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La Educación
Número: (122) III
Año: 1995


The presentation of indigenous women that is commonly found in history books in Latin America often reveals exclusivity in a so-called all-inclusive national history. A clue to this exclusion may be found in the subservient roles to which indigenous women are delegated, their representation as symbols of rusticity, passivity, and marginality, and the patterns of forgetfulness and omission that permeate the discourse about them. In Latin America, history books mention little about them. They name a few prominent Indian women—Mama Ocllo, la Malinche—but not a single ordinary one, referring to women instead in the most general terms and mentioning nothing of their contributions or their forms of knowledge. Only the barest references to the events that affected their lives are provided, neglecting the women’s own perspective of those events. The sum total of these omissions tends to confirm that historical discourse has focused on the public arena and efforts at nation-building, in which there was no space for either indigenous men or women.

The theoretical framework of this chapter combines approaches in oral history, ethnography, and narrative analysis to examine the oral histories of a group of indigenous women in the context of two periods in the twentieth century during which discussions of nation-building took place in Mexico. In the first period, a model of racial and gender differences implicit in the 1920s discussions of indigenismo expressed in history textbooks is examined. The image of indigenous women which was popularized in this period was one selected and drawn from a particular complex reality of nation-building in Mexico. The second period focuses on more recent attempts of critical social scientists to renegotiate the national contract to include diversity.

I will first review the indigenista ideology in which history textbooks come into play, showing how the perspectives of indigenous women were excluded in the process of their representation as mere icons of national identity. Next, I will consider how the contemporary discourse of gender and ethnic difference, so prominent in discussions of “Indian education,” also excludes the perspectives of indigenous women, as they are represented as passive objects of domination. Finally, I will review the oral histories of a group of Mayan women, showing how they powerfully highlight resistance to, while offering critical interpretations of, the nation that excludes them. This case study is intended to provide an initial comparative case for educational initiatives that bring to the forefront indigenous women’s perspectives in other regions of Latin America.
* Lorena Martos is acting assistant professor and director of the M.A. program in social sciences in education in the School of Education at Stanford University. Her research interests center on race relations, popular culture, and multicultural education. This article was taken from a monograph edited by Nelly Stromquist that will be published as part of the INTERAMER Collection of PREDE/OAS.