The Culture of Marginality: The Teenek Portrayal of Social Difference (1)

By de Vidas, Anath Ariel | Ethnology, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

The Culture of Marginality: The Teenek Portrayal of Social Difference (1)


de Vidas, Anath Ariel, Ethnology


The marginality of the Teenek Indians of Mexico gives rise to discourses among this group that serve to justify its relegation to the fringes of modern life. Those discourses reflect a concrete, inexorable, social, economic, and political situation that is reformulated in the Teenek system of representation. This article explores the problem of constructing an ethnic identity as it is reflected in the realities and world views of the indigenous microcosm facing national society. (Mexico, Teenek [Huastec] Indians, ethnicity, world view)

**********

The Teenek Indians in northeastern Mexico are notable for a peculiar attitude that combines a state of apparent deculturation with a particularly self-deprecating discourse: "We are less than nothing," "stinking," "dirty Indians," "ugly idiots," "cowards," etc. These rather unexpected opinions were collected during my fieldwork in several Teenek villages, particularly the village of Loma Larga-San Lorenzo, near the town of Tantoyuca, in the northern part of the State of Veracruz. (2) Two and a half years' residence in the area, from March 1991 to September 1993, was augmented by shorter visits up to November 1995. Teenek self-denigrating indigenous discourses are recurrent and common to people of both sexes, different ages, and in different places. The startling contrast they offer to the assertions of ethnic identity and the search for roots so prevalent today around the world invites analysis of the discursive construction of the social categories they express. Indeed, as Levine (1999) suggests, ethnicity stems above all from a cognitive method of classifying human beings. Accordingly, my research explores the elaboration of a disconcerting ethnic identity by examining the realities and conceptions of the indigenous microcosm vis-a-vis national society (Ariel de Vidas 2002).

The self-denigrating remarks such as those mentioned tend to justify the social and spatial marginality of the Teenek with respect to their mestizo neighbors. Most of these non-Indians, whom the Teenek consider to be better off than themselves, live in the town nearby, and represent for the Indian population both the positive aspects (modernity, power, money, etc.) and negative aspects (betrayal of tradition, immorality, greed, etc.) of Western culture. Although the Teenek lack such emblematic Indian traits as traditional clothing, agricultural rituals, distinctive ceremonies, and a system of religious offices (the cargo system), their situation is not one of anomie, since as a group they have preserved their language and a cosmology rooted in the Mesoamerican tradition. Thus, while the Teenek are primarily negative in their remarks about themselves, this discourse does not imply a weak sense of belonging. In a way, these autochthonous comments justify the group's marginal position and reflect a cultural construction of Teenek identity in which the disparities between social groups, which in the Teenek view arise from ontological differences, are negotiated. Thus, the Teenek possess a strong ethnic identity that does not appear, a priori, to be based on any validating, reclaimed heritage, but which, on the contrary, seems to derive from negatively perceived values.

The construction of an ethnic identity has long been dominated in the anthropological literature by the essentialist point of view, which emphasized self-definition and ethnogenesis as the factors that demarcated a specific culture, language, and customs (Geertz 1963; Shils 1957; Francis 1976). With Barth's critical revision (1969) of the ways ethnic groups maintain their ascription, the subject took on a perspective that permits an analysis of ethnification (Pitt-Rivers 1965, 1967; Casagrande 1974). In this approach, the formation of ethnic groups was seen to be a function of the political, economic, or ideological domination of one group by another, and a constantly renewed codification of cultural differences between distinct social groups (Cardoso De Oliveira 1992). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Culture of Marginality: The Teenek Portrayal of Social Difference (1)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.