Andean utopia(s) and indigenismo de vanguardia

Martín Chambi. Foto de Martín Chambi

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 Martin Chambi 5

Andrea Cangialosi
MiDIC-GSP 2013
Culture & Identity in
Latin America (Mod. II)
Prof. Félix Reátegui
GSP-FLACSO Argentina


«Some very intense, different words open vast spaces where the real steals from the fictional»
João Guimarães Rosa, “Entremeio: Com o vaqueiro Mariano” 

Indigenismo refers broadly to a cultural, social, and political movement for indios – term used to designate all indigenous people – via a constellation of extremely varied practices (including painting, photography, literature, and literary and cultural criticism, as well as diverse government policies). Although arguably this intellectual trend dates back to the beginnings of the Spanish Conquest with Bartolomé de las Casas's defence of Indigenous rights, it reached its high point at the beginning of the twentieth century, decade of cultural ferment in almost every Latin-American country (especially in the Andes and Mexico, home to highly developed pre-Columbian civilizations) (Coronado: 5-6). Indigenistas were commonly white urban dwellers (educated outsiders, including archaeologists, anthropologists, theologians, novelists, artists, philosophers, politicians, political activists) who often celebrated from their elite, privileged perspectives, these ancient histories while lamenting the deplorable and impoverished situation of their contemporary descendants. Indigenismo endeavoured to vindicate the area's indigenous peoples after centuries of abuse and marginalization (Coronado: 6,8). «As a result, the indio, represented by others' projections, became the critical component of the new configurations of Andean society and culture that these practices imagined» (Coronado: 1). Central to the indigenismo's discourses is the battled own proper way to become modern. Thus, in order to approach the dilemmas of representativity, it's urged defining the concepts that orchestrate the debate: modernity and modernisation.

Modernisation is understood by Coronado under two almost inextricable lights. As initial actions, marking the influx of foreign economic entities and systems, arrival and eventual eruption of foreign cultural concepts and artistic production, and “technologification” (life changing innovations brought by); as well as reactions, «a wide array of material and conceptual changes in Latin America, especially … after the independence period of the 1820s... includ[ing] the processes of societal democratization and the subsequent emergence of new subjects … and other conceptual units of communal and individual identity... trigger[ing] subaltern subjects to lay claims on the societies that ... marginalized them» (Coronado: 2). 

For modernity, instead, we look at encounters, contacts, and absorptions or reformulations constituting a «fluid response to the dizzying varieties of modernization that spread across Latin America», as well as «discursive formations belonging to the intellectuals who took it upon themselves to represent indigenous peoples in their own works» (Coronado: 3); a production of modernity envisaged «unavoidable» by Quijano in his “Modernity and Identity”.

During the 1920s Peru witnesses in some way a convergence of indigenism and vanguardism: indigenismo vanguardista” – following Mariátegui's use of the same term (Coronado: 77). With the heritage left by the anarchist Manuel González Prada (Ríos: 22) – often considered to be the founder of indigenismo in Peru – in the isolated, rural area of Puno, characterised by the indio majority, there was the Orkopata vanguardist group, led by the same brothers that founded one of the two pivotal indigenista cultural magazines: the “revista cultural Boletín Titikaka”, published between 1926 and 1930 by Alejandro and Arturo Peralta – known as Gamaliel Churata. Vich frames the Boletín as part of a more ample context of middle-class emergence and appearance of a new mestizo intellectual, gaining ground in the struggle for the “symbolic interpretation of the nation” against traditional, criollo and of oligarchic “cuño” (stamp). Mariátegui – who was leading the other magazine, “revista Amauta”, in the same years – was among those opposing this kind of intellectual, seen in Riva-Agüero for example (Rama: 129-130, Ríos: 23). The goal was ensuring a  future for Andean people and culture through an opening to modernity and the capability of creative re-elaboration (Vich: 31). Insisting on the continental dimension of the national renovation project, the vanguardist militancia was a resource deployed in order to exalt autochtonous traditions, which was unique and peculiar of the Americas (Vich: 56).

Coronado argues that indigenista literature is not actually about Indigenous peoples, but instead about competing notions of how to think about modernity. Coronado draws on José Antonio Lucero's work to highlight a significant shift from outsiders representing Indigenous peoples to subalterns representing themselves: «[...] a representation of the indigenous subjects themselves, not as objects to be pitied or symbols to be overcome but rather as historical subjects that resist and demand a space in modernity» (Coronado: 161). As Vich also shows, it was a soundly original model of transculturation reflecting the aesthetic strategies of a vanguardist project, filtered through a specific local context: a literary blueprint for a more inclusive, if utopian, social and political model. The “Andean utopia”, following the formulation of Flores Galindo, was about an inversion in the world cultural domination, where Andean escapes the domination of Western culture and finally takes its place, purporting a vision of Peru contrary to the one backed by the “república aristocrática” – conservative and hispanizantes intellectuals. For that it was required a change in the relationship between capital (established “lettered city”) and provinces (Ríos: 23, Vich: 76).

