Indigenismo and its Discontents: Bilingual Teachers and the Democratic Opening in the Mixteca Alta of Oaxaca, Mexico, 1954-1982

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This dissertation examines the relationship between indigenous peoples and modernizing schemes in Mexico during the second half of the twentieth century. As such, it explores the relationship between indigeneity, educational and development policies, and Cold War politics. The study is grounded in a particular indigenous highland region of southern Mexico, the Mixteca Alta, while at the same time investigating indigenous-state relations as they were articulated on national and international levels. I examine policy debates, institutional reforms and labor struggles within indigenista agencies between 1954 and 1982. I ask how ideas about the value of indigenous language and culture shaped projects of incorporation and the struggles of meaning inherent in those processes. In other words, this dissertation is an investigation of the micropolitics of indigenous education and development efforts in the second half of the twentieth century. I argue that in the late 1970s a confluence of factors-including postwar development projects engaging indigenous brokers, transnational discourses of anti-colonialism, and grassroots struggle with an authoritarian regime-crystallized to shift official policy to the recognition and celebration of indigenous linguistic diversity.

The dissertation deepens our understanding of post-1940 Mexican political culture and the transformations it underwent. Specifically, it plots a new periodization for regions, such as the Mixteca Alta, which did not experience significant agrarian reform during the 1930s, by demonstrating how federal agencies (other than the military) only began to exert influence in the early 1950s. The period of liberalizing reforms known as the apertura democrática, or democratic opening, is frequently described as an effort to coopt government opponents. I argue against this cooptation narrative by demonstrating how President Luis Echeverría (1970-1976) employed tried and true tactics of negotiation with mobilized sectors to both concede to and control emerging aspirations. It is in this regard that the Mexican regime, earlier than most of its Latin American counterparts, employed the rhetoric of indigenous cultural and linguistic rights to reformulate its corporatist rule.