CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


June 17-20, 2004 - Baylor University, Waco, Texas

Religious Conversions and Cultural Conflict among Indian Communities in Mexico

by Genaro Zalpa
A paper presented at CESNUR 2004 international conference, Baylor University, Waco (Texas), June 18-20, 2004. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

Abstract. Religious conversions among Mexican Indian communities are prone to produce social conflicts that go from social ostracism to expulsions of entire families from their home towns. According to the Commissioner for the development of Mexican Indian peoples, around forty thousand Evangelical people have been expelled in the last thirty years. The problem is located mainly in the state of Chiapas, but the same has occurred in the last years among other indigenous communities like the Huicholes of Nayarit, the diverse ethnic groups of Oaxaca, and the Ñañhú of Hidalgo, and nothing guarantees that expulsions will not happen among other Indian groups should conversions take place and grow in number. The aim of this paper is to reflect on the cultural roots of these conflicts that have to do with Indians’ conception of the relationship of individuals and community –a part of their traditional view of life. In this cultural view, individuals are seen as part of a whole – a community- which is the only subject of rights and decisions, and the modern conception of individual rights is seen as an alien idea that menaces their traditional life style.


Although the recurrent data of the census shows that more than 90% of the Mexican population declare to be Roman Catholics, they also show regional differences: in the south eastern part of the country this percentage is around 75%, while the percentage of the population that declares itself to be Protestant – in the census there are no disaggregated data by denominations – grows from a general 7% to around 20%. It is precisely here, in the south eastern state of Chiapas, where religious conflicts among Indian communities are more apparent, although they also occur in other states within other indigenous communities.

            In order to understand the cultural roots of these conflicts, one has to consider the interplay of religion and collective identity, and the peculiar form that takes the relationship between individuals and community among indigenous peoples.

According to Giménez (1988), a multi-secular process made Roman Catholic religiosity to permeate Mexican culture to the extent that they are at the present mutually coextensive. Perhaps, Giménez says, “to say that Catholicism defines Mexican identity in a similar way as it does in Poland and Ireland is to say too much” (Giménez, 1988:5), but nevertheless, one could say that generally speaking to be Mexican means to be Catholic, and particularly to be Guadalupano (Our Lady of Guadalupe devotes). Today’s religiosity of Indian peoples, however, is the outcome of a mixture of Catholicism and their pre-Hispanic beliefs that result in diverse degrees of syncretism.

The municipality of Chamula, in the state of Chiapas, is one of the indigenous communities where religious conflicts are more visible. It is Chamula that most part of the forty thousand of expelled Evangelicals belonged to. I will therefore start considering this case.

According to the anthropologist Ricardo Pozas, who wrote one of the most complete monographic studies on the Chamula people to date (Pozas Arciniega, 1977), any indigenous community in the highlands (Altos) of Chiapas has four distinctive characteristics: name, men’s wear, a church, and a patron saint. Language is not distinctive. Chamula people, for instance, share tzotzil language with other communities but they are the only ones who are devotees of Saint John the Baptist, keep a church consecrated to him and their men wear clothes that are similar to those of St. John. Patron saints actually synthesize collective identities; men’s clothing are similar to those of the saints and a substantive component of collective identity, to the extent that none of the communities accepted the martyr Sebastian as patron saint, since he is represented almost nude, without any distinctive clothes that men should wear. When a man happens to move to another community, he has to change clothing as a means of acceptance of a new collective identity. Each one of the communities of the highlands of Chiapas keep only one church consecrated to the cult of their patron saint. Some of the communities used to have two churches, but as a rule, one of them was abandoned or demolished. One could say that collective identities among Indian communities of the highlands are incarnated in their distinctive names, their patron saints, their churches, and the distinctive clothing of their men.

For the Chamula people, religion is an important element of their cultural world-view, and it is also a central referent of their political and social life. Theirs is a religion that takes from Catholicism and from their traditional custom resulting in a particular form of religiosity known as “traditional Chamula church”. It is independent and often in confrontation with the Catholic Church represented by the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas. It is based in a calendar of eleven political-religious festivals, lasting three or more days each, and demanding a lot of time and resources from the Chamula people. There is a system of cargos (religious positions) constituting their traditional authorities. There is also a parallel system of political positions that is closely intertwined with the religious system. As in many traditional societies, religion is an essential part of Chamula’s social and political institutions.

