Introduction
leaving The pueblo
Years ago, when I left the pueblo, . . . the senior elder, charged with offer-
ing wisdom, spoke: . . .
“When you come back, my son, perhaps we will no longer be alive. . . .
Probably by then you will not be the same, you will have distanced your-
self from us, you will not continue with our way of life. I hope that you
are never embarrassed of our pueblo or of your people. . . . Leave us to
go on here, where our ancestors are. We will suffer the rest of our lives
for failing to keep you here with us.”
—Mario Molina Cruz, poet from Yalálag, from the poem “The Tortilla
Tastes Bitter (Leaving the Pueblo),” in El Volcan de Petalos/Ya ’byalhje xtak yeȷ́e
A Tale of Two Pueblos: Toward a New View of Political Violence
Two months after I began research for this book in the Zapotec town of Yalá-
lag, in Mexico’s Oaxaca State, a man named Roberto Limeta Mestas was
killed.1 According to half of the town, he was murdered by his political ene-
mies. According to the other half, he was the victim of so- called friendly
fire, killed not by those he was fighting against but by his own compatriots,
who shot him by accident. He and others on the same side of the town’s
longstanding political divide were indeed carrying firearms that day: they
were guarding the town hall against their enemies on the town’s “other side.”
Since the beginning of the year 2000, when the new authorities should have
been sworn in, the town had been in the midst of a tense standoff tied to
the annual elections. All municipal offices, from the president to the police
officers, had been vehemently contested along a political fault line that has
divided the town for more than a century. A couple of months into the new
year, despite frequent appeals to state officials for intervention, the problem
remained unresolved.
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