The Art of Being In-between

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The Art of Being In-between:
Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in
Colonial Oaxaca

Yanna Yannakakis
2008, Duke University Press
290 pages

WHILE IT will be of interest primarily to historians of colonial Mexico and anthropologists, The Art of Being In-between nonetheless provides a useful introduction for the uninitiated to the roles played by native intermediaries – indios ladinos – in shaping the terms of local autonomy and indigenous identity at the edge of empire in the rugged Sierra Norte of Oaxaca. Comprehensively researched and elegantly written, Yannakakis’s work reveals a passion for the subject of cultural brokerage and exposes the very human dilemmas and conflicting interests experienced by a range of intermediaries, from indigenous governors to “Indian conquistadors”. Her conclusions draw attention to the contemporary relevance of a theme that might otherwise be dismissed as fairly esoteric: “Through local struggles in the colonial and national periods, native intermediaries have shaped a tension that remains at the heart of Mexican nationhood: multiethnicity versus indigenismo. Indeed, the ‘Indian question’ – the identity of native peoples and whether or how to incorporate them into the body politic – has been central to colonial and modern state formation in Mexico and in much of Latin America.” [p. 226]. This book provides a small but important piece of the jigsaw of Mexican identity. – GO’T