Dancing with Life: Living Culture and Resistance Among Indigenous Communities

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This panel will discuss a range of issues related to P’urhépecha and Pirinda traditions of danzas and the craft-making of masks by members of these communities in Michoacán. While danzas and craft-making relate to Indigenous identities, the preservation of their collective saberes and traditional rituals, these practices also emerge as resistance to cultural assimilation and colonization. The scholarship presented in this book and panel centralizes the voices of Indigenous artists. We discuss the politicized practices of cultural making in the midst of state and social efforts of Indigenous erasure and folklorization and focus on local danzas performed by Pirinda and P’urhepecha people and the meaning that these danzas have for the collective preservation of Indigenous identity. In that sense, we highlight the strategies of resistance that Indigenous artists take to respond to the arrival of new cultural demands to assimilate, the impact of transnational migration, and the cartels’ war in Michoacán that displaces people out of the region. Such dynamics affect the local market, tourism, and the preservation of local saberes related to danzas and craft-making. As such, both the book and the critical interventions made by Indigenous ethnographers from Michoacan bring to light the technologies of Indigenous survivance in communities that are engaged in active resistance against neoliberalism and the narcoestado (state+cartel) violence.

Dancing with Life: Recontextualizing Mexican Masks and Danzas

Pavel Shlossberg

Gonzaga University

With a focus on the exhibition of danzas and masking arts in Michoacan, this presentation describes the underlying goals that informed the development of the Dancing with Life exhibit and catalog project. Prior exhibits and catalogs, commonly informed by dominant nationalist and state-driven Indigenists frameworks of Mexican heritage and folklore, emphasize and magnify the supernatural and otherworldly matters with which danzas engage; and deemphasizes, edit out, and ignore the practical, concrete and contemporary social, material and political issues and matters which masked dancers and artists also represent and address directly in danzas. Rebalancing and reframing how dances and masks are depicted, this project incorporates a dialogo de saberes approach to center the voices of artists and dancers and other community members involved in sculpting masks and performing the danzas. The issues and topics for this effort were developed by a collaborative and participatory process of action research in communities and in collaboration with scholars with roots in Purhe and Pirinda community contexts.

“Following the Kurpiticha trail”

Mintzi A Martínez-Rivera

Ohio State University

The danza of the Kurpite, is performed in Angahuan, a P’urhépecha community in the Sierra P’urhépecha in Michoacán, México, from January 6th till the 8th, and is notably different from other, related, more well-known, danza forms from Nuevo San Juan Parangaricutiro or Caltzontzin (two other P’urhépecha communities who have an intense rivalry relating to who has the most authentic style of kurpiti). Even though the danza is done in celebration of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) on January 6th, in Angahuan the Kurpiticha is also part of wider courtship ritual practices performed and celebrated in the community. Therefore, in this presentation I describe the experience of following the Kurpiticha while they danced through Angahuan, as well as how it relates to community-wide courtship rituals and youth culture in the community. 

Máscaras de Diablo

Luis Urrieta

University of Texas at Austin

Máscaras de Diablo is a tribute to Juan Horta Castillo, and the mask makers from San Andrés Tócuaro, Michoacán. This paper situates Tócuaro within an Indigenous genealogy in which men have made masks for as long as anyone can remember. In the 1950s, Tócuaro’s recognition for mask making was documented by researchers in the Regional Center of Fundamental Education for Latin America (CREFAL). Dances like Los viejitos as icons of Mexican nationalism increased the demand for performances that required masks. Martínez Ayala notes that by 1971 every family in Tócuaro was involved in arti­sanry of some sort, largely mask making. Unfor­tunately, the increased violence brought on by drug cartels and the state’s war on organized crime impacted the tour­ist industry in the region, and mask making decreased considerably. Increased access to higher education and professional careers as well as out-migration are also shifting people’s interest away from craft making.

Queer P’urhépecha Danza of the Maringuías

Mario A. Gómez-Zamora

University of California, Santa Cruz

In this presentation, I examine the gender-bending “Danza de las Marías” or “Maringuías,” performed by men wearing masks decorated with red lipstick, and that takes place during some catholic celebrations in the communities of Cherán, Pátzcuaro, and Patamban. I mainly focus on how the communities understand this “danza” in relation to the Indigenous body, sexuality, and gender binary normativity imposed by colonial institutions. Since most of the P’urhépecha festivities take place in the public space, I analyze what meaning the landscape has for the community and how danzas that take place in public spaces weave to the Indigenous identity and queerness. To do so, I conduct an ethnography informed by participatory observations, testimony, and talking-while-walking that allow me to engage with the danzantes while moving through the landscape. I examine and interpret the world around me through my queer P’urhépecha lens, paying attention to community dynamics, language, and symbols that reference queer people and strategies of resistance against legacies of colonization. 

Presented by the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies and the Department of American Indian Studies

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