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  • Zapata Lives! Histories and Cultural Politics in Southern Mexico
  • Samuel Brunk
Zapata Lives! Histories and Cultural Politics in Southern Mexico. By Lynn Stephen . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Photographs. Maps. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xlv, 400 pp. Cloth, $60.00. Paper, $24.95.

Zapata Lives! is an anthropological account of the "nation-views" of four Mexican communities: Santa María del Tule and Unión Zapata in the central valleys of Oaxaca and Guadalupe Tepeyac and La Realidad in the jungle of eastern Chiapas. Lynn Stephen contends that the divergent perceptions of the nation that she encountered "are concretely tied to regional and historical differences in long-term relationships among communities, individuals in those communities, and agents of the state" (p. xl). She adds that, with regard to views of the nation, "[W]hat goes on at the margins of the state, particularly where its legitimacy is in dispute, also affects what happens at the center" (p. 82 ). One tool she uses to distinguish between local forms of nationalism is an examination of how residents remember Emiliano Zapata.

Stephen is most interested in the 1930 s and the 1990 s, periods during which she believes the Mexican state sought to "consolidate national identities" (p. xlii). Under president Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40), she argues, official nationalism made inroads on her Oaxacan informants. Through land reform, peasant organization, and federal education, local memories of Zapata were created and tied to impressions of Cárdenas, who visited twice during his presidency. Thus did Zapata and Cárdenas become local heroes and key players in stories of ejido foundation. In indigenous Chiapas, on the other hand, these forces were not at work in the 1930 s: during that decade, the national government offered less land reform and fewer educational opportunities than in Oaxaca. Stephen does indicate that there was an educational push in the Chiapas highlands during the 1950 s but dismisses it as a source of revolutionary symbolism. Zapata did not truly enter Chiapas, she maintains, until the 1970 s and 1980 s, when he arrived with such nonstate forces as independent peasant organizations and leftist ideologues.

Stephen finds that during the 1990 s government employees administering PROCEDE (Program for the Certification of Ejido Land Rights and the Titling of Urban House Plots) played a role similar to that of the teachers who disseminated nationalism in the 1930 s. The emissaries of PROCEDE, however, whose mission was to help peasants establish individual title to their ejido parcels, promoted a form of nationalism consistent with free trade and individual property. Operating against a background in which president Carlos Salinas de Gortari declared land reform "over," they invoked Zapata to invert Cárdenas's message.

In much of Chiapas, PROCEDE could not be implemented; there, the end of agrarian reform doomed many pending petitions for land and thus contributed to the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) uprising in 1994. Chiapas did not, then, receive Zapata in his new, government-generated guise. Instead, based on experiences of recent decades, including the advent of liberation theology and [End Page 550] those immigrant leftists, it produced a Zapata of its own. Linked with the Mayan god Votán to create Votán-Zapata, the Chiapan Zapata was a both local saint and the center of a new version of nationalism projected back at the state by the EZLN. Stephen's Oaxacan communities cautiously accepted PROCEDE, due to memories of help from national officials for ejido formation during the 1930 s. As a result, some of her informants simultaneously supported the PRI and the EZLN. Backing for the PRI, the author maintains, derived merely from the desire to participate in government antipoverty programs. Sympathy for the EZLN came from an understanding of the need for land and the belief that the government was responsible for providing it.

Stephen visited these communities repeatedly during the 1990 s, and her research is impressive. Her extensive use of quotes gives a good sense of the voices of her subjects, and the general lines of her convincing argument largely echo dynamics of cultural exchange charted by such historians as Florencia Mallon and Mary Kay Vaughan. Though the...


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pp. 550-551
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Archived 2004
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