Latin American Anthropology Seminar

Latin American Anthropology Seminar
10 December 2020, 5.00pm - 7.00pm

Methodological Challenges of Unmaking Invisible Religious-Ethno-Racial Groups in Mestizo Settings

Jessica A. Fernández de Lara Harada, University of Cambridge.

At least since the 1950s, and especially in the aftermath of the EZLN uprising in the 1990s, a growing body of research has developed theoretical and empirical insights into the operation of race and racism in Mexico. However, less attention has been paid to the methodological, practical, ethical and political challenges of conducting research in these often contentious fields. The discourse of ‘mestizaje’ claims that the mixing of Indigenous and Spanish-Americans is the foundational basis of the national and racial identity of Mexicans. Moving beyond this binary schema, recent work has examined the presence of Afro-Mexicans, and alongside this important shift, race and migration studies have introduced the study of new subjects situated outside the paradigm of mestizaje, including Middle Easterns and Asians. Asian migration to the Americas can be traced back to the 16th century, while Japanese migrants became more visible in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. Despite this, the experiences of Mexican Japanese remain mostly confined within individuals, families and their own communities. Drawing on twelve months of ethnographic research with five generations of Mexican Japanese, in this seminar, I share my reflections on attempting to reconstruct five pivotal events that connect their individual experiences with the historical configuration of mestizaje, the changing patterns of race relations, and the negotiation of group boundaries in Mexico. To do this, the seminar explores the dynamic relationship between ancestry, race and class to understand identity construction. It discusses the challenges of defining race, recruiting and selecting participants, and thinking about how racialization and ethnic and racial categorizations are made across time and locations. It also explores the epistemic reflexivity required to conduct research across and within difference to avoid reifying race, and the potentialities and limitations of being positioned as insider and outsider, and establishing collaborative practices. Finally, I present the model of family interactions, or intergenerational attachments, that I developed during my fieldwork. This model facilitates the weaving of individual and collective memories into an interpretative framework that enables participants to make sense, together, of events that we are compelled to forget and are only ever spoken of within families, if at all.


All are welcome. Attendance is free.


Booking is required in order to access the Zoom link for the event.


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Convenors: Jessica Sklair (Cambridge), Natalia Buitron (LSE), Ainhoa Montoya (ILAS, SAS).


Olga Jimenez
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