My research interests include globalization, inequality, identity, and social movements. Most of my research has been conducted in Latin America. Click here to go to an index of my published articles or click below to see a photoessay.
I have conducted ethnographic research in Chiapas, Mexico since 1988. Click here to see a photoessay on life in Chiapas.
I ran an ethnographic field school in Cameroon, west-central Africa, during the summers of 1996 and 1997. Click here to see a photoessay on life in Cameroon.
"The Two Histories of Pantelho" forthcoming in the Anuario del Instituto de Estudios Ingigenas 2001
"Cultural Resistance and Rebellion in Southern Mexico" Latin American Research Review 33(3):217-229. 1988
"The Tzotzil and Tzeltal of Pantelho" Encyclopedia of World Cultures, 1996.
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The Two Histories of Pantelho: History-Making, Identity, and Legitimation in Highland Chiapas
The highlands of Chiapas is one of the poorest, most marginal areas of all Mexico, and the municipality (municipio) of Pantelho is one of the poorest in the highlands (cf. Brown 1993; Viqueira and Ruz 1998). Not everyone is poor. According to local perceptions, mestizos are rich; Indigenous are poor. Rich mestizos and poor indigenous represent profound ethnic and class inequalities in Pantelho. These inequalities can be explained, in part, by a legacy of exploitation and discrimination dating back to the colonial epoch. Throughout the past century Indigenous people struggled to overcome these inequalities; the fought over land, contended for political power, and today look for means to bypass perceived mestizo dominance in commerce. Mestizos, on the other hand, employed various means to retain control of land, political power, and commerce which were, for the most part, successful until the end of the 1970s. Throughout these struggles which only occasionally included direct confrontation history, or more appropriately, history-making, has played an important role: to mobilize and unify support and to legitimize actions. It is history as an aspect of ideology, contentious and problematic, but with something very important at stake: "home."
Pantelho was the site of my doctoral dissertation research. My goal, when I arrived, was to write a theoretically informed description. I envisioned chapters on economics, politics, history, etc. I wanted to discover local history and connect it to larger historical processes (to describe an internal and external dialectic and the articulation of the two, in the theory-speak of the time, cf. J.L. Comaroff 1982). Local history. Note the singular tense. The problem, you see, is that Pantelho has two histories: not one, but two. And it probably does not surprise anyone familiar with Indigenous mestizo/ladino relations anywhere in Latin America that they represent an Indigenous history and a mestizo history. It is not so much that they contradict each other though at times they do, and I will be talking about some of these but rather that they draw forth different aspects of past experience and weave it into a particular history, their particular history. At first I struggled to build a chronology; I sought to corroborate or synthesize these histories so I could write the "correct" history. But that is not the important point. The point is not which of the histories is correct; no, the point is why are there two histories.
Pantelho: A Multiethnic Municipality
Pantelho is truly picturesque. Copses of pine, oak, and other deciduous trees and bushes, kept green by abundant rainfall, blanket the steep hillsides and deep valleys that make up most of the land area of Pantelho. Peasants' fields (milpas) form a checkerboard mosaic on the hillsides; forested sections, sometimes with coffee trees growing underneath in the shade, are interspersed with patches of corn and beans, food staples, and other crops.
Pantelho has a population of approximately 18,000. The Indigenous of Pantelho, approximately equal numbers of Tzotzil and Tzeltal, constituted the majority. They live in fifty-some hamlets scattered throughout the municipio and in four barrios of the headtown or county seat (cabecera). Mestizos, having lost their ranches over the course of the last century, now reside solely in the cabecera. The cabecera, linked to San Cristobal de las Casas by a newly paved road, has long had electricity and running water. It is a regional market center and the location of a post-zapatista rebellion military base. Only with the post-rebellion flurry of development has the countryside begun to receive roads, water systems, and electricity. Like the rest of Chiapas (cf. Viqueira and Ruz 1998) the majority of economically active people in Pantelho are agriculturalists and although corn and beans are cultivated by most people more must be imported to meet subsistence needs. In addition Pantelho produces some cattle and honey for local consumption and export. Coffee is Pantelho's primary export, and the buying and selling of coffee a key point of contention between mestizo buyers and Indigenous producers.
Migrations, shifting municipal boundaries, and political considerations make identity a matter of social construction rather than immutable fact. Mestizos identify themselves in opposition to the Indigenous and with larger Mexican culture. Indigenous identify as indigenous in opposition to mestizos, as either tzotzil or tzeltal in certain contexts both within and outside the municipality, and as caterineros (of Santa Catarina Pantelho [cf. Brown 1995]) in opposition to neighboring municipalities. However many residents are recent immigrants, continue to dress in the traditional styles of their native municipalities, and retain a kind of dual or multiple identity (perhaps somewhat like hyphenated Americans in the United States). It is only through unifying ideologies, or the attempts, that identities are forged among this diverse group.
Conceptions of History
Histories are written, or otherwise articulated, by people in specific social and historical contexts (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992; Cole 1998; Friedman 1992; Haley and Wilcoxon 1997; Rappaport 1990; Roseberry and O'Brien 1991; Sider and Smith 1997; Toledo Tello n.d.). Winners write histories, or so it has been said (Scott 1985), but then so do losers, if we look in the right places, i.e. the genre of subaltern histories (cf. Comaroff and Comaroff 1992; Popular Memory Group 1982). These histories need not be verifiable, as Hobsbawm and Ranger (1983) pointed out several years ago. Rather history is a selective construction of the past, one which, Jonathan Friedman argues, "selectively organizes events in relation ... to a contemporary subject..." (1992:837). Of course, "contemporary" may very well change so that history making is not a one-time event. Rather it is an ongoing process of interpretation and reinterpretation in which historical accounts are constantly assembled and reassembled (Rappaport 1990; Roseberry and O'Brien 1991). "Facts" may be added, dropped, reinterpreted, or forgotten; old themes may change or continue in relation to their contemporary importance (cf. Abercrombie 1998; Cole 1998). Memories of oppression, for example, produce rage against the oppressors which, if activated, may result in open conflict which, in a continually ongoing process, will be written, remembered, and interpreted subsequently.
Histories, be they selectively, creatively, or inventively produced are done so for a purpose or purposes. In the context of struggle a key component of history is often legitimacy. Michel Foucault said, "there's a battle for and around history going on .... to propose and impose on people a framework in which to interpret the past" (in Swedenburg 1991:153). Images of the past legitimate a present social order (Connerton 1989). History, in one sense, is a story of the suppression of other histories (Swedenburg 1991) and as such is a powerful ideological tool in the construction of hegemony. However, I contend, it can also be used to challenge legitimacy, as counter-ideology.
History provides, or is part of, the authentication of a people's culture, their traditions, their identities. Not necessarily unitary or complete, nonetheless making history is a way of making an identity. As Thomas Abercrombie puts it, "people constitute themselves, make themselves by making rather than inheriting their pasts" (1998: emphasis added). And making their identity is a question of empowerment, unifying, empowering, and legitimating themselves whoever "they" may be and their claims.