Political and religious positions are considered by the Chamula as a burden because they have to commit themselves to this duty to the point that they have no time to look after their own corn crops, and more than that, they also have to spend a lot of money that they hardly have to properly meet the obligations of this duty. Actually, they would prefer not to be chosen for a position; however to have a duty is to serve their patron saint, and to refuse it is to oppose the will of the saint as well as being exposed to all sorts of disgraces and risks. When somebody refuses to take a position, the patron saint could send him a disease that cannot be cured until that person asks the saint to be forgiven and accepts his duty. It is difficult to present in few lines the political-religious life of the Chamula people, but perhaps the transcription of a part of the solemn words directed to the new Major in the ceremony of the transmission of the duty could summarize the idea of the close relationship between the political, the religious and the social spheres:

We all are well this sacred day in which you have to swear in the name of our fathers and grand fathers – who now rest in peace - that you will personally live here, in the ceremonial center, every day and all year round to look after our people as our ancestors did. At the foot of Saint John the Baptist you, and your wife and your family, will take care of his cult [...]. Our people will provide for your sustenance by looking after your corn field. If you would not serve with happiness, you will be sick. You have to watch over our people, to look after them, and to keep them in sight every day, all year round. You will be here to watch over Saint John the Baptist, our patron saint, to look after him, and to take care of him.

The ritual continues by the handing over of the duty pole to the new Major while saying some prayers. Then the former and the new Major seat in front of the church and drink alcohol together. Almost every social, political and religious ritual is an occasion of alcohol drinking among the Chamulas. The liquor they use to drink is distilled from sugar cane and it is called aguardiente. Drinking aguardiente is compulsory for men and women when they take part in the changing ceremonies of political and religious authorities, when they reunite for imparting justice, when they participate in marriage, healing and burying rituals, when they visit each other, and so on. Take, for instance, the ceremony of changing clothes to their patron saint; the mayordomo (the man on duty), his family and friends go to the church accompanied by musicians and the alguacil (another, minor position) whose role is to offer aguardiente to the participants according to a ritual; they burn incence in honour of each of the pieces of clothing to be put on the saint, while every one drinks a glass of aguardiente. Because there are dozens of pieces of clothing, people have to drink dozens of glasses of aguardiente. It is not rare that some of the people who served a religious or political position become alcohol addicts, because they take part in a lot of rituals that include alcohol drinking.

Being a Chamula, then, is to honor John the Baptist as the patron saint, to keep his church, to wear clothes similar to those of the saint, to participate in the political-religious life of the community and to drink aguardiente.

Evangelical people live in a way that is not just different from the traditional way of life of the Chamulas, but it is almost entirely opposed to it point by point. Although converts keep their language, they do not honor the patron saint, and consequently they do not participate in the religious life of the community. They would like to participate in the political life, perhaps by accepting a position, on condition that politics keep separated from the religious domain. And they are not used to drinking. So, according to the traditional Chamula authorities, they not only are not Chamulas any more, but they are also a menace to the Chamula culture and to their collective identity. They have then to be expelled from the community. And they are in fact, expelled.

From 1966 on (Meyer, 2000:159-160), thousands of Evangelical (and some Catholic) people have been violently expelled from Chamula. Some of them went to live in the suburbs of San Cristobal city. But a more important phenomenon has been recently taking place: people expelled from Chamula and from other Tzotzil and Tzeltal communities started to settle, not in the cities nor in other indigenous villages, but in newly created towns that have a significant, distinctive characteristic: the inhabitants are members of one or another of the Evangelical churches. This fact has produced at least two undesirable consequences: On the one hand, it recreates in a sense the situation of Chamula, for the new towns are conceived to be inhabited by the members of an only church, and members of other churches are excluded. On the other hand, it is a situation that is prone to create conflicts that may have economic or political reasons, but that have also religious ingredients. A regretful example is that of the massacre of 45 women, children and men, members of a Catholic cooperative that were reunited to pray in Acteal, the 22nd of December of 1997. A group of Evangelicals were charged for the massacre, and were found guilty. They now serve a long sentence in the prison of Cerro Hueco, from where they continue to claim their innocence, helped by an association of Evangelical churches (Confraternice). They claim they are not but victims themselves of the religious conflicts of Chiapas, and that it can be demonstrated that they are in no way responsible for the massacre.

