The Whitening Project in Venezuela, ca. 1810-1950
The Whitening Project in Venezuela, ca. 1810-1950 Alana Alvarez Dissertation under the direction of Professor Ruth Hill Simon Bolívar’s (1783-1830) still-popular and demagogical notion of the Venezuelan as a mixed-race individual whose supposedly unique racial fusion benefits the construction of the nation, has been a pivotal part of how the Venezuelan´s describe themselves racially through out the 19th and 20th centuries. I begin my investigation with Bolívar’s political speeches in which he depicts the prototypical Venezuelan as a mixture of European, Indian, and African bloodlines. By erasing ethnic, racial, and class distinctions that were still intact from the colonial period, Bolívar intentionally inaugurated a complex system of double discourses and codes to ultimately whiten the hidden colonial heritage of mestizaje. I then trace Bolívar’s supposedly pro-mestizaje discourse through post independence writers Juan Vicente González and Eduardo Blanco. Adopting a material-culture perspective I turn to manifestations of whitening-through-mestizaje in the Venezuelan magazine El cojo ilustrado (1892–1915). Subsequently, I analyze the counter mestizaje discourse of Venezuelan elites Rufino Blanco Fombona and José Rafael Pocaterra. Separating themselves from Bolívar’s use of double discourses, they display their positivist racial ideologies in their literary representations of the lower economic strata and colored majorities. Moving further into the twentieth century, my study exhaustively analyzes the continuing negative connotations of mestizaje and the presence of Bolívar’s double discourse in authors like Rómulo Gallegos (1884-1969) and Teresa de la Parra (1889-1936). I further dwell into Venezuela’s mixed racial reality and how it opposes any attempt of successful whitening. Gallego’s raza autóctona (“autochthonous race”) in Los inmigrantes (1922) and Doña Bárbara (1929) suggests a trope of an uncouth and physically inferior mixed race rooted in Venezuelan soil. Consequently, Gallegos forges a necessity and commodity of Whiteness. Finally, I examine Teresa de la Parra’s Ifigenia (1924) in order to debunk the critical portrait of this novelist as a protofeminist. Parra’s narrative renderings of Venezuelan women are racially, and economically, constrained. Using the scopic concept of the White Gaze, as the critical race theorist George Yancy frames it, my analysis illuminates whitening-through- mestizaje in its class and race dimensions in the 1920s and 1930s.