Campbell, HowardZapotec Renaissance: Ethnic Survival and Cultural Revivalism in Southern Mexico1994Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press

Within the past several years, the study of social movements has become one of the most fruitful areas of investigation within political anthropology. All too often, however, ethnographic research has tended to assume that all such movements are of recent vintage. While this may be true in particular cases, the assumption that social movements emerge without historical antecedents relegates their frequent appeals to history as false consciousness at best, a cynical ideological strategy at worst. Howard Campbell’s Zapotec Renaissance: Ethnic Survival and Cultural Revivalism in Southern Mexico provides a welcome corrective to this tendency. The monograph is a detailed examination of social movements in Juchitan, a predominantly Zapotec Indian community in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of southern Mexico. It pays particular attention to the activities and ideological orientations of the Worker, Peasant and Student Coalition of the Isthmus (COCEI in Spanish), arguably the most successful ethnic political movement in post- revolutionary Mexico. The resilience of COCEI is particularly remarkable when one considers that Mexico was a society controlled by a single political party (the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI) prior to the elections of 1997, and whose indigenous population tends to have highly ambivalent feelings toward their ethnic heritage. ||| Among the emerging class of indigenous intellectuals in Mexico, however, COCEI is viewed with admiration and perhaps a little envy, given the Coalition’s phenomenal successes: it has governed the city of Juchitan three times between 1981 and 1990 (once in a coalition with the PRI); it firmly controls the community’s cultural center (and thus the dissemination and presentation of Zapotec culture to the outside world); its members are active in the publication of a glossy arts magazine, Guchachi’ Reza, which is distributed nationally; and it has a number of influential allies in Mexico City and internationally. However, as Campbell’s analysis implies, using COCEI as a model of social action in other indigenous communities would be a daunting task, given the degree to which the organization emerged from the particularities of local history.||| For example, an important feature which distinguishes the region from much of Indian Mexico is its long intellectual tradition. Juchitecos began attending universities in the mid-nineteenth century, when President Porfirio Diaz rewarded the town for its participation in various armed conflicts during the 1850s and 1860s. A surprising number of these college students were active in promoting regional culture, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that their studies brought them to far-off Mexico City. In the capital, the students established artistic and literary journals, as well as social clubs for Isthmus Zapotecs residing in the capital. While most of these Zapotec scholars had come from elite local families, by the 1960s an increasing number of children from working class homes began attending college. Many became involved in the turbulent student movements of that time, and returned to Juchitan determined to use regional history and culture to radically confront the racism and economic injustice that was prevalent in the Isthmus. Campbell’s discussion of the politicization and emergence of the COCEI leadership is particularly rewarding, given the dearth of material on local intellectuals as a class.||| Like many social movements, COCEI seeks to link itself ideologically with the past. In particular, the Coalition presents itself as a natural extension of a glorious pre- Columbian era of Zapotec dominance of the Isthmus coupled with a long history of resistance to Spanish, French and Mexican rule. Rather than assume that such traditions are invented, however, Campbell persuasively argues that COCEI is an almost inevitable outcome of Juchitan’s 800 year history. Since the fall of Zapotec hegemony with the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, for example, Juchitecos have been at the forefront of local resistance to incursions by outsiders, including the federal government and the state of Oaxaca. While much of this resistance has been piecemeal, it also included such spectacular mobilizations as the Tehuantepec Rebellion (1660-1661) and the Melendez Rebellions (1834-1853), both of which briefly returned the Isthmus to local control.||| While Campbell is clearly a sympathizer of COCEI and its leadership, he also recognizes the limitations of their coalition. For example, their ideological focus on the superiority of Isthmus Zapotecs effectively excludes other indigenous groups from the movement. Likewise, their tendency to criticize their opponents by using homophobic slurs does little to ingratiate them to the region’s large homosexual population. Finally, despite COCEI’s claims that the organization reflects a Zapotec cultural predisposition toward gender equality, few of its leaders are women.||| On the other hand, the book would have been stronger if it had delved a little more deeply into the resistance of some Juchitecos to COCEI itself, rather than assume that those who are not Coalition sympathizers are politically reactionary elites. In much of Mexico, the PRI has been able to gain considerable support simply by virtue of the enormous resources that they control. Consequently, party affiliation is not always an accurate gauge for measuring political ideologies or class positions. For example, a Juchiteco may support the PRI under the belief that it would benefit the community more than would a COCEI electoral victory. (This scenario became a reality after COCEI won the mayor’s office in 1981, which resulted in federal and state funding for the community being reduced to a trickle). In addition, it is likely that some Juchitecos may be opposed to COCEI’s often high-handed control of their town’s cultural center, which has been made possible through the generous patronage of Francisco Toledo, an internationally- recognized artist who was born in Juchitan. Indeed, one of the many ironies about the region is that an often- marginalized opposition party can exercise hegemonic control over official forms of cultural production.||| However, these are small criticisms about an important book. Campbell’s painstaking research and finely-honed analysis make a significant contribution to our understanding of social movements, local intellectuals, and regional politics in southern Mexico.|||

Michael DukeUniversity of Texas at Austin


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