From the Field: Americas Research Interest Group
by Gabriela Martínez, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Communication and Stephanie Wood, Senior Research Associate, CSWS
Oaxaca, Mexico—Yesterday, we began work on a pilot film for a larger documentary on the “triple rescue” of colonial Mexican manuscripts. We are speaking of 16th- through 18th-century indigenous-authored manuscripts that have been decaying on dirt floors in municipal and provincial archives. Besides being subjected to worrisome conditions of humidity, insects, rodents, and grime, these documents have also been ignored and neglected over the centuries in favor of a Eurocentric history. And, the information they contain about the history of Mesoamerican women has suffered even further disparagement. These are manuscripts primarily authored by elite indigenous men about their own activities over the centuries. But, sometimes, almost in spite of their own self-interest, such male authors did mention or paint women into these manuscripts. To extract the women’s stories and patch them together is a labor of determination, as well as a huge collaborative, interdisciplinary enterprise that unites ethnohistorians, archaeologists, linguists, restoration scientists, digital humanities experts, and now a filmmaker, too!
Our first interview, which we filmed yesterday, March 20th, was with Juana Vásquez Vásquez, a Zapotec woman from the community of Yalálag, Oaxaca, Mexico. Juana periodically makes the trek from her indigenous community to Oaxaca city to collaborate with various ethnohistorians, such as Nancy Farriss and Angeles Romero Frizzi. She is not an “informant,” but is very involved in the decipherment and translation of manuscripts written in Zapotec, as well as their analysis. This impressive group has been working most recently on documents such as primordial town histories, Inquisition records of supposed “idolatry” (continuing beliefs and practices from prehispanic religions), and testaments from the colonial period that show how women owned, worked, and transferred land. From such sources, these ethnohistorians are reconstructing the lives of Zapotec women as they responded to Spanish conquest and colonialism, watching for evolution in native gender ideologies that came with the introduction, for instance, of Christianity.
From the filmmaking perspective, this is a great opportunity to record ancient and contemporary knowledge about Mesoamerica. We envision a documentary that would bring to life archival documents as well as feature the villages and their peoples in contemporary days. In addition, we plan to create other digital formats, such as searchable images and webstream audiovisual materials—with the appropriate metadata—for sharing with colleagues, teachers, and students around the globe.