Shane Dillingham Oaxaca Book Talk Response

As an exchange student at WWU since late September, I have had the pleasure of being able to attend classes in a variety of disciplines, and enjoy the events hosted by each from a unique perspective. This has been no more apparent than in the Latin American Studies program and its associated courses from the History department here. Last Wednesday I had the great pleasure of attending a book talk hosted by Dr. Eben Levey, and with Dr. Shane Dillingham, Associate Professor of Latin American History at Albright College, and author of Oaxaca Resurgent. Having had very little experience with learning about Latin America prior to my tenure at WWU, the talk was nothing short of enlightening, especially combined with my new knowledge surrounding the region. Dillingham described how his book followed the legacy of indigenista policy in southern Mexico, dissecting the crossover between a sort of neo-liberal multiculturalism and what it means to be indigenous. Crucial to this discussion was the concept of ‘double bind’ and Dillingham divulged that this term was hard to translate due to its meaning and importance. The double bind proposes that indigenous people are simultaneously celebrated in the national conversation while also being some of the poorest, and most alienated members of Mexican society. This first celebration is largely entwined with stories of nation building; attempts to legitimize revolutionary governments during the period of independence and revolution over the continent, and to a lesser extent in the 20th century as governments rapidly changed and switched gears. This second bind is the result of land appropriation and alienation, and so Dillingham poses the question of what is to be done. In the process of researching the topics at hand, Dillingham also divulged his methodology. By using a combination of oral histories and interviews, as well as archival research, a clearer picture is apparent. Particularly interesting to this methodology was the use of Mixtec, which he notes was not always perfect, but received well, allowing him to ask more fruitful questions during the research phase of the book. This research well informs sections of the book throughout and is useful in adding credence to the examples used, particularly the developmentalist programs with the INI, and the plight of bilingual teachers into the 1970s as they struggled to operate within government policy. The talk was well attended, and many students spoke up to ask questions concerning language, methodology, and concepts to which Dillingham replied clearly and with experience. My favourite response involved the importance of storytelling to history, and how it is the responsibility of historians to do this accurately and without bias, a point I agreed with foremost.

~ George Moncaster