Introduction
In the southern Mexican city of luchitan (hoo-chee-tahn), Indian peasants
who take legal action to protect their land can speak Zapotec in City
Hall. Teenagers from poor neighborhoods write poetry in Zapotec at
the Casa de la Cultura, join printmaking workshops, and read plays by
Brecht. Women in luchitan maintain standards of beauty dramatically
different from Mexican national standards, reveling in fat bodies and
adorning themselves with brightly colored patterns and embroidery that
defy Western norms of color and style. Such norms are also challenged
by a flourishing alternative male gender role, with males in varying ar-
rangements of women's dress and body forms dancing with one another
at fiestas and playing prominent public roles in work and ritual.
In the 1980s, luchitan's peasant economy of maize production survived
government-sponsored agricultural projects and urban commercializa-
tion. The sprawling Zapotec market, consisting of hundreds of women
vendors, continues to dominate the space and economy of the center of
the city and to constitute the most important local network of informa-
tion. Zapotec midwives deliver the majority of babies born in luchitan,
despite the presence of doctors, and the descendants of Lebanese immi-
grants wear traditional Zapotec dress and encourage their university-
educated children to continue Zapotec traditions. All together, the so-
ciety forged by luchitecos provides an example of what postcolonial
"development" might have looked like if indigenous and Western cultures
had met on more equal terms: not necessarily a rejection of the "Western"
or "modern," nor a reinforcing of geographic and cultural borders be-
tween local
and outSide, but rather the creation of multiple modernities
by means of non-Western knowledge, language, and style.
I
A Zapotec political movement, the Coalition of Workers, Peasants,
and Students of the Isthmus, or
COCEI
(ko-say), has governed luchitan
since 1989. Virtually without precedent among indigenous and leftist
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