photo of Mexican man the sierra norte
family life
social institutions

employment and income
justice and crime
livelihood strategies
spiritual beliefs
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introducing the area

social change

 quotes about social change
 key testimonies featuring social change

Several narrators, including two of the oldest (one since regrettably deceased), speak of major social change during their lifetimes. It is clear from their observations that standards of living have risen significantly; there is less general deprivation and life is somewhat easier. The first of the older women, from Ixtlán (Mexico 17), tells how, in her youth, children did not have shoes: "We all had bare feet, that's how we went to get firewood, that's how we went about, without shoes. It was just a while ago that this was seen, life has changed a lot because there were only poor people, rags, but you don't see this now, it's changing with the time." Transport links have improved (only Tiltepec was without a connecting road at the time of testimony collection), bringing access to a wider range of goods and services. The coming of electricity, even as far as the remote village of Tiltepec, has also brought clear benefits (Mexico 19): "[Tiltepec has had electricity].for nine years.electricity helps us because we can do our work by night now and we can do other things in the day. Before we had to do things early because later on one couldn't see and it wasn't possible. Before we just used firewood and pine to see..."

Raised economic and material expectations have brought about social change. As barter has declined and the money economy become increasingly important, migration of some family members for work has become a key strategy for economic survival, whether on a regular or occasional basis. The need to secure jobs "outside" has also increased the need for formal education - which was not designed to foster the indigenous language or culture. Indeed, several older narrators recall how teachers positively discouraged the use of the Zapotec language.

As more people have become aware of the norms and customs of the world outside the Sierra Norte, the indigenous culture - centred around the cargo system (unpaid manadatory community positions) and an emphasis on collective good rather than personal advancement - has come into question, and in some cases weakened. As one man acknowledges (Mexico 12): "It is difficult to re-accept the principles of the village when it basically says that the good of the community comes before yours, isn't it? . I have seen many people from this village that come here sometimes for holidays and, for example, there's a tequio (obligatory, unpaid community work). They say, 'No, how can there be a tequio on Sunday?'.Or the asambleas (community parliaments).that last four or five hours. [They say] 'No, this time should be spent with the family.' But that's their view and the view of the village is different. So yes, it's difficult and migration plays a big part in this."

This narrator reflects at length on the social change being brought about as a result of education, migration, modern ideas and technology. Educated to university level but committed to returning to Yavesía, he admits that he himself found it difficult to adjust back to village life, not just to material differences, but to ways of life in the community: ". I lived in the city and on returning here, the people, the community, my village have been re-educating me because I have to fulfil my obligations. I had the bad habits of the city, let's say, but when I came here, they re-educated me" (Mexico 12).

Some members of the older generation just feel that young people no longer want to conform to communal norms (Mexico 2): ".young people have their own way and now it's changing, they don't want to do the same anymore.they all know how to read and write and so in that way they don't take any notice and they don't obey what the older people say." Yet despite the disappointment of some narrators, the majority of interviewees (whatever their age) express great pride in - and commitment to - their continuing social customs and principles. Indeed, several of the younger narrators' interviews are in Zapoteco, suggesting a possible revival of the language. The challenge, clearly articulated by one narrator, is to find a balance between further improving the amenities in the community, and retaining the traditions which give these communities their strength and cohesion, and which will draw people back. He knows that people don't just go to the cities for practical reasons; they go to have different experiences too: "Now that we have a certain level of amenities [here], it isn't necessary to go [away], but yes, the city is a centre of attraction, without a doubt" (Mexico 12).

A positive change which is mentioned, especially by one woman, is a decline in machismo. Today there is greater respect for women and people can choose their partners, she is pleased to report, but in the past some were treated almost like slaves by the families they were married into (Mexico 16): ".the poor women in those days lived like that, being put down by their husbands because they had bought them like an object."

quotes about social change

"There were also difficult situations because the men were still very attached to machismo. [The man] thought that the woman was something he had bought and that he alone could order about. People often said that parents didn't ask the opinion of the daughters when marrying them with someone . I think that there are still villages where they are still accustomed to this, [where] they don't respect the opinion of the daughter but treat her as if she were only an object.They began understanding things a bit more much later, and they began to respect the opinions of the woman.."
Soledad, F/62, Ixtlán, Oaxaca, Mexico 16

"Now the traditions are being forgotten. The older people still carry on like the forefathers did, but the young people have their own way's not important to them. Now there's studying and they all know how to read and write and so.they don't take any notice and they don't obey what the older people say. Before, there weren't schools, there wasn't anyone who could read, and in that way [people] did as the elders said. [Before] they punished [those who ignored community traditions]; they fined them."
Casimiro, M/62, farmer, Tiltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico 2

"[Formal] education has had a lot of influence on this [loss of identity]. Well, some of us don't value what's ours.[At school] they taught us how to work but they also taught us that Spanish is the most important, that to get ahead in the big cities it was the most important and well, they took many things away from us, for example.the [Zapoteco] language. Today the cultures of the indigenous villages are acquiring a new value.[but] many things have been lost, haven't they? The language, and in many places the organisation."
Mario Fernando, M/36, community manager, Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 12

"Unfortunately we can't fight against the mediums of communication or the fashions that come from other places and tell you that you must dress well, wear good shoes and live well, which means that one must have a bathroom with a water heater, central heating, toilet paper, car, television with Sky and I don't know how many [other] commodities. They tell you that this is living well. We have a different idea of what living well is: that you can eat, that you can educate your children, the most elementary things."
Mario Fernando, M/36, community manager, Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 12

".there's no spirit, they don't get together for entertainment now and there's some that say that we shouldn't do it because it won't be of any good to us it won't help us. Well it's not a matter of it helping us, but of the enjoyment there is when there's a festival."
Macedonio, M/58, farmer, Tiltepec, Oaxaca, Mexico 10

"[When you return from the city to your community] you have to comply with certain principles and you have to fulfil certain obligations; [the villagers] re-educate you. One has to obey and comply and re-educate oneself again. in village life. to change one's mentality is a difficult process, and even more if you've lived in Mexico City. Yes, it's a lot of work."
Mario Fernando, M/36, community manager, Yavesía, Oaxaca, Mexico 12

key testimonies featuring social change

  No.   Name   Sex/Age   Occupation   Location  
Summary Transcript   1    Antonio   male/59   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   10    Macedonio   male/58   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   12    Mario Fernando   male/36   community manager   Yavesía, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   17    Teófila   female/86   housewife   Ixtlán, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   18    Timiana   female/85   housewife   Yavesía, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   19    Victoria   female/32   housewife   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   2    Casimiro   male/62   farmer   Tiltepec, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   23    Rufino and Juana   male/female/64/?   artisans   Las Animas, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   27    Maximina   female/67   trader   El Punto, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   28    Modesta   female/66   flower grower   El Punto, Ixtepeji, Oaxaca  
Summary Transcript   6    Eusebia   female/M   housewife   Tiltepec, Oaxaca