Beyond indigenismo: Contemporary Mexican literature of indigenous theme
vi TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1 Introduction……………………………….………………………………… 1 Chapter 2 Indigenismo in the Twenty First Century: Erased Faces (2001)…………… 13
Chapter 3 Novela Testimonial: Memorial del tiempo o Vía de las conversaciones (1987)……………………………………………………… 35
Chapter 4 Moving Toward Indigenous Self-Representation………………………….. 73 Chapter 5 Literatura indígena: Cantares de los vientos primerizos/Wila che be ze lhao: Novela zapoteca (1999)………………………………………... 77 Chapter 6 Beyond the Novel: Film and Video of Indigenous Theme……………….. 102
6.1 Día de muertos en la tierra de los murciélagos [K’in Santo ta Sotz’leb ]……... 116
6.2 Zapata’s Garden …………………………………………………………….… 122
6.3 Japón [Japan ]……………………………………………………………….…. 127
6.4 Men with Guns [Hombres armados ]……………………………………….….. 130
Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………....… 140 Works Cited……………………………………………………………………………….. 142
CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION
Indigenismo was official policy in Mexico from roughly 1920 to 1970,though its ideology has since been widely discredited in academic circles. There is now broad consensus that Mexican indigenismo was a government-sponsored, paternalistic ideology in which writers, intellectuals, artists and social actors from different disciplines knowingly or unknowingly cooperated in undermining indigenous communities instead of improving their lot. This was done for the sake of both “national unity” and economic advancement for the urban middle and upper classes. Henri Favre, writing in 1998, describes indigenismo as a “movimiento ideológico de expresión literaria y artística, aunque igualmente político y social, que considera al indio en el contexto de una problemática nacional” (8). Héctor Díaz Polanco labels integrationist indigenismo “ethnophagy” and declares, “this indigenism left behind it a tragic trail of cultural dissolution, destruction of identities, political repression, and ethnic-national conflict” (“Indigenismo” 68). Analisa Taylor condemns indigenista artistic production in Mexico as well: [T]hese mimetic-symbolic images reveal what hegemonic indigenista discourse seeks to conceal: the conflicting forms of social relations and the ambivalent consciousness of the post-revolutionary elites who are pursuing rural capitalist development under the benevolent guise of revolutionary social justice. (16-17)
2 Critics trace the course of literary manifestations of Mexican indigenismo from the publication of Gregorio López y Fuentes’ El indio in 1935 to Rosario Castellanos’s Oficio de tinieblas in 1962. 1 These expressions nearly always took the form of narrative, mostly novels but also some short stories, and government-employed anthropologists frequently penned indigenista fiction themselves. While all indigenista fiction was complicit with official ideology to one degree or another, some later works became progressively more sophisticated in style, content and approach, culminating with qualities that reflect increasing internal critiques of the system of which they formed an important part. 2 By the time of the publication of the “last” indigenista novel in 1962, attitudes had evolved and Mexican society was on the verge of important changes. The year 1968 is frequently signaled as a watershed for government-sponsored indigenismo and the nation as a whole, particularly because of the massacre of hundreds of students in the Plaza de Tlatelolco on October 2. This traumatic event signaled the beginning of the end for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as well as its patronage system and nationalist-populist messages, both of which directly or indirectly dominated the social sciences and arts in Mexico after decades of one-party control of government. Joseph Sommers asserts that the shock of the carnage at Tlatelolco made it clear to academics and others that there was a huge gap between intellectual activity and everyday reality in Mexico, and that it was time for a comprehensive “valoración crítica” of the status quo (“Literatura e historia” 9). The book De eso que llaman antropología mexicana ,published in 1970 by a
1 Well known examples are: Silvia Bigas Torres’ La narrativa indigenista mexicana del siglo XX and Lancelot Cowie’s El indio en la narrativa contemporánea de México y Guatemala . 2 See Cynthia Steele’s “Ideology and the Indigenista Novel in the Nineteenth Century U.S. and Twentieth Century Mexico,” Joseph Sommers’ After the Storm: Landmarks in the Modern Mexican Novel ,and Analisa Taylor’s “Thresholds of Belonging: Myths and Counter-Myths of 'lo indígena' in Mexico (1940-1994).”
3 group of young Mexican anthropologists including Antonio Warman, began this process by for the first time openly challenging the practices of the government-run Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI) and opening the door for others in Mexico and beyond to question indigenista ideology and aesthetics. Much has changed in Mexico in the decades since 1970. Neoliberal economic policies have replaced the import substitution mode of industrialization and national consolidation that had been in place since the Revolution. Successive Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and now National Action Party (PAN) governments have implemented ever-increasing efforts to privatize industry, finance, media and cultural production. International free trade agreements have shifted focus outward, toward exportation and foreign investment, and tourism is one of the country’s leading industries. But amidst this outward reorientation of national priorities, a group of indigenous peasant rebels seized national and international attention on January 1, 1994 by taking control of several provincial cities in the state of Chiapas, as if to declare to the world that Mexico still had serious internal matters to tend to first. The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) and their spokesman Subcomandante Marcos skillfully utilized the modern communications possibilities of the internet to broadcast their demands for indigenous rights and autonomy around the globe. Thanks in part to the Chiapas situation, the once invincible PRI was finally ousted from power in 2000, but peace accords have yet to be signed as of February 2007, thirteen years after the initial insurrection. The Zapatista uprising is but one concrete manifestation of the fact that indigenous peoples represent a significant force and presence in Mexico, and that there are still important issues to resolve with respect to identity, autonomy and how mestizo and indígena
4 cultures are to coexist in the future. Literature, especially understood broadly as it should be today, can and must play a central role in resolving these questions. Ironically, literature’s pivotal role in indigenista ideology in the twentieth century is an indicator of its importance in Mexican society. In theory, indigenous peoples were to assume a more prominent role in representing themselves, both politically and esthetically, following the critical stance taken by many in the 1960s and 70s. This expectation begs a question: how much have things actually changed in recent decades? The answer is that though there has been progress, the Zapatista uprising in 1994 confirmed that much remains to be accomplished, at least in the political realm. Post- indigenista literary production about Indians in Mexico reflects mixed results as well. Indigenismo continues to wield influence in esthetics as well as politics. Given the extent of these social changes and their literary representation, the present study will explore various recent works of indigenous theme in an effort to shed light on how much Mexican cultural production of this kind has changed in the more than quarter century since the ideology of indigenismo began to be seriously questioned. While critics have written a great deal about twentieth century indigenista esthetics in Mexico and finally come to terms with its inherent contradictions, few have explored Indian-related artistic expression since the apparent end of indigenismo ,particularly with respect to how it compares in terms of the criticisms leveled at the previous, flawed official ideology and its esthetic manifestations. The methodology employed in this study will be the dialectical approach used by many currently recognized critics to deconstruct indigenista narrative from the previously mentioned period of 1935-1962. 3 This methodology will be used to read seven
3 These include Joseph Sommers, Cynthia Steele, Antonio Cornejo Polar, Analisa Taylor and others. Sommers defines this dialectical approach in “Literatura e historia”:
5 recent literary works of Mexican indigenous theme: three novels and four filmic texts. Unlike in most previous studies of this kind, here texts produced by both non-indigenous and indigenous authors/directors will be employed. First, I will demonstrate that in spite of incisive and well known critiques of indigenismo ,as well as extraordinary sociopolitical changes in Mexico, the influence of indigenismo continues to appear in artistic production, perhaps reflecting limited success in the political and social realms. This preliminary conclusion is based in part on the following assertion by Analisa Taylor: Until indigenous peoples come fully into political autonomy and are able to define for themselves what non-mediated cultural production centered on “all things indigenous” will look like, to seize back control of the mechanisms for articulating, on a national and international level, what it means to be indigenous in Mexico, indigenismo ,which is a white desire for union, a white desire to “resolve the social split between ‘Indian’ and ‘non-Indian’” will continually reappear in the most uncanny of guises. (167) The study will point out significant differences between literary works produced by indigenous and non-indigenous authors. Before specifying the structure of this project, I will begin by establishing some critical background and terminology as well as a set of problematic aspects of indigenismo employed in analyzing these texts. At the most fundamental level, though the term indigenismo is now commonly applied to many different areas of art, politics and the social sciences, its use was restricted before 1970 almost exclusively to the fields of literature and anthropology. In addition to proposing radical changes in the way that indigenista texts should be approached, starting in 1970, critics began to advocate a broadening of what sort of
