Indigenous–Mestizo Interaction in Mexico


In this chapter, I analyze commercial exchanges between P’urhepecha children and mestizo (i.e., people of mixed indigenous and Spanish descent) individuals at a market in Mexico. Markets are places of intercultural contact, and the linguistic and behavioral practices that take place there show how power and ethnic identities are negotiated and economic exploitation is realized (see, for instance, French 2001; Flores 2003; Placencia 2008). In order to challenge the inequalities that exist in the relationships between mestizo and indigenous populations, Mexican education authorities have implemented intercultural education, focusing on teaching students skills and values for coexisting in a multiethnic and multicultural society, and emphasizing the maintenance and development of the students’ native language and culture. I contend, however, that the components of this model – particularly Spanish-language instruction – should be further refined. I describe a literacy program in the P’urhepecha language that, despite its success, proves to be ineffective in preparing indigenous children to confront abusive encounters with mestizo people. I conclude by reflecting on the role of linguistic practices in the reproduction of conditions that maintain indigenous people’s subordinated position in Mexican society, and the need for a model of education that teaches children to face unfavorable situations.

Theoretical Framework

I approach ...

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