Empowerment depends not only on agents but also on structures of power. It is as true of Chiapas as Jean Jackson asserts for the Tukanoans of Columbia that "to have any power at all, they must have a traditional culture" (1995:5), but in part the empowering of traditional culture depends on the context of power relations (cf. Abercrombie 1998) which in Chiapas mean the government. In significant ways (described below) the government controls the creation and legitimacy of traditional culture and controls the forums in which it may be presented thereby constraining its empowering effects. That control is never complete, however. Actions often open new spaces. Antonio Gramsci described it best when he called it a war, a "war of postition" in which we find different political groups engaged in consensus building within the group and strategic positioning vis a vis other groups, a struggle for what Gramsci called a hegemony.
The two histories of Pantelho represent attempts by opposing groups mestizos and Indigenous to create and to use history to legitimate past, present, and future actions. Not history of and for itself. No, history with a purpose. If the mestizos are the usurpers that Indigenous history sets them out to be, then the Indigenous are justified in expelling them even if it calls for violent means. But if, on the other hand, the mestizos are the legitimate owners of Pantelho, and the Indigenous are just trouble-making emigrants, then the mestizos are justified in holding onto their land by any means. Constructing history these groups construct an identity and legitimate courses of action. They are engaged in a war of position with each other which takes place within the larger apparatus of government power. I turn next to specific examples of contested history making, first the foundation of Pantelho and the Mexican Revolution, the to refinements in history making, and lastly to implications.
The Foundation of Pantelho
One of the crucial "historical" questions is: who are the founders and therefore legitimate residents of Pantelho? I will begin with the Indigenous version, draw out some of the implications, then turn to a mestizo version and its implications in both cases situating history in contemporary issues.
When I first set out to "get" the indigenous history I was still thinking in terms of a single history and I wanted to begin at the beginning. I asked for origin myths, stories of the founding of Pantelho. After finally tracking down the person who should talk to me, others claimed not to know, I was finally able to say: "tell me of the creation of your community."
"We do not have any stories about that!" he replied with a calm I could not appreciate as I say my whole book falling apart, "but," he added, "I can tell you about the coming of the mestizos." What it obvious now I missed at the time. Nonetheless, I took out my tape recorder and sat down to listen. After all it was something. The following is an edited version of what he said.
When the first mestizo came there were only Indigenous here. The first one to come was a businessman. He asked the people for a chance and a small piece of land for a house. The elders had a meeting and discussed the request. They were afraid that he would take land from the community. But he said that he was poor and did not want much. "No," some said, "if we give him land one day we will end up losing it all!" [Prophetic, wise, or creative!] "No," he said, and then he gave them some cheap rum (pox). They got drunk and lost their heads. So in the meeting they agreed to give him a small piece of land for his house.
Several years passed.
Then he began to ask about the charter of the community. Our charter was fine. But he said, "no, it is inadequate." "Give me your charter and I will fix it." [Here my story teller became much more animated.] Oh that mestizo had thought out his plans very carefully; he really screwed over the poor Indigenous people. He took the charter to Mexico City. "In one month I will return with it," he said. In that one month he purchased the land. That is how the old ones lost the land. He bought it all. The old ones went to Mexico City but did not understand a thing. An engineer told them that the mestizo had bought all the land.
[Here my story teller became more pensive.] He left the old ones with nothing. They had to work as peons on what was now his ranch. How the people cried!
The Indigenous version asserts three points. One, not only were the Indigenous in Pantelho first, but they had a well established, organized community lead by a group of elders. Two, the mestizo cheated them out of what was rightfully theirs; he tricked them out of their charter and used his knowledge of changing Mexican law to obtain land. Three, he was a businessman, a trader. The first two points are obvious in their assertions legitimate owners who were tricked out of their land but why a businessman? It is an important point for this contemporary version, and demonstrates the importance of context, because now that Indigenous people control most of the land in Pantelho most Indigenous see contemporary exploitation through the market. Coyotes they call traders who pay them little for their products and charge them a lot for the stuff they sell. This story asserts that coyotes mestizos have perpetually cheated the Indigenous; it asserts a continuity of mestizo trickery to the very beginning.
Mestizos, the Indigenous say, do no work themselves; they live of the sweat of the Indigenous. As one indigenous person described it to me:
"We are poor campesinos. We work hard. The coyotes come to our community and buy our coffee. They rob from us because we have nowhere else to sell our coffee. It is the coyotes mestizos who steal our labor. They cheat us on the weight; they cheat us on the quality; and if we have to sell our coffee in advance because we have to have a little money because our children are sick and need medicine, then they pay us only a small part of what our coffee is worth. EEEEE those coyotes mestizos.
At the time I recorded this version Indigenous producers were trying to form a marketing cooperative to by-pass mestizo middlemen. They were emphasizing this history to get Indigenous producers to join a cooperative and avoid their eternal exploiters the mestizos.
Mestizos were aware that I was collecting history. When I asked a mestizo how they had come to live in Pantelho I received an interesting response:
"What they [the Indigenous] say is not true! We, not the Indigenous, founded Pantelho. Just because they are Indigenous does not mean they founded this pueblo. Before we came there was nothing here, just trees and forest." At this point my story teller took me outside and pointed in all four of the cardinal directions and told me what trees were where. "Our ancestors came from San Cristobal. They built their homes here, first out of mud and thatch, later out of brick and tile. They started farms and businesses. The Indigenous came after we had founded the pueblo; they settled in the barrios. All that you see here is the result of our hard work. But now that the Indigenous are in control it is all falling apart.
The mestizo version can also be seen to asserts three points. One, mestizos founded Pantelho; the made Pantelho the thriving and prosperous community it is today. Two, they were poor to start with and worked very hard to be successful; their wealth was, and is, due to their hard work, e.g. houses of mud and thatch transformed into brick and tile. It also implies, and not very subtly, that Indigenous poverty is due to laziness. They are lazy and have always that way. Three, the mestizo version serves to justify the contemporary social order their lock on commerce and recalled a better past when they had greater control.
In fact the mestizos had proof! In the archive of the diocese in San Cristobal de Las Casas, I was told, existed a document that proved the mestizos founded the pueblo and that the Indigenous had immigrated to Pantelho from Mitontic. Needless to say I was interested. I found the document in question. The date was 1796. Imagine my confusion, though, as I read the title: The Repopulation of Pantelho. Repopulation? The opening line read: "We, Indigenous, formerly of Pantelho now living in Mitontic, ask permission to return to our ancestral homeland, Santa Catarina Pantelho, and build a chapel...." The letter went on to promise that they would cultivate corn, wheat, and cotton the latter obviously to pay tithe to the church. Additional documents in the archive describe the trip to Pantelho, the building of the chapel, and the slow growth of the pueblo. There is no mention of mestizos until 20 years later. What does this prove? The mestizos, in crafting their version of history emphasized the Mitontic origin of the Indigenous, and ignored the "repopulation" aspect and the fact that no mestizos were mentioned.
