Histories and Stories from Chiapas

Histories and Stories from Chiapas

R. AÍDA HERNÁNDEZ CASTILLO
Translated by Martha Pou
Foreword by Renato Rosaldo
Copyright Date: 2001
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/731486
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  • Book Info
    Histories and Stories from Chiapas
    Book Description:

    The 1994 Zapatista uprising of Chiapas' Maya peoples against the Mexican government shattered the state myth that indigenous groups have been successfully assimilated into the nation. In this wide-ranging study of identity formation in Chiapas, Aída Hernández delves into the experience of a Maya group, the Mam, to analyze how Chiapas' indigenous peoples have in fact rejected, accepted, or negotiated the official discourse on "being Mexican" and participating in the construction of a Mexican national identity.

    Hernández traces the complex relations between the Mam and the national government from 1934 to the Zapatista rebellion. She investigates the many policies and modernization projects through which the state has attempted to impose a Mexican identity on the Mam and shows how this Maya group has resisted or accommodated these efforts. In particular, she explores how changing religious affiliation, women's and ecological movements, economic globalization, state policies, and the Zapatista movement have all given rise to various ways of "being Mam" and considers what these indigenous identities may mean for the future of the Mexican nation. The Spanish version of this book won the 1997 Fray Bernardino de Sahagún national prize for the best social anthropology research in Mexico.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79833-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    RENATO ROSALDO

    R. Aída Hernández Castillo’s Histories and Stories from Chiapas traces the historical vicissitudes of Mexican Mam identity, showing how these people have both disappeared from official view and continued to exist as a self-conscious group. In other words, her innovative study explores the dilemmas of an ethnic group whose very existence has been called into question. The Mexican Mam disappeared from view because of the changes that they underwent in language, dress, religion, and subsistence. These changes made them appear to have vanished as an indigenous minority and to have assimilated into the mestizo majority, thereby losing their collective identity....

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-11)

    In the southeastern Sierra Madre of Chiapas, an extension of the Rocky Mountains that encompasses lowlands at an altitude of about 3,600 feet and highlands at 12,000 feet, live some eight thousand peasants who identify themselves as Mam.¹ The Mam first came to the border region between Chiapas and Guatemala at the end of the nineteenth century and established scattered settlements there. In the 1960s a small group of some three hundred emigrated to the Lacandon rain forest, on the other side of the border (see Map 1).

    It was in these rain forest communities, in a small ejido² on...

  7. First Border Crossing. DON ROBERTO: WORKING FOR CHANGE IN THE SIERRA
    (pp. 12-17)

    As I reconstructed the history of forced Hispanicizing campaigns that some elder Mames had told me about, I found in several testimonies references to the National Presbyterian church as one of the few places in which the Mam language could be spoken during the 1930s.¹ These testimonies, together with the Mam-language Bible that circulated in several communities in the Sierra, awakened my interest in the history of this denomination as well as its role in the lives of Mam peasants. I was advised to speak to Roberto Hernández, a schoolteacher and a governor of the Presbyterian church, who knew well...

  8. Chapter 1 THE POSTREVOLUTIONARY NATIONAL PROJECT AND THE MEXICANIZATION OF THE MAM PEOPLE
    (pp. 18-48)

    While sitting in front of a fireplace and chatting with a group of peasant colonizers of Las Margaritas rain forest, I was told for the first time by an elder Mam about the “Law of Government,” which had forbidden them their language and burned their costumes. Over there, by the rivers Santo Domingo and Jataté, where the Sierra Madre seems so far away and the history of the Mexican Revolution remains only a story told by the elders, the past weighs heavily on some. Resentment colored Don Manuel’s chronicle about the time when “language was kept locked and time took...

  9. Chapter 2 THE MODERNIZING PROJECT: BETWEEN THE MUSEUM AND THE DIASPORA
    (pp. 49-75)

    The 1950s are remembered by Soconusco finqueros as times of plenty, when agroexport products reached their highest international price as a result of the rapid economic recovery of post–World War II Europe. For Sierra peasants, it was a time of darkness in a literal sense, for these were the years when onchocercosis, known locally as the “purple disease,” reached alarming levels, causing blindness in thousands of peasants. If “the burning of costumes” marked the historical memory of old Mames during the 1930s, the trauma of the purple disease marks the testimonies of the 1950s.

    Although they share the same...

  10. Second Border Crossing. PEDRO: SEARCHING FOR PARADISE ON EARTH
    (pp. 76-80)

    I met Pedro for the first time one morning as I was bathing with several refugee women friends in the river near Las Ceibas. I had begun to be less embarrassed by participating in the collective bath, but because of my urban modesty, I had not yet been able to take off my shorts and T-shirt, which made the daily ritual very uncomfortable. K’anjobal refugee women usually bathed in an underskirt with the upper part of the body naked. Men passing by did not seem to pay much attention to the young and old breasts so freely exposed.

    Pedro arrived...