But Chamula and the state of Chiapas are not the only places where there are religious conflicts among Indian communities. Something similar happens in the state of Oaxaca since 1975, when the number of converts begin to be socially significant in this region. A study by Marroquín (1996) shows a growth of non Catholics, mostly Evangelical, religious groups, and the rise of religious conflicts in this region. According to him, hostilities go from social ostracism to the assassination (5 cases), including imprisonment, violence, and expulsions. From 1977 to 1982 the authorities registered a media of 13 annual religious conflicts in the state. This media lowered from 1983 to 1986, but rose significantly in 1987 (44 cases), and 1989 (55 cases).

The alleged reasons for the conflicts are that the converts do not participate anymore in the life of the communities. They do not accept the traditional positions, nor cooperate in the tequio, a form of collective work, and they do not honor their patron saints. Therefore, they are not real members of the community anymore, and they actually threaten their cultural identity. Evangelicals reply that they are ready to accept civil positions, and to cooperate when the collective work has not religious goals. Political, economic, and social life are however so tied together that a separation looks like impossible to the indigenous communities.

There are incipient or incidental religious conflicts among other indigenous communities. The case of the Ñañhú, from the state of Hidalgo, is a puzzling one. For decades Catholic and Evangelical groups have lived and worked together in their remote and isolated villages with no significant problems. Two years ago, however, a violent conflict arouse between Catholics and Evangelicals living in the suburbs of Ixmiquilpan, a middle and well communicated city of around twenty thousand people. The alleged reasons were the same as in Chamula and Oaxaca. What is puzzling of this case, is that confrontations used to happen in the more remote and isolated communities, while in the case of the Ñañhú, the situation is inverted because the problem surged in a city, and involved Indian and mestizo people.

The last case I will consider here is that of the Wirrárica (Huicholes) that live in the border of the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. As the indigenous communities of Chiapas and Oaxaca, the whole Wirrárica’s life is permeated by their religious conceptions and practices (Pacheco, 1998). But theirs is a religion that has almost nothing to do with the Catholic religion, although here and there it takes perhaps some isolated pieces of Catholicism. Wirrárica religion is still a pre-Hispanic one. Their world is full of supernatural beings with which they are in a continuous interplay (see Benítez, 1976). The most important deities are Tamatz Kallaumari (the great grandfather “Tail of Deer”), Tatevarí (the grandfather, “the Fire”), and Jikuri (the peyote, the sacred cactus, the “luminescent divine”). Their annual ritual calendar includes four pilgrimages to the four divine points: Aurra’manaca in the North, Rapavilleme in the lake of Chapala, Ha’ramara on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and Wiricuta in the desert region of the state of San Luis Potosí, where the peyote, the sacred cactus grows. They go to Wiricuta under the leadership of their maracame (shaman) to visit Leunar, the “Burned Hill” where the sun was born, and to communicate with the gods by means of consuming the sacred cactus. They also collect peyote to bring it back home where it will be employed in other rituals.

Other celebrations are the hand over of the duty pole, usually at the beginning of the year; the festival of el esquite, with ceremonies to ask gods for good rains; the festival of Iku in which the gods give again every year the corn to the Wirrárica; and the festival of Tatey Neyra, a kind of Thanksgiving Day consecrated to thank their gods for the harvest. They take from the Catholic custom the celebration of the Holy Week, that commemorates the passion of Christ. Theirs, however, is a celebration in which their religious conceptions and practices prevail over the Catholic ritual. In the Easter ceremony, for instance, the Maracame sing this song:

Come here all our gods, come to meet here with us: our god of the rivers that feed the ocean, Tamatz the god of the “Burned Hill”, our paper god, Aurra the northern god, the holy Christ, the Lord of thunders, the wolf god. Come here, reunite and hear what I have to say: We offer you the arrows, the jícaras, and the candles we made for you, and we give to you as a signal of our heartily veneration, and of the keeping of our promises. We venerate you with our women and our children’s hearts (Benítez, 1976:263).


Every festival and ceremony, including the family celebrations, have as a central performer, the maracame (Torres, 2000:107) who is the mediator between his people and their gods; and a central ingredient, the drinking of an alcoholic beverage obtained from the corn fermentation called Tejuino. The most important collective celebrations have another central element: the sacred cactus, the peyote that allows the personal experience of communicating with the sacred sphere. The aim of this annual calendar of festivals and ceremonies is to keep on being in good terms with their gods. Should this custom fail, the Wirrárica will experience the anger of their gods.

