Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas

O. Hugo Benavides

in Latin American Studies

ISBN: 9780199766581
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas

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  • Regional and Area Studies
  • History of the Americas



José María Arguedas (b. 1911–d. 1969) is by far the most important intellectual when it concerns notions of race and mestizaje in the Andes. He was born in Andayhuaylas, Peru, and was left at the care of his stepmother from an early age after his mother’s death during childbirth. This unfortunate event proved critical in Arguedas’s life since he was mainly limited to the servant quarters of the household; and as a result of being brought up by Indians/Native Americans, he thought of himself as an Indian as well. Therefore he grew up learning and speaking Quechua as his native tongue, and as he would repeatedly express in his fiction, anthropological work, and interviews, this Indian cosmology would be central to his understanding of himself, Peru, and the way he saw the world in general. This particular lived-in intimate conflict between an indigenous cosmology and a Western view superimposed as part of the colonial heritage would haunt his whole life, contributing to his final successful suicide attempt at fifty-eight and infuse his work with a unique manner of understanding the Andean region that had never been achieved or surpassed during his time. Arguedas embodied this racial, social, and cultural ambivalence in a unique manner that both impressed and intimidated many of his contemporaries. Unlike many other ostracized Andean intellectuals Arguedas never chose exile as a viable option, although he did travel abroad (including to the United States later in life) and visited Chile many times, which was the birthplace of his second wife (and later widow), Sybila Arredondo, as well as the place where he would undergo sporadic psychoanalytical treatment with his longtime therapist. However, his deep physical commitment to Peru, and his emotional obligation to a racial truth that most Andeanists were too scared to face make his writing incredibly raw testimonials of the harsh historical legacies of Indian communities being decimated, abused, and mistreated in a systematic manner. His work provides profound insight into the manner in which this racial exploitation was at the foundational core of the Western Andean nation-states and fed “deep rivers” (the title of one of his novels) of identification that refused to be whitewashed through the official erasure of an Indian identity.

Article.  9050 words. 

Subjects: Regional and Area Studies ; History of the Americas

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