Natasha VarnerMar 22, 2021
La Raza Cosmética
Beauty, Identity, and Settler Colonialism in Postrevolutionary Mexico
University of Arizona Press 2020
A close friend and muse of many of postrevolutionary Mexico's greatest artists, Luz Jiménez's likeness appears across Mexico City in the form of painting, photography, and sculpture. Jiménez's ubiquity has earned her the titles of "the most painted woman in all of Mexico" and "the archetype of Indigenous Mexican woman." And yet the details of her complex life as an Indigenous woman at mid century have long remained shrouded by artistic depictions of her face and body. Jiménez's experience of hypervisibility and simultaneous erasure in postrevolutionary Mexico is no anomaly; during the early to mid-twentieth century, Indigenous women were idealized and objectified as relics of Mexico's past as cultural elites sought to manufacture a distinctly mestizo future. The experiences of modern Indigenous women constitute the focus of Natasha Varner's new book, La Raza Cosmética: Beauty, Identity, and Settler Colonialism in Postrevolutionary Mexico (University of Arizona Press, 2020), a vivid recovery of the intersections of settler colonialism, gender, visual culture, and modernity.
Varner employs methods from the fields of Native American and Indigenous Studies and settler colonial studies in an innovative new study of postrevolutionary Mexican visual culture. Drawing upon a range of midcentury media - including newspapers, photography, film, postcards and tourism materials, and more - Varner weaves together narratives of visibility, erasure, survivance, dispossession, and identity that ultimately center upon on Indigenous women's experiences and livelihoods. Despite efforts to erase Indigenous women from Mexico's future, La Raza Cosmética impresses upon us a powerful reminder of Indigenous women's persistence in Mexico - at midcentury as well as in the present.
Varner has most recently expanded upon her work in an article published by The Abusable Past, titled "Unsettling Settler Belonging in the American Southwest." Using methods and logics found in La Raza Cosmética, Varner reflects upon her own family history and, in doing so, encourages readers (especially settlers based in the United States) of her book to critically examine their own positionalities.
Annabel LaBrecque is a PhD student in the Department of History at UC Berkeley. You can find her on Twitter @labrcq.