Carlos Alonso has observed with reference to transculturation, a concept that Fernando Ortiz originated – further developed by Angel Rama in “Transculturación narrativa en America Latina” – that the logic behind it seems also to operate at the expense of the weaker culture, the one being absorbed (Ríos: 30-31). In the advocates of transculturation, Alonso perceives a wilfulness to assign agency to the weaker partner as it were a «dialectical process between its two constituent parts»; in others words, «an unwillingness to engage in the process that would lead to a recognizable alternative modernity. [Coronado] believe[s] this refusal animates Oquendo de Amat's poetic work. In 5 metros de poemas, the model of a voracious hybridization as a concretization of modernity creates an anxiety in the poetic discourse that destabilizes any reading of these poems as an expression of an alternative modernity» (Coronado: 79). A failed attempt to negotiate the «inevitable introduction of modernization» and countering it with a “proper modernity”, «viewed as inherent to the region rather than as an artificial, foreign interruption» (Coronado: 77).

Coronado also aptly juxtaposes the "migrant discourse" where «heterogeneity is animated by the radical incommensurability of indigenous cultures with their Western, and especially Hispanic, counterparts» (Coronado: 87). Though, for example, Melgars's indigenismo – with the use of yaraví form – is diametrically opposed to Oquendo's work, «because its distinguishing feature is a sort of infidelity with respect to the discourse and to the phenomena of modernity.» (Coronado: 88)

In the core of Oquendo's poetic journey – wrapped by the initial poems of “emotional abandonment” (“aldeanita”, “cuarto des espejos”) and final ones (“madre”, “campo”) of disillusioned and traumatic retreat –, central in the poemario shine “réclam” and “new york”. In the former, a filmic metaphor bears an ottimistic coordination attempt between nature and metropolis; and consummeristic contract, that would allow newcomers claims and status, and even more specifically, to writers, a self-sustainability; furthermore, the dreamed production stemming from periphery, following Berkeley proviso: "To be (Peru) = To be internationally" (Coronado: 89-90). In the latter, instead, the harmony is dispelled and the treaty invalidated: reference the conflictual cultural encounter. Cultures have only to purify themselves from each other, as autonomous and mutually exclusive. Oquendo never attempts neither premises redefinitions nor an autochtonous over imported form use – although attacking (his own) avant-gardist practise obsolescence and naivete when hinting at Marinetti's Futurism manifesto –, leaving the dominating one persistently in place. (Coronado: 93-97) «Oquendo de Amat does not deploy Andean culture in an attempt to shape the contours of modernization in Peru»: a malleable object, rather than interpreter (controller subject of modernisation), «an imagined modernity that could effectively and conceptually negotiate the encounter between traditional and modern worlds» (Coronado: 78). Therefore, Coronado argues that 5 metros weakness could be found in the lack of ideological/mythical coating (Coronado: 99-100). «Amat's representatives ... can neither contest the Andes' absorption and subsequent loss of alterity nor substantially trace a path through the twentieth century that might identify autochthony as a positive, dynamic value» (Coronado: 100).

The utopia he then clang to differed in shape: Oquendo moved to Bolivia as a Marxist activist and political agitator, spending his last 9 years allegedly investing his words orally, or by social criticism in Bolivian newspapers, ending up captive and tortured in La Paz. (Coronado: 100-101). There's still much to understand: «moú Abel tel ven Abel en el té» (from “poema al lado del sueño”).


♦ Coronado, Jorge (2009). “The Andes Imagined. Indigenismo, Society and Modernity” 

Introduction: “Indigenismo, modernity, indigenismos, modernities” 

Chap. 3: “(Un)Happy Endings: Film, Modernity, and Tradition in Carlos Oquendo de Amat”

♦ Rama, Ángel (1982). “Literature and Culture”. In: Ana del Sarto, Alicia Ríos and Abril Trigo (editors) The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader. Durham, Duke University Press. 
♦ Ríos, Alicia (2004). “Traditions and Fractures in Latin American Cultural Studies”. Introduction to Section I: Forerunners. In: Ana del Sarto, Alicia Ríos and Abril Trigo (editors) The Latin American Cultural Studies Reader. Durham, Duke University Press. 

♦ Vich, Cynthia (2000). “Indigenismo de Vanguardia en el Perú: un estudio sobre el Boletín Titikaka”. Chap. 2: “Hacia un nuevo discurso intelectual”.


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