Seeing Indians: A Study of Race, Nation, and Power in El Salvador

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UNM Press, 2005 - History - 297 pages
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Since the 1930s, government claims and popular thought within El Salvador have held that the country no longer holds any Indian population. Seeing Indians explores why this claim has endured despite the existence of substantial indigenous communities within the country's territory. Drawing on history, anthropology, and archaeology, Virginia Tilley delves into the history of Salvadoran racial thought and nation-building to illuminate the political motives for eradicating Indians from the country's national consciousness.

Part I draws from the author's own ethnographic research in El Salvador and Guatemala to show how "Indian-ness" has persisted, in contested forms, within El Salvador. Part II traces how the Salvadoran definition of being Indian has been altered to fit within the country's desired image as a racially unified society--and to erase Indians from public records after 1932. The author explains in Part III the motives driving the myth of Indian disappearance and ends with a look at the debate that raged in the 1990s regarding El Salvador's indigenous peoples' attempts to express themselves politically.

As Tilley notes, the transnational indigenous rights movement, translated into potent funding leverage by non-indigenous doner agencies, has "actually generated new difficulties for the Salvador indigenous communities and their movements for national recognition by erecting new standards for 'being Indian' that clash with older ideas and local experience."


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El Salvadors Ethnic Landscapes I
What is an Indian? I
In the Shadow of the Maya I
From Colonial Rule to Independence I
The Matanza
Assimilated or Erased? Ethnocide by Statistics I
Being Mestizo The Twisted Logics of Mestizaje I
Celebrating Indians I
Bibliography and Sources I

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About the author (2005)

Virginia Q. Tilley is associate professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York. Among her specializations are ethnic conflict and indigenous peoples and race relations in Latin America. Virginia is now working in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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