The Indigenous knew nothing of this document. As I said above they knew nothing of their origins. But I had to know. Remember at this time I was trying to write the "correct" history of Pantelho. A key question seemed to me to be why they had left their ancestral homeland. I found a plausible explanation elsewhere in the archive: the Tzeltal Revolt. The Indigenous of Pantelho, who share a common border with Cancuc, participated in the uprising. Much has been written about the revolt that I need not go into here (cf. Bricker 1981; Wasserstrom 1983). The relevant point is that the Indigenous of Pantelho seem to have been removed from their homeland and relocated closer to the colonial capital, San Cristobal de las Casas. Two or three generations later, a group of Indigenous people from Mitontic asserted or created a connection to Pantelho to validate a claim to land and they did so through the Catholic church, a colonial institution with the power to support their claim. This is the earliest history-making I have evidence of, but not the last.
The Mexican Revolution
The Revolution in Chiapas is not known for its peasant armies and its reforms the stuff of central Mexico but for the conservative, largely non-indigenous response (cf. Benjamin 1996). Despite the fact that on the eve of the Revolution Chiapas had as many landless people as the central states (cf. Sanderson 1984), the was no large scale, enduring peasant uprising in Chiapas. However, two events from the Mexican Revolution are remembered and talked about by both Indigenous and mestizo in Pantelho. They center on two individuals, perhaps not coincidentally, an Indigenous and a mestizo: Pajarito and Pineda. Their versions do not directly contradict one another as much as they emphasize different incidents and aspects, especially the morals of these stories. These "lessons" of the past, given in a contemporary context, help create identity, differentiating Indigenous from mestizo and vis versa, and legitimate courses of action, even violent action.
Pajarito. In 1911 a faction of the government in San Cristobal de las Casas broke from the central government in Tuxtla Gutierrez. To increase the size of their army they recruited Indigenous from the highlands and put them under the command of Jacinto Perez, nicknamed Pajarito, a native of Chamula (Moscoso 1972). One of Pajarito's lieutenants, Domingo, lead an army into Pantelho. The event was described by the Chiapan historian, Prudencio Moscoso (1972), largely from mestizo sources as I was able to confirm through conversations with mestizos in Pantelho. The Indigenous account does not differ substantially in detail; the crucial difference lies in the interpretation. The events are presented below.
On September 28, 1911 Domingo's army, lead by several local Indigenous, surrounded Pantelho and attacked from all sides. Some mestizos attempted to flee. Many were captured. The Indigenous took control of Pantelho. They sacked the houses, stealing and destroying at will. The prisoners, herded together in the center of town, were surrounded by local Indigenous. Those who had committed "crimes" against the Indigenous were identified. One mestizo landowner was attacked with a machete by one of his workers. Local Indigenous asked Domingo to kill them all. He refrained. The mestizos spent the night in jail and the next morning were marched to Chamula. Several times along the way they were threatened with death, but after arriving in Chamula and paying a large fine they were released. They returned to Pantelho and after prolonged and heated discussion were allowed to remain.
The tale of their ordeal represents, to the mestizos, the capriciousness of the Indigenous. This was an example of the belligerence and the potential violence of the Indigenous, and what they had to look forward to if the Indigenous gained control; give them a little power and they abuse it, said the mestizos. In addition the story, as related, solidifies the oppositional identity of the mestizos, an identity on which their very lives were at stake.
The first Indigenous person I asked about Pajarito chuckled and said, "ah, we got them that time, didn't we." They described it as an act of righteous retribution for the accumulated wrongs they had suffered. To the Indigenous this represented their first victory over the mestizos. An army of Indigenous, armed and unified, could take control. They did not do so at the time, but the contemporary rendition of this incident empowers the Indigenous. It also makes a nice counterpoint to the story of Pineda.
Pineda. Alberto Pineda is a heroic figure, at least to the mestizos (cf. Moscoso 1987). He, along with Tiburcio Fernandez Ruiz, lead a counter-revolutionary army of mestizo ranchers against the constitutional army of Venustiano Carranza. For several years he defeated and/or evaded the larger constitutional army until 1920 when he was forced to flee to Guatemala (Moscoso 1987). He is remembered in Pantelho because one of his many battles took place there. To the mestizos who told me the story it symbolized the intelligence, the brilliance of a mestizo leader. In this case one fighting against an invading, albeit Mexican, army.
The story begins with Pineda retreating from the larger constitutional army. His route lead him through Pantelho. But there, near the mestizo ranch of San Fernando he set an ambush. He hid his troops in the trees above the trail and told them not to fire until the first soldiers had advanced to the end of the line of Pineda's troops. From their vantage point on the ridge they were able to observe the advance of Carranza's troops. They paused at the river to roast some corn. All this time Pineda's troops waited. Finally Carranza's troops reorganized and marched up to hill directly into the trap. Many of Carranza's troops fell in those first minutes. A complete rout was prevented only because of their far superior numbers. When Pineda saw his advantage slipping, he deftly withdrew.
When I asked the Indigenous about this battle some shrugged their shoulders (either they did not know the story or had nothing to offer). Others suggested that it represented a black mark on Pantelho because Carranza had come to free them, had he not, and yet the mestizos had won a victory. A few told me that it was treachery on the part of the Indigenous. They were supposed to warn Carranza's troops of any such ambush. If they had done so, the battle would have been different. The victory was not due to the brilliance of Pineda's leadership, but rather failure of the part of the Indigenous. The moral of the contemporary Indigenous account was that the Indigenous must be unified in support of their cause. Division plays straight into the hands of the mestizos.
Refinements in History Making
What I have described so far gives one a sense of the two histories, each side asserting their perspective. In the battle over history they were not directly confronting one another except perhaps when the anthropologist stumbled into the scene but rather making themselves by making their pasts, establishing an authenticity with which to legitimate or challenge the social order. In this war of position, sides were clarified and actions undertaken. But there is more to history-making than asserting a history to validate an identity. In examining the creation and use of history it is also necessary to situate these processes in sociohistorical and political context. Especially important, at least in many places in Latin America, is the government stance toward indigenous identities and rights. The authenticity of a group's identity and legitimacy is mitigated by the power of the government.
My next example highlights the political context in which history claims are put forth and then how those incidents are remembered and not remembered. History making in an historical context, if you will. The example is more complicated than the others. It centers on the year 1974, but goes back to the foundation of Pantelho, and towards the present when I was told these histories. My first glimpse came when I was in the archives of the Mexican Land Reform Agency trying to document the history of land tenure in Pantelho. I came across a series of letters that had been written to the Justice Department in 1974. These letters were written by the mestizos of Pantelho to protest actions being taken by the Indigenous. These letters enabled me to open up a window in time, to connect a struggle over history to proposed courses of action, to show that the struggles over history take place in a historical context themselves, and to see how these events were subsequently reworked. I quote from a letter dated October 25, 1974:
Recently our pueblo was menaced by Indigenous. They were led by Vicente and Mariano. These individuals have organized meetings conspiring against the "pueblo mestizo." They have proclaimed, via their loudspeaker, that they are the only rightful owners of the pueblo and that not one of the mestizos has the right to live here. The Indigenous told us [mestizos] that we have to leave the community in which we live and work.
