Indigenismo is a political ideology in several Latin American countries emphasizing the relation between the nation state and Indigenous nations and indigenous minorities. In some contemporary uses, it refers to the pursuit of greater social and political inclusion for Indigenous peoples of the Americas, whether through national-level reforms or region-wide alliances. In either case, this type of indigenismo seeks to vindicate indigenous cultural and linguistic difference, assert indigenous rights, and seek recognition and in some cases compensation for past wrongdoings of the colonial and republican states.
A second use of the term, however, is more common and has more historical depth. Originally, indigenismo was a component of nationalist ideology that became influential in Mexico after the consolidation of the revolution of 1910–20. This "indigenismo" also lauded some aspects of indigenous cultural heritage, but primarily as a relic of the past. Within the larger national narrative of the Mexican nation as the product of European and Amerindian "race mixture," indigenismo was the expression of nostalgia for an imagined, folklorized figure of indigeneity.
During the administration of Plutarco Elías Calles (1924–28), Moisés Sáenz, who held a doctorate from Columbia University and was a follower of John Dewey's educational methods, implemented aspects of indigenismo in the Department of Public Education. Sáenz had initially taken an assimilationist position on the "Indian problem," but after a period of residence in the Purépecha community of Carapan, he shifted his stance to one focusing on the material conditions affecting the indigenous. He influenced the administration of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934–40), which established the cabinet-level position of the Department of Indigenous Affairs in 1936. The department's main efforts were in the economic and educational spheres. Cárdenas valorized indigeneity, as indicated by the creation of the cabinet-level position and resources put into indigenous communities. In 1940, Mexico hosted a multinational meeting on indigenism, The Congress of Inter-American Indigenismo, held in Pátzcuaro, where Cárdenas himself addressed the gathering. President Miguel Alemán reorganized the Mexican government's policies directed at the indigenous by creating the National Indigenista Institute (Instituto Nacional Indigenista or INI). In the Vicente Fox administration, the unit was reorganized and renamed.
The valorization of indigeneity was rarely carried over to contemporary indigenous people, who were targeted for assimilation into modern Mexican society. Though the authors of indigenista policies saw themselves as seeking to protect and relieve indigenous people, their efforts did not make a clean break with the overtly racist forced assimilation of the pre-revolutionary past.
In Peru it is associated with the APRA movement founded by Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre (1924). APRA dominated Peruvian politics for decades as the singular well organized political party in Peru which was not centered on one person. To some APRA or "Aprismo" in its pure form stood for the nationalization of foreign-owned enterprises and an end to the exploitation of Indians. To others it was about the combining of modern economics and technology with the historical traditions of the countryside and Indian populations to create a new and unique model for social and economic development. (.
- SeeEngle, Karen (2010). The Elusive Promise of Indigenous Development. Duke University Press.
- See e.g. Alcida Rita Ramos, Indigenism: Ethnic Politics in Brazil, University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
- Alexander S. Dawson, "Moisés Sáenz," in Encyclopedia of Mexico, vol. 2, p. 1325. Chicago: Fitzroy and Dearborn 1997.
- Government of Mexico, Seis Años de Gobierno al Servicio de México, 1934-40. México: La Nacional Impresora 1940, pp. 351-382.
- Seis Años, p. 382.
- Alan Knight, “Racism, Revolution, and Indigenismo," in The Idea of Race in the Latin America, 1870-1940, edited by Richard Graham, University of Texas Press, 1990.
- Latino Indigenismo in a Comparative Perspective Luis A. Marentes