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A History of Guelaguetza in Zapotec Communities of the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, 16th Century to the Present


My project traces the evolution of the Zapotec cultural practice of guelaguetza, an indigenous sharing system of collaboration and exchange in Mexico, from pre-Columbian and colonial times to the present. Ironically, the term "guelaguetza" was appropriated by the Mexican government in the twentieth century to promote an annual dance festival in the city of Oaxaca that has little to do with the actual meaning of the indigenous tradition. My analysis of Zapotec-language alphabetic sources from the Central Valley of Oaxaca, written from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, reveals that Zapotecs actively participated in the sharing system during this long period of transformation. My project demonstrates that the Zapotec sharing economy functioned to build and reinforce social networks among households in Zapotec communities. I argue that guelaguetza enabled communities of the Central Valley of Oaxaca to survive the trauma of conquest, depopulation, and external demands for local resources. Zapotecs relied on the system to maintain control of valuable community resources, such as property, labor, and agricultural goods. My project also examines the system of guelaguetza from a transnational perspective by considering how it continues to function effectively for Zapotecs outside of Oaxaca, in other parts of Mexico and in the United States, especially in California. The project utilizes a range of unpublished archival sources from Mexico, Spain, and the United States, including Spanish- and Zapotec-language legal documents, municipal records, and chronicles. Finally, I incorporate Mexican literature from the early twentieth century, and modern ethnographic observations from Oaxaca and California.

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