It is apparent that at the time the Indigenous were attempting to assert their version of history and formulating a call to action to run the mestizos out of town. The threat was real; such incidents had occurred in Chiapas. The Mexican government took it seriously as well, and by the 29th government agents were on the scene working on a compromise. It is apparent that in the meeting Indigenous asserted their claim as the legitimate owners of Pantelho, although no written record exists. However, on October 30, the day after, the "pueblo mestizo" sent another letter to the justice department. The letter listed 10 families who, the mestizos asserted, were the founders of Pantelho. The letter went on to assert that, and I quote, "once the pueblo had been founded, Indigenous immigrated from Cancuc and Mitontic and established themselves on the fringes of the pueblo in what are now the barrios of Naranjos and Santa Cruz. Those mentioned above [the mestizo families] were the legitimate founders of the pueblo. The Indigenous came later and from many places..." In the end the mestizos were allowed to remain and the government promised to look into Indigenous land claims.
That the Indigenous chose to take action at this time, I believe, is due to another factor. On October 13, 1974 the first ever Indigenous Convention (Congreso Indigena) was convened in San Cristobal de las Casas. The convention brought together over 1200 Indigenous from throughout the state. The stated theme of the convention was "The Indigenous Fight for Freedom." The conference was organized by the Catholic church and the state government (PRODESCH) in honor Fray Bartolome de las Casas legendary protector of the Indigenous. Preliminary meetings had asked the Indigenous to "reflect on their current situation." They did so with a vengeance. They brought to the conference claims for land, markets, health, education, and justice (antecedents to later Zapatista claims, cf. Collier 1994). The conference politicized the participants and labeled their struggle "Indigenous." It did not, however, create a pan-Indigenous movement. Rather it made their common plight known and who the opposition was the mestizos, which they took back to their communities. It was two weeks later that Vicente and Mariano tried to lead the Indigenous takeover of Pantelho.
This example shows the context of an ideological struggle and how an ideological struggle can lead to action by those brought together. But it is not the end of the story. Vicente led the action in October. One could imagine he would become a political force in the future. Such was not to be. Vicente's enemies among mestizos murdered him!
That is not, as you might imagine, the story that the mestizos tell. Vicente, they say, was muy bravo, strong-willed and aggressive. So was one of the mestizo policemen. In a violent confrontation they killed each other. Their bodies were found dead, lying side by side.
The Indigenous tell a different story.
At that time the mestizos controlled the pueblo; the Indigenous were their servants, and if they baulked they were beaten and/or imprisoned. Vicente said that this was wrong and they did not have to put it with it. So he began organizing the Indigenous to resist. The mestizos did not like this. They caught Vicente and beat him. But that did not stop him. The next time they caught him they roped him, like you would a steer, and dragged him out of town and left him. But still he continued. Things got worse. Three policemen, mestizos, caught him one night. They beat him with an electrical cable, beat him bad, and put him in jail. Some other Indigenous went to the municipal mayor, a mestizo at the time. They told him he had to let Vicente out. The mayor resisted but finally gave them the key. They let him out and went after the policemen. They captured two of them and put them in jail. They finally located the third. He was in a house just a block from the center of town.. He did not show any fear. He came out of his house armed with his pistol. He and Vicente argued. He started shooting. The first five shots missed. But the sixth and last one hit Vicente square in the forehead. He was dead immediately. Then the policeman ran. But the other Indigenous caught him and killed him. They put his body next to Vicente's. Both of the dead together, the body of Vicente and the body of the commandant who had killed him.
In these two contemporary views of the past we see two very different portrayals. The mestizo version asserts: 1) it was Vicente who did all this; 2) Vicente was violent and aggressive; 3) Vicente was out for his own power. "Well," the mestizos say, "Vicente ran into someone else like that. What else could you expect. They were like two fighting cocks put in the ring together; it was their nature to fight." The mestizo version individualizes the action. It removes any class or ethnic motivation. Their version specifically, intentionally denies any social ramifications.
The Indigenous version, however, sees Vicente as a revolutionary leader. He was the person responsible for "waking them up" and setting them on the path of increased politicization. Vicente embodied social change. To the Indigenous of Pantelho he died a martyr.
Implications of History Making on Land and Power
I find Gramsci's use of a metaphor like war appropriate because there really is something a stake here. It is not just a case of two interesting versions of history. It is a matter of life and death, who gets to live in Pantelho and who does not, who owns land and who does not. Prior to 1974 mestizo hegemony and support by the State government had allowed mestizos control of land and political office for over two centuries, even after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and the land reforms of the Cardenas era (1934-1940). 1974 was a focal point of change. Not immediately, Vicente's death represented the loss a dynamic leader, but by the 1980s indigenous had broken mestizo control of land and local political office and were well on their way to establishing their own hegemony. Two brief incidents, a before (Santa Rosalia, 1960) and after (Betania/Luventon 1983), both struggles over land, demonstrate the combined impact of a strong hegemonic position and state government support.
Santa Rosalia. In late 1959, 17 indigenous families began the long, complex process of soliciting land from the Mexican government as ejido. They sought a home. In the archive of the land reform office I found an order from the governor which stated: "On this day, the 11th of August, 1961, it is ordered that the request for dotacion of ejido be denied because the solicitants failed to meet the established requirements ... specifically that there does not exist a nucleus of population with the name Santa Rosalia." What had happened? A series of letters by the solicitants from 1960 to the land reform office tell the story. The first asks that the process be hastened because the solicitants feared reprisals from mestizo landowners. A second tells how a group of local mestizo land owners (from several area ranches) came and threatened their lives if they did not leave. A third describes an attack by mestizos supported by federal troops (who they most likely hired) in which their homes were burned to the ground and they were forced to flee. A final letter claims the agent of the land reform office colluded with the mestizo mayor to deny that the community had ever existed. A collective mestizo sense of indignation at the threats to their history of landownership and local political power, and support (if only tacit or bought) of the State government allowed mestizos to retain control. In this case the winners truly did write the history.
Betania/Luventon. In 1983 a group of indigenous vandalized a mestizo ranch house. They wrote, in dark red paint, that he had 15 days to get out. They argued that the land was rightfully theirs and that all this time the rancher had been exploiting the indigenous. They were the ones who worked the land. All the ranch owner did was show up to collect the money for the sale of coffee or cattle. All the result of the hard work of the indigenous. Enough, they said, this land is ours. The indigenous were beginning to use what they saw as a history of exploitation as a rallying point and justification to invade ranches. And more.
