Franz D. Hensel-Riveros

Race Beyond Skin Color? Hemispheric Distinctions, Political Imagination, and Intellectual Practices of Difference in Americas’ Fin de Siècle

On Wednesday, 9 July 1912, Manuel Ugarte presented a conference at Columbia University titled the “Future of Latin America.” He went to New York as part of a pilgrimage he had undertaken almost one decade before, in 1901, when he “became convinced that Latin America was in danger of being absorbed and dominated by the United States.” After having addressed audiences in Barcelona, Paris, Madrid and almost every capital in Latin America, he went to Columbia to highlight the atmosphere of antagonism that seemed to characterize the relationship between “the Latin” and the “Anglo-Saxon” races of America.

In turn, for Fred Rippy, a University of Chicago professor and editor of Ugarte’s books in the United States, the Argentinean writer was the perfect symbol of Hispanic America’s “literary Yankeephobia.” For him, Ugarte symbolized a fear of aggression from the United States “as old as the Spanish-American nations themselves.” In this context, Rippy argued, it was not difficult to see Latin American intellectuals embracing the chorus of the “Latin-American irreconcilables, the refrain of Latin-American solidarity, Pan-Hispanism, Pan-Latinism, of European and even of Asiatic alliances.”

This paper reveals how, despite the different and even contradictory positions of Ugarte and Rippy, both authors embraced, paradoxically, the existence of a stark contrast between Latins and Anglosaxons. And both intellectuals framed this set of differences in terms of race. For them, the hemisphere was constituted of two sections divided, following Ugarte’s distinction, by “race, language, religion, and by customs” that reflected two distinct courses of European civilization. They also agreed on a similar claim regarding how foreign both parts of the continent were to each other. In short, they represent a larger debate that framed these hemispheric distinctions as racial markers, ultimately defining Latin and Anglo-Saxon as discrete and, eventually, competing races.

Beyond ideas of U.S. imposition or Latin America naïveté, I conclude that these intellectuals contributed to forge a grammar of the “two Americas” framed in racial terms, a continental distinction that would prove to have long-lasting consequences. Moreover, the exchange between these intellectuals sheds light on racial formations that escape nation-centered approaches, unfolding the possibilities of thinking race hemispherically.

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