Unanticipated Indigenista Legacies: Bilingual Teachers and the Rise of Dissident Trade Unionism in Southern Mexico, 1975–80

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 2:10 PM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Alan Shane Dillingham, Spring Hill College
In the spring of 1980, dissident teachers, led by their indigenous colleagues, challenged one of the pillars of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) hegemonic rule, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE). Teachers throughout the republic but particularly in southern states, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas, engaged in mass marches, public assemblies, and street blockades to oust PRI-aligned union leaders. In previous decades, the national teachers’ union had served as space for political advancement within the official political party and SNTE leadership controlled teacher union politics through a combination of cooptation and violent coercion. Yet beginning in the mid-1970s, teachers, drawing on radical politics associated with the 1968-era protest, begin to challenge this authoritarian control of their union. This conflict challenged the PRI’s dominance over national politics and formed part of a broader process of democratization in Mexico. Indigenous teachers, who themselves had fought for entrance and full participation in the national teachers’ union in the mid-1970s, played a key role in this struggle. This paper analyzes the development of the “indigenous bilingual teacher” position within the Mexican education system and examines indigenous teachers’ political formation. By placing indigenous education and educators within the broader history of indigenous development projects in the Americas, it explores the unanticipated consequences of indigenous modernization as it intersected with dissident political discourses.
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