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  • Reply to Critics
  • R. Aída Hernández Castillo

i wish to thank Mariana Alessandri, Marilyn Fischer, and Scott Pratt for their thoughtful reading of my article. I acknowledge, in their writing, the effort of going beyond the commitment with the initiative of the Coss Dialogue, which meant reading my book Multiple InJustices: Indigenous Women, Law, and Political Struggle in Latin America, in which I summarize twenty-five years of activist research with Indigenous women.

Through their comments, they built a bridge between my anthropological and epistemological searches and the debates of feminist and pragmatist philosophers who share with me the concern for social justice, and my insistence in reaching further from theorizing about the world to engaging in its transformation. As Professor Alessandri states in her essay, "living with people complicates your theories,"1 and I share with some of the philosophers, quoted by the three commentators, a need to challenge theories through experience and dialogues.

There is an honest concern with the commentators about the "future of theory" and, more specifically, about the future of our disciplines and of ourselves as philosophers and anthropologist, which springs from the shared idea that our scholarly training does not give us an epistemological privilege over the people we work with.

Mariana Alessandri asks herself: "If not the anthropologist, who is capable of seeing clearly what's going on in the minds of the oppressed?"2 Among the assumptions behind this concern, we might begin by asking if the "oppressed" are always characterized by a false consciousness, leaving academics with no other choice than to explain how the oppression systems work for the oppressed themselves. During my work with Indigenous women in the Zapatista regions at the state of Chiapas, with the Maya movement in Guatemala, and within the prison system at Morelos, [End Page 99] I have learned about the theorizations about the world displayed by these women, and about the multiple experiences of violence and the root of this violence, and about the world they want to live in—more than what I have been able to teach.

I do not go so far as to grant an epistemological privilege of the oppressed, as some standpoint feminist theorist assume, but then again, the history of social movements and decolonizing processes have shown us that universities and research institutions have not spearheaded decolonization—though this has been changing in recent years—on the contrary, they have been the main sources for ethnocentric and universalist discourses and practices that silence other ways of being in the world.

What I wish to establish in this text is not a cultural relativist perspective that would deny the possibility of sharing my experiences and representations of the world with Indigenous women, but an intercultural dialogue, in which I am willing to share my uncertainties and be open to listening to the other, to have the epistemological humbleness to put my concepts and theories to the collective scrutiny of experience and dialogue.

But now at this point, I face another challenge that I need to recognize, namely, if it is possible to have a face to face intercultural dialogue in a context of structural inequality, in which my class and race backgrounds as a Mexican mestiza university professor burden my perspective with a cultural capital, that the experience of Indigenous women do not have. How do we deal with these structural inequalities that frame our dialogues? I do not have a definitive answer for this question, but I think that a first step is to destabilize the knowledge hierarchies in our own institutions, including other texts, voices, and experiences in the classroom. It is also important to approach the collective spaces of dialogue not always with answers, but rather with questions. Another important political and personal concern expressed by Professor Alessandri, also related to the "idea of a false consciousness," is what should we do when the women with whom we dialogue have worldviews that question our ethic or moral values. More specifically, she asks how to deal, as feminists, with an Indigenous woman who is pro-life? This woman will have a hard time making the case that she is feminist, she concludes.3



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