When I asked the ranch owner (in 1991) if he had been afraid he said yes and related the story of the murder of the son of a ranch owner. The young man had come from town to check his family's coffee and cattle. As he passed through the ranch he saw some indigenous working land that belonged to his family. He passed through but stopped on the way back and asked to talk to the leader. Exactly what happened next depends on who tells the story. The mestizos say he was attacked and brutally murdered (machetado killed with machetes) when he tried to talk to them. The indigenous say he provoked it when he threatened them with his pistol. Whatever happened it subsequently entered the history of the region and was used to explain or legitimize later events.
And the Indigenous are winning. After centuries of exploitation and discrimination relations are changing. A few people have died, like Vicente or the rancher's son, killed in direct confrontations. However, far more important has been the consensus building, the strategic positioning Gramsci's war of position through which the Indigenous have asserted their hegemony. So much so that mestizos now accept the fact of Indigenous land ownership and political leadership (though they still think they would do a better job).
These versions of history are not simply stories; these stories make a difference. Between 1974 and 1998 the Indigenous really did wake up. They gained control over land. They gained control over local politics, and they have begun to make inroads into mestizo control of commerce. Mestizos are leaving Pantelho; the proportion of mestizos has dropped from about twenty percent in 1974 to less than five percent in 2000. In their battles for and around history the Indigenous are winning. Their efforts to dehegemonize the mestizo position have, by and large, succeeded. How have they accomplished this? They have created a collective sense of who they are, where they came from, and a sense that they are entitled to challenge to power of the mestizos the latter brought about by the government's partial acceptance of their indigenousness. History, identity, and power have been melded together.
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Cultural Resistance and Rebellion in Southern Mexico
Few have not heard of the Zapatistas, the Zapatista Rebellion, and their spokesman, subcommander Marcos. The Zapatista Rebellion captured the national and international imagination. It made the front page of newspapers around the world; and who can forget CNN's graphic portrayals: the ski-masked Marcos with his pipe, Lucille Newman holding a mock rifle carved from wood. Marcos took on cult hero status as his letters and communiques (written on behalf of the CCRG-CI) were published nationally and internationally through both print and electronic media. The results of this attention were dramatic. An international aid caravan was organized to bring food, clothing, and medical supplies to the impoverished region. When newly elected president Ernesto Zedillo launched an offensive to break the Zapatistas and capture Marcos, an estimated 100,000 people filled the zocalo in Mexico City in protest, chanting, "we are all Marcos." Most importantly the Zapatistas had deligitimized the government's use of force.
Fewer, perhaps, know the background of the Zapatistas, their causes, hopes and aspirations. The books reviewed here, written by journalists with long experience in Mexico, (The Chiapas Rebellion, Rebellion from the Roots, and Shadows of Tender Fury) describe the Zapatista Rebellion, the course of events that led up to it, and what happened between the January 1 onset and December, 1994. These books make good use of scholarly research and current discussions, including Zapatista communiques, despite sometimes uncritically presenting opinions where facts are needed. One shortcoming, however, is that these works lack a cohesive theme. They are organized chronologically. Readers get a sense of the course of events and purpose, but miss underlying implications. I will touch on one, cultural resistance, in this review.
Three other works under discussion here, A Rich Land, A Poor People, Zapotec Renaissance, and Chiapas: Entre la Torre de Babel y la Lengua Nacional, broaden the frame of reference, historically, theoretically, and geographically. Thomas Benjamin's overview of Chiapas political and economic history explains how an elite was able to maintain control of Chiapas' riches to the exclusion of the indigenous majority through changing political climates. Rodrigo de la Torre in Torre de Babel describes multilingualism in the Chiapas lowlands. Howard Campbell in Zapotec Renaissance describes how one group (the COCEI of Jucitan, Oaxaca) uses their history and culture in political struggles. The Zapatistas, although the most widely known, are not the only group in Mexico to struggle for equality and justice, either currently or in the past.
The authors' accounts advance a different image of Mexico than that put forth by national image makers. Despite its claim to first world status, Mexico is troubled by inconsistencies of internal development. These inconsistencies have spawned localized uprisings throughout Mexico.
The common theme running through these works is cultural resistance -- the use of culture (albeit in created and recreated forms) as a locus of organization and a counter hegemonic tool in their conflict with entrenched political powers within the Mexican political economy. The consensual democracy of the Zapatistas, the ethnic identity of the Zapotec of Juchitan, and the conscious use of Tzeltal or Chol (Mayan languages) in lowland Chiapas are elements of Mayan or Zapotec culture wielded in social movements. The works under review collectively show us the power of culture in the contemporary world.
The Zapatista Rebellion
The three books reviewed here describe well the Zapatista Rebellion. Ross uses a florid, sometimes exaggerated, style; Russell relies on a more direct description of selected events. Shadows provides insight into the ideology of the Zapatistas. Before focusing on the counter hegemonic thrust of the Zapatistas Rebellion, it is worth our time to look at the rebellion itself, and its causes.
Just after midnight on January 1, 1994 the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) captured San Cristóbal de las Casas and three other municipal seats in Chiapas. "Feliz Ano Nuevo, Cabrones" Marcos is reputed to have said. The takeovers had been well organized and dramatically easy except for one location, Ocosingo, where an estimated 400 Zapatista troops battled 30 to 40 state police who had barricaded themselves in the city hall. By New Year's Day the Zapatistas were in control. They sacked government offices and destroyed government documents. They looted stores, and in Ocosingo they took control of the radio station.
In San Cristobal at noon on January 1, Zapatista leaders announced the Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle. The document, included in Shadows, states:
We are the product of five hundred years of struggle.... We are denied the most elementary education so that they can use us as cannon fodder and plunder our country's riches, uncaring that we are dying of hunger and curable diseases. Nor do they care that we have nothing, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, no health, no food, no education....
But today we say enough! We are the heirs of the people who truly forged our nation, we are the millions of the disposed, and we call on all of our brothers and sisters to join us on the only path that will allow us to escape a starvation caused by the insatiable ambition of a seventy-year-old dictatorship...." (p. 51-52).
The declaration went on the lay out demands for "work, land, housing, food, health, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice, and peace" (ibid, p. 54).
On January 2, the EZLN withdrew from San Cristobal and tried to withdraw from Ocosingo. However, in Ocosingo they were trapped by Federal Army troops in the central market. In the bloodiest fighting of the rebellion, 93 people were killed -- Zapatistas, Federal troops, and civilians. Within the next two weeks the government dispatched over 15,000 troops along with helicopter gun ships and fighter planes. The Zapatistas disappeared into the hills. The initial phase of the Zapatista Rebellion, and most of the fighting, was over. But what caused them to leave the jungle's hills and canyons in the first place?
January 1 marked the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, or TLC, Tratado Libre Comercial, in Mexico). When questioned about the timing of the uprising, Ross tells us Marcos responded by saying, "the free trade treaty is the death certificate for the ethnic peoples of Mexico" (p. 21). NAFTA would flood the market with cheap imports from the United States -- especially maize which U.S. farmers produce more efficiently than the indigenous Maya -- and ruin the local peasant economy (Russell, p.16). Yet the EZLN had been organizing for ten years prior to NAFTA, Marcos tells us. So NAFTA, albeit of great importance, must be considered only a proximate cause, an event used by the Zapatistas to further their cause. The timing was perfect: an uprising by impoverished, discriminated indigenous people to counter Mexico's claim to first world status.
