- Feeding Chilapa: The Birth, Life, and Death of a Mexican Region
This book is a clear and interesting regional analysis of economic and political changes over time and place in the Atapa basin of Guerrero during the last 200 years. The book begins with a discussion of Mexican regions in which the author criticizes anthropologists for having abandoned regional analysis in the 1950s in favor of community studies. After a description of Mexican geographic diversity, Kyle discusses generally how Mexico's regions "met extinction by the close of the twentieth century" (p. 15), largely from industrialization and especially modern means of transportation. He then describes the region that is the subject of the book in terms of patterns of food production and distribution and how Chilapa, the urban community that was the region's center and the main focus of study, became an impoverished backwater as neoliberal policies were instituted by the Mexican government. Whereas most studies of the impact of neoliberalism stress the declining role of the state, Kyle argues that in the Atapa basin, the state's involvement in the region increased over time, first by its role in the construction of a highway. The highway facilitated neoliberal consequences since the 1980s: competition between the region's "preindustrial producers" and outsider producers and the abandonment of the autonomous household food production of those preindustrial producers. The next six chapters describe the region and the factors that led first to the persistence of subsistence production and then its rejection and the growth and decline of the city and the region.
After an overview of the area in chapter 1, the second chapter, "The City," describes the emergence of Chilapa as an urban center and the area as a region in the late eighteenth century as numerous residents of the community became involved in commerce, either as muleteers involved in the transporting of cargo, especially cotton from the coast to Puebla, or as merchants dealing in those commodities or marketed food which was increasingly necessary as the population left agriculture for commerce and later textile production. Chapter 3 analyzes a rebellion by those in the countryside in the 1840s. Kyle begins with quantitative data culled from a variety of sources showing increased maize consumption beginning in the late eighteenth century until the mid-nineteenth century in order to feed the growing nonagricultural population. The need to feed this growing urban population was met by Chilapa's elite with a new head tax backed by the use of force. Rebellion by the agricultural producers and then a devastating cholera epidemic ended the violence. Chapter 4 discusses the political relationships that followed the rebellion and later the impact of Mexico's Agrarian Code from its establishment through the twentieth century. Chapter 5 goes back to the mid-nineteenth century and describes how both commercial maize production and the rebozo industry that had developed after the rebellion declined as a result of higher and more unstable costs of food for the urban population. Chapter 6 argues that road construction in the 1960s led to Chilapa importing more than it exported and the government's stepping in with various programs to subsidize both rural and urban dwellers. Beginning with federal support of road construction, the author discusses various programs and stresses how federal support continued even after neoliberal reforms. Despite this support, the book's conclusion points to increased migration out of the area— [End Page 594] to Chilapa, Acapulco, Mexico City and the United States. Kyle suggests that pursuing the story further would require examining the Mexican government, global trade negotiations, and other policy-making venues that go beyond the region.
The major strength of the book is its regional approach. This leads to a very useful description of changing patterns of the distribution of goods and services between an urban center and its hinterland. The regional approach, however, also has limitations. Although Kyle shows how relations between different zones in...