            It was not until the 1990’s that conversions to Evangelical churches started to be significant in number among the Wirrárica, but very soon it became evident that these new religions were almost the opposite to the traditional religion of the Indians: Evangelical missionaries predicate that the gods of the indigenous pantheon are false gods and, therefore, the traditional religious practices are not to be observed. No drinking nor taking drugs, like peyote, is allowed. This creates conflicts between the converts and the traditionalists. A first stage of conflict is the effort of the traditionalist to try to convince the converts to come back to their traditional practices in order to keep away from the community the illnesses and natural disasters caused by the anger of their gods. Should this effort fail, conflicts take a more violent form. Sometimes converts are denied the right to commercialize Wirrárica artisan objects, sometimes they are banned from benefiting of governmental funds given to their ethnic group. Other times they are also expelled from the community. The maracame says: “it is the will of our gods; there are the ones who ask us to do so” (Pacheco, 1998:4).


Why do conflicts happen, and what to do about them?

This part of my paper is concentrated on exposing diverse positions about the cultural roots of these conflicts, and consequent propositions about what should be done to lower or stop them.

Most of the analysts begin from the acceptance that religion is an inner part of any culture, and therefore, religious conversions do tend in fact to transform cultures. They, however, differ in the analysis and the evaluation of this fact.

Marroquín (1996), for instance, and the former Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal, Samuel Ruiz (Ruiz, 1996; Meyer, 2000), evaluate in a positive way the Indian cultures. According to Marroquín (1996:112), ethnic groups and nations subjectively select the cultural features that will conform to their collective identity, in order to keep their internal unity and to be recognized by others as a community. Mexican Indian peoples have chosen religion, and particularly their patron saints, and all the practices and rituals surrounding them, to manifest their collective identities. They defend their religious system against the disruptive effect of the Evangelical beliefs and practices as a form of cultural resistance. Marroquín quotes the words of the Indians: “They – the Evangelicals- divide the Catholic community. If this does not come to an end, our people will divide in their most intimate feature: their religion” (Marroquín, 1996:115). Thís author concludes that “Protestants are right when they ask respect for their faith; but Indians are equally right when they defend their ancient traditions” (Marroquín, 1996:125).

Bishop Ruiz maintains that both the Evangelical and the Catholic religions are a threat to the indigenous culture, for their message and their practices are a mixture of Christian beliefs and the culture of the West. There is, therefore, a basic problem to be solved: Knowing that religion is an inner part of every culture, have we the right to predicate an alien religion, our religion, to the Indian people? Yes, answers Bishop Ruiz, we have the right, but under the condition that we are capable of incarnating the Christian message in the Indian cultures. This is what the Diocese of San Cristobal tried to do under his leadership through ordanining Indian deacons and the impulse given to the so called “Indian theology”.

According to Subcomandante Marcos (Le Bot, 1997:269-289), the leader of the indigenous Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, it is the hostile environment that makes the Indians keep their particular way of conceiving and practicing the relationships between individuals and communities. In order to survive, they have to eliminate any disagreement, any individual practice that is not in accordance with the community decisions. This is the reason why people who were not in accordance with the uprising, were advised to leave their communities. This is also the cause why political parties are not allowed, because these parties tend to separate communities. Subcomandante Marcos says he is aware of the fundamentalism involved in these practices, and of the undesirable consequences of it: the displacement of thousand of Indians for religious and political reasons. Furthermore, the uprising caused that sometimes religious and political motives were about to mix together under the banner of “a unique Zapatista people and a unique religion”. Fortunately this was not allowed. According to Marcos, the Zapatista movement enabled Indians to be in contact with other people that conceived democracy in another way, and that are respectful of the rights of individuals and minorities. This is a move away from fundamentalism, that thanks to the Zapatismo started to permeate indigenous communities, and that will perhaps prevail under the condition that the hostile environment comes to an end.

