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Redeeming the 'Indian': sport and ethnicity in post-revolutionary Mexico

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For many historians of Latin America and others, twentieth-century Mexico offers a shining example of a country that has been able to overcome its ethnic divisions. Following a decade of brutal civil war (1910-20) the state devised a range of reforms designed to incorporate previously marginalized sectors of society. Semi-autonomous indigenous communities were singled out for particular attention as rural teachers and cultural missionaries engaged in the dual task of bringing 'civilization' to the 'Indian' and simultaneously gathering cultural remnants of 'traditional' indigenous culture for inclusion within an all-embracing new national culture. Within an environment of mutual understanding and respect, mestizo children in Mexico City, for example, would learn the dances of the Yaquis in Northern Mexico, and Yaqui children would practise the games of Mayas from the South. But what were the motives behind such measures, and how successful were they? Using sport as his focus, Brewster suggests that the political rhetoric accompanying these reforms contained an inner contradiction: the cultural diversity of Mexico's ethnic groups would be celebrated within a homogeneous national culture. He argues that there is little evidence that mainstream mestizo society ever compromised its own values in order to embrace those of its indigenous compatriots. Rather, the underlying trend was one in which indigenous communities were forced to accept an urban-based model of civilized society completely alien to their own. Moreover, Brewster argues, the frequently ostentatious public celebration of indigenous culture, whether in sport, dance or other arenas, rarely moved beyond a level of paternalistic tokenism. Behind the facade of national unity, the reality of ethnic divisions lay hidden, only to re-emerge at the end of the twentieth century to the surprise of a complacent mestizo society.
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Keywords: Cosmic Race; Mexico; Olympic Games; ethnicity; identity; indigenous; mestizos; sport

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-09-01

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