Synoptic Studies of Mexican Culture

Synoptic Studies of Mexican Culture

Synoptic Studies of Mexican Culture

Synoptic Studies of Mexican Culture

Excerpt

The Tarascans are one of the principal Indian groups on the central plateau of Mexico, numbering around 55,000 in 1940. They occupy the central region of the State of Michoacan, mainly in the Lake Pátzcuaro area and the Sierra west of it. They live in sixty-six villages (pueblos)1 and a number of dependent hamlets (ranchos) amidst similar settlements of mestizo Spanish-speaking people.2

Except for language, the differences between the Tarascans and the nearby rural mestizos are not very great from either the cultural or any other point of view. Four centuries of living together with and under people of European culture (Spanish colonial or modern Mexican) have made the Tarascans considerably interdependent with Mexican national life, and their culture, if analyzed in traits and institutions, might show more of a Spanish than an Indian heritage. The loss of Tarascan speech and consciousness is only one more step in the process of greater integration and acculturation into the Mexican nation, and many of the mestizo villages near the Tarascans have undergone this transformation only recently.

This interrelation with the rest of the nation is seen not only in the content of their culture but also in their participation in the social and political conflicts of Mexico.

National issues which have agitated Mexico in later years have their local manifestation in Tarascan towns. Conflicts around land and church rage in many Tarascan villages.

While the basic issues of landownership arise out of local conditions, the local groups fighting those issues are connected with national political groups. Agraristas (peasants claiming or receiving lands under the agrarian laws emanating from the Revolution) are found in many villages. Lately the Catholic nationalistic movement of the sinarquistas has found strong support among the Tarascans. Their different allegiances make for opposition or support of the national and state governments and local agencies, influencing the attitude of the people toward government officials and toward strangers in general.

The political struggle today has a strong religious tinge, for or against the Church, and local religious institutions are involved. While the traditional system of organizing cult festivals is somewhat in decadence, the Catholic church is strongly supported by the sinarquistas. The government anti-religious policy on the other hand is associated with the agraristas.

The ethnologist approaching a Tarascan town becomes aware of these conflicts on his very first attempt at contact with the people. He confronts the problem of being classified politically and having to define his attitude. This has made work difficult or even impossible in some cases.

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