Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico


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Scriptures, Utopias, and the Chicano Movement

A result is constantly shifting perspectives and attitudes, both on the part of the protagonists as well as the investigators who observe them. Seemingly, the more we study the less we know. Of the books under review in this essay, the authors are the most skeptical of the positive consequences of the politicization of ethnic identities. The authors ask why some politicians chose to base their campaigns and policies on ethnic identities, and what the consequences are of deciding to do so.

The book offers a comparative analysis of the five countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Bolivia, Peru, and the United States in an attempt to understand how and why ethnic identities become politicized. For those reading from a Latin American perspective, this broader geographic and cultural framing can prove to be most useful. The authors examine a range of factors, including long-term issues such as the legacy of colonial administrative structures, and shorter-term factors such as access to resources, language policies, and the actions of political leaders, to explain varying types and levels of the politicization of ethnic identities.

Singing for the dead : the politics of indigenous revival in Mexico

They develop a theoretical framework to understand how ethnic identities are transferred into socially salient factors used for political mobilizations. Furthermore, long-term factors contribute to the politicization, but in the short term political entrepreneurs can exploit ethnicity to mobilize populations.


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Finally, these authors contend that nation-building policies can reduce ethnic politicization and contribute to more inclusive and peaceful societies—ultimately a very admirable goal. Her book Multiple Injustices: Indigenous Women, Law, and Political Struggle in Latin America contains reflections from her lengthy and intimate involvement with Indigenous women in rural communities. She defends her alliance and collaboration with social movements, and contends that research helps develop critical thinking skills and advances struggles for social justice.

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Her book We Are the Face of Oaxaca is an expression of that long-term commitment to research in the state. For a time, those protests captured the attention of activists and scholars alike. Few scholars are better qualified than is Stephen to write about the arc of social protest that led to the formation of APPO, and its eventual unraveling. As a result, we gain a much deeper and more intimate understanding of the mobilizations in Oaxaca.

Similar to Stephen, Paja Faudree is also an anthropologist who studies ethnic politics in Oaxaca, although the methodology she employs is a textual analysis of the Mazatec language. Through a community-based study of singing and writing, she offers new perspectives on ethnic renewal and ethnic politics. Faudree acknowledges the tensions inherent in such revival movements, including the negotiation between local communities and federal governments and debates over who has the right to represent the Mazatec identity to a broader public.

When Mariano died of old age in , his son Nazario picked up his mantle until he was killed in a traffic accident in Through ethnographic research with Mariano and Nazario, de la Cadena traces political changes in the Andes from the liberal s through the neoliberal multiculturalism of the s.

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Rather than directly expressing her own political agenda, de la Cadena channels liberationist aspirations through the life stories of these two activists. Erazo examines the efforts since the s of the people in the community of Rukullakta in the Ecuadorian Amazon to attain sovereign control over their territory. Gaining legal title as a collective organization rather than as individuals or families represented an enormous accomplishment.

Erazo demonstrates how the titling process generated new expectations, obligations, and subjectivities. Particularly in the Andes and especially in Ecuador , a disciplinary divide has separated anthropologists who study eastern forest peoples, with a focus on their culture and cosmology, from historians, political scientists, sociologists, and others often remain in the highlands and emphasize themes of politics and economics. She presents new material based on both an investigation into local organizational archives and extensive participant-observation research, and embraces new methodological approaches that present new models for scholarship in the field.

The result is a well-written and well-organized book that engages the theoretical and ethnographic literature while also probing analytical concepts in a comprehensive fashion that successfully extends conversations concerning ethnic studies, social movements, civil rights, the environment, and other related issues. Waskar Ari, the only historian among the authors under review in this essay, steps back from the present, but the issues he engages are still very much under debate both in academia and beyond. In Earth Politics , Ari examines four Indigenous activist-intellectuals in Bolivia who drew on colonial legislation regarding administration of Indigenous populations to mobilize for their rights in the twentieth century.

The AMP drew on a nineteenth-century tradition of opposition to liberal reforms that deprived ayllus Indigenous communities of their lands, and the organization contributed to subsequent Katarista ideas that emerged in the s of rejecting internal colonialism and embracing an Aymara nationalism. Ari celebrates these historic leaders as a continuation of an independent and autonomous Indigenous tradition that he would like to see continue into the future. Erazo, in contrast, repeatedly probes and challenges what we think we know about Indigenous communities, organizational structures, and cosmologies.

Instead, she examines how these interactions led to challenges and tensions that determined decisions and directions that the community took. Erazo challenges interpretations of an innately communal identity among Indigenous peoples and interrogates how leaders constructed and presented such identities to forward specific political agendas. She complicates common assumptions that tensions necessarily emerged in disagreements between modernists and traditionalists in communities. The result is a book that significantly expands our understandings of Indigenous lives, communities, and organizational structures.

