In a fast-paced, technologically dependent world, traditional foraging groups attempting to preserve their culture face more challenges than ever. All throughout the world, indigenous groups face many obstacles, including disease, hunger, discrimination, environmental degradation, being driven to marginal land, and more. Many are forced to move into cities and join a market economy which translates into loss of their culture and becoming enmeshed in a systemized poverty, dependent on wage labor, which rapidly becomes very competitive. As poverty increases, more people become desperate and are willing to work for lower wages and under worse conditions.
Faced with such problems some indigenous groups fight back. An excellent example of cultural perseverance of an ancient indigenous people is the Maya. The contemporary Maya are faced with the fast spread of capitalism, which heightens the pressure for survival. According to June Nash (2001:6), globalization often leads to the militarization of societies resisting capitalist markets. The capitalist goal of a global economy threatens the existence of subsistence economies as well as its own capitalist sector since it eliminates both nonrenewable resources and the basis for biodiversity alternatives. Dehumanizing conditions tend to lead to various movements of resistance, rebellion, and political activism (Nash 2001:1). In the Chiapas region, this is evident in the multiple opposition actions of the Maya indigenous groups, particularly the Zapatista National Liberation Army.
Despite centuries of cultural and knowledge preservation the Maya’s struggle to maintain their cultural system is more difficult than ever before. The main challenges to their preservation center in the overflowing influences of globalization present in ethnic tourism and major economic pressures to survive as cultures become part of a global economy. All of these changes resulted in many indigenous uprisings and revolutionary movements, including the most well known Zapatista movement or EZLN. Applied anthropologists and indigenous rights activists worldwide have been working closely with the EZLN seeking to stop the destruction of alternative worldview and the preservation of indigenous cultures with their immense wealth of knowledge.
I’m particularly interested in the application of Marxist theories to the socialist movement of the EZLN. Additionally, the issues of representation that surround this movement are fascinating to me. Who are the Zapatistas? Are they really indigenous Maya? Or are they the remnant of the socialist student protestors from the Tlateloco massacre of 1969? (A major student and teachers uprising resulting in the deaths of thousands in Mexico City). The answers to these questions vary depending who you ask. The average middle class Mexican would argue that the Zapatistas are a bunch of trouble makers in the South of Mexico. Leftist groups in the U.S. may claim that the Zapatistas represent the first postmodern revolution of the 21st century (N.Y. Times). Through the mysticism of the masks they wear, and their main voice of MARCOS, the Zapatistas have raised much awareness from an international community. Perhaps they represent hope for a humanity struggling to survive in an ever spreading capitalist model. Through this project I hope to explore all the various aspects and facets of their representation. Many of theories about imperialism and civil disobedience apply to the Zapatistas. Through an exploration of Marx’s theories on capitalism, I will attempt to explore the way that its predatory spread along has resulted in the immense inequalities of indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico. I will also include key concepts from Edward Said’s work on imperialism and Fanon’s theories on the exploitation of the “wretched of the world.” Additionally, Gramsci’s on hegemony and the idea of the “organic intellectual” really apply to a holistic understanding of the Maya as key sources of knowledge for humanity today.