6. Ethnoscapes: The False Faces of Tradition and Modernity

Uses print documentation and video to explore the false contrast of tradition and modernity in the context of globalization. Through looking at the hotly contested development of bilingual schools, I explore the reframing of ethnicity from an agreed upon identity of Indio to a much more contested ethnoscape of Indigena. In this way students are led through the solution of the seeming paradox of the community being the most traditional and the most rapidly transforming at the same time.


Added Value: Yanni concert: making the indigenous exotic.

The creative aspect of ethnicity and its increasingly globalized context is the reason I chose to explore this topic through the concept of ethnoscape introduced in Chapter 2. This term stresses the fluidity of ethnicity as it is influenced by forces and players from outside local communities. As Marison de la Cadena and Orin Starn remark, those claiming the indigenous mantle have the problem of “being categorized by others, and seeking to define themselves within and against indigeneity’s dense web of symbols, fantasies, and meanings” (2007: 2). To see this, readers can review video of Yanni’s concert in Acapulco with children singers from Amanalco (chapter 1). Notice how it is staged, with a background video of ancient monuments, the children dressed as simple rural folk and many of the backup musicians costumed as versions of imagined pre-Hispanic performers.

Added Value: The Public Face of Mexica Grandeur

Roger Magazine suggests that the idea of indigenismo brought two contradictory forces into play: On the one hand, in an effort to secure indigenous people as appropriate subjects of the nation and global capitalism: “the state has attempted to transform indigenous people into Mexicans or “mestizos” (“mixed people”) in local terms, since nationalist myth has it that Mexicans are a mix between Spanish and indigenous culture and blood. On the other hand, a national myth that values the country’s indigenous past as what makes it unique encourages efforts to protect and display contemporary indigenous culture as a vestige of that past” (2012: 100): Link to discussion of The Public Face of Mexica Grandeur.

PowerPoint: Portadas

An important way the Amanalcanos regarded themselves as Indio was the manner in which they celebrated the cycle of public fiesta and life-cycle rituals within households. The touchstones of this belief ranged from the processions of the saints, the art of colorful church front decorations, called portadas {power point icon], created for each fiesta and the greeting ritual for kin and compadres with a flower, lit candle and leafy head wreath (see the fiesta video in Chapter 8).



PowerPoint: Language Diversity and Nahuatl’s link to the Uto-Aztecan language family

Mexico is a quite diverse nation, the result of biological and cultural conjoining between the Spanish conquerors, indigenous populations, imported Africans slaves and immigrants from around the world. Besides Spanish there are 68 recognized indigenous languages, spoken by over six million persons. Although less than 10 percent of its 101 million residents spoke a native language in 2010 the country remains one of the most linguistically diverse in the world, in terms of the number of languages spoken, behind Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and India. Nahuatl, with just over 1.5 million speakers is the most commonly spoken indigenous language, although it is in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Yucatan and Chiapas where is found the highest local concentration of those speaking varied native languages such as Zapotec, Yucatecan Maya or Tzotzil.


PowerPoint: Decline of Nahuatl Fluency in Amanalco.

As indicated in the following PowerPoint, during the last three decades of the 20th century, Amanalco’s downward shift in Nahuatl language competency happened rapidly.




Added Value: The UN’s Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005-2014) , The National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Communities (CDI), and Native Children Learning Nahuatl

The question of indigenous cultural survival was becoming a national issue and also reverberating throughout Central America and other developing regions. In the 1990s there developed an unprecedented focus on the plight of indigenous communities. The 1992 Nobel Prize was awarded to a Guatemalan Mayan woman, Rigoberta Menchú, during the 500th anniversary year of Columbus’ conquests. This was followed in 1994 by the successful Zapatista revolt in Chiapas, Mexico and the UN’s Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005-2014) .

In 2003 the Mexican government created a new bureaucratic entity, the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Communities (CDI), instituted a new “General Law of Indigenous Peoples’ Linguistic Rights” and developed indigenous language “maintenance programs.” The legislation gives native languages equal status with Spanish, and at least by law seeks to promote and preserve these idioms such as in the video below.

Mexico’s new national policy on indigenous languages

See also a promotional video by the federal government, about a community called Tenamaxtepec, a Nahuatl speaking village in the Mexican state of Hidalgo.

Video: Visit to the Bilingual School

In my interaction with one of the male teachers you can see how what I thought was a simple question provoked a strong response.

PowerPoint: About A Heritage Site Disregarded In 1972.

During one of my early visits to Amanalco, in 1972, I was taken to the archaeological zone of the Aztec-era village and photographed many clay artifacts lying on the ground, especially those lying around a 15 foot tall structure which was likely an Aztec religious temple. Here I spotted not only shards of pottery utensils but some broken fertility figurines and an amulet likely belonging to the resident priest of the temple



Video: Renewed interest in Amanalco’s Archaeological Zone and the quest for a Nahuatl Cultural Center.

Shortly after arriving in 2003 to Amanalco, I introduced myself to the head delegado, Vicente Hidalgo, then age 37. To my surprise, almost immediately he asked if I had been to the archaeological area of his ancestors. I told him that I had been there a few times in past years, but people seemed to have no interest in this part of their heritage. He replied that for some this has changed and that he was eager for me to video the area. The following short video takes us to the archaeological zone, looks at some of the objects he and others have found and then Vicente talks about the rationale for building a Nahuatl Cultural Center.


Added Value: An Impressive Center

As of 2013, although very professional plans had been drawn up for an impressive center, no state action had been taken to fund the project and I was told that money had been diverted to other related activities elsewhere in the state. Despite this setback, other related efforts were being pushed to both intensify connections to regional Nahuatl communities and connect the idea of an indigena identity to being a modern person.


Download (PDF, 162KB)


Video: Story Book Nahuatl Learning Project

In 2010 one of the long-term bilingual teachers in Amanalco developed a “Story Book” school project for students to aid in learning Nahuatl. Click on the picture below to see Lydia Espinoza demonstrate a portion of this project which would encourage kids to draw out their life story and talk about it in their native language.

Lydia Espinoza shows a draft version of her “Story Book Project” for learning Nahuatl.© Jay Sokolovsky

Added Value: Link about efforts to encourage spoken Nahuatl in the indigenous communities in Amanalco’s region.

The Consejo Indígena Nahuatl de Texcoco sponsors a Nahuatl Language Class for adults (Spanish, with some English translation): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xU8E87IzUbc

Key Web Sites

Mexican National Museum of Anthropology web site: http://www.mna.inah.gob.mx/

Scholarly writing on Indigenous Identity:

Maximilian Forte, ed. 2013. Who is an Indian?: Race, Place and the Politics of Indigienety in the Americas. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Paja Faudree, Singing for the Dead. 2013. The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

José Antonio Flores Farfán & Cleofas Ramírez Celestino. 2010. May 7. Crafting Means to Empower Nahua Language and Culture. Cultural Survival Quarterly, https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/mexico/crafting-means-empower-nahua-language-and-culture