Focused through her work in Oaxaca, Faudree urges researchers to look beyond the explicitly or narrowly political to understand ideas about the nation that are expressed in oblique and hidden ways. Embodied in linguistic expressions are demands for autonomy and recognition. Faudree recounts how those in the Sierra Mazatec have reversed decades of cultural and linguistic erosion to revive use of their language and reinvent customs. While broadly this can be understood to be an outcome of civil society with explicitly political ramifications, it is also important to understand that it is largely the result of an intellectual production rather than emerging out of the vindications of a mass movement.

Much like Faudree, Ari also examines the role that organic intellectuals play in ethnic revival, with leaders wishing to purify ethnic expressions. The Bolivian leaders were known as alcaldes mayores , which draws on colonial terminology for local Indigenous leadership. Instead, they advocated for a return to the colonial policy of maintaining two separate and parallel republics, one for Indigenous peoples and another for those of European descent.

The AMP became known for their advocacy of worshiping Aymara gods and advocating for the creation of a separate Aymara republic called Qullasuyu.

If Weber, Hiers, and Flesken advocate for pluralism and inclusivity, Ari favors separation and exclusion. She analyzes the contradictions of the individual empowerment and market citizenship of neoliberal governance, even while those officials employ legal strategies to criminalize social protest and dissent. Rather than critiquing social movement strategies, Stephen dedicates much of her book to a more theoretically informed reflection on the relationship between oral testimonies, rights claiming, and identity formation.

She points to the critical role that oral narratives can play in the creation of political and ethnic identities. We are the face of Oaxaca. As an anthropologist, Stephen inserts herself directly into the story. She recounts posting videos of protests to YouTube and collecting material to assist in political asylum claims. This is a classic example of engaged activist-scholar research, though Stephen does not use that term. Her book provides an excellent example of the positive results of such an approach. Toribio Miranda, for example, claimed the use of traditional dress as a religious duty.

This book, perhaps inadvertently, makes it apparent just how superficial external ethnic markers can be. Depending on how one dressed and presented oneself, the same person could alternatively be seen as a mestizo, cholo, chullpa all intermediary categories between Indigenous and European , or Indigenous person. While holding on to tradition and identity in and of itself is valuable, and under no circumstances should anyone ever face discrimination for doing so, historically ethnicity has not proven to be a strong basis on which to build a powerful and sustainable movement for political change because ethnic positioning does little to address the underlying factors of class oppression, which does have concrete material ramifications.

At the same time, she remains quite critical of Marxist critiques of identity politics as a form of false consciousness. She condemns the paternalistic actions of outside agitators who come into a community with the notion that they can awaken the conscience of the oppressed, a shortcoming that was also present among liberation theologians in the Catholic Church.

Although she does not explicitly develop it as such, a contrast exists here between activists who come in with their answers and ethnocentric assumptions that do not match local realities, and collaborative research that works on a more horizontal level to highlight and enhance community concerns. Rather than ceremony or prayers, she contended, they needed better organization.


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De la Cadena interrogates a series of terms to identify Mariano and Nazario, but all of them are complicated labels and some they explicitly reject. Subsequent political leaders, such as Evo Morales in neighboring Bolivia, explicitly assumed an ethnic persona to campaign for office, which eventually made it impossible to ignore Indigenous leadership.

De la Cadena, however, argues that Indigenous leaders were always present, and the emergence of Indigenous intellectuals assisted in highlighting their contributions. Subsequently both Mariano and Nazario have been presented as renowned shamans, which is not how they would have necessarily identified themselves.

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Nazario initially did not know the word, and only later came to embrace it to enhance his interactions with New Age tourists who traveled to Machu Picchu in search of spiritual enlightenment. De la Cadena presents a sensitive discussion of the commodification of Indigenous knowledge, even as she understands the pressures of survival strategies.

Turpo, and subsequently his children, traveled to Cuzco to work with tourists during times when they could not gain sufficient income from their agricultural lifestyles. Even so, de la Cadena echoes common critiques of the failure of tourism to solve structural problems of persistent poverty and inequality in the Andes. The books discuss Indigenous identities in the two neighboring countries of Peru and Bolivia, and both authors are originally from their respective countries although they both now work at research universities in the United States de la Cadena at the University of California, Davis, and Ari at the University of Nebraska.

But that is where the similarities end. De la Cadena is a cosmopolitan from the capital city of Lima, and although she has studied Quechua she still relies on translators to communicate with her largely monolingual Quechua informants.

Singing for the Dead The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico

Ari, on the other hand, identifies as Aymara and speaks the language. Ari, on the other hand, embodies a strong antagonism to the political left. Globalization and the Decolonial Option. Guillermo Bonfil Batalla. Black Atlantic Religion. Lorand Matory. Jafari S. Stories in the Time of Cholera. Charles L.

Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico
Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico
Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico
Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico
Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico
Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico
Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico Singing for the Dead: The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico

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