Multicultural citizens, monocultural men: Indigineity, masculinity, and conscription in Ecuador

Brian R. Selmeski, Syracuse University

ISBN 9780549403159


The Ecuadorian Army promotes military service by highland Indians, who are ostensibly encouraged to remain indigenous, under a recently developed vision of multicultural nationalism. Simultaneously, and without recognizing any serious contradiction, officers exhort indígena recruits to adopt a mestizo masculinity and pledge loyalty to the uninational Patria over their ethnic groups. Indigenous men and their families, on the other hand, deem conscription an important and worthy endeavor on multiple levels. Most are keen to obtain the legal benefits of military service: employment, education, travel, banking, and voting rights are all tied to conscription. However, they also embrace important aspects of the Army's gendered and racialized justifications of military service as a gateway to full citizenship, dominant masculinity, and military status. National discourses about conscription are therefore part of a hegemonic process where closely intertwined notions of Indianness, manhood, and the nation are communicated, interpreted, and legitimated (or less frequently modified or refuted) by Indians and mestizos alike. Military service is also a lived experience--a successful, but fragile hegemonic product--directed by the armed forces, who use this consent, as well as subtle coercion, to compel young men to comply. Once they are in service, conscripts undergo multiple rites of passage that transform them from "civilians" into "new citizens" and eventually "new men" as patriots and reservists. This requires reshaping conscripts in every sense: physically, civically, morally, intellectually, and militarily. Hence, recruits learn not only basic combat skills, but also a host of good habits, values, and beliefs collectively known as "personal formation." All recruits are subjected to this process, grounded in mestizo notions of manhood, regardless of their ethnicity. As a result, once they are "properly" formed, indígenas are considered culturally improved but not de-Indianized and mestizos have learned to distinguish positive and negative aspects of indigineity. After the young men undergo appropriate rites of passage, they serve as marginal soldiers, tangential to the armed defense of the country, but essential to the day-to-day functioning of the Army as well as their secondary missions of promoting national development and unity. Together, these discursive and tangible aspects of military service help facilitate the indigenous movement and armed force's collective political actions. Yet the Army's notion of multicultural citizenship is never able to resolve its internal paradoxes fully, ultimately limiting its transformative power while simultaneously reinforcing and obscuring indígenas' subordinate roles in the national project.