Nationalist Myths and Ethnic Identities: Indigenous Intellectuals and the Mexican State

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This timely study examines the processes by which modern states are created within multiethnic societies. How are national identities forged from countries made up of peoples with different and often conflicting cultures, languages, and histories? How successful is this process? What is lost and gained from the emergence of national identities? Natividad Gutierrez examines the development of the modern Mexican state to address these difficult questions. She describes how Mexican national identity has been and is being created and evaluates the effectiveness of that process of state-building. Her investigation is distinguished by a critical consideration of cross-cultural theories of nationalism and the illuminating use of a broad range of data from Mexican culture and history, including interviews with contemporary indigenous intellectuals and students, public school textbooks, and information gathered from indigenous organizations.Gutierrez argues that the modern Mexican state is buttressed by pervasive nationalist myths of foundation, descent, and heroism. These myths - expressed and reinforced through the manipulation of symbols, public education, and political discourse - downplay separate ethnic identities and work together to articulate an overriding nationalist ideology. The ideology girding the Mexican state has not been entirely successful, however. This study reveals that indigenous intellectuals and students are troubled by the relationship between their nationalist and ethnic identities and are increasingly questioning official policies of integration. Natividad Gutierrez is a senior researcher and lecturer at Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales UNAM, Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico.