Indigenous Mexicans turn inward to survive COVID-19, barricading villages and growing their own food


Summary generated on August 14, 2020

    While the coronavirus hammers Mexico, some Indigenous communities in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca are finding creative ways to cope.

    Oaxaca, one of Mexico's poorest and most ethnically diverse states, is home to numerous Indigenous communities, including the Zapotec people.

    I have spent many years in the central valleys of Oaxaca conducting anthropological research in rural Zapotec villages, documenting the people's lives, migration patterns and food culture.

    Now, my summer research in Oaxaca canceled due to the pandemic, I am learning from afar how the Zapotec are confronting the coronavirus given such complicating factors as chronic poverty, inadequate health care, limited internet, language barriers and a lack of running water.

    Working with colleagues at Mexico's Universidad Tecnológica de los Valles Centrales de Oaxaca and scouring online media resources, I find the Zapotec are surviving the pandemic by doing what they've always done when the Mexican government can't, or won't, help them: drawing on local Indigenous traditions of cooperation, self-reliance and isolation.

    Cooperation is a cornerstone of Zapotec life in Oaxaca.

    A history of social exclusion by the federal government reminds the Zapotec not to rely on politicians to save them.

    The Zapotec also maintain relative isolation from broader Mexican society, my research shows.

    These three aspects of traditional Zapotec culture - cooperation, isolation and self-reliance - are all helpful in a pandemic.

    The tight-knit nature of Zapotec communities can also complicate other measures critical to limiting residents' exposure to infection.

    Everyone knows everyone, and it is typical for Zapotec people to spend much of their day together with family and friends.

    Rather than closing their doors to family and friends the Zapotec are aiming to stop COVID-19 from getting in at all.

    Like most Zapotec policies, are built upon community consensus - not made on the order of a local or national political leader.

    If the coronavirus does get into Zapotec communities, it will probably hit residents hard.

    The Zapotec's best bet, they know, is still themselves.