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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 171-173

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Book Review

La sociedad mexicana y sus pueblos indígenas a fines del siglo XX. By

La sociedad mexicana y sus pueblos indígenas a fines del siglo XX. By JUAN ZAPATA NOVOA, CARLOS INCHAUSTEGUI, and VICTOR ZUÑIGA. Nuevo León: Universidad de Monterrey, 2000 . Bibliography. 231 pp. Paper.

In an advertencia preceding the prologue, Victor Zuñiga tells readers they will encounter a series of essays written by different authors, with diverse styles. He announces that the book does not proclaim a unified vision and the chapters are linked together with a common interest in educating Mexicans about their country's native inhabitants.

Despite this warning, the book does have a central argument and a coherent perspective: that of Juan Zapata, the author of more than a third of the text. Indeed, his message comes through loud and clear from the prologue to the epilogue. Why the other authors were even included remains a mystery. We are told they were all observers in a series of consultative forums organized by the federal government in 1995 and 1996 .

The basic thesis is that Mexico's woes, including the sorry state of its indigenous population, are the outcome of the implementation of the liberal philosophy of the nineteenth century. His criticism of that philosophy is that its proponents, spearheaded by Mexican Masons, distorted three centuries of Mexican history.

It soon becomes apparent that Zapata does not like Mexico City, whose [End Page 171] bureaucrats, politicians, and intellectuals have imposed a false sense of homogeneity on the Mexican nation. According to Zapata, central Mexico, the seat of Mexico's ruling class, promotes foreign ideologies, resulting in the self-depredation of Mexicans who do not value their own heritage. He tars official rhetoric inspired by marxism and the new neoliberal emphasis on making money with the same brush.

Zapata talks about the myth that has been internalized by Mexicans through formal education and state rituals. That myth is the Black Legend of the Spanish conquest originally promulgated by the English. Instead, he argues that native communities had greater autonomy under Spanish rule than they do today. His view of colonial Mexico is one of great advancements in mining and a native population capable of quickly adapting to technological changes while maintaining its own identity.

Zapata argues that the much-misunderstood native people of Mexico are the only segment of Mexican society able to offer a viable alternative to the Mexican nation. That alternative is a pluralistic society that celebrates diversity and mutual respect. While focusing on Indian communities, Zapata also sings the praises of regionalism and local cultures associated with ethnic groups other than native people.

This book offers a unique perspective, combining the dislike for central Mexico of someone from northern Mexico, with a celebration of native peoples. While critical of foreign ideologies, its authors nevertheless cite foreign scholars, especially historians and anthropologists who have carried out detailed case studies that reflect the richness and complexity of Mexico's cultural landscape. But I did not come across a single reference to well-known Mexican ethnohistorians or anthropologists from Mexico City. This omission again indicates the strong dislike for scholars from Mexico City and possibly a touch of parochialism.

It is customary to start a review with an overview of the layout of its chapters, but its organizational structure is so disjointed, I left this until the end. The first chapter (also by Zapata) touches on such themes as the progressive marginalization of native communities, their gradual incorporation into the national educational system, increasing migration to the United States and the role of modern communication.

Chapter 2 is entitled "ethnological testimony," although I found no ethnographic detail of native life. Instead we are presented with a highly personalized series of sketches by Carlos Incháustegui of endless treks through remote regions, physical deprivation, and complaints about back stabbing in the National Indigenous Institute. Meant to portray the absurdities of Mexico's policy on native affairs, this chapter...


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pp. 171-173
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Archived 2004
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