Nuestro propósito es mirar de cerca algunos de los mismos textos, pero no viéndolos como una literatura que interpreta “lo indio”, sino como obras que a través de la presentación de personajes y grupos indios, revelan la actitud y el sistema de valores del escritor al dirigirse a la sociedad global. Así, el tema puede ser el indio, pero el asunto verdadero en cuanto a su enfoque, a sus categorías de entendimiento, a su visión del significado del tema y su percepción de las posibles soluciones a su problema, es el del México dominante. (10)
6 artistic production should be considered indigenista ,in accordance with the new understanding of this phenomenon of indigenismo as an ideology that permeated society. In the article entitled “Literatura e historia: Las contradicciones ideológicas de la ficción indigenista,” Sommers criticizes some of his predecessors and their approaches: Hasta ahora los estudios críticos que se han interesado en la ficción indigenista, por ejemplo los de Concha Meléndez, referidos al siglo pasado, o los de César Rodríguez Chicharro en lo que hace al presente, exhiben cierta uniformidad característica. A saber, la tendencia de ser descriptivos, a preocuparse por cuestiones clasificatorias, como la del deslinde entre “indianismo” e “indigenismo”, o aquella del contraste entre una modalidad romántica y otra realista, y, sobre todo, a concentrarse en ver cómo han interpretado los novelistas “el problema del indio”, sea que esto se haga a través de un enfoque en el pasado legendario, la singularidad cultural, la explotación económica o el conflicto político. El supuesto subyacente en todos estos estudios es que el novelista o cuentista, dotado de alguna intuición analítica y objetiva puede, ipso facto ,nada más que gracias a una selección de los materiales y/o a una intención benevolente, develar la verdad y afectar al conjunto social. (10) Sommers labels the novel, the genre critics have used for defining indigenismo ,as problematic: “[es un] género privilegiado, asequible principalmente a la burguesía y en buena medida absorto en los gustos, las frustraciones y las aspiraciones de esta clase” (9). Due to these limitations implicit in the genre, he declares that the scope of study of indigenista artistic production should be opened up to include media such as mural painting, poetry and particularly film. Perhaps the most important distinction to be made with regard to the term indigenismo is that it has always referred only to advocacy and/or expression both produced and intended for consumption by the non-indigenous urban bourgeoisie. The purpose of this national social and artistic project was ostensibly to raise public awareness of the plight of Indians, as well as better the situation of these disadvantaged groups through education, “progress” and integration into the economic life of the nation. A different term, indígena ,
7 was and still is used to denote cultural production by indigenous peoples themselves, as in literatura indígena and video indígena .In the current age of globalization and seemingly increased cultural awareness, however, the term indigenismo is no longer routinely applied to non-indigenous artistic production of indigenous theme. New labels such as “neoindigenista ” or “post-indigenista ” have been proposed as substitutes to denote cultural production by non- indigenous producers. A change in jargon does not necessarily denote a radical departure in terms of ideology, style or content, however. There is clearly more indígena artistic production commercially available now than at any other time in Mexican history, no doubt due in part to the attention given to events in Chiapas in the last decade. The focus on literatura indígena for this study will be what distinguishes it from texts produced by non-indigenous authors, as well as the nature of authorship, especially in film production. To facilitate this analysis, critical texts dealing with indigenous production from other countries will be employed. Literary texts are central to the construction of identity, as John Beverley asserts about early European texts and the present study argues as well. In contrast to many previous indigenista portrayals, here identity is seen as an evolving and not a fixed notion in literatura indígena ,as it is Mexican indigenous societies in general. All the indigenous-produced texts in this study incorporate western structural and cultural elements to some degree, creating multiple examples of hybridity. But this occurs via indigenous agency and choice, without regard for consistent indigenista preoccupations with “authenticity,” which is a telling difference. Taylor notes that, “[i]ndigenous movements for autonomy necessarily begin by attempting to seize back control of what it means to be Indian ” (88).
