Totonac ‘usos y costumbres’ : racial sensibilities and uneven entitlements in neoliberal Mexico




Maldonado Goti, Korinta

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This dissertation investigates the pernicious effects of neoliberalism in postcolonial, ostensibly post-racial Mexico. I analyze and thickly describe the daily negotiations of race in neoliberal Mexico, as they play out between indigenous Totonacs and Mestizos, or dominant, non-indigenous, non-Black identity, in a small town in central Mexico. I focus specifically on the discursive and material life of indigenous “traditions and customs,” or usos y costumbres that reverberate within and around an Indigenous Court in Huehuetla, Puebla. Usos y costumbres is the core concept around which indigenous rights revolve and the legal justification of the indigenous courts. As such it becomes the arena of struggle and a key site to investigate power relations and social transformations. First, I analyze and chart how Mestizo authorities, Indigenous Court officials, and Totonac community members struggle to fix, define, and redefine the meaning of usos y costumbres, and consequently shift local racial sensibilities and perceptions of self and others. Second, I analyze how the success of indigenous mobilizations, crystallized in this case in the courthouse, incites potent decolonial imaginaries, knowledge productions, and practices that in previous moments were likely unimaginable. The central aim of this dissertation is to demonstrate how the multicultural logics of governance and related languages of rights and cultural difference are lived through, incorporated in, and complexly contested in Huehuetlan social life. I will argue that the formative effects of state-sponsored multiculturalism in Huehuetla repositioned the Totonacs as subjects with power, crystallized in the institutionalization of “cultural knowledge” as jurisprudence in the Indigenous Court, that reverberates in daily confrontations with the legacy of hegemonic Mestizaje.




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