Arce, B. Christine. Mexico's Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Women. Albany: SUNY Press, 2017, pp. 331, ISBN: 978-1438463575. Reviewed by Kevin M. Anzzolin (email@example.com), Assistant Professor of Spanish, Department of Communication Studies, Foreign Languages, and Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin.
In 2000, Mexico's PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional)--political party which came to power in the wake of the 1910 Revolution--was toppled from the Presidency after roughly 70 years. With Vicente Fox's 2000 election, coming but six short years after the passage of NAFTA, the Mexican plebiscite essentially validated the nation-state's efforts to rollback the social welfare programs, land reforms, and political cooperativism that had been the hallmarks of PRI-led government during the twentieth century. Concomitant with the nation's newfound pursuit of neoliberal economic policies, Mexican politicians, academics, and everyday citizens began interrogating those organizing myths that had previously buttressed twentieth-century Mexico: most particularly, the concept that the country's population was comprised of what Mexican intellectual Jose Vasconcelos (1882-1959) famously called the 'cosmic race'--the phenotypic and supposedly utopian melding between North America's indigenous peoples and Spanish colonizers. Now, on the other side of the twentieth century, these master tropes of Mexican nationalism seem dated. Indeed, as historian Mauricio Tenorio astutely signals in 2017's Latin America: The Allure and Power of an Idea, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press) Mexico's dalliance with "mestizophilia" was oftentimes and unfortunately tantamount to a distinctly "anti-black" perspective (39).
As academics begin to pick apart these remnants of twentieth-century Mexican intellectual history, new identities--both in terms of gender and especially, 'race'--have garnered newfound scholarly attention. Particularly fruitful has been historical research into Mexico's so-called 'tercera raiz' or 'third race'--that is, its African presence. 2003 saw the publication of Herman L. Bennett's Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570-1640, tome that the scholar followed with 2009's Colonial Blackness: A History of Afro-Mexico. 2015, in turn, saw Marco Polo Hernandez-Cuevas publish The Afro-Mexican Ancestors and the Nation They Constructed. Also of note during the first decade of the 2000s was an ambitious exhibition entitled 'The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present.' The show--which included paintings, photographs, and historical texts documenting Mexico's largely untold African heritage--travelled extensively throughout the United States between 2006 and 2011. All these interventions have interrogated monolithic conceptions of mestizo identity that were propped up by the ruling political clique of Mexico's twentieth century.
It is in this context that scholar B. Cristine Arce has published Mexico's Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Women (2017), text that examines Africanity within twentieth-century Mexico's cultural production. Arce's study "brings to light the important place of those who have remained in the shadows of Mexican history: blacks and women" (166). The Black and mulatto women--whether real or literary--that Arce examines are understood by the scholar as "nobodies." As Arce argues, such an appellation is apt due to "the violence inflicted onto their real bodies" (9). "With no names and no real voices," Arce claims, these women are "paradoxically folklorized while summarily eliminated" (9). Activating such diverse thinkers as Hayden White, Diana Taylor, Michel de Certeau, and Jacques Ranciere, Arce examines...