Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z: Progress

Tarahumaran women in the
Chihuahua mountains.
Up in the Mexican Sierra that scars the country from North to South (same tectonic origin as the Rockies), there are a few communities left that live the way they have for hundreds of years, maybe thousands. No electricity, no plastics, no pop culture.

Once in a while, medical missions make their way up the craggy paths and provide basic care--vaccines for children, prenatal controls, setting bones, treating infections. But most of these communities have, at best, minimal involvement with the modern world.

I've never been there, never seen these people. I, and most Mexicans, know about them because of protests on their behalf.

Some groups protest that the government has forgotten these communities, that they've made no effort to bring water and electricity to their remoteness, that they've let the children grow wild, outside the framework of modern education (and the Catholic church, of course). These people clamor for immediate "integration"--these indigenous communities must be brought into the twenty-first century without delay. Medical care, primers, Coke and TV.

Other groups protest, instead, that the government has done too much--they accuse the government of trying to destroy cultural uniqueness under the guise of preventing margination. These groups defend the way of life the indigenous communities have upheld for centuries, and they argue we, the inhabitants of modernity and this plastic era, have no right to interfere, to destroy their purity.

Which is progress, then? Our modern standards, or the previous ones? Somewhere in between, no doubt. But for these communities up in the Sierra (and for many others in similar situations around the globe), the question is a pressing one. How much is too much? Do they need to copy us, or do we need to copy them?

P.S.--I'm a guest over at Deb O'Neille's blog, Writing Against The Wind, talking about critique vs. cheerleading. Drop by and join the conversation!


  1. We should let some of these pockets of culture survive as they are if these people are content with their lifestyles. Modern culture has tainted too much of the past. I think of the Spaniards destroying the codices and libraries of the New World cultures and losing so much knowledge. Our way is not always the best way for absolutely everyone.

    Places I Remember
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    1. Agreed, Lee--"our way is not always the best way". How to decide what constitutes "culture" and what divides it from "poverty", I guess, is at the root of the problem. Thanks for the input!

  2. That is a very good question, one that I don't think can be easily answered. My opinion is that they should let the people do what they want. If they want to join modern society, let them. If they want to be left alone, then leave them alone. There's nothing more frustrating than someone else deciding your fate.

    Just a Nice Girl

    1. Thanks for the visit, Jennifer, and you're right--there's no easy answer for this one. I especially loved the last sentence you wrote--it's so true!


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