- Publishing the Southwest
This special issue of Journal of the Southwest features a translation of the book Entre Yoris y Guarijíos: Crónicas sobre el Quehacer Antropológico, written by Teresa Valdivia Dounce, a researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, in Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), and published in 2007 by UNAM’s Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Teresa’s home department. Accompanying the issue is a portfolio of color and black-and-white photographs taken by David Burckhalter. Dave and I have been working with Teresa (“Tere”) since late 2011, when I first approached her about the possibility of publishing a translated and edited version of her book in JSW. Years earlier, I had spotted a yellowing copy of her first publication, Sierra de Nadie (INI, 1994), in David Yetman’s office at the Southwest Center. Sierra is an unflinchingly frank assessment of institutionalized, or “applied,” anthropology in Mexico. It is also a deeply personal account revealing both the naïveté and courage of a young, inexperienced indigenista whose convictions led her to support the Guarijío people of southern Sonora in an epic struggle against exploitative landowners and corrupt government officials. That support certainly placed Teresa at odds with her superiors, but on more than one occasion it also led to death threats. The circumstances became so menacing that for a time Teresa took to walking around with a knife tucked into her belt.
Teresa began her relationship with the Makurawe (Guarijío) people of southern Sonora and southwestern Chihuahua in 1978, contracted by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional Indigenista (the National Indigenist Institute, or INI) as part of a larger team of rural community development workers whose backgrounds ranged from agronomy to medicine. The Institute’s core objective was to support the nation’s indigenous people with a variety of social and cultural programs, to bring them basic services and “development.” And the Guarijíos needed all of the help they could get.
When Tere arrived in Sonora, she found most of them suffering from starvation and forced into a condition of near enslavement by several non-Indian ranchers (whom the Makurawe and other indigenous groups [End Page 365] in southern Sonora refer to as Yoris). The Institute’s approach was generally paternalistic and its objectives were often vague. Not surprisingly, the INI was paralyzed by the kind of conservatism that ensured survival in Mexico’s semi-authoritarian political system of the time, while undermining the effectiveness and reach of its programs. Social activism of any kind during that period, especially if it came from within the bureaucracy, tended to be dismissed as “communist.” Usually, it was met with some kind of discipline, including, of course, summary dismissal. Yet, in some instances, in some regions, the work of those associated with the now-defunct Institute could be transformative.
Such was the case with Tere in the Sierra Guarijía. Her loyalty to the Guarijíos (in most instances, over her loyalty to the Institute) showed them that people from outside the area cared about them, that there was outside concern for their plight. It gave them much-needed courage, and, as important, connections with a trustworthy interlocutor who could help them negotiate an unfathomable labyrinth of bureauractic realpolitik, paperwork, laws, and police oppression. Certainly, Tere was no seasoned veteran of Mexican bureaucracy, but her persistent organizational efforts helped the Guarijíos win several important battles against entrenched ranchers and their government allies, people who had no reservations about resorting to violence, official and otherwise, when they deemed it necessary. Those victories ultimately allowed the Guarijíos to regain control over much of their ancestral land, build schools and health clinics, and to lift themselves, if only partially, out of the starvation conditions and stultifying poverty they had known for so long under the thumb of those local ranchers.
Yetman had translated and used excerpts from this incredible story in his own volume, The Guarijíos of the Sierra Madre: Hidden People of Northwestern Mexico (University of New Mexico Press, 2002). Seeing this made me realize that Teresa’s work needed to be available, in its totality, to Anglophone readers. However, this...