Think Locally, Act Globally

September 25, 2007

WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE MODEST HOME A few blocks from downtown Fresno, California, I was thinking about the Mixtec Indian villages I'd seen in Oaxaca, Mexico. In the High Mixtec region, nestled in the Sierra Madre mountains, even the poorest houses, made of logs or adobe with palm or tile roofs, have a certain dignity. There, a house is a metaphor for the relationship of the individual to the community: the roof was raised and the foundation laid by relatives and neighbors in a festive celebration that resounds in the villagers' memory years later. In Fresno the contrast could not have been greater. The dilapidated home I saw was also a metaphor, a pathetic illustration of the solitude of poverty in the heart of one of the wealthiest regions in the world. A sign in front announced, "Casa del Mixteco." Filem6n L6pez, a Mixtec Indian from Rio Timbre in Mixtepec, Oaxaca who works as a migrant farmworker, is the president and founder of this community center, a meeting place for some of the thousands of Mixtecs who work in California's Central Valley. Their organization, the Benito Juirez Civic Asso- ciation, has members from as far away as Salem, Oregon. In the midst of this highly technological agro-industrial mecca, the group functions as a truly Mesoamerican Indian institution, based on the tequio (cooperative com- munity labor donated voluntarily to the collective), reci- procity (as the moral basis for the exchange of goods and services), democracy by consensus, and political author- ity based on the moral weight of age and experience. Juan Martinez, the association secretary, is a young Mixtec agronomist, who works in a restaurant to earn a living. Juan's dream is to get into a master's program in rural development and continue using his knowledge to assist expatriate Mixtecs. He would like to found an agricultural production cooperative with two locales: one VOLUME XXV. NUMBER 3 (DECEMBER 1991) IL Stefano Varese teaches Native American studies at the University of California at Davis. 13The First Nations The First Nations ",- ", , :tX!+ a . A Kampa from the Brazilian state of Acre in the Amazon. Amazonian indigenous peoples have formed a multinational body to bring their grievances directly to the World Bank, the IMF and the United States. in California's Central Valley, the other in the Indian township of San Juan Mixtepec in Mexico. The leaders of the Casa del Mixteco know that ethnic sovereignty and political autonomy are not achievable in either Mexico or the United States without a strategy for economic devel- opment that can give them a margin of independence, a certain freedom from the slavery of rural wage labor. A few miles to the north, in Livingston, another group of Mixtec migrants founded the Organization of Ex- ploited and Oppressed People (OPEO). The group's logo is a handshake crowned by a machete and an axe, with the motto, "For the People's Liberation." OPEO Secretary General Rufino Domfnguez maintains that his organiza- tion intends to do more than promote the development of their communities of origin in Oaxaca by remitting dol- lars like most Mexican migrants. It seeks to defend Mixtecs in California and northern Mexico from exploi- tation in the workplace and ethnic or racial discrimina- tion. Similar organizations of Mexican Indians-Zapotecs, Chinantecs, Triques, Pur'epechas and others-have emerged in recent years in San Diego, Los Angeles, the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma, and the Central Valley. In their communities of origin, native peoples tend to have a parochial view of the world. But once they come to the United States, they quickly become politicized and "pan- Indianized," transformed by the direct and brutal experi- ence of economic exploitation and ethnic discrimination they all encounter. Back home, oppression has histori- cally been perceived as coming from neighboring villages with which for centuries they have competed for access to land and ever-scarce resources (threatened continually by landowners, companies, state projects, and most recently by corporate interests). Here in the United States, on the other hand, they consider themselves to be Mixtec or Zapotec, members of a larger social grouping, of an ethnicity.' Their specific ethnic identity is recuperated as a sense of nationality, with the political awareness that they are discriminated against because they are Indians, not only by the Anglo population, but by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as well. The growing ethnic-national politicization of indig- enous migrants from Mexico and Central America is a relatively new phenomenon, dating only from 1980, when large numbers of peasants from Indian regions entered the labor market of the agro-industries of northern Mexico and the United States. Today, of the several million REPORT ON THE AMERICASundocumented workers who periodically cross the Mexico- U.S. border, I estimate that more than a quarter of a million are Indians from Mexico, Central and South America? The Maya of Guatemala flee the terror in their country en masse to Mexico and the United States; the Indians of Mexico periodically escape the economic misery of their regions; and even towns of Quechua shepherds from Peru's Central Andes find themselves tending sheep on the farms of Basque ranchers in the state of Nevada, while thousands more Andean Quechuas take refuge from the terror of Peru's civil war in some other niche of the U.S. labor market. 