"Never again a Mexico without us" : gender, indigenous autonomy, and multiculturalism in neoliberal Mexico

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Forbis, Melissa Marie

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The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) rose up in Mexico’s southeastern state of Chiapas on January 1, 1994. The Zapatistas’ process of consolidating territorial autonomy and stance of radical refusal are a challenge and threat to the Mexican state and neoliberal governance practices. At the center of that autonomy process are changes in gender equity and gendered relations of power that are crucial to the gains of the project. This multi-sited ethnography of that process takes place in a zone of contact where local practices and struggles for indigenous rights, autonomy, and women’s rights meet with solidarity and opposition. My dissertation follows two strategic lines of inquiry. First, women’s bodies have been central to both nation building and to alternative forms of nationalism and tradition. In Mexico, indigenous women have been the raw material of these projects. The EZLN included questions of gender and women’s equity from the beginning of the movement. This contrasts with other social movements of the past few decades in Latin America, and with the conventional wisdom that it is necessary to elide gender contestations and challenges to patriarchy in order to make gains as a movement. I argue that the overall struggle has not in fact been undermined, but strengthened. I examine the extent to which Zapatista women have forged new subjectivities (affirming both gender equality and collective cultural difference) in defiance of local patriarchal control, gendered state violence, and of discourses that characterize them as victims of their culture. Second, I argue that the analysis of these changes in gendered relations of power reveals how the Zapatista autonomy project is integrating difference without reverting to previous models of belonging premised on assimilation or the recognition of difference solely at the individual level. The EZLN rejected a solution based on ethnic citizenship in favor of indigenous autonomy and collective rights; their autonomous governance offers important insights into state power and its effects, and into strategies and alternatives to inclusion in the neoliberal project.