Academic journal article Ethnology

Stories from the Field, Handicraft Production, and Mexican National Patrimony: A Lesson in Translocality from B. Traven(1)

Academic journal article Ethnology

Stories from the Field, Handicraft Production, and Mexican National Patrimony: A Lesson in Translocality from B. Traven(1)

Article excerpt

The well-known woolen textiles sold at vacation spots throughout Mexico and the American Southwest are commonly described as being made by Zapotec artisans in the home workshops of Teotitlan del Valle, a community located in the central valley of Oaxaca, one of Mexico's southernmost states. Such a characterization of the location of Zapotec textile production, however, limits our understanding of how this community (and Zapotec weavers) are immersed in transnational articulations and flows. This essay explores the translocal nature of Zapotec textile production by examining multiple versions of a tale about an elderly artisan's interaction with a tourist from the United States, introducing the people, places, and institutions involved in making Zapotec textiles beyond the bounds of Teotitlan del Valle. The multiple tellings of the story also serve to show how one moves through and articulates the translocal, blurring global/local distinctions to create a more nuanced account of Zapotec textile production. (Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, Zapotec textiles, B. Traven, "Canastitas en Serie," multisited ethnography, translocality)

The Zapotec of Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, are a well-known group of textile artisans and a frequent focus of the anthropologist's gaze. Since Elsie Clews Parsons's (1936) pioneering ethnography of the nearby community of Mitla, a stream of monographs (Cohen 1994; Cook and Binford 1991; Fitzsimmons 1974; Popelka 1989; Stephen 1987, 1992; Taylor 1960; Vargas-Baron 1968; Wood 1997) has been produced describing many aspects of life in Teotitlan and other nearby "Zapoteco-speaking pueblos" (Parsons 1936). Analyses of textile production have figured prominently in many of these works. Vargas-Baron's 1968 dissertation was the first of these to describe how several communities, including Teotitlan, are linked in a network of subcontracting relations, coining the phrase Tlacolula "weaving production complex" (WPC hereafter in the text) to describe this network.(2)

Weavers and merchants in Teotitlan gained control over access to developing markets for Zapotec textiles in the first half of the twentieth century as new markets for Zapotec textiles developed first in Mexico and later in the United States. Vargas-Baron (1968) traced developing local, regional, national, and international markets; the steadily changing relations of production within and between the communities making up the WPC; and how Teotitecan weavers and merchants managed to garner control over them through a variety of economic, political, and cultural means. By asserting Teotitecan cultural patrimony over this textile art form and using economic and political leverage over nearby communities (as a consequence of Teotitlan's position as a colonial and pre-Hispanic administrative and commercial center), Teotitecan merchants were able to gain power over a complex characterized by piecework and subcontracting relations. These relations extended beyond weavers in Teotitlan to include artisans in the nearby communities of Santa Ana del Valle, Diaz Ordaz, and to a limited degree Macuilxochitl (Vargas-Baron 1968). Beginning in the 1940s, as U.S. tourism in Mexico increased (due to limited European travel as a consequence of World War II, as well as to the completion of the Pan American Highway which passes through Oaxaca), textile production intensified and Teotitecan merchants grew stronger as Teotitecan businesses became the major conduits through which nearly all Zapotec textiles passed on their way to market (Vargas-Baron 1968; Stephen 1987, 1992).

During the postrevolutionary period in Mexico, as many Mexican intellectuals (including anthropologists), artists, and political thinkers worked to create a sense of Mexican national identity in which indigenous culture was a prominent feature, an ethnic tourism closely tied to state-sponsored promotion of Mexico's "archaeological heritage" developed (Novelo 1976; see also Delpar 1992; Errington 1998; Kaplan 1993; and Lomnitz-Adler 1992). …

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