Another significant factor was the reform of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution in 1992. Article 27 was the Aagrarian Code written into the post-revolutionary constitution of 1917. It granted poor landless people the right to petition the government for grants of land -- the Mexican ejido. The reforms in 1992 ended these rights and dashed any hopes people had of obtaining land. Marcos said, "the comrades say that land is life, that if you don't have land, you're living dead, so why live. It's better to fight and to die fighting" (in Russell, p. 40).
Neither NAFTA nor agrarian reforms caused the rebellion. These were but the most recent events. The rebellion, Ross correctly points out, was 502 years in the making. Ultimately we must conclude the rebellion was caused by an ongoing legacy of exploitation and discrimination that made the indigenous people of Chiapas one of the poorest in all Mexico. Chiapas was not "forgotten," as some might suggest. Rather it was the manner in which Chiapas was incorporated into the national economy that produced such poverty. Chiapas is not poor; Chiapas is rich, as Benjamin notes. Chiapas is one of Mexico's top producers of coffee, maize, cattle, oil, natural gas, and electricity. The latter is especially telling because Chiapas leads the nation in the proportion of homes without electricity. Chiapas also has the highest rates of illiteracy and deaths due to curable diseases. Government expenditures in Chiapas have perennially been lower than the national average. The lack of development is matched by repression; Chiapas has the highest number of human rights violations in Mexico. Marcos sums it up eloquently: "five hundred years after the meeting of two worlds' indigenous people have the option to die of misery or repression" (Shadows, p. 36).
The EZLN actions on January 1 surprised many. But how much of a surprise was it? The indigenous people of Chiapas have a long history of organized protest dating back to the colonial period, Benjamin, Russell, and Ross point out. In the contemporary period, indigenous peasants have organized struggles for land and wages since the late 1960s. Organized groups staged land invasions, strikes, marches, blockades, and takeovers to protest landlessness, poverty, low wages, and lack of government assistance. Marcos says he entered the area in 1983 and began organizing. Yet officially the government claimed to have had no warning. Ross, Russell, and Marcos argue otherwise. Prior to 1994 there were encounters between the rebels and government forces; a Zapatista training camp was discovered in 1993. Ross goes so far as to argue that some elements of U.S. intelligence must have known. Yet it was kept quiet. Why? Because, all authors agree, the United States was in the middle of intense debate on NAFTA. Had knowledge of rebels in Chiapas been known, Ross quotes an insider as saying, "NAFTA would have been dead..." (p. 51).
The Zapatista rebellion had several important consequences, both within Chiapas and on national and international levels. Within Chiapas the Zapatista Rebellion stimulated peasant protest. Russell quotes one activist as saying, "the Zapatistas have opened our eyes" (p. 57). One hundred and eleven municipal mayors were forced out of office within the first five months. Landless peasants invaded ranches. Some ranchers, in response and sometimes in anticipation, hired private armies.
The most enduring legacy of the Zapatista Rebellion promises to be the success with which the Zapatistas challenged the Mexican government's hegemony. After the bullets ceased to fly, and even before, the battle for control of the representation of the Rebellion began. It was, in terms put forth by Antonio Gramsci, a war of position in which each side strove for the hegemony. The Zapatistas were able to present their perspective and in so doing to broaden and in some sense to recast the terms in which the rebellion was discussed. The books by Russell and Ross capture well this aspect of the rebellion. More insightful still are the communiques assembled in Shadows. Together they show how the Zapatistas managed an unprecedented triumph in their war of words with the government. The government was unable to delegitimize the Zapatistas' cause. The EZLN's political ideology (expressed repeatedly in communiques) -- to seek democratic and equitable governance, Marcos' extremely popular prose (well displayed in Shadows), and a new era of communication technology (the internet) combined to enable the Zapatistas to challenge Mexican government's hegemony. A brief example will demonstrate the point; many more are found in Shadows.
The Mexican government response, in addition to sending thousands of troops and war equipment, was to attempt to discredit the EZLN. By January 5, the Mexican government was claiming the rebellion was not an indigenous uprising but one led by Mexican and foreign professionals; "professionals of violence," Salinas called them (Russell, p. 26). The indigenous people had been manipulated by Guatemalans, Salvadorans, and "communistic priests," claimed the government (Ross, p. 107).
Marcos joined the battle of words on January 6. Speaking for the clandestine revolutionary council, Marcos refuted government assertions. In a letter addressed to the people of Mexico and the people of the world he stated, "our EZLN does not contain a single foreigner in our ranks or in our leadership bodies" (Shadows, p. 58). He goes on to say that EZLN troops "are mostly indigenous people of Chiapas, because the indigenous are the poorest and most dispossessed of Mexico" (Shadows, p. 57).
As Marcos says in his introduction to Shadows, the communiques were written for specific purposes. Yet the reader can see how elements of mayan history and culture were used in presenting the Zapatista cause. Hard work, poverty, discrimination, and death are the themes that formed the core of Zapatista rhetoric. These are also core elements in the culture of indigenous people in Chiapas. They know their history well; it is part of indigenous consciouness and identity. The Zapatista movement did not create this consciousness, but it did use it, and in the process transformed a cultural identity into a revolutionary consciousness.
Chiapas, History and Language
Thomas Benjamin's A Rich Land, A Poor People describes the legacy of exploitation and discrimination of the indigenous populations of Chiapas by elite, ethnically distinct ladinos that underlies the Zapatista Rebellion, and the many other insurgencies that occurred throughout Chiapas' history. His focus, however, is not on the indigenous population. Rather, he examines the elite -- the familia chiapaneca -- and their control of economic resources and political power through the 19th and 20th centuries. Benjamin's well supported thesis is that throughout this period the elite used government to promote "narrow economic development without broad-based social development" (p. xix). This new edition (the first edition was published in 1989) brings the history of Chiapas up to the outbreak of the rebellion. My only criticism is that in trying to support his thesis he sometimes overlooks the unintended consequences of elite and subaltern actions. If we follow Benjamin's analysis exclusively we might understand why the Zapatista Rebellion occurred, but not how or why at this time.
Spaniards conquered Chiapas in 1524. Chiapas held no mineral wealth -- no gold, no silver. But there was wealth to be had in Chiapas' agricultural commodities, especially cacao and cochineal (and, when they were introduced, coffee, cotton, sugar cane, and tobacco). Colonial institutions granted Spaniards control of indigenous labor with which to exploit these products. Although the mechanisms changed this situation maintained throughout the colonial and post colonial period. Postcolonial conflicts elsewhere in Mexico during this time took on superficial expressions in Chiapas. "Liberals" ultimately gained the upper hand. They strengthened the power of state government and increased ties to the central government, but, Benjamin argues, wealthy, landed, regional bosses, caciques, continued to reign supreme.
