In the summer of 1992 I perched on a low wall in the quiet and
dusty central plaza of San Nicolás Tolentino, an agricultural village
in a historically black region of Guerrero, Mexico. Pigs, chickens
and dogs wandered the unpaved streets while cattle—I knew—
grazed beyond village boundaries on land devoted to pasture,
corn, sesame, mango, coconut, melon, and other produce for local
consumption and regional markets. I was talking with Javier and
Juan,1 both in their twenties, who asked me about my work. So
many outsiders had visited that they were convinced I was trying
to make money taping dances and music and would leave with
recordings and nothing behind. San Nicolás would then sink back
into obscurity as the tapes took on a life of their own, beyond the
control of those they represented. The men seemed bitter, though
also eager to talk. But when Don Domingo joined us,2 he was tired
of talking. “Why do all the anthropologists come here?” he asked.
“What do they want? They come for a few days, tape, and go away.
They never pay.” Javier explained: “We don’t get paid for research-
ing. So we just work in the fields.”
San Nicolás sits on the coastal belt of the wedge- shaped Costa
Chica—the “small coast,” named for its narrow beaches—that
runs from Acapulco, Guerrero, 400 kilometers southeast to the
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