Making the “natives” that we wish to preserve

Special report: Racialization and public policy
Ethnicization and folklorization of indigenous bilingual teachers in Mexico
By Daniele Inda


Since the 1970s, following challenges to its indigenist policy, which was deemed assimilationist, the Mexican state has implemented so-called “cultural preservation” policies, which aim to preserve Amerindian languages and “cultures.” This article shows how these policies have contributed to the ethnicization of certain fractions of the populations identified as indigenous. The demonstration is based on a case study of Huichol-speaking teachers in Nayarit, in the west of the country. At the time of their recruitment, these teachers had an “urban” lifestyle and very limited knowledge of the Huichol language and “traditions.” During their professional socialization, however, they acquired skills and dispositions that gradually brought them closer to the social image of the “authentic Indian.” The significance of these developments is such that, today, these public servants may be perceived as “more indigenous” than members of other fractions of the Huichol-speaking population. As a result, “cultural preservation” policies have contributed to the production of “indigenous people” whose way of life corresponds to that which these policies wish to “preserve.”


  • indigenist policies
  • multiculturalism
  • ethnogenesis
  • professional socialization
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