With the consolidation of his power, Porfirio Diaz set out to modernize Mexico. Porfirian governors in Chiapas followed his lead. They promoted a model of development that emphasized infrastructure: roads, rail lines, and private property. Communal land tenure was effectively abolished. Foreign investment in Chiapas, especially the coffee region of Soconusco and the hardwood forests of the Lacandon, increased. This resulted, Benjamin argues, in "economic success [but] social disaster" (p. 49). It was a model of development which benefited the elite, and the elite in Chiapas were large landholders producing agricultural commodities with indigenous labor. In fact, debt peonage was so rampant in Chiapas that it earned the nickname of the "slave state."
We do not hear the indigenous voice in Benjamin's account. Benjamin's analysis includes an impressive array of written records: government decrees and laws, and even letters between porfirian governors and Diaz himself. The indigenous did not participate at this level of governance and we are left to infer their political activities from this period.
The Mexican Revolution ended the porfiriato. The Revolution in Chiapas, however, is not known for its peasant armies and its reforms -- the stuff of central Mexico -- but for the conservative response. Benjamin argues that there was no true social revolution in Chiapas (p. 96). The peasantry did not take up arms. Antagonists took national labels (e.g. Maderist, Carrancist) but, like the period before, they were largely labels of convenience in internal struggles for power. In 1911, leaders in the central highlands fought against power holders in the central valley. The conflict was short-lived, ending later that same year. It was short-lived, Benjamin argues, not only because of military defeats, but because the highlanders organized an indigenous army and that created the specter of caste war. In 1914, with the incursion of one of Carranza's armies led by General Castro, the Revolution came to Chiapas. Taking control of the government, he ended debt peonage, and instituted other reforms. In response conservative landowners organized an army which fought the Revolutionary army to a standstill. In a 1920 agreement with President Obregon, their leader became the governor of Chiapas. Elite control of economic resources and political power remained in the hands of the elite. However, Benjamin points out that "small acts of local defiance, popular violence, village independence, and individual rebellion ... created a Chiapas that was far more difficult to govern, control, and farm" (p. 96). The largely indigenous peasantry had been revolutionized.
In post-revolutionary Chiapas the elite both "resisted and adapted to changing circumstances," Benjamin argues (p. 148). Over the course of the 20th century national politics played a progressively more important role within the state. With the ups and downs of various factions, agrarian movements, and union efforts were either supported or brutally repressed. In the immediate post-revolutionary period little changed. The counter-revolution had largely succeeded and landowner economic resources were left intact. Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40) and his governor in Chiapas forced through revolutionary reforms. The Department of Indigenous Protection (DPI) was created to regulate and protect indigenous labor. Unionization increased. The latter two, according to Benjamin, had unintended consequences. The DPI gave greater autonomy to indigenous communities, but in the process created indigenous caciques. And the government, in essence, coopted the unions. Nonetheless, by the end of the Cardenas period indigenous groups were more prone to organized action than ever before.
In the modern era (1950-90), Benjamin argues, the government has continued to serve elite interests. During this period Chiapas experienced considerable growth in the agricultural sector. Large private landholders benefited, while the ejido sector was progressively underdeveloped. Nonetheess, peace reigned during the 1950s and 1960s; agrarian reform acted as a safety valve. In the 1970s increasing demand for land on the part of indigenous peasants coupled with severe repression on the part of landowners and the government led, Benjamin argues, to "a low-level, locally-focused agrarian war, bitter and bloody" (p. 230). Peasants lost faith in government agencies (e.g. the national peasant confederation, CNC) and organized on their own. The now better organized peasants staged land invasions and strikes. The government responded with increased repression. By the 1990s, Benjamin describes Chiapas as a state ripe for rebellion; the peasants had proven organizations, were experienced with conflict, and had experienced severe government repression. In 1992, the people we would soon come to know as the Zapatistas voted to go to war. Benjamin's well grounded analysis of Chiapan history leads us up to this point, however the rebellion was not as inevitable as implied. Many questions remain, not the least of which is the role of culture.
Rodrigo de la Torre Yarza's book, Chiapas: Entre la Torre de Babel y la Lengua Nacional, promised insight into the culture, and the possibility of cultural resistance expressed through indigenous language use, of the people in lowland Chiapas from which the Zapatistas emerged (de la Torre's research was done prior to the Zapatista Rebellion). In the lowlands he found six indigenous languages, as well as Spanish, which were brought to the region by people who immigrated at various times in the past 100 years. The interesting feature, de la Torre notes, is that Spanish does not dominate. In fact, the author argues, there is no linguistic hierarchy (p. 90-91). Why does Spanish not dominate? This is the central theme of de la Torre's book.
The linguistic diversity is a product of immigration, the author explains. First by river, later by road, people migrated into the region in search of land. With the establishment of agrarian reform after the Mexican revolution, rural landless people petitioned the government for grants of land. In this region these solicitants, the author tells us, were wait-listed on the basis of their landlessness, not their community of origin nor their language. Newly established ejidos, therefore, often contained speakers of several languages. In addition groups of indigenous people, organized on the basis of religion not language, founded communities.
Over time and with new generations linguistic diversity transformed into multilingualism as people began to learn and use the languages of other people in the region. The vast majority of people in the region are at least bilingual, and de la Torre cites several examples of people who speak three and even four languages. Spanish is frequently one of the languages spoken, seemingly moreso than any other (no exact assessment is offered and the tables in which the data are presented are ineffectively organized), yet de la Torre argues that it does not dominate in multilingual settings, but is rather one of several equally valued alternatives for communication (p. 87).
Multilingualism continues, de la Torre argues, because of a conjunction of factors operating at three levels: the family, the community, and the region. Early settler families were often monolingual. However, newer families frequently brought together men and women who spoke different languages. Children grew up in households where multilingualism was necessary and encouraged. The same may be said of the community, de la Torre argues, multilingual communities facilitate multilingualism. In the region, de la Torre argues, economic and religious factors promote multilingualism. Workers communicate through indigenous languages perpetuating multilingualism. In addition translations of the bible into indigenous languages add support and value to those languages. Taken together, these factors help explain how multilingualism is perpetuated in the region. But they do not completely answer the last question: why has Spanish not come to dominate?
De la Torre argues that there are two theoretical models with which to explain multilingual situations. One, the assimilationist model, proposes that the national language, imposed in an obligatory fashion, will come to dominate. De la Torre rejects this model on the simple grounds that indigenous languages continue to be spoken. Although true, his simple rejection misses some of the finer points he himself later presents: schools are relatively new to the area, and bilingualism (Spanish and one of the several indigenous languages) is seemingly on the increase. A better understanding of the position of indigenous languages and the "lengua nacional" should address the Spanish side of the equation in more detail.