Mario Vargas Llosa (2004), in a critical essay on an article of Samuel P. Huntington (2004) evaluates in a negative fashion the notion of collective identity. In his article, professor Huntington maintains that the growing population of Hispanics in the USA –around twenty million nowadays – who do not integrate into the American society, but instead keep their own language and customs, is a menace to the American culture. According to him, the earliest WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant) America became a Christian, multi-ethnic and multi-racial culture after the successive flows of migration and the racial conflicts that marked its history. There is, nevertheless, an essential nucleus of the American culture that was not transformed by the integration of people from diverse ethnic or racial origins into the melting pot of American society. This consists in the following elements: English language, Christian religion, religious commitment, respect for the law, and the Protestant values of individualism, of the value of work, and believing in the obligation of creating “a city in a hill”. This nucleus of American culture that constitutes the American essential collective identity is nowadays menaced by the presence of the Hispanic population that speaks Spanish, keep their Catholic religion, distrust anyone that is not a member of their family, have no initiative or ambitions, are not educated, and see poverty as a virtue and as a road to paradise. Huntington warns American society about the imminent peril of becoming a nation with two languages and two cultures. The logical conclusion is that American society must have an attitude similar to that of the Mexican Indian communities: they have to keep the “others” away. This conclusion comes, says Vargas Llosa, from the false principle of the existence and the positive evaluation of an essential collective American identity in which Huntington seems to believe, a kind of pre-existent and never changing American soul. It is false because there are not petrified cultures, and therefore there are no essential collective identities. Instead, cultures are in a continuous process of historical change. Perhaps there never even existed something as a pure WASP culture in America, but a process that made American society what it is now: a melting pot in which populations of diverse origins and cultures adopt the values of freedom and of solidarity among the “different”. Essential collective identities have been artificial creations that historically led to nationalism, this “culture of the uncultured” that hides behind racism, xenophobia, fanaticism, and religious fundamentalism. “Fortunately collective identities, this kind of concentration camps in which individuals were imprisoned with no hope from birth to death, do not exist anymore. Only individuals and individual identities exist [...]” (Vargas Llosa, 2004:45). Collective identities were a characteristic of primitive people in which individuals did not exist but were just a part of a community.

Martín-Barbero (2002) holds a different opinion about collective identities. In his view, collective identities have a profound ambiguity: that of resistance to a globalization that tends to dissolve society as a community of meaning, and that of the need to be constructive. In this ambiguity, resistance takes too often the negative form of a fundamentalism that brings about the negation of the other. It is this kind of fundamentalism that we have seen in Sarajevo and Kosovo – and in the expulsions in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Nayarit – and that we see nowadays in the attitudes of some of the citizens of the rich nations towards the immigrants that arrive from the south. But collective identities “may also function as spaces of memory and solidarity, as places of refuge in which individuals encounter a moral tradition” transforming themselves “into potential sources of social and personal enrichment” (Martín-Barbero, 2002:623). The author finds in the feminist movement a new perspective on identity which “countering all forms of essentialism, affirms the divided, decentred nature of the subject while at the same time refusing to accept an infinitely fluid and malleable conception of identity” (Martín-Barbero, 2002:626). The profound ambiguity of collective identities roots also in the false opposition of particularism and universalism, expressed in the day to day experience in the opposition of the notions of difference and community. It is a false opposition because no particular cultures and identities, or multiculturalism and “otherness” can be conceived solely as such, for particularism is not conceivable without universalism, or identity without the “other”.

I agree with most of the authors whose positions have been exposed in a positive evaluation of cultural differences and collective identities, but I also accept the warning of Vargas Llosa about the danger of conceiving them in an essentialist fashion. Neither cultures nor identities are a kind of metaphysical entities that pre-exist human societies, and are fixed once and forever. Instead, cultures and collective identities are historical and, therefore, immerse in a continuous process of transformation whose dynamics root in social interaction. Interaction, of course, can be confrontation or peaceful co-existence, and that depends on a variety of factors that I will analyze in the context of the religious conflicts among Mexican indigenous communities. In the course of my analysis I will also try to respond to the question about “What type of relationship can be established between identity and otherness that might defuse the danger of exclusion?” (Chantal Mouffe, quoted by Martín-Barbero, 2002:629).

