Ethnographies of “Culturas Indígenas Preservadas”

Posted by Oscar Marquez, Doctoral Student in American Studies, Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU

I will be spending six weeks in Guadalajara as a guest researcher at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores de Antropología Social (CIESAS) to conduct preliminary research for my dissertation. I will be conducting archival and (hopefully) some ethnographic research to understand the racial motives underlining the dispossession of Wirárika (Huichol) territory by non-indigenous rural Mexicans. I have been here in Guadalajara for close to two weeks and it is clear that it is going to be difficult making contact with Huichol communities in the sierra. There are multiple organizations and groups of people based in the city of Guadalajara whom do some type of support/solidarity work with these communities but many seem to be weary of an outsider arriving with intentions to visit and know these indigenous communities that are often identified by the interlocutors mentioned above as “culturas indígenas preservadas”, or authentic Indians. “Ahorita no tenemos ninguna salida a la sierra, quizas en unos meses cuando se acaben las lluvias” is their usual response. This is, of course, partially true because a lot of these communities are isolated, unreachable, and stranded during the rainy season because their roads become extremely dangerous to get through. However, I’m left with the curiosity of whether they just don’t want to let another ‘foreign’ academic into these communities to study them as if they were test subjects; a form of gate-keeping you can say. This is understandable, as I’m sure there have been plenty of outsiders coming into these communities to extract knowledge without much long-term responsibility to the Wirárika and these organizations want to preserve the relationship of trust that they have established. But I just wanted an opportunity to speak to the autoridades of these communities to present my idea for a collaborative project, inclusive of their costumbres, that tries to understand the racialized ideologies of their mestizo neighbors who have invaded Wirárika territory while helping facilitate diálogos interculturales between these mestizo invaders, Wiraritari, and government agencies.

Marquez_Mexico_CasaHuichol

Mural inside Casa de Salud Huichol (This was the only photograph allowed. No pictures were allowed to be taken of the residents or other areas of the Centro)

So far the closest I have been to meeting and speaking with Wiraritari has been through volunteering at Casa de Salud Huichol. Casa Huichol is a health center/transitional housing in Guadalajara where rural and urban Wiraritari are assisted after being treated at a nearby hospital. This place has been supporting the Huichol community for more than fifteen years. The founder herself, Rocío Echevarria, has been providing assistance to the Huichol for close to three times as long. She began her work in the Wirárika community of Tatei Kie (San Andrés Cohamiata, Jalisco) in the seventies in a rural health center funded by the government and stayed behind to continue helping after government funds were revoked. She eventually went back to Guadalajara and established an albergue in her own home for several years before finally receiving funding to begin creating what is now Casa Huichol in 1999. Many of the guests at Casa Huichol stay anywhere between two to four weeks and take advantage of being in the city to take care of pending issues with any one or more of the countless governmental (and non-governmental) assistance programs, create and sell their artesanías, and do whatever other mandados necessary that can only be done in the city since the journey to Guadalajara is at least a full-day’s trip for these communities.

I am very grateful for this opportunity to conduct preliminary field-work because it is helping me begin accessing and establishing relaciones de confianza with these communities and their interlocutors; something that I foresaw as a challenge precisely because the Wirárika are especially marked (and marketed) by the state and NGOs as being one of the few timeless, authentic Indians of Mexico, untouched by modern civilization. I hope (for me and you all) that by my next post I will have a much more exciting report-back but in the meantime I will be taking advantage of the libraries and professors here in Guadalajara who have established their reputations doing this type of academic research.

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