8 However, these efforts at identity construction must also be seen as competing with what was until recently, and perhaps still is in some ways, the longstanding endeavor among non-indigenous, and particularly mestizo ,intellectuals and political leaders to establish unique Mexican and Latin American identities as a counterbalance to the hegemony of Europe and the United States at the international level. Mestizaje ,or the absorption of indigenous peoples into a society that romanticized a supposedly shared indigenous past while simultaneously marginalizing “backward” modern indigenous peoples, was one of the pillars of this effort. Contemporary indigenous peoples were used as an internal point of contrast to attempt to construct this identity, as Taylor observes: The dual function of indigenista discourse, though not always obvious to its engineers and practitioners, has been the construction of an academic discipline and an aesthetic repertoire which would provide the emerging national bourgeoisie with an Other against which it could define itself, as well as the legitimating ideology that justifies a project of economic modernization (assimilation of human labor and natural resources) under the guise of cultural redemption. (35)
Notions of identity that have been reinforced for many decades, if not longer, cannot simply disappear, even in light of significant recent events in Mexico. In my study, I will make use of important work that characterizes the artistic manifestations of constructed Mexican national identity as divided into distinct opposing gendered binary elements. Citing Ana María Alonso and borrowing from Edward Said as well, Taylor convincingly asserts that the Hispanic aspect of this construction is associated with “the Universe, the upper body, the semantic, the adult, the civilized, evolved, masculine and rational” while the indigenous portion is linked to “the passive, raw material, Earth, the lower body, the semiotic, embryonic, unformed, primordial, feminine and irrational” (9). Discussion of the persistence of these elements in modern texts is a vital element in my project.
9 Another related criticism of indigenista literary production, which is applicable to modern texts as well, is that it often lagged behind progressive social currents and therefore undermined them, in spite of what appeared to be overt endorsement. This contradiction is frequently evident in the plot, structure and characters of works, as Cynthia Steele has observed. Sommers maintains that “[l]os autores, en algunos casos, produjeron obras que servían como validación literaria de ideologías dominantes retrógradas, mientras que en otros la literatura, lejos de ser una proyección, constituía un modo de desafío crítico” (“Literatura e historia” 12). Similarly, Sommers has referred to literary indigenismo as “paternalismo narrativo” (“Literatura e historia” 29), and this concept proves relevant in newer works as well. This study includes an indigenista or at least significantly indigenista text, plus others that cannot be labeled indigenista ,but that will be shown to incorporate retrograde associations as well. Explorations of mediation and agency in each work offer insight into the evolution of literary representation in Mexico, even if matters are significantly more complex now than several decades ago. Testimonio ,labeled a “transitional” genre by Beverley and Taylor, is particularly relevant in this regard given that non-indigenous mediation is integral to the form, even if Indian input is increased. Taylor makes an observation in her work that demonstrates that this is not a new concern: [I]ndigenismo is a representational mode (in the aesthetic and political sense) characterized by mediation and filtering, which estranges the subjects being represented from the means of representation, denying them the power of agency. This process lends itself to stereotyping and superficial remedies for deep-rooted social conflicts. (37)
10 Though non-indigenous mediation has diminished and taken on other forms in contemporary literature of indigenous theme, the concerns Taylor expresses in this passage are still worthy of critical exploration in recent texts. With these critiques of indigenismo in mind, this study also considers whether traditional western literary modes of expression such as novels and film are appropriate vehicles for defining and expressing indigenous identity and concerns. These genres may preclude certain kinds of expression as well as some audiences. Analisa Taylor again makes a critical observation about indigenismo that must be accounted for, even with respect to the indígena texts included in this project: Indigenismo is complicated by its status as both a social policy and a representational mode. For the humanities scholar, it generally refers to intellectual, artistic and literary representations of indigenous peoples that hold fast to Eurocentric epistemologies. In other words, the content or raw material may be indigenous (such as indigenous testimonials, myths and legends, material, spiritual and aesthetic practices), but the form or mold into which these representations are made to fit does not radically disrupt Eurocentric forms of academic, literary or political discourse. (92) I contend that in spite of the fact that all modes of artistic expression are limited, films and videos are more accessible than novels for indigenous audiences. New, hybrid genres such as testimonio have emerged since the ostensible demise of indigenismo ,and others have continued to evolve, integrating new techniques and opening up different possibilities for expression. The problems and opportunities inherent in the genres studied will be addressed, though each of the works discussed will also be treated individually, within the context of its own indigenista -referenced limitations and innovations. The matter of audience will be an important consideration as well, especially in the light of events in Chiapas in the last decade. With indigenista narrative, there is no doubt as to who intended readers were. But with newer texts, this question proves more complex.
