The asymmetric relationship between foreigners, locals, and indigenous people of San Cristóbal de las Casas

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Gustavo Sánchez Espinosa, a researcher at the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) of the Southeast Regional Unit, wrote an article entitled “The world of migrants by lifestyle, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas” , published in Cuicuilco Magazine of Anthropological Sciences in 2019.

Sánchez Espinosa moved in 2012 with his partner and son to the magical town and, attracted by economic and technological globalization, as well as by the mixture of ideologies and lifestyles that coexist in the city, he took as an object of study the lifestyle migrants from a neighborhood located in the historic center of this city, with a residence of at least six months.

The same in which the author lived with his family, therefore, through observation and the researcher’s own experience, the study was carried out in said sample.

Lifestyle migrants are those individuals who seek to change or improve on a mental, social, cultural, economic, spiritual or health level, or seek to consume culture, leisure and surround themselves with small and large communities. They are middle-class people from developed countries who decide to relocate to underdeveloped countries, mainly in tourist areas.

Sánchez Espinosa affirmed that the world of migrants by lifestyle is based on five imaginations that have to do with “healthy” eating practices: (1) produce, consume, and market organic or artisan products, (2) be in contact with the inner self, (3) organize politically for social transformation, (4) desire to belong to a community and, (5) are guided by the indigenous ideal, since they are seen as protective beings and mediators of nature.

The object of study, that is, migrants usually meet in public spaces in San Cristóbal, such as the central square, tourist walkways, artisan markets, shopping centers that belong to other migrants by lifestyle and cultural centers.

Sánchez Espinosa said that people looking for an alternative way of life consider San Cristóbal as an option to escape the bustle of big cities, distance themselves from traditional health, institutionalized religions, capitalism, mass consumption, traditional education, and the governmental organization of their places of origin.

For this reason, the magical town has become a contemporary and cosmopolitan place with people from multiple European countries, Latin America, and Asia, inhabitants of indigenous communities in Chiapas and the north of the Mexican Republic.

However, the presence of women and girls (Tzotziles and Tzeltales) dedicated to the sale of textiles and merchandise through a semi-fixed or itinerant trade stands out among the inhabitants of the city. Those who, according to Sánchez Espinosa, some only wear traditional clothing as a marketing strategy, that is, as a sales tool rather than for their indigenous identity.

The researcher stressed that the presence of tourist and foreigners in the magical town can be traced back a decade, in the 60s with the arrival of young Mexicans who participated in the student movements of that time. In 1970 with the arrival of young North Americans who moved because of the hippie movement and, in various migratory waves that emerged at different dates in history: in the 1970s with the construction of the San Cristóbal-Palenque highway and the modernization of the airport, in the 80s with the social work towards the Guatemalan refugees and in the 90s, with the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

San Cristóbal has been affected by various floods, of which the one registered in 1785 stands out. Photo: Vive San Cristóbal.

Neighborhood characters

The researcher affirmed that there were constantly changes of tenants among his study subjects due to the constant mobility that exists between them and them because some travel to their places of origin to work and acquire the money that they will use for their next trip to San Cristóbal.

Mobility is possible for them due to the economic income they have, coming from and working in a developed country.

Sánchez Espinosa said that the neighborhood has three rooms and five apartments, distributed in two houses, with two floors each.

The housing one is inhabited since 2012 by Sánchez Espinosa (anthropologist), partner (anthropologist), and his son. The family is considered by the other tenants as the most traditional in the neighborhood.

The two had been occupied by a psychologist, originally from Monterrey and an agronomist of French origin. Then by a Mexican marriage.

House three by a young Finnish woman who was doing fieldwork in a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), later occupied by a lesbian couple who had a shadow theater project for boys and girls who presented in cultural centers and schools in the localities. of San Cristóbal. When they left, Edgardo from Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (located in Mexico City), his wife Gladys from Belgium, and their son Ixchel arrived. Dedicated to the sale of crafts and vegan tamales.

In department four: Belinda lived, a Spanish woman who left her country to “join the struggle” of the EZLN uprising.

House five was rented by a Mexican tourist guide, who offered tourist services with an emphasis on the environment.

