The Introduction presents the central dilemma of the book: how to understand the contradictions of indigenista policies in the Americas. Grounding this integrationist project in a particular place, the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the Introduction provides an overview of twentieth-century Oaxacan history, scholarship on indigenismo, the book's methodology, and a chapter outline. The Introduction underscores how indigenista policies intersected with two key developments in the twentieth century: modernization and anticolonialism.
Chapter 1 analyzes the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (INI)'s regional development studies of the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca. It also describes the institute's arrival to the region in 1954. INI development studies reflected long-standing Mexican traditions of agrarian reform associated with former president Lázaro Cárdenas as well as global trends in modernization theory such as the concepts of "underdevelopment" and "overpopulation." The chapter examines how development thinkers constructed the Mixteca Alta as an underdeveloped region and in the process defined an indigenous subject of development.
A key component of the INI's modernization efforts in the Mixteca Alta, federal education proved controversial in the highlands. Chapter 2 examines the INI's pilot radio school program in the region, which employed shortwave radio broadcasts in Spanish and Mixtec to reach remote communities. The chapter describes antecedents of bilingual instruction in Mexico and beyond and the implementation of the radio school program in the Mixteca Alta. Many local Catholic activists opposed INI educational efforts, framing them as part of the federal government's increasing turn toward "communism." The conflict between INI officials and Catholic figures in the region reveals the increased Cold War polarization of politics in the Mexican countryside in the early 1960s.
Chapter 3 analyzes a voluntary resettlement project the INI implemented in the Mixteca Alta and on Oaxaca's Pacific coast in the early 1960s. After diagnosing the highlands as suffering from "overpopulation," the institute promoted and facilitated the voluntary resettlement of highlanders to planned agrarian communities on the Pacific coast. This chapter locates the initiative within a context of rising Mixtec migration from the highlands to other regions in Mexico and the United States. The INI's resettlement efforts on Oaxaca's Costa Chica sparked opposition from powerful local interests and provoked violent, racialized conflicts with African-descended coastal communities.
Chapter 4 examines the intersection of global Third-Worldist politics and indigenista development policy in 1970s Oaxaca. The chapter profiles a generation of promotores bilingües, bilingual development agents, trained at the Instituto de Investigación y Integración Social del Estado de Oaxaca (IIISEO) in the state capital. This generation successfully campaigned for their professionalization as bilingual teachers. The chapter examines federal reforms, termed the "democratic opening," during Luis Echeverría's presidency (1970–76) and reveals how youth in provincial (nonurban) Mexico took advantage of the opportunities afforded by such reformism to advance their own goals.
Chapter 5 examines the rise of a dissident teacher trade union movement in Oaxaca from the late 1970s through the 1980s. In this period of increased economic austerity and crisis, teachers in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico fought to democratize their trade union and oppose federal austerity measures. Bilingual teachers, who had fought in the previous decade for their own professionalization as full-fledged teachers and union members, played a decisive role in the 1980s movement. Oaxacan bilingual teachers' activism was central to the democratization of the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (SNTE)'s Sección 22.
Concomitant with the dissident teacher trade union movement was the struggle of policy makers and activists to transform the indigenous education sector during the 1980s. In what was part of a global turn toward cultural and human rights frameworks, policy makers in the INI and the Ministry of Education (SEP) shifted their policies toward a more robust multiculturalism. Federal officials institutionalized bilingual instruction in primary schools in indigenous regions and trained indigenous linguists to serve as community leaders and lead education and development reform. INI officials embraced the concept of etnodesarrollo (ethnic development) as a way to center indigeneity in their development agenda. At the grassroots level, Oaxacan bilingual teachers also moved toward more culturally pluralist pedagogies and education models. This chapter emphasizes the continuities between the multicultural turn of the 1980s and Third-Worldist politics of previous decades.
The Conclusion begins with the 1993 annual Oaxacan state music and dance festival, the Guelaguetza. It assesses the official multiculturalism that emerged in Oaxaca, and the hemisphere generally, by the end of the century and places it within the context of indigenista development. The conclusion ends with a discussion of the 2006 Oaxacan teacher-led social movement. The movement, which started as a teachers' strike and nearly toppled then-governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, underscored the weakness and instability of PRI rule in the state. Finally, the Conclusion reflects on how the deployment of federal police in the fall of 2006 to put down the social movement marked the beginning of a new, more violent and militarized period in Mexican history.