The Ciénega de Chapala: Geographical and Cultural Setting

Cienega panorama.jpg (25662 bytes)The Ciénega plain seen from above Sahuayo

The Ciénega de Chapala region of Michoacán lies to the south-east of Lake Chapala, on the border with the neighbouring state of Jalisco. A fertile plain extended by reclaiming land from the lake under the Porfiriato, it is bounded to the West by the rugged sierras of the Jalmich highlands, a more sparsely populated region of ranchero communities which see themselves as "white" rather than mestizo or indígena and have traditionally prided themselves on their relative freedom from economic and political domination. By the 19th century the hills rising up from the plain to the South-East marked another social and ethnic frontier, that between a lowland mestizo population and the indigenous Purépecha communities of the Meseta Tarasca highlands. Some of the Ciénega peasant communities themselves in fact had indigenous antecedents, but these had long been obliterated in terms of everyday social practices and identity.

Fiesta Dancing Villamar 3.jpg (40333 bytes)

Village Fiesta, Ranchero-Style

Although colonial ethnic statuses figured in some of the judicial processes associated with community struggles to reclaim land before and after the 1910 Revolution, the region had long become home to people of diverse social, ethnic and geographical origins, and the politics of land reform fostered a specific kind of "mestizo" regional class culture. Influenced by the ideologies associated with the neighbouring ranchero populations, which stress a relationship between private property and social dignity, the local culture of mestizaje displays a certain tendency to self-doubt, and even self-denigration, since its place in regional society has become inextricably bound up with the land reform communities called ejidos, the centrepiece of the social project of the Mexican Revolution. Virtually the entire Ciénega plain was converted into ejido property.

Cornfield on the foothills rising up from the plaincornfield.jpg (43062 bytes)