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Elusive Unity

Elusive Unity: Factionalism and the Limits of Identity Politics in Yucatán, Mexico

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero
Copyright Date: 2013
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  • Book Info
    Elusive Unity
    Book Description:

    In Elusive Unity, Armstrong-Fumero examines early twentieth-century peasant politics and twenty-first-century indigenous politics in the rural Oriente region of Yucatán. The rural inhabitants of this region have had some of their most important dealings with their nation's government as self-identified "peasants" and "Maya." Using ethnography, oral history, and archival research, Armstrong-Fumero shows how the same body of narrative tropes has defined the local experience of twentieth-century agrarianism and twenty-first-century multiculturalism. Through these recycled narratives, contemporary multicultural politics have also inherited some ambiguities that were built into its agrarian predecessor. Specifically, local experiences of peasant and indigenous politics are shaped by tensions between the vernacular language of identity and the intense factionalism that often defines the social organization of rural communities. This significant contribution will be of interest to historians, anthropologists, and political scientists studying Latin America and the Maya.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-239-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 Peasants and Maya, Solidarity and Factionalism
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book is a study of the dichotomous nature of identity politics. It documents how the same forms of politicized self-labeling that members of local communities use to build large-scale coalitions can also fuel factional disputes. The rural inhabitants of Oriente, a region of the Mexican state of Yucatán, have had some of their most important dealings with their nation’s government as self-identified “peasants” and “Maya.” In the early twentieth century, peasant identity played a key role in a series of institutions through which communities secured title to collectively held lands and free public schools, and asserted their rights as...

  6. 2 “How It Happened That We Fomented This Town”: Tensions between Family Autonomy and Community Solidarity during the Agrarian Reform
    (pp. 23-50)

    The story of twentieth-century identity politics in Oriente begins with the redistribution of land. In the 1920s a mixed state and federal bureaucracy instituted procedures through which communities could gain legal recognition and protection of the lands on which they lived and raised crops. This reform established a series of formally recognized, bounded territories referred to as ejidos, which were controlled collectively by communities of peasants. The peasants’ previous means of claiming these lands had ranged from colonial-era documents to the simple act of occupying tracts that had been abandoned by the previous occupants. These claims were subsumed into a...

  7. 3 “Back Then, There Was No Order”: The Early Twentieth Century in Collective Memory
    (pp. 51-76)

    The agrarian reform, a process that played a central role in the ideology of post-Revolutionary Mexico, was experienced in rural Oriente as an often incongruous mix of unity and discord. That is, the same juridical frameworks that promoted unity through the shared investment in ejido lands also enabled dissident factions to strike out and solicit their own autonomous grants. This ambivalence permeated local ways of making sense of the class-based identities that played a prominent role in post-Revolutionary Mexican politics. If the Revolution had “redeemed” rural agriculturalists from the “slavery” of the ancien régime and distributed land to those who...

  8. 4 “Now There Is More Culture”: Rural Schools as Monuments to Revolutionary Culture
    (pp. 77-94)

    The same ambivalence that inheres in the memory of Socialist militancy and the agrarian reform also permeates the experience of “culture” in rural Oriente. As I hinted in Chapter 1, many people in these communities refer to “culture” as something that individuals have more or less of, depending on their degree of assimilation into ethnically unmarked Hispanic society. This element of vernacular speech reflects both the deep-seated heritage of ethnic hierarchy and a more specific set of narratives that emerged tangentially with the foundation of rural schools in the 1920s and 1930s. As I will discuss in greater detail later...

  9. 5 “When I First Went to Study”: Pedagogy, National History, and Bilingualism
    (pp. 95-112)

    This chapter focuses on two contemporary oral traditions that are intimately tied to the legacy of rural schools: narratives about national history and a language ideology that distinguishes between “good” and “bad” Spanish. Though the first generation of rural schools taught a range of subjects that included mathematics, natural science, and various technical professions, Spanish and national history were at the heart of the stated goals of post-Revolutionary education. The way in which these two subjects were taught played a key role in shaping a series of oral narratives with which rural Maya speakers today are making sense of the...

  10. 6 “That Time of Change”: The Limits of Agriculture and the Rise of the Tourist Industry
    (pp. 113-136)

    The histories that I traced in Chapters 2 through 5 documented a series of parallels between local experiences of early twentieth-century institutions and those of post–Cold War multiculturalism. The legal protocols associated with the ejido, objects such as books and schoolhouses, narratives about national history, and the concept of culture all became part of a language for talking about the collective identity of rural communities and their relationship to the Mexican state. This deep-seated discourse is still present in different iterations of local identity politics, even as a series of economic and political transitions have altered the social makeup...

  11. 7 “What Does ‘Culture’ Mean?”: Progressivism, Patrimonialism, and Corporatism in Vernacular Discourse on Maya Culture
    (pp. 137-160)

    What makes the politics of “Mayan” identity distinct from older notions of citizenship and political organization? Some anthropologists have seen the appropriation of the term “Maya” by speakers of aboriginal languages as a redefinition of what it means to be indigenous in Mesoamerica. In particular, movements such as Guatemalan Pan-Mayanism have been interpreted as the rise of a collective identity that has the potential to transcend more localized, community-based ethnonyms (Fischer and Brown 1997; Montejo 2005; Warren 1998). On the surface, it seems that something similar might be happening in Oriente, as people from a range of different social classes...

  12. 8 The Realpolitik of Yucatecan Multiculturalism
    (pp. 161-182)

    Historically, tension between unity and discord has characterized each regime of state-sanctioned identity politics experienced by the rural people of Oriente. In the 1920s, the leftist discourse associated with the Socialist Party forged a fragile paramilitary coalition between diverse kajo’ob, but also provided an ideological gloss for factional struggles that fractured this fleeting alliance. In that same decade, the agrarian reform offered an incentive for communities to come together and solicit title to their lands, even as it enabled some dissident factions to stake competing claims that fragmented the population and land base of many older kajo’ob. In the 1930s,...

  13. References
    (pp. 183-196)
  14. Index
    (pp. 197-203)