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Toxic Landscapes in Sacred Wixaritari Territory: Chemicals and Food as Environmental Epigenetic Triggers in a Metabolic Epidemic in Mexico


My ethnographic research engages Wixaritari conceptions of sickness and healing that are rooted in a cosmology of body, landscape and non-human relationships responsible for maintaining wellbeing and balance in the universe. The landscapes are spaces of historical and ongoing resistance movements fighting against multiple threats of dispossession and environmental destruction. From a medical anthropological perspective, I examine the environmental epigenetics of toxic exposure and their implication for disease etiology, specifically, metabolic syndrome. Environmental epigenetics considers biology as a coevolving process that takes into account the historical, political and social dimensions of toxicity including the strategies Wixaritari use to address multiple environmental threats from local, state and national-corporate interests. There is growing concern for how contemporary life is being threatened during the Anthropocene as human activities are causing significant global destruction of earth’s ecosystems. Such destruction disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, especially indigenous communities. Yet, the stories that Wixaritari bodies and landscapes tell are not solely about doom and gloom. I argue instead that healing is embedded in indigenous landscape practices associated with fulfilling cargo mandates. Moreover, non-fulfillment of these obligatory relations may result in further imbalance between human and non-human that maintain order in the universe. While current threats to sacred sites have grown, these relations between Wixaritari care and governance of each other and their vast network of landscapes offer profound frameworks for how to move forward with collective life in the Anthropocene.

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