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In the last decades of the twentieth century, thousands of Mayas were expelled, often violently, from their homes in San Juan Chamula and other highland communities in Chiapas, Mexico, by fellow Mayas allied with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). State and federal authorities generally turned a blind eye to these human rights abuses, downplaying them as local conflicts over religious conversion and defense of cultural traditions. The expelled have organized themselves to fight not only for religious rights, but also for political and economic justice based on a broad understanding of human rights.
This pioneering ethnography tells the intertwined stories of the new communities formed by the Mayan exiles and their ongoing efforts to define and defend their human rights. Focusing on a community of Mayan Catholics, the book describes the process by which the progressive Diocese of San Cristóbal and Bishop Samuel Ruiz García became powerful allies for indigenous people in the promotion and defense of human rights. Drawing on the words and insights of displaced Mayas she interviewed throughout the 1990s, Christine Kovic reveals how the exiles have created new communities and lifeways based on a shared sense of faith (even between Catholics and Protestants) and their own concept of human rights and dignity. She also uncovers the underlying political and economic factors that drove the expulsions and shows how the Mayas who were expelled for not being "traditional" enough are in fact basing their new communities on traditional values of duty and reciprocity.
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CHRISTINE KOVIC is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Houston–Clear Lake.Review:
"In sum, this carefully constructed study merits the highest praise for its contribution not only to the history of Mayan Catholicism, but especially for its on-scene documentation of human rights abuses." (Religious Studies Review)
"This impressive work on human rights organizing in Chiapas provides a deep and broad view of the struggle that gained front-page attention through the Zapatista revolt that shook Mexico, beginning in the 1990s. Through living in the area, Professor Kovic was in a privileged position to witness changes made by a globalized economy on marginalized groups and their response through human rights activity." (Edward L. Cleary, Professor of Political Science and Director of Latin American Studies, Providence College)
"Christine Kovic's study brings an important new voice—that of people empowered and inspired by post-Vatican II liberation theology—to our understanding of the Maya of Chiapas in the age of NAFTA. Although the Chiapas Maya are well known for their traditionalism and central role in the current Zapatista critique of neoliberalism, we know little about the demographically and politically important role of displaced Catholics in the volatile mosaic of modern Chiapas. This carefully-focused study of an impoverished small colony of displaced Chamula Tzotzils in the exploding suburban periphery of San Cristóbal de las Casas offers hope that post-colonial Chiapas—only now taking shape—will include all Chiapanecos." (Gary H. Gossen, Dean of Academic Affairs and Julian Steward Professor of Social Science, Deep Springs College)
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