3 The case of Latin American Indian expatriates in the United States is a dramatic example of the evolution of indigenous society and politics since the 1970s. Native movements, thrust into new roles by the new global division of labor and the advanced appropriation of the environment, seem to have taken a strategic step forward. Even as indigenous people are forced to migrate across national borders, and as transnational corporate capital moves into the heart of Indian territory-or perhaps because of these phenomena-Indians have emerged on the stage of regional politics, overturning the common wisdom that they and their cultures are doomed to perish in the face of modernity. A N OLD LATIN AMERICAN SAYING HAS IT that, "If you've seen one Indian, you've seen them all." The racist brutality of the proverb points to a fact of history brilliantly analyzed by the late Mexican anthro- pologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla: Spanish colonialism created and institutionalized a generic definition of "Indi- ans" that negated the historic validity and cultural specific- ity of hundreds of native nationalities. 4 The colonial system denied indigenous societies their ethnic ties and identities in an attempt to weaken the reconstitution of native nationalisms. The unforeseen result was the emergence of a double, contradictory process of ethnogenesis. Some of the agrar- ian peoples of Mesoamerica and the Andes closed them- selves into local units of production and reproduction: the indigenous community, the village, what was known as the "Indian republic." These are the people who supplied the seasonal labor force for public works, haciendas, plantations and mines. Others, "new indigenous peoples," began to emerge from the changing needs of the labor market. They were partially uprooted from their communities of origin and partially connected to their new workplaces. These Indi- ans were less conservative in their cultural identity, more adaptable to new environments, and more effective in using ethnicity as a flexible strategy. From this group, as well as from the communal elites (curacas and caciques), came the most prominent Indian political and revolution- ary figures of the last five centuries: Tdpac Amaru, a rich eighteenth-century merchant and international trader from the southern Andes; Juan Santos Atahuallpa, a seven- teenth-century Quechua intellectual renowned for his knowledge of international politics and Andean-Amazo- nian history and culture; Tfipac Katari, Jacinto Kanek, and Quintin Lame, to mention only a few names from a history yet to be written. Generic "Indianness" encouraged by the colonial state quickly became the principal form of identification for the native nobility of the Andes and Mesoamerica. But for millions of indigenous peasants, the residential commu- nity, with its colonial socio-political and economic struc- tures, its intense and absorbing ceremonial life, and its fragmented and parochial world-view, became the only mirror of ethnic identity. The image it gave was partial and narrow, certainly, but it truly reflected the existing conditions of oppression and injustice. The gap between indigenous elites and the subordi- nated communities, confirmed and reaffirmed by the colonial administration, prompted a growing class differ- entiation between the intelligentsia and the masses. The intellectuals, most of them urban, slowly became a depen- dent and literate aristocracy, one which invented a new historical memory for its new identity. Although these elites sought to defend their class interests throughout the colonial period, from the middle of the eighteenth century on they became increasingly involved in popular Indian movements and insurrections, enriching these with ideas about nations, states and independent Indian kingdoms. This Indian nationalism, encouraged by the Bourbonic reforms and infused with the ideals of the Enlightenment, was occasionally capable of linking the affronts to indig- enous elites with the injustices suffered by the peasantry, thus bridging the gap between the metropolitan aspira- tions of the former and the parochial perceptions of the latter. Even though political independence from Spain and the consequent hegemony of liberal thought dealt a mortal blow to the Indian elite as a class, a small sector of intellectuals and d6class6 continues to exist to this day throughout the Andean and Mesoamerican world. This intelligentsia is part of an indigenous petit bourgeoisie: a class of petty bureaucrats, local chiefs, village merchants, teachers, students and professionals. Their association with the Indian peasant community has at times been distant, ideologized, paternalistic, and even arrogant. Yet this ambiguous and contradictory relationship has been part of Indian community life for more than a century, and it is essential to understanding the history of political resistance and cultural tenacity of native peoples. 