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Histories and Stories from Chiapas

Border Identities in Southern Mexico

By R. Aída Hernández Castillo

Publication Year: 2001

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’s 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.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

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...

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pp. xiii-xvi

The last part of the research that gave birth to this book took place in the midst of a political event that shook the Mexican state and brought into question a national project in which indigenous peoples were still second-class citizens. On January 1 a group of Mayan indigenous people in the state of Chiapas, in the southeast of the Mexican...

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pp. xvii-xix

Finishing this book represents the conclusion of a journey that began in 1985, when I visited for the first time the southern Mexican border. It was my first fieldwork project as a student at the National School of Anthropology and History, and I knew at once that my commitment to the south of Mexico would be a long...

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pp. 1-11

In the southeastern SierraMadre ofChiapas, an extension of theRocky 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....

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First Border Crossing

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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...

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Chapter 1 The Postrevolutionary National Project and the Mexicanization of the Mam People

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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 theMexican...

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Chapter 2 The Modernizing Project: Between the Museum and the Diaspora

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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...

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Second Border Crossing

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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...

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Chapter 3 Mam Jehovah’sWitnesses: New Religious Identities and Rejection of the Nation

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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 LasMargaritas.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...

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Chapter 4 From Mestizo Mexico to Multicultural Mexico: Indigenismo in the Sierra Madre

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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 amestizoMexico 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...

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Third Borde Crossing

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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...

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Chapter 5 Mam Dance Groups: New Cultural Identities and the Performance of the Past

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pp. 129-155

The changes in the official discourse from amestizoMexico to amulticultural 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...

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Fourth Border Crossing

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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...

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Chapter 6 Organic Growers: Agro-ecological Catholicism and the Invention of Traditions

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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 theMam dance groups, have been formed whose organizing principle is the ‘‘...

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Chapter 7 From PRONASOL to the Zapatista Uprising

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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...

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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 ofMexico 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...


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pp. 243-256


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pp. 257-260


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pp. 261-278


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pp. 279-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780292798335
E-ISBN-10: 0292798334
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292731486
Print-ISBN-10: 0292731485

Page Count: 317
Illustrations: 17 photos, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2001