  11. Chapter 3 MAM JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES: NEW RELIGIOUS IDENTITIES AND REJECTION OF THE NATION
    (pp. 81-99)

    By the mid-seventies a group of Mam peasants decided to seek new paths and abandon the Mariscal region. Crossing borders of geography and identity, about sixty families migrated to the southwestern zone of the Lacandon rain forest, the so-called Cañadas de Las Margaritas. Most of these families had previously been converted to a new religious creed, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this chapter I explore the history of the inhabitants of Las Ceibas, one of the many ejidos founded in the borderland of Las Margaritas at that time. My long stay there allowed me to learn the history and origins of...

  12. Chapter 4 FROM MESTIZO MEXICO TO MULTICULTURAL MEXICO: INDIGENISMO IN THE SIERRA MADRE
    (pp. 100-121)

    The seventies marked a radical turn in relations between indigenous people and the state along the southern border. Integrationist policies shifted, and the nationalist discourse about amestizo Mexico was replaced by another about a multicultural Mexico. The change in official policies resulted from the confluence of several social forces and from structural transformations in the model of the state, which were starting to be seen under the administration of Luis Echeverría Alvarez. While the inhabitants of Las Ceibas were making their way into the rain forest to found their Paradise on Earth, Mam peasants who remained in the Sierra Madre...

  13. Third Border Crossing. DON EUGENIO: “RESCUING” MAM CULTURE
    (pp. 122-128)

    The concrete building of the Indigenist Coordinator Center, an example of the austere architecture that characterized public building in the 1970s, represented for several years the symbol of modernity reaching the Sierra. Established in 1978 by the INI to support the development of Mam, Mochó, and Cakchiquel indigenous peoples, the CCI has become, over the years, an intermediary between peasants and governmental institutions working in the region. Located on Mazapa de Madero ejidal lands, but far from the settlement, the CCI rises in the heart of the Sierra like a white elephant in the middle of a deserted plain between...

  14. Chapter 5 MAM DANCE GROUPS: NEW CULTURAL IDENTITIES AND THE PERFORMANCE OF THE PAST
    (pp. 129-155)

    The changes in the official discourse from a mestizo Mexico to a multicultural Mexico created new institutional spaces wherein Sierra peasants could identify themselves as Mam indigenous people. On searching for a place in this new Multicultural Mexico, Mam peasants drew on their elders’ memories and took on the task of reinventing their traditions by means of “cultural rescue” groups. In their dialogue with official indigenism, several initiatives emerged to promote the use of the Mam language and the knowledge and rescue of the traditions of the ancients. Ultimately, Mam peasants appropriated these institutional spaces for cultural rescue created by...

  15. Fourth Border Crossing. DOÑA LUZ: ORGANIZING FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS
    (pp. 156-160)

    After living for almost a year in the Sierra, I heard about a “cultural rescue” movement that was not linked to official indigenism. It was composed of agro-ecological cooperative societies that, in tandem with their work, promoted the recovery of cultural traditions. Up to that point, my research had focused on what I called two circuits of social relations, the twenty-two communities participating in the Danzas Mames and the Presbyterian communities made up primarily of Mam peasants. These two “circuits,” together with the archival research that I was pursuing in Mazapa de Madero, Siltepec, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and Mexico City, left...

  16. Chapter 6 ORGANIC GROWERS: AGRO-ECOLOGICAL CATHOLICISM AND THE INVENTION OF TRADITIONS
    (pp. 161-186)

    In the last two decades we have witnessed the emergence of a number of social spaces in the Sierra, some complementary and others contradictory, within which there have been efforts to recover, re-create, and thereby reinvent Mam cultural traditions. Several organic growers’ cooperative societies,¹ like the Mam dance groups, have been formed whose organizing principle is the “rescuing” of their cultural roots. They constitute a minority of the Mam population that to a certain extent has fared a little better in the economic crisis caused by the neoliberal policies of recent administrations. Of course, the activities of these cooperative societies...

  17. Chapter 7 FROM PRONASOL TO THE ZAPATISTA UPRISING
    (pp. 187-232)

    One February morning in 1992 the indigenist radio station XEVFS, “the Voice of the Southern Border,” announced that Congress had approved constitutional amendments to Article 27 recommended by the administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari. The amendments would establish the legal basis for the ejido to become private property. The broadcast explained that, among other things, this new Agrarian Law would allow peasants to sell or rent out their lands; and private companies would be able to buy ejidal lands from ejidatarios and investors for private use or to incorporate them into agribusinesses. Finally, the broadcast announced that this agrarian...

  18. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 233-242)

    The voices of the Mam peasants of Chiapas tell us about the way in which the nation is lived and conceived on the “other border,” the southern border of Mexico and the cultural border of changing and contextual identities that have been constructed in dialogue with official discourses and in a context of global markets. This case study helps us to approach the way in which “indigenous cultures” have been historically produced in a dialectical relation of resistance and domination with the Mexican nation state. The extreme experiences of rapid change and cultural reinvention help us to reflect on the...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 243-256)
  20. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 257-260)
  21. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 261-278)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 279-295)