5 A EUROCENTRIC READING OF THE NATIVE history of Latin America has obscured and twisted the many rebellions and political movements that oc- curred over 500 years of European occupation. Official history books give the impression that conquest and colonization were achieved in a few decades, after which the various indigenous peoples simply adjusted to the demands of their colonial and republican rulers. Histori- VOLUME xxv. NUMBER 3 (DECEMBER 1991)15 VOLUME XXV, NUMBER 3 (DECEMBER 1991) 15The First Nations ans, Marxist and non-Marxist alike, have tended to paint Indians as people who can only respond to the initiatives of others, not as historical subjects who, though domi- nated, continually attempt to negotiate their political and cultural autonomy using all sorts of sophisticated strategies. Such interpretations tend to assume the inevitable success of capitalism. According to this view, Indians have predictable and mechanical responses to the expan- sion of the market and the penetration of capitalist ways of life in their societies. They become "modern," leaving behind their ethnicity, perceived by theoreticians of mod- ernization as an obstacle to entrepreneurial individual- ism, and by Marxists as an impediment to proper politicization, that is, class consciousness. The specific ethnicity of each native people is viewed as a precarious identity that will vaporize as soon as the society joins the modem world, even under conditions of subordination and exploitation. History, however, shows a different face. The indig- enous peoples who survived the biological disaster of the invasion recovered their numbers extremely slowly, but HOW MANY NATIVE PEOPLE? MEXICO PERU GUATEMALA BOLIVIA ECUADOR UNITED STATES CANADA CHILE COLOMBIA EL SALVADOR ARGENTINA BRAZIL VENEZUELA PANAMA HONDURAS PARAGUAY NICARAGUA GUYANA COSTA RICA BELIZE SURINAM FRENCH GUYANA URUGUAY TOTAL Estimated Population 10,537,000 8,097,000 5,423,000 4,985,000 3,753,000 1,959,000 892,000 767,000 708,000 500,000 477,000 325,000 290,000 194,000 168,000 101,000 66,000 29,000 19,000 15,000 11,000 1,000 0 39,317,000 % of Total Population 12.4 38.6 60.3 71.2 37.5 0.8 3.4 5.9 2.2 10.0 1.5 0.2 1.5 8.0 3.4 2.5 1.7 3.9 0.6 9.1 2.9 1.2 0.0 5.8 steadily. This was particularly true for the agrarian peoples of the Andes and Mesoamerica, and moderately the case for those in the Amazon and other tropical lowlands. In Latin America today there are nearly 40 million Indians and more than 400 ethno-linguistic groups. 6 Contrary to the predictions of assimilative policies, native peoples have remained demographically stable, bilingualism has increased without any disastrous loss of native languages, and in some cases there is an unmistakable tendency toward demographic growth. In other words, neither with respect to demographics nor cultural assimilation have native peoples been de- feated. Toward the end of the second millennium, there are Indians in nearly all the regions where they lived in the eighteenth century. In some cases they have expanded into new territories and established a presence in urban, highly industrialized societies supposedly incompatible with the stereotypical image of indigenous peasants. Thousands of Indian squatters occupy the cities of America, from Lima, La Paz and Quito, to Mexico City, San Diego and Los Angeles. There are Indians living in both the cities and their communities of origin, moving back and forth according to the farming seasons. Some travel thousands of miles one, two or more times a year, from the country to the city and back again, crossing international borders to take advantage of the niches left open by an economic system that is ever less interested in the survival of markets defined by national boundaries. A growing number of native people are learning to manipulate alien and com- plex cultural contexts, with practically no one noticing that they are Indians, even in environments rife with ethnic and racial tension. This new sociology of the native peoples of Latin America-transnationalized, urban, proletarian, border- crossing, bilingual and trilingual, professional-poses a direct challenge to established anthropological tradition. To be an Indian meant fundamentally to belong to a residential indigenous community located in a marginal rural zone, to be preferably monolingual in a native language, to have a strong communal and ceremonial understanding of life, to show some rejection of the logic of the market economy, and to be satisfied with the repetitive and "traditional" use of antiquated technology. This simply does not describe a Quechua from the Andes who works on a computer, a Shuar from the Ecuadorian Amazon with a doctorate in pedagogy, a Kuna from Panama who is a doctor, a Tukano from Brazil with a pilot's license, an Aymara or a Zapotec who writes books on sociology and history. Are these people not Indians? What do we do with an entire community of Mixtecs who own pick-up trucks, have parabolic anten- nae on their roofs and VCRs in the kitchen next to the comal? In which of the boxes of anthropological tax- onomy do they fit? Obviously, this is a problem that worries academics and development specialists a lot more than it does Indians. It is a sign that, in spite of an emerging REPORT ON THE AMERICAS Computed from: Enrique Mayer& Elio Masferrer,'La Poblaci6n Indigena de America," Amrica Indi'ena, Vol. 39. No. 2 (1979); World Bank, Infonne sobre el desarrollo mundial 1991; U.S. and Canada census.anti-colonial streak, anthropology still suffers from the ideological effects of Eurocentric thinking.' Indigenous intellectuals of course feel no obligation to maintain loyalty to the science and epistemology of their masters, even if they have studied in Euroamerican uni- versities. TomBs Huanca, an Aymara ethno-historian with a master's degree in anthropology from the University of Florida, believes that cultural change and continuity among Andean peoples should be understood in terms of political strategy. Ethnic identity is used strategically and "oppor- tunistically" in each context, Huanca argues. And no one is less Aymara or less Quechua for using his or her ethnicity in an intelligent way.' A Quichua from the Ecuadorian Amazon, Valerio Grefa, a bilingual professor and president of the Confed- eration of Indian Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), has elegantly and efficiently combined his training as a teacher in Ecuador's mestizo society, his militant and committed role as an Indian of the Amazon, his experience as a modern political cadre, and his syn- cretic intellectual preparation. A Quichua from the Ecua- dorian Andes, Luis Macas, president of the Confederation of Indian Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), finds it no burden to synthesize in his political activism the most progressive postures of the Catholic church, Andean socialist traditions and a firm respect for Quichua culture. DURING FIVE CENTURIES THE OLIGARCHIC states and societies of Latin America have been based on maximizing the exploitation of a workforce carefully organized along ethnic lines. The incorporation of indigenous ethnicity into the international division of labor gave form to class differences within ethnic groups, as well as to the inequalities among them. The result of this differential treatment of Indian peoples and regions is a complex class structure that permeates the entire multi- ethnic configuration of Latin America. This class struc- ture spawned an equally intricate panorama of native organizations and political platforms, reflecting different levels of ethnic and class consciousness. Two ideological currents have threatened to tear apart each native political organization over the past two de- cades. The "peasant" and "proletarian" postures empha- size the class content of indigenous social reality and native struggle. The "Indianist" stance conceives of in- digenous political struggle as a national liberation move- ment, seeking autonomy, self-determination, sovereignty, or limited or absolute independence for each specific ethnic group. Of course this multifaceted and dynamic political movement cannot be reduced to a simple and fixed taxonomy. There are indigenous peasant organizations which defend the economic and social rights of farmers; urban Indians primarily concerned with the ideological debate regarding "Indianness" and class; ethnic federa- tions primarily made up of non-peasant horticulturists particularly interested in cultural rights and ethnic au- tonomy; Indians organized in unions, such as miners, factory workers, petty bureaucrats, bilingual teachers, agricultural workers and the urban underemployed; in- digenous expatriates in the United States, including po- litical refugees (Mapuches from Chile, Maya from Gua- temala); and lastly, international indigenous organiza- tions like the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous People's Organization of the Amazon Basin (COICA). The new realities of indigenous peoples suggest that their politics cannot be understood within the old spatial, historical and structural framework of the nation-state. The nineteenth-century notion that the state should act as the founder and originator of the nation, giving a sense of unity to a heterogeneous ethnic and territorial space for the benefit of a ruling elite, is giving way, under pressure from the transnationalized economy for a more perme- able and flexible state that is less centralized, less homo- geneous, less authoritarian, and thus more open to corpo- rate penetration.' This process relieves Latin American states from the burden of having toplay an entrepreneurial role in lieu of passive national bourgeoisies or oligarchies, while at the same time threatening their very existence. As capital flows to "freer" regions-indigenous terri- tories, among others-where local environmental restric- tions and labor organizations are nonexistent or weak, state-Indian relations seem bound to become increasingly internationalized. Questions such as territorial and re- source preservation, land entitlement, migration, union- ization and the operation of foreign enterprises in indig- enous territory will become strategic issues of "national security."" The Amazonian Indians in COICA are al- ready acting on this trend. Not only have they created a multinational organization to defend their rights, but they also take their demands directly to international bodies, such as the World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Devel- opment Bank, or to the United States government, rather than addressing only regional states. It is ironic that a lesson in political clarity and long- term perspective