11 This study is organized by genre, with the first three chapters dedicated to novels. To illustrate the changing but still problematic nature of literary portrayals of Indians in Mexico, I examine three relatively recent novels of Mexican indigenous theme: Erased Faces (2001) by Graciela Limón, Memorial del tiempo o Vía de las conversaciones (1987) by Jesús Morales Bermúdez and Cantares de los vientos primerizos/Wila che be ze lhao: Novela zapoteca (1994) by Javier Castellanos Martínez, in descending order in terms of their degree of influence by indigenista ideology and esthetic practices. Erased Faces ,a recent novel by a Chicana author who explores her Mexican roots while also portraying conditions in Chiapas prior to and during the Zapatista uprising, will be shown as significantly indigenista , notwithstanding its recent publication date. Memorial del tiempo is a testimonial novel, written by an anthropologist who spent years living in indigenous communities in Chiapas. A “hybrid” text, incorporating testimony provided by multiple indigenous informants, Memorial represents a notable departure from indigenismo ,though it still employs certain indigenista elements. Finally, Cantares de los vientos primerizos is a novela indígena ,one of the few novels written by an indigenous author to be published in Mexico to date. This text incorporates structural and stylistic elements that distinguish it considerably from indigenista novels, with which it sustains an implied dialogue. The final chapter is dedicated to film and videos. Two videos by indigenous directors are included, Día de muertos en la tierra de los murciélagos/K’in Santo ta Sotz’leb (2003) by director Pedro Daniel López López of the Proyecto Videoastas Indígenas de la Frontera Sur and Zapata’s Garden (2002) by seven filmmakers from the Chiapas Media Project. Also read are two feature films by non-indigenous directors: Japón (2002) by Carlos Reygadas and Men with Guns/Hombres armados (1997) by director John Sayles. Though differences are
12 not as marked between filmic texts as with the novels, there are significant distinctions between the indigenous and non-indigenous produced texts, as well as indigenista influence in the latter. My readings of these texts are not meant to evaluate their literary merit or to exclude the wide array of possibilities for different readings. I employ previous critiques of indigenismo and focus on aspects of the works that relate to portrayals of Indians, and my observations should be taken in that context alone. My intention is to shed light on the current state of subaltern literary representation and production in Mexico, demonstrate the need for further change in the empirical world and reveal valuable points of comparison between the perspective of Indian and non-Indian producers of culture. In no way is praise or criticism in this regard meant to imply validation or indictment of the works as a whole.