He also rejects a second model, cultural resistance. Unfortunately his reading of this perspective is based solely on Frederick Barth's Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. In simple terms, Barth argues that ethnic identities create or maintain we/they distinctions, boundaries. De la Torre argues that boundary maintenance is nonexistent or minimal and therefore cultural resistance does not explain the continued use of many indigenous languages. More recent scholarship on ethnic identity suggests ethnicity is situational and hierarchical. The indigenous people of Chiapas have an identity not just as Tzeltal or Chol but as indigenous and opposed to ladino/Spanish speaking. De la Torre argues that competence explains why Spanish does not dominate; they speak in the language they are most competent. Linguistic competence may play a role, but de la Torre misses the implications of their choosing to speak indigenous languages, a fact he notes but ignores. The continued use of indigenous languages in the face of the official, national language is a clear example of cultural resistance, de la Torre's superficial rejection aside. Overall, de la Torre's book presents a fascinating topic and some interesting data, but it is poorly organized and inadequately conceptualized. By carefully reading between the lines one can see potential bases for resistance the rebellion, which would emerge from this area.
The theoretical insight lacking in Torre de Babel and in the accounts of the Zapatista Rebellion is present in Howard Campbell's Zapotec Renaissance. How indigenous culture and ethnic identity became the foundation for solidarity and political action is the focus of Campbell's rich description of the history of resistance on the part of the Zapotecs of Juchitan, Oaxaca. Through selective use of history and ethnic identity, Juchiteco Zapotec culture has become a tool in past and current political struggles. Campbell argues against stereotypical views of Indians: they are oppressed, they always lose, the bear rich culture but are victims, etc. The Zapotecs of Juchitan are none of these, Campbell argues. They "are intensely proud of their history, control local political offices, run most of the commerce, and have a lively cultural movement" (p. xv-xvi). Zapotec Renaissance, centered on the COCEI (worker, peasant, student coalition of the Isthmus [of Tehuantepec]) movement, shows us processes whereby culture is constituted and reconstituted into a political force.
Campbell critically reviews three theories of ethnic politics, all of which he finds flawed. Marxist theories minimize the importance of ethnicity, he argues. New social movements literature, he contends, neglects the importance of history. Campbell also criticizes an approach that asserts that traditions are invented and that identity is a cultural invention, a local tactic. This latter perspective, Campbell argues, "may not give a full account of the histories of cultural production and political struggle within which such inventions' are inserted" (p. xviii). Campbell advocates a processual approach, based heavily on Roseberry (1989), an approach which is both local and global and which views history, ethnicity, and political struggle as both constituted and constitutive.
Campbell argues that history and ethnicity are used by the COCEI in contemporary political struggles. However, their vision of history and ethnicity is rooted in a long history of political struggle. The author devotes several chapters to Isthmus Zapotec history from the precolonial period to the present. It is a selective history with the emphasis on political conflict and ethnicity. COCEI leaders claim the Zapotec "race" has always been free. Campbell sets out to prove their claim.
The Zapotecs entered the region circa 1350 and conquered the local population. They repeatedly resisted Aztecs incursions. In the 16th century the were conquered by the Spanish, but continued to resist. Campbell documents several rebellions during the colonial period. Not everyone rebelled, he notes, but the level of resistance was high enough for future generations to draw upon (p. 26). After independence the Zapotecs of Juchitan continued to resist outside control, be that French (circa 1860) or Mexican.
Campbell describes the birth of the COCEI. Previous organizations laid much of the groundwork, but Juchiteco students, trained in Oaxaca City or Mexico City, got it off the ground. At first COCEI activities centered on freeing prisoners and raising wages (p. 151). With each victory, however, the movement grew. Another crucial factor in their success was that Zapotec intellectuals, the leaders of COCEI, also promoted Zapotec culture through art, books, language, and song. COCEI, with the support of the famous Zapotec artist Francisco Toledo, established the Casa de Cultura. The "casa" became a focal point for Zapotec culture and politics, fusing the two into a powerful weapon.
In the 1970s COCEI began to contend with conservative elements of the PRI for local political offices. To repress the movement, COCEI leaders were jailed or assassinated. Campbell argues this only made the movement stronger. In 1978 they formed the "people's government," orchestrating land invasions, taking over government buildings, and organizing strikes. In the 1980s COCEI became a legal political party and, despite continued repression and fraudulent elections, ultimately won control of local political offices. This unprecedented victory, Campbell argues, was due in large part to the impetus of their millenarian vision of Zapotec culture.
Zapotec culture and ethnicity played a central role in their success. Casa writers defined the struggle as a continuation of Zapotec ethnic resistance, digging into various archives to support their arguments. The Zapotec language, Campbell points out, "became a very conscious, symbolic act of ethnic affirmation" (p. 176). Even COCEI demonstrations, Campbell notes, are very much in Zapotec style. They begin in neighborhoods with everyone participating, including women who did much of the yeoman work for the movement. (However, Campbell notes there are no women in leadership positions.) Their speeches, in Zapotec, are full of "culturally specific anecdotes." With the addition of music, dance, and drink the demonstrations take on the atmosphere of a fiesta (p. 179). Clearly the COCEI movement used Zapotec culture to mobilize support and add legitimacy to their efforts. Campbell cites a speech given by a COCEI leader at a rally attended by then president Salinas de Gortari: "We are a people who over the generations have defended with pride, passion, and bravery our ethnic identity..." (pp. 206).
Campbell points out that COCEI leaders "developed a rich ethnic discourse whose central elements are a politicized view of Isthmus history and a grounding of current coalition politics in their supposed Zapotec cultural roots" (p. 239-40). It is a local tactic but, Campbell argues, these traditions and identities are not completely fluid. They are situated within a history of struggle and its collective memory. In this regard the Zapotec movement closely resembles the Zapatista Rebellion. An ethnic identity, a vision of history, in short a people's culture, is used to counter the dominant ideology and organize resistance.
One is left with a question. Why were the Zapotecs of Juchitan successful, albeit in a limited local forum? Why have the Zapatistas of Chiapas enjoyed the successes they have? Other areas of Mexico, and elsewhere in Latin America, have rich cultural traditions and deep visions of their history. Many people in Latin America, especially the indigenous, have been exploited and discriminated against for centuries. Governments have either turned their backs or actively repressed them. These are the very points the authors reviewed here suggest brought on the Zapatista Rebellion. Yet few have taken up arms; many remain oppressed, seemingly unmotivated and unorganized. The works reviewed here suggest that maybe the answer lies not in the fact of exploitation or in the presence of an ethnic identity or other such, but in its use. An ethnic or cultural consciousness is not enough. Rather, to borrow a distinction Marx made long ago for class consciousness, what is needed is a consciousness of ethnicity "for" or culture "for," not just "of." It is a form of cultural resistance that mobilizes and motivates a people. However, we must respect the fact, as James Scott pointed out a few years ago, that resistance, rebellion is most often unceremoniously crushed. Culture may be a mechanism of resistance and rebellion, but it certainly does not assure success.
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Last updated 5/2001