Not Ours Alone: Patrimony, Value, and Collectivity in Contemporary Mexico

Not Ours Alone: Patrimony, Value, and Collectivity in Contemporary Mexico

Not Ours Alone: Patrimony, Value, and Collectivity in Contemporary Mexico

Not Ours Alone: Patrimony, Value, and Collectivity in Contemporary Mexico


Elizabeth Ferry explores how members of the Santa Fe Cooperative, a silver mine in Mexico, give meaning to their labor in an era of rampant globalization. She analyzes the cooperative's practices and the importance of patrimonio (patrimony) in their understanding of work, tradition, and community. More specifically, she argues that patrimonio, a belief that certain resources are inalienable possessions of a local collective passed down to subsequent generations, has shaped and sustained the cooperative's sense of identity.


June Nash

In her book Elizabeth Emma Ferry presents an impressive argument that residents in the historic mining community of Guanajuato, Mexico, are committed to a collective identity related to the mining wealth still active in that industry’s declining economy. the residents’ assertion of the enduring value of place and religion is another instance of the persistence of local identity with place, despite the assumptions of disjuncture in a globalizing economy. With the decline in the mining economy, the tourist industry replacing it attracts visitors as much with the area’s history of mining as with the religious architecture that survives from the colonial period.

Ferry’s exploration of the nature of this patrimonial relation echoes with that of other mining communities where mine workers consider that their offspring have a right to a job by virtue of the sacrifices they themselves endured working in the mines. This is believed to be as sacred a right among the miners of Bolivia with whom I worked in the 1970s as it is for the miners of Guanajuato. It defines their sense of the relationship between the community and the state, as well as their collective relations with family and community. the fertility of the Guanajuato mines, ranked as the richest in the world in the eighteenth century, extends to its citizenry and particularly those who work the “mother lode.” Paradoxically the very concentration of power and wealth in the mining economy conducive to a “pyramid” of power at the same time has resulted in a coalescence of collective challenges to that power.

Recent critiques of the “peoples and places” paradigm have made us more cautious of correlating the identities of people with geography. Yet the replication of similar gender characteristics and cosmologies related to powerful figures above and below the earth in mining centers around the world captures similar metaphors of the relation between natural and supernatural entities through which this identity is reproduced. With her comprehensive ethnographic summary of the lives of the workers and their families both under-

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