CHAPTER 2 INDIGENISMO IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY: ERASED FACES (2001)
Erased Faces is an unusual novel in that it is “transnational,” meaning that it includes characters and scenes from the United States and Mexico (López Calvo 65; “Zapatistas, Literature, and the Chicano Experience”). The novel features three main characters: Adriana Mora, a Chicana, Juana Galván, an indigenous woman and Orlando Flores, an indigenous man, all of whom end up in a Zapatista rebel camp in the Lacandón jungle and then participate in the famous uprising, which is the central narrative in the work. Multiple lengthy flashbacks interrupt the main story to reveal the past of these three characters. Some might balk that a novel written in English by a foreigner, even one of Mexican descent, does not belong in a discussion of Mexican post-indigenismo ,as in this chapter. However, Bruno Traven, a twentieth-century indigenista author who wrote in English, German and Spanish, represents a clear precedent for inclusion of Limón on this count. Like Limón, Traven wrote about Mexican Indians and his novels were translated into Spanish and read fairly widely in Mexico and beyond. His works, which include Bridge in the Jungle/Puente en la selva ,La rebelión de los colgados/The Rebellion of the Hanged ,Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Carreta/La carreta are included in several well known studies about indigenismo and receive equal consideration with those of his Mexican peers, precisely because they share many of the same characteristics as other indigenista novels from the
14 same period. 4 Moreover, indigenous groups are just as much “others” to non-Indian Mexican authors as they are to those from other countries, where they often inspire the same curiosity and temptation to “defend” or represent their cause to a non-Indian reading public. However, unlike the other two novelists read in this chapter, the fact that Limón writes in English denotes that her intended audience is primarily people from the United States, particularly those attracted to the publicity generated by the Zapatista rebellion, which elevated Mexican indigenous struggles for autonomy from a national to an international stage. Graciela Limón’s credentials are also impressive in their own right. Not only is she a noted Chicana novelist, academic and literary scholar, but her agenda in Erased Faces is ambitious, going beyond the indigenista aspect on which I will concentrate here. Limón establishes parallels between the marginalized position of indigenous peoples in Mexico and Chicanos in the United States, focusing particularly on the difficult situation of women from both groups. In fact, she includes three distinct struggles against patriarchy and repression in the novel – indigenous, feminist and homosexual – under the umbrella of unity and resistance to patriarchy. Erased Faces has received significant praise from critics of Chicano literature, such as Ignacio López Calvo, who credits the work with exemplifying the effects of Zapatismo in broadening the horizons of Chicana/o leadership and cultural production (64). But López Calvo also recognizes Limón’s indigenista intention in the text as well, which is to defend and vindicate indigenous peoples in Chiapas: “She presents the intentio operis as an expression of support for Zapatismo and an earnest denunciation of the oppression of indigenous people in Southern Mexico” (73). This statement places Erased Faces clearly
4 Both César Rodríguez Chicharro and Lancelot Cowie include several of Traven’s works in their commentaries.
15 within the tradition of twentieth-century Mexican indigenista fiction, which will be my primary focus here. I will detail elements of now discredited indigenista narrative that are evident in Erased Faces ,which ultimately makes the work predetermined to repeat the genre’s pitfalls. Though readers of Erased Faces will quickly recognize features of the style and content characteristic of indigenista narrative, particularly in one of its main subplots, let me first describe some ways in which the novel introduces innovative features that lend a more contemporary feel to portrayals of indigenous and other characters when compared to previous literature about Mexican Indians. For instance, a lesbian relationship develops between two of the main characters, which is clearly a departure from previous indigenista fiction and makes the novel topical in terms of other current subaltern rights struggles. It also contributes to a more realistic and nuanced reading of the historical situation depicted. Additionally, like Rosario Castellanos, a feminist who introduces the first complex female Indian characters in indigenista novels in the 1950s and 60s, Limón successfully integrates contemporary women’s rights issues with the indigenous autonomy movement in Mexico. Two of the three principal characters in Erased Faces are women: Adriana Mora is from a Chicana/African American background from Los Angeles and Juana Galván is an indigenous Tzeltal. Written four decades later than Castellanos’ novels,Limón’s portrayal of women’s roles is more progressive, as evidenced by the fact that Juana assumes an important leadership role in the Zapatista movement. With the possible exception of the protagonist Catalina Díaz Puiljá in Castellanos’ Oficio de tinieblas (1962), who assumes a unique quasi- mythical religious leadership role based on her powers of prophecy, women in previous indigenista fiction most often face the double burden of submission to non-indigenous