comes from a coalition of Indian horti- culturists from the Amazon. No serious social analyst would have thought that a series of fragmented "tribal" bands, without a significant proletariat or a bourgeoisie, and with a tiny intelligentsia, could have woven a com- plex transnational network of local organizations capable of addressing a gigantic and powerful enemy. Similarly, the 1990 Indian uprising in Ecuador, that paralyzed the heart of the country for a week, was unexpectedly effec- tive. Mexican and Andean indigenous organizations in the United States may bring similar surprises. Because the various Indian nationalist movements of Latin America emanate from marginality rather than from direct historical involvement in state management, they are less conditioned by the legacies of the old liberal nation-state, and more reflective of the multiple Indian civil societies long hidden from view. As such, native peoples may be way ahead of the rest of us in articulating the political struggles of the twenty-first century. References Think Locally, Act Globally I. Carole Nagengast and Michael Keamrney, "Mixtec Ethnicity: Social Identity, Political Consciousness, and Political Activism," Latin American Research Review, Vol. V, no. 2 (1990), p. 80. 2. This estimate is based on a number of micro studies and conversations with academics who are following the subject. See, for example, James Stuart and Michael Kearney, Causes and Effects of Agricultural Labor Migration from the Mixteca Oaxaca to California (San Diego: University of California, Program in U.S.-Mexican Studies, 1981). 3. According to Peruvian anthropologist Te6filo Altamirano, at least a thousand Quechua shepherds from central Peru have settled in Nevada; he found over 60 Andean cultural organizations in the United States. Te6filo Altamirano, Los que sefueron: Peruanos en Estados Unidos (Lima: Pontifica Universidad Cat61ica, 1990). In 1990 alone 328,000 people left Peru, of whom 132,000 came to the United States. Most of them were "students" (a classifi- cation more indicative of age than anything else) or "workers." A sizeable number of these are probably Quechuas. See Latin American Weekly Report, no. 31 (Aug. 15, 1991). 4. Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Utopia yRevoluci6n: El Pensamiento Politico Contempordneo de los Indios de America Latina (Mexico: Editorial Nueva Imagen, 1981). 5. Regarding class formation among native peoples, see Serge Gruzinski, "TheNetTorn Apart: Ethnic Identities and Westernization in Colonial Mexico, Sixteenth-Nineteenth Century," in Guidieri, Remo, F. Pellizzi, andS.J.Tambiah (eds.), Ethnicities and Nations: Processes of Inter-ethnic Relations in Latin America, SoutheastAsia, and thePacific(Austin: Univ. ofTexas Press, 1988); Alicia Barabas, Utopias Indiacts: Movimientos Sociorreligiosos en M(xico (Mexico: Grijalbo, 1987); Alberto Flores Galindo, Buscando un Inca: Identidad y Utopia en los Andes (Lima: Institato de Apoyo Agrario, 1987); Steve Sternm (ed.), Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World, 18th to 20th Centuries (Madison: Univ.of Wisconsin Press, 1987); William Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1979); St6fano Varese, La Sal de los Cerros: Una Aproximacion al Mundo Campa (Lima: Retablo de Papel, 1973). 6. See NACLA this issue for population; forearlierdata on population and language groupings, see Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Utopia y Revolucidn. 7. There has been a long native tradition of criticizing the Euro American academy's approach to historical and cultural studies. One contemporary Quechua thinker put it this way: "In our analysis, we don't only use class contradictions, but also 'contradictions of civilization'....there are three con- centric chains that colonize our people: class oppression, that of the nationalist Creole and acculturated mestizo state, and lastly the oppression of civilization that the West has imposed on the Andean world....We use Marxism exclusively as a valuable tool. The principal error that Peruvian socialists commit-a result of the absenceof indigenous cultural identity and the presence of an embarrass- ing Western cultural identity among the Creoles and mestizos in their ranks-is to confuse the tool with their identity...and even using a foreign ideological tool as a crutch for their identity." Javier Lajo Lazo, "Ni Utopismo Andino, Ni Socialismo MAlgico: Descolonizacion Abora," Winay Marka (Barcelona), no. 15 (mayo 1991). Fora systematic indigenous critique of Eurocentric social science, see: Wanker, Tawantisuyu: Cinco Siglos de Guerra Qheswaymara contra Espaiia (Mexico: Nueva Imagen, 1981); Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, Utopia y Revolucion. 8. Tomis Huanca, "Relaciones Interdinicas Andinas: Cotidianeidad de los Grupos etnico-Culturales en Bolivia," (unpublished mss.), 1991. 9. See the studies of Henry Lefebvre, L'Etat (Paris: Editions 10/18, 1974); S. Varese, "Multiethnicity and Hegemonic Construction: Indian Plans and the Future," in Guidieri et al., Ethnicities and Nations. 10. A clear example of this trend is the growing militarization of the drug war in the Andes.

Tags: Indigenous, US migration, indigenous politics, resistance, pan-Indian

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