rights. At the request of Mariátegui, she wrote the history of the organization, including its demise in 1915. Her article has the effect of an act of closure on the older movement and an acknowledgment that the initiative now lies elsewhere.

Gender equality has an important place in Meyer de Zulen's view of both Incaic society and her organization. Speaking of the superior civilization of the Incas, she notes that while most peoples furnish themselves with myths of a founding father, the enlightened Incas have a founding couple, Manco Capacc and Mama Occllo. She goes on to draw a parallel with herself and her spouse as the founding couple of the Asociación Pro-Indígena. One wonders whether she was trying to caution the new indigenistas against their own androcentrism.

When the women writers of Amauta did engage with the issues of identity, authenticity, and the indigenous majority in Peru, their work often contested conventional indigenista paradigms and located national problematics along lines other than race. One striking example is a text by short-story writer María Wiesse that appeared in issue 11 of Amauta magazine. The story, titled "El forastero" ("The Outsider"), opens on the figure of an aged indigenous woman receiving with joy the news that that young white aristocrat whom she cared for from birth is returning to the hacienda after a ten-year absence in Europe. The woman, so the genre might lead one to suspect, will represent a pole of cultural authenticity through which the Europeanized surrogate son might recover his true Peruvian identity. The story takes quite another turn, however. The maternal icon is invoked, only to be quickly moved offstage, and the problem of national identity is articulated in quite another set of terms. Conflict breaks out between the European-educated son, who indeed expected to return home to the "authentic" hacienda of his youth, and his "authentic" Peruvian brothers, whose way of life has been transformed by imported European goods and practices. The nostalgic returnee is heartbroken at the presence in the paternal home of English furniture and English


food, the change to single-crop agriculture, and the abandonment of paternalism in favor of intensified, rationalized exploitation of indigenous labor. The brothers have no patience with the returnee's longing for old, uncomfortable, and inefficient ways. The story ends on a bizarre but very real contradiction: the traveled, cosmopolitan brother aligns with colonial traditionalism and questions modernization, while the narrow provincials are the ardent partisans of the foreign and the modern.

Wiesse's story broaches a set of contradictions the indigenista discourse begs: what exactly can national identity be if the "authentic" values and practices of the dominant class are imported from outside? Is attachment to nonindustrial lifeways simply alienated nostalgia of the kind Europeans thrive on, or are things of real value being lost? Wiesse adroitly moves in on these questions from within conventional indigenista thematics, embodied in the figure of the Indian surrogate mother. This figure is invoked almost as a gesture, only to be declared anachronistic and irrelevant. Wiesse locates the problem of authenticity and national identity not in the indigenous majority but squarely within the nonindigenous ruling classes, within the national brotherhood long divided regarding issues of modernization and identity.

A similar contestation of indigenista discourse is made by the socialist writer and activist Magda Portal in the first issue of Amauta , where she published an avant-garde prose poem titled "Círculos violeta." Taken from a collection with the chilling title El derecho de matar [the right to kill], the poem follows the thoughts of an impoverished, infirm young woman bearing an unwanted pregnancy. Even today (or especially today), the poem sounds radically explicit: "& iquest; Para qué, pues, el hijo? ¿ La prolongación de las lágrimas mudas del abandono, del extravío? ¡ La prolongación de las miserias der mundo!" [Why, then, the child? To carry on the mute tears of abandonment, of wandering? To carry on the miseries of the world!]. In this mood of despair, the woman gives birth to a girl. Carrying the newborn child through the streets, she passes by the orphanage but rejects it as an "incubador de esclavos y de asesinos" [incubator of slaves and murderers]. She walks on till she reaches the river:

Después envolvió a la niña en su amplio abrigo, y sencillamente la arrojó.
El rio se abrió en un punto para dejar pasar a la huésped—y se volvió a cerrar.
Sólo un instante se quebraron las estrellas en sus ondas revueltas.
La MADRE tomó el regreso a su posada—bañada de indiferencia,—
Se insinuaba la aurora—como en los ojos de la niña.
Todos los pájaros lloraban.

[Then she wrapped up the child in her roomy overcoat, and simply threw her in.
The river opened itself in a spot for the guest to enter—then closed again.
Only for an instant did the stars break their rolling waves.
The MOTHER headed back to her lodgings—bathed in indifference,—
Dawn began to break—as in the eyes of the little girl.
All the birds wept.]


So ends the poem.

The scene of infanticide by drowning in a river is a commonplace of indigenista narrative and its antecedents, a scene often used to suggest either pathos or a brutal indifference to life. Portal appropriates and radically reworks this trope in her poem. Most noticeably, though the infanticide would suggest to any Peruvian reader an indigenous protagonist, the woman in Portal's poem is never identified by race. The issue of infanticide is posed in terms of gender and economics rather than ethnicity. Moreover, the setting in the poem is manifestly modern and urban rather than preindustrial and rural—the woman is even identified as suffering tuberculosis and neurasthenia, the two great urban diseases of the time. Thus the equation of infanticide with primitivism is rejected. The colonial figure of the violated indigenous woman is merged with that of the deracinated and impoverished urban worker. Among other things, the result implies a brutal indictment of the national iconography and of republican motherhood: here is a mother who has produced a new citizen nobody wants, not even herself, a citizen for whom the protection of the state consists only in the anomie of an orphanage and domestic servitude. Unlike many indigenista portrayals, Portal's poem contains complex emotional dynamics. On one hand, the woman is portrayed as "indiferente" to the death of her baby rather than brokenhearted; the river welcomes the child as a guest and not a victim. At the same time, the event is billed as tragic—the birds weep like a chorus—and as the result of social injustice.

In an uncanny but probably coincidental way, Portal's ending echoes and revises another mother/infant death scene from a half century earlier. In Zorrilla de San Martin's long narrative poem Tabaré (Uruguay, 1888, though the author's definitive edition appeared only in 1923), Tabaré's mother, a Spanish captive of the Charrúa Indians, dies weeping over her mestizo baby:

La madre le estrechó, dejó en su frente
Una lágrima inmensa, en ella un beso,
Y se acostó a morir. Lloró la selva,
Y, al entreabrirse, sonreía el cielo.[10]

[The mother held it, left on its forehead
An immense tear, and on that a kiss,
Then she lay down to die. The jungle wept,
And peeking through, the sky smiled.]

Here, the raped woman is a Spaniard, and as Bonnie Fredrick has pointed out,[11] having been contaminated by the Indians, she must die, in a paradigmatic and culturally threatening reversal of conquest. Again, Portal's protagonist makes no such sacrifice, nor will her offspring live, as Tabaré does, to become a hero who dies in the name of criollo hegemony.

Portal's poem takes the scene of infanticide out of the indigenist-nationalist-criollo context and relocates it in the context of patriarchy, class


struggle, and the modern state. The symbolics of indigenismo and republican motherhood are invoked, only to be substituted by the politics of gender and reproduction and the concrete figure of the female citizen. A rather similar substitution occurs in the final text to be examined here, Gabriela Mistral's Poema de Chile .

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