In room six: Jorge, Araceli, and their two daughters, dedicated to making natural medicine, teaching alternative healing sessions through the sound of the “Mayan trumpet” and making and selling this same instrument.

Filiberto, the son of the landlord, lived in house seven, who, according to the researcher, has no alternative attitudes and is the only one who has a stable job (computer engineer). He is a person “without ecological, revolutionary or esoteric pretensions”.

Sánchez Espinosa expressed that this is: a small sample that serves to illustrate a diversity of practices and imaginaries that are produced from contemporaneity and by the flow of ideas, which circulate in a small city tremendously influenced by tourism, fashion, and the media.

The researcher emphasized the existence of other groups that converge within the society of San Cristóbal de las Casas, but in turn, maintain an asymmetric and differentiated relationship with lifestyle migrants who live in the historic center.

The world of the indigenous

Photo: photo 2: Indigenous people are the least benefited from tourism.

Sánchez Espinosa expressed that this group only maintains commercial ties with the rest of the population, it is dedicated to the sale of textiles through street shops or in the Santo Domingo square, the San Francisco handicraft market, or the Plaza de la Paz. , located in the center of San Cristóbal. For the sale of vegetables, masonry, gardening, and maintenance.

The researcher stated that indigenous people are an important engine for the tourism economy, as they meet the needs of migrants by lifestyle, as well as visitors to the city. However, it is a relationship of subordination and exclusion with low wages and few labor rights.

The world of pigtails

Sánchez Espinosa said that the pigtails are the founders of the city and not all the people born in San Cristóbal, as is erroneously believed. He stated that they are the main owners of the colonial houses; They are owners of hotels, travel agencies, luxury restaurants, car agencies, the media, and exchange houses. They and they are the locals “real coletos”.

The world of the mestizos

According to the researcher, this sector of the population is the one that is least distinguished, since the mestizos imitate “the attitudes and lifestyle of the authentic coletos, in this way, they deny or condemn their indigenous origin.”

Sánchez Espinosa emphasized that both the coletos and the mestizos see with displeasure the arrival of so many foreigners to their town because they interpret it as “an invasion of their public spaces”, however, they are benefited by renting them homes at a higher price than the locals would pay.

Although it is for this very reason, that the mestizos deny the rental of houses to the indigenous people, denying them the right to the city because they prefer to obtain greater profits with the migrants by way of life. A fact that, according to Sánchez Espinosa, must be taken care of.

The researcher concluded that the city needs to live off tourism and the money left by lifestyle migration, but it is the coletos and mestizos who benefit the most, since, thanks to this income, their quality increases. of life. The opposite is the case in the indigenous population since they have the heaviest jobs and are the ones who obtain the least economic remuneration for their work, as in colonial times.

Ethnic category? ‘The coletos’ and the designation of social identity processes. San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas (Mexico)

An indisputable trait of humanity is the tendency to differentiate the familiar from the unknown. If the designation of what we believe identifies us is apparently clear and positive, the same does not happen with what we consider outright contrary and even less so with what oscillates in different degrees between “ours” and “foreign”.

Coleto is a localism that a few decades ago designated the inhabitants of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, a city of Los Altos de Chiapas that was the capital from its foundation in 1528 and roughly until 1892. It was said – and has been repeated – that it comes from the ponytail of the conqueror. In 1994 the term spread to the rest of Mexico and other countries as a result of the movement led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Indeed, the armed conflict brought to light the deep social inequalities of the state, some with antecedents that can be identified at least since the Spanish conquest. Coleto emphasized his association with the former white exploiter and his replacement, the mestizo hoarder called in the Ladino region. For this reason, the nickname became an object of rejection and, apart from those who were so-called in previous decades, coleto was radicalized as a label used extraneus by those who consider themselves outside of that category, basically because they were not born in the place. 

