Reinventing Ethnicity in Yucatan

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Abstract

The contributors to this issue examine various interconnections among gender, class, ethnicity, region, and nation through a focus upon Yucatecan women. Some common themes that link the papers relate to rural social and economic transformation, migration, and the redefinition of indigenous ethnicity. We are given glimpses of the emergence of new and previously unthinkable configurations of class and ethnicity in Yucatan, a process that has taken place throughout Latin America in recent decades. A number of papers describe situations of partial proletarianization in which men migrate from rural areas to cities, while women remain in the countryside. The authors stress the often-overlooked contributions made by indigenous women to household economy, and also tend to stress continuity, complementarity, and the mediating or brokerage position of women. Contradictions within the household and between rural and urban areas should also be considered. The assertion that Maya women's role in social transformations is primarily that of guardians and defenders of tradition is problematic. “Tradition” and “modernity” are not fixed categories, nor are they qualities of people or collectivities, but ways of talking about the relationship between the present and the past, about social and spatial distance from centers of polity and economy. Staking a claim to being the guardians of tradition or of an ethnic essence may be a wayof defining a social position in the present, in the context of contemporary relationships within the community. This collection provides compelling evidence of the reinvention of ethnicity in contemporary Yucatan, but our assumptions about ethnicity and tradition should be approached with the same critical attitude these authors bring to the study of gender.

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