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“Indigenize” as Concept and Practice: A Post-NAFTA North-South Mexico Example Rosemary Hennessy University at Albany, The State University of New York I HAVE BEEN PONDERING THE PHRASE “ALWAYS INDIGENIZE” for Weeks this summer as I traveled through northern and southern Mexico, meeting with workers, indigenous farmers and campesinos, members of autono­ mous communities and civic groups as part of a project I am doing with a tri-national coalition of organizations from the three n afta countries, collecting testimonies from those who have been most affected by the North American Free Trade Agreement for a book I am helping to compile. In the process we have also been strategizing the coalition’s next steps and new directions. What does “always indigenize” mean in these contexts? The many exchanges I participated in during these meetings suggested to me that this verb “to indigenize” can be a useful concept for social movement if we gather into it three layers of meaning that have congealed around the word “indigenous.” In the case of Mexico, the common sense meaning of “indigenous” refers to the native peoples who are ten percent of the Mexican population, “los indios,” who come from over 56 linguis­ tic groups other than Spanish— among them Nahuatl, Mixtec, Zapotec, Tsotzil, Tseltal, Tojolabal, Choi. Wherever they are— in Chihuahua, O ax­ aca, Veracruz, Yucatan, Chiapas— indigenous people are the poorest of the poor, the result of a combination of geographical isolation, institutional ESC 30.3 (September 2004): 29-38 Rosemary Hennessy works on issues of identity and class in cultural theory; she is the author of Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism (Routledge, 2000), Materialist Feminism and the Politics ofDiscourse (Routledge, 1993) and is co-editor of Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference and Women’s Lives (Routledge, 1997). Her works in progress include Fires on the Border: The Passionate Politics o f Collective Organizing on the u.s.Mexican Frontera and n afta From Below, a collaborative collection of testimonies from workers, campesinos, and indigenous farmers. racism, systematic repression by local elites, and the structural adjustment programs imposed by transnational banks. Indigenous people live in the most remote and least productive rural areas because their lands have been expropriated and their way of life pushed out of the fertile valleys and into the highlands or jungle by cattlemen, timber companies, and a government that eased the process or looked the other way (Barry 176). While it glorifies “Indian-ness” in its nation-building rhetoric, the Mexican government has done little to eliminate the caste-like treatment of the native population by Spanish-speaking elites (Barry 177). While the long march of history leaves its marks on a people, at the same time migration makes them new as they join workforces and com­ munities outside their native lands and adopt new ways. Some indigenous people move away from their communities and become urbanos, they speak Spanish, wear western dress, and lose their indigenous affiliation. They come to be considered mestizo or ladino. They may be identified as indio when the term is hurled at them as an insult. While some would say that the physical characteristics of the mestizo (mixed blood) population of Mexico are often indistinguishable from those of indigenous peoples, racism will insist that physical difference matters, and “indio” is used outside indigenous groups as a term of derision for those of darker skin color. While “indigenous” is often identified with pre-modern Mexican cultures, whether “indigenous” groups have or maintain cultures that are completely separate from mestizo or hispanic influence has been debated. Early anthropologists in Mexico used “indigenous” to refer to groups that were seen as vestiges of the ancient past. Later researchers like Eric Wolf would read the closed indigenous communities as the product of Spanish colonization, their customs a weave of medieval Spanish and pre-hispanic traditions (Barry 180). All of these threads in the politics, culture, and identity of certain social groups form one layer of the meaning of indigenous. Just as plants or animals can be considered “indigenous” or native to an area, the specific conditions— both social and natural— of a locale can be said to be indigenous...


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