As will be seen in the lines that follow, the negative connotation of coleto is not new, although it has not always been a reference for ‘Spanish’. Following its erratic appearance -as good vox populi that it is- an older and more complex phenomenon of discrimination is perceived. If at present it seems to define the conqueror or the powerful, at other times it also pointed to the conquered, the poor and, therefore, the ‘Indian’; or who wanted to get rid of this last category due to the enormous tax cost it represented. For this reason it has fluctuated in different points of two extremes; that is to say, of that resounding opposite mentioned at the beginning. coleto was radicalized as a label used extraneus by those who consider themselves outside this category, basically because they were not born in the place. As will be seen in the lines that follow, the negative connotation of coleto is not new, although it has not always been a reference for ‘Spanish’. Following its erratic appearance -as good vox populi that it is- an older and more complex phenomenon of discrimination is perceived. 

If at present it seems to define the conqueror or the powerful, at other times it also pointed to the conquered, the poor and, therefore, the ‘Indian’; or who wanted to get rid of this last category due to the enormous tax cost it represented. For this reason it has fluctuated in different points of two extremes; that is to say, of that resounding opposite mentioned at the beginning. coleto was radicalized as a label used extraneus by those who consider themselves outside this category, basically because they were not born in the place. As will be seen in the lines that follow, the negative connotation of coleto is not new, although it has not always been a reference for ‘Spanish’. Following its erratic appearance -as good vox populi that it is- an older and more complex phenomenon of discrimination is perceived. If at present it seems to define the conqueror or the powerful, at other times it also pointed to the conquered, the poor and, therefore, the ‘Indian’; or who wanted to get rid of this last category due to the enormous tax cost it represented. For this reason it has fluctuated in different points of two extremes; that is to say, of that resounding opposite mentioned at the beginning.

Before going into detail and despite what it seems today, it should be clarified that coleto does not correspond historically to an ethnic category, since it has not defined a single social group based on values, habits or a common sense of belonging. The word does not come from a toponym, such as the Sacateco or Joveleño names (relative to the pre-Hispanic names of the valley: Hueyzacatlán and Jovel). It is not a linguistic distinction as is to say caxlán (the one who speaks ‘Castilian’ or Castilian), or as the word Ladino was in medieval Spain. Strictu sensu, coleto does not allude to a racial issue either, although it is believed to be derived from Spanish and, more specifically, from the hairstyle attributed to it. The expression is an eminently cultural conceptual construction and, therefore, it is susceptible to use. So much so that the conservative connotation that it now has has divided the city’s inhabitants between coletos and sancristobalenses (derived from the patron saint). Others prefer to call themselves youths by the valley’s Tzotzil name, Jovel1.

The recent phenomenon that is observed in coleto coincides with the wave of Mexicanization that the city has been experiencing lately, transformed into an “authentic” Mexican Stylish Town for tourist purposes2. This situation is symptomatic of two aspects: on the one hand, its urban adaptation according to the socio-economic imperatives that the Mexican nation is currently promoting and, on the other hand, the reduction of a deep social problem in a local binary issue with no apparent repercussions. national (coletos vs indigenous). These aspects also hide the colonial past of Chiapas as the former province of the Captaincy General of Guatemala. That relationship of almost three centuries is a common antecedent in Central American societies polarized in totalizing categories relative to ‘Indians’ and ‘non-Indians’. This explains why the state of southeastern Mexico today presents the juxtaposition between the Mexican mestizo and the Central American ladino. Coleto, then, anomalously inserted and reduced two more complex processes, such as miscegenation and ladinization. However, as it does not possess a properly nationalistic sense, it is comfortably confined to a state context, without major socio-political implications for the rest of the country.

 The metamorphosis of the coleto has gone unnoticed as an object of study. Its use currently designates reactionary groups of the city or state, expressions of “tradition” or folklore, and the ‘common’ of the inhabitants of San Cristóbal de Las Casas (who usually assume it from the “happy barrier of ignorance ”pointed out by Pitt-Rivers in 19673, including those who reiterate their colonial affiliation). Its confusion as a social category also derives because it designates belonging to the place by birth or residence; an ethnic or socioeconomic origin, or a generally negative historical-cultural attitude. Attempting to distinguish this intersection of approaches, this essay derives from an ongoing investigation that analyzes the current phenomenon in the light of historical sources from the colonial period.

LINK TO FULL TEXT:http://afehc-historia-centroamericana.org/?action=fi_aff&id=2729

Source: chiapasparalelo.com, historiadechiapas.blogspot.com

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