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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Consuming the Native Other: Mestiza/o Melancholia and the Performance of Indigeneity in Michoacan

  • Author(s): Spears-Rico, Gabriela
  • Advisor(s): Biolsi, Thomas
  • et al.

This projects examines the contested terrain of cultural appropriation within mestizo/indigenous relations in México. Inspired by Phillip Deloria’s theory of ‘playing Indian,’ I sought to understand the concept’s applicability to the Mexican context. I utilize performance theory, specifically the performance of racialized identities and the performance of embodied memory, as a lens to examine touristic consumption and as a means to understand the relationship between indigenous identities and mestizaje. Employing ethnographic field methods, I consider how both mestizos and natives act as performers in touristic transactions during the Days of the Dead in Michoacan as well as how the commodification of the P’urhepecha dead racializes P’urhepecha Indians as inferior others and impacts P’urhepecha communities.

I pose that mestiza/o visits to Michoacán are motivated by their desire to alleviate mixed identity anxiety; mestizos seek indigenous people to resolve their feelings about the Spanish Conquest and to understand the violent moment of rape which birthed mestizaje as well as to encounter their romanticized notion of indigenous primitivity in its purest form. I propose that mestiza/o tourists view P’urhepechas as surrogate stand-ins for their pre-Columbian ancestors while P’urhepechas struggle to represent themselves as contemporary beings invested in the globalized political economy. The mestiza/o longing to tour P’urhepecha communities functions alongside an articulated P’urhepecha fear of being viewed as accessories to an imaginary ‘pre-Columbian’ landscape which relegates indigenous people to the past.

I argue that mestizos’ majoritarian position in Mexican society and their distance from contemporary indigenous realities facilitates their consumption and appropriation of the indigenous dead as well as the commodification of living Indians. Mestiza/o tourists engage in mestiza/o melancholia by mourning what they view as the decline of ‘traditional P’urhepecha culture’ while not acknowledging their own participation in the ongoing destruction of indigenous communities. Touring indigenous communities and appropriating indigenous culture does not resolve the violence but further propagates it. P’urhepechas, however, consider themselves partners in the touristic relationship with an investment in preserving their communities’ intimacy and in controlling how they are perceived, consumed, and toured. P’urhepechas view mestizos as spiritually disoriented, culturally astray people who should be catered to for the sake of profit. The P’urhepecha preoccupation with preserving community intimacy motivates P’urhepechas to engage in acts of resistance such as constructing cheap/imitation cultural goods to sell to tourists, barring tourists from particular festivities, and holding specific ceremonies away from the public eye.

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