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Elusive Unity

Factionalism and the Limits of Identity Politics in Yucatán, Mexico

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero

Publication Year: 2013

 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.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

All academic books are the result of collaborative endeavors, but the debts that one accrues in writing a historical ethnography like this one are particularly numerous. First and foremost, I would like to thank the many families from Pisté, Xcalakdzonot, Popolá, Nicté Há, Kaua, Ticimul, Xkatun, and elsewhere in Oriente ...

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1. Peasants and Maya, Solidarity and Factionalism

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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, ...

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2. “How It Happened That We Fomented This Town”: Tensions between Family Autonomy and Community Solidarity during the Agrarian Reform

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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. ...

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3. “Back Then, There Was No Order”: The Early Twentieth Century in Collective Memory

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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. ...

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4. “Now There Is More Culture”: Rural Schools as Monuments to Revolutionary Culture

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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. ...

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5. “When I First Went to Study”: Pedagogy, National History, and Bilingualism

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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, ...

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6. “That Time of Change”: The Limits of Agriculture and the Rise of the Tourist Industry

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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, ...

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7. “What Does ‘Culture’ Mean?”: Progressivism, Patrimonialism, and Corporatism in Vernacular Discourse on Maya Culture

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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. ...

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8. The Realpolitik of Yucatecan Multiculturalism

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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, ...


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pp. 183-196


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pp. 197-203

E-ISBN-13: 9781607322399
E-ISBN-10: 1607322390
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607322382
Print-ISBN-10: 1607322382

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 8 b&w photographs, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 854585891
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Elusive Unity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mayas -- Mexico -- Yucatán (State) -- Ethnic identity.
  • Mayas -- Mexico -- Yucatán (State) -- Politics and government.
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