TOWARD A LIBERATORY LATINO/A CONSCIOUSNESS
For us, Latino/as, what is it that we must face, or confront, and thus transcend? What must be confronted is the image of ourselves as other to what presents itself as absolute or substantial, in other words, that which is fundamentally “American”—this includes but is not limited to whiteness, Protestantism, and “legality.” In the essay quoted at the beginning of the present chapter, Portilla gives us an untimely observation. Speaking of how media spectacle (particularly, American cinema of the time) represents its heroes, he writes:
The North American hero appears always already [siempre ya] justified; he is the center that determines the world that surrounds him, and in determining this sense, transforms himself as the lord of the world. The “others” cannot have an opinion about him that cannot be easily overcome by the most elemental moral judgment. . . . [This is because] the others are evil. (1952, 74)
This insight into American film’s portrayal of its heroes can be easily extended into the present-day North American ethos, where some persons are considered always already justified while others are “evil.” We do not have to look far: anti-immigrant sentiment works under this assumption. Nativists believe that the very fact that they are “American” justifies their existence, while immigrants are bent on destroying the sanctity of American life by either breaking the sacred laws of the land in the act of crossing borders or by polluting American culture with their own. The “illegal” immigrant is always already evil and villainous.
The same could be said about the philosophy profession. The metanarratives in which philosophers traffic allow no dissent, thus philosophers who speak from their own circumstance and speak from a unique historical and existential experience will not be heard—even when they proclaim that although not universal, their philosophy aspires to universality, that although their pronouncements are not timeless, these can apply to the existential predicaments of at least one absent other now or in the future. In the United States, the Latino philosopher is “other” to the always already justified image of what philosophers look and sound like. The problem (because it is a problem) is not so much that we understand this to be the case; the problem is that we accept it as such.
Internal to Mexican philosophy, particularly in the readings of the Mexican existentialists, is that this need not be the case. We need not accept our condition as it is. But before we challenge it, we must see it, understand it, and appropriate it. But to do this, we must see ourselves; we must see the different ways in which we have contributed to our own marginalization, for example, through acts of self-sabotage (something like relajo) or through acts of avoidance (something akin to desgana or waiting to be saved by others). Whatever we find in our auscultation, or autognosis, we must confront, and if necessary, transcend. What we find might not be a unique mode of being specific to us; it might be generic and familiar to universalizing perspectives, but the point is that it will come from us. In suggesting how Mexican philosophy can come about, Guillermo Hurtado writes that “we must rethink what we have read in light of our circumstance, that is, we must do philosophy as Mexicans” (2007, 43). The same can be said about a possible Latino philosophy; and it can certainly be said about the more general possibility of unraveling our being as Latinos in the United States. We must understand ourselves in light of our circumstance, but we must do this as Latinos—in other words, while preserving our historical, cultural, and existential difference.
What this shows is that the value of Mexican philosophy for Latino life does not lie in Uranga’s and Portilla’s analyses of insufficiency, desgana, or relajo but in the accomplishment of these analyses themselves. What these accomplishments reveal is a thinking that recovers the bases of Western philosophical ideology in the being of situated, concrete, historical persons. The analyses carried out by the Mexican existentialists, once encountered, motivate and instruct. Whether they failed or triumphed as motivating and instructional tools for Mexicans of the mid-twentieth century is not important for our purposes; it is the work itself that is. It gives us an opportunity to engage in a similar project, which Hurtado tells us was “committed, therapeutic, and liberating” (2006, xx). Like the hiperiones, we must likewise be activists for our cause, and find ourselves, warts and all, in the immense and troubled spectacle that is the United
States, a material ground that challenges our identities by marginalizing, assimilating, or refusing our difference.
I began this chapter by suggesting that Latinos are other to the idea of “America.” In several instances, for example, in the realm of higher education, this otherness can be harmful or, at least, not conducive to a good life. The realization that we are simultaneously in and outside the idea might lead us to hesitate or refrain from its pursuit. The Mexican philosophical project of Hyperion serves as a model, not to imitate verbatim but to assume and make our own—that is, appropriate. We begin with the consciousness of our difference, and go from there, asking ourselves the three fundamental questions that Hurtado suggests Mexicans themselves should ask, namely, “who were we? who are we? and who do we want to be?” (2007, 51).
Finally, Latino history reflects a continual struggle to find our bearings, and the philosophical project of Hiperion can at least encourage us to go at it more rigorously and, perhaps for the first time, philosophically. Not that I cannot be encouraged by Sartre or Rorty or even Ortega, but what can they possibly say about my father’s struggles to find himself in his world as a Mexican in a foreign land, an immigrant, and, strangely still, an “illegal” other? Or about mine in mine? Those are questions with which I struggle as a Latino in philosophy. But these are the same questions that bring me to Mexican philosophy, especially of the Hiperion flavor, time and again.