An important factor is the Indians’ historical experience of the hostility of the environment. Clodomiro Siller (1985) makes a recount of the aggressions experienced by the Mexican indigenous peoples through the history from the Hispanic conquest to the present. It is not surprising then that they see “others” as a menace to their culture, their traditional way of life, and their collective identity, and thus, that the Indian communities turn the “other” into an enemy. Mexican Indian peoples have internalized an ancestral fear of the “other” and of “difference”. As subcomandante Marcos refers (Le Bot. 1997:269-289), cultural fundamentalism among Mayan communities of Chiapas finds a fertile ground to grow in the experience of a hostile environment, because it is lived as a basic means to survive. In order to survive important decisions are community decisions: a problem is analyzed as long as it takes to reach a consensus that every member of the community has then the obligation to agree. Once a decision is taken by the community, be it the political party to support, the strategies of the Zapatista uprising, or what kind of religion to practice, dissidence is not allowed, and dissidents are punished. Some Mexican indigenous communities practice a kind of solidarity in which individuals are conceived as just a part of a whole, a type of solidarity that Durkheim called “mechanistic solidarity”. In this context the rights of minorities are not conceivable. But, as said earlier, this is a historical, not a metaphysical condition. When conditions of life are perceived and experienced as a friendly environment, the “us” and “them” identities are lived differently, as a means of personal and community enrichment. They have existed in history these kinds of experiences (Siller, 1985), they exist nowadays (Meyer, 2000; Le Bot, 1997), and it is possible to multiply them in the future. Particularism and universalism necessitate each other because, as Martín-Barbero states “without universal values there is no possibility of coexistence between the identities of particular groups” (Martín-Barbero, 2002:629) be them ethnic, gender, age or religious identities.

“tearing apart can only be stitched together by a politics that extends universal rights and values to all those sectors of the population that have previously lived outside the application of those rights, be they women, or ethnic minorities, evangelists or homosexuals” (Martín Barbero, 2002:629).


            One of these universal rights is the right of people to keep a particular culture and a collective identity. Therefore some fundamental questions arise: Can religions be preached without being a threat to cultural collective identities? How?

It is true that religions are a nuclear part of cultures and collective identities, therefore religious changes mean a cultural change and an identity change. But then all cultures and identities change, for they are not a-historical entities. Indian peoples are not history-less communities, although some discourse “idealizes indigenous difference as an untouchable world, endowed with an intrinsic truth and authenticity that separates it from everything else and is self-enclosed” (Martín-Barbero, 2002:631). Actually, there are not totally isolated Indian communities and, therefore, there are interactions between cultures and cultural change. But change can be either imposed or adopted. As Bishop Ruiz says, evangelization has not to necessarily mean destruction of indigenous cultures and values. There are a lot of positive values to respect and experiences to learn from indigenous communities: solidarity, a sense of community, the social value of work, the profound unity between man and nature, widespread reciprocity, and so on. Because missionaries of whichever religion are also convinced of the values of their religious message, missions can be conceived as a respectful dialogue among equals. This is what Bishop Ruiz tried to do in the diocese of San Cristobal with a very interesting success. As he used to say, Christian message do not necessarily have to convey the imposition of the culture of the West, but instead it should be incarnated in the indigenous cultures. Not only Catholic, but also Evangelical churches have experienced this dialogue with remarkable good results. Pierre Bastian (1985) gives examples of Evangelical churches that have respected the indigenous cultures in which they preach Christian message. Instead of a rupture they practice a continuity between the particular cultures of the Indian communities and the Christian beliefs. Molinari (1998) refers the case of the Evangelical churches among Tarahumara Indians: convert keep participating in the tesgüinadas, and keep drinking tesgüino, an alcoholic beverage, and they keep considering themselves as Tarahumara and at the same time as Evangelicals. But of course there are also many examples of Catholic and Evangelical church officials who, mixing Christian message with western culture, undervalue and condemn aboriginal cultures. Evangelical converts in these cases refuse their indigenous collective identities in the name of a new exclusive religious collective identity (Marroquín, 1996). When religious and traditional fundamentalisms coincide in a community, conflicts are ready to explode.


Communication between indigenous communities and the outside world, while risky, could open up a dialogue in which multiculturalism and the rights of individuals and minorities are based on strong particular cultures and collective identities.


Community is a central contemporary concept and idea for the very reason that there is a deficiency of communal bonds, and that there are almost no communities left in the traditional sense of the term [...] In a sense under the post-traditional conditions only imaginary communities area real! (Eräsaari, 1993:14)

Today traditional communities have a strategic role as reminders for the modern societies in which they live: they help us to confront the purely mechanical transplantation of cultures at the same time as they represent, in their diversity, a fundamental challenge to the supposedly dehistorized universality of modernization and homogenizing pressures” (Martín-Barbero, 2002:633).

Let’s take then to conclude the words of the Zapatista Indians. They say they fight for a world in which there is room for all worlds. We should commit to a struggle devoted not to the annihilation of the “other”, be it Indian, mestizo, foreigner, Catholic or Evangelical, but to the recognition of the rights of the “other” to be accepted as a member of the community, and therefore to life.





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