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Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico

Vania Smith-Oka

Publication Year: 2013

Mainstream Mexican views of indigenous women center on them as problematic mothers, and development programs have included the goal of helping these women become "good mothers." Economic incentives and conditional cash transfers are the vehicles for achieving this goal. With ethnographic immediacy, Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico examines the dynamics among the various players--indigenous mothers, clinicians, and representatives of development programs. The women's voices lead the reader to understand the structures of dependency that paradoxically bind indigenous women within a program that calls for their empowerment.

The cash transfer program is Oportunidades, which enrolls more than a fifth of Mexico's population. It expects mothers to become involved in their children's lives at three nodes--health, nutrition, and education. If women do not comply with the standards of modern motherhood, they are dropped from the program and lose the bi-monthly cash payments. Smith-Oka explores the everyday implementation of the program and its unintended consequences.

The mothers are often berated by clinicians for having too many children (Smith-Oka provides background on the history of eugenics and population control in Mexico) and for other examples of their "backward" ways. An entire chapter focuses on the humor indigenous women use to cope with disrespectful comments. Ironically, this form of resistance allows the women to accept the situation that controls their behavior.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 4-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

Acronyms and Agencies

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pp. xiii-xiv

A Word on Nahuatl Pronunciation

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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: Burst Uterus and Spoiled Milk

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pp. 1-26

The pickup truck bounced along the rutted road. Tito was giggling in the backseat, enchanted by the constant honking of the passing trucks loaded down by their enormous cargos of oranges bound for the cities. His grandmother Esperanza sat composedly on the seat beside him, looking out at the rapidly passing scenery outside her open window...

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1. "Somos Mexicanos": Giving Birth to the Nation

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pp. 27-61

The nineteenth century was a time of tremendous upheaval for Mexico: it lost almost half its territory to the US in 1848; segregation of the old classes and castes was officially abolished, and vestiges of the colonial period were destroyed; communal landholdings (belonging to both the Church and the indigenous people) were forced to privatize under the...

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2. From Eugenics to Parteras: Changing Conceptions of Maternity

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pp. 62-97

Oportunidades was conceived to create modern mothers. Using this cash transfer program as a lens, we can analyze the ways that institutional forces impose a certain type of body politic on their subjects—particularly concerning reproduction. Linking the idea of disobedience with the broader perceptions of the women’s reproduction can help to show...

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3. Conflicted Relationships at Home and at the Clinic

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pp. 98-124

A poster hangs prominently in the clinic at Tepatepec. A picture of a happy extended indigenous family—mother, father (carrying their one daughter), and grandparents—reads “¡Que no te discriminen! Tienes derecho a que te traten con respeto. Si alguien te trata mal, o te condiciona la prestación de un servicio, repórtalo a Oportunidades” (No one should discriminate against...

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4. Expectations of Good Motherhood

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pp. 125-154

“Motherhood is the most highly judged state of your life.” This was said to me by one of my friends in the United States during the early days of my pregnancy, a few years after I returned from Amatlán. In this state, my friend—who is the mother of three children, two of whom are twins—said, people will judge you and correct you and punish...

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5. Laughter and the "Best" Medicine

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pp. 155-182

One day in early 2004, the village women were asked to attend an important gathering at the Casa de Salud. The physician and nurse from the Tepatepec clinic were to come up to give check-ups, and the women were expected to attend. When Esperanza and I arrived, there were only...

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Conclusion: "I nurture them because I love them"

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pp. 183-190

A few years after returning from Amatlán, while I was going through my field notes in preparing my book manuscript, I came across these words from Cristina. We had spent much of that day talking about her motherhood, her children, and Oportunidades. One of the questions...


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pp. 191-202


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pp. 203-228


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pp. 229-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519191
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826519177
Print-ISBN-10: 0826519172

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 841648915
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Shaping the Motherhood of Indigenous Mexico

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indian women -- Mexico -- Amatlán (Morelos) -- History.
  • Indian mothers -- Mexico -- Amatlán (Morelos) -- Social conditions.
  • Indian mothers -- Mexico -- Amatlán (Morelos) -- Economic conditions.
  • Indian mothers -- Health and hygiene -- Mexico -- Amatlán (Morelos).
  • Amatlán (Morelos, Mexico) -- Social conditions.
  • Amatlán (Morelos, Mexico) -- Economic conditions.
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