Anales de Tepoztlán

Childhood and cultural resistance: the participation of children in community resistance movements1

Yolanda Corona Caraveo and Carlos Pérez Zavala2

Translated from La infancia vulnerable de México en un mundo globalizado,


This article discusses the participation of children in a resistance movement against a project that is characteristic of globalization tendencies, emphasizing those aspects that are related to culture.

Our case study is the community of Tepoztlán, Morelos, which from our point of view represents a fair amount of Mexican villages that are fighting to maintain their traditions in the face of modernizing projects. The example set by this community lets us, on the one hand, think about the tension caused by the standardizing tendencies of globalization processes when facing social groups whose organization is based on the worth of the collective. On the other hand, we can understand the way in which children are included in communal activities, opening the way for a discussion on a special topic presented in the Convention on the Rights of the Child: the participation of children.

We begin with a critique of the State’s approach to integration in the globalization process, because it does not consider Mexico’s strong cultural differences and, generally, lacks a long-term view that includes the effects of current decisions on future generations.

We feel the above is especially important in view of the context we are living in today in Mexico, where the relationship between the governed and those who govern is affected by the enormous effort to build democratic processes in which the voices of different sectors will be taken into account. We consider that children and adolescents are sectors that deserve special attention, not only because they reflect the present, but because of their future potential; their age alone allows greater openness and flexibility in behavior and thought.

Our study is oriented towards the problems children face in a given community, a situation that cannot be fully understood without also considering that community’s characteristic cultural milieu. This particular context is part of Mexico’s national scenario that presents a particular dynamic in view of the globalization process.

The first part of this article briefly describes the community’s characteristics and its struggle against a modernizing project that was imposed from outside the community by domestic and foreign investors, backed by the State. We emphasize the role of cultural identity as a basic element that explains the participation of children in political activities as well as the struggle to maintain traditions and the right to decide on matters related to natural resources.

The second part discusses the role of culture in globalization processes in Mexico. Here we refer to at least two projects oriented towards incorporation within globalizing tendencies that are currently under debate.

The last part examines the importance of child participation and the specificity it acquires among people with strong community traditions. We present the children’s direct testimonies as proof that they are able to become actively involved in problems that affect their community.

This study is part of a larger project that has been carried out in Tepoztlán, Morelos over the past five years. Our original goal was to understand the way children see community rights in a context of a resistance movement. The research problem itself showed the need to include an anthropological perspective that would let us gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of the answers we obtained. Our research tools included individual and group interviews, ethnographic descriptions of celebrations, political ceremonies and religious celebrations as well as the analysis of archives and historical sources related to Tepoztlán3

Resistance in a rural community

Tepoztlán is a village of 14,000, located in the state of Morelos, only 70 kilometers (about 43 miles) from Mexico City. It is a community with strong Indian traditions, which over the past 50 years has been exposed to an accelerated modernizing process. But in spite of this, the Tepoztecos –-who take their name from the near-by mountain that was in turn named after a local hero-- maintain their age-old forms of social relations that revolve around the interests of the collective.

In 1995, KS Entrepreneurial Group, backed by multinational corporations such as GTE and political groups from the state of Morelos and the rest of the country, proposed the construction of an ambitious tourist complex in Tepoztlán. They wanted to build a professional golf course, with 592 luxury homes, club house, tennis courts, heliport, hotel, restaurants, and corporate center on 187 hectares (approximately 460 acres). The investors took special care to seek out the support of the governing class and the officials in charge of approving the corresponding permits and licenses, without taking into account the opinion of the townspeople, assuming they would benefit from a project that would open more job opportunities.

However, the Tepoztecos openly opposed the project, and they immediately ousted the mayor and the officials that had approved the project without their consent. For more than three years they maintained a series of mobilization strategies, among them road blocks to detour traffic from direct access to the center of town, marches to the state capital and to Mexico City, general assemblies in front of the City Hall, and night watches at the main points of entry, where the presence of children and youths was very marked.

In previous studies 4we analyzed the way in which this resistance was sustained: with the community’s legends and history and with its social structure, nourished day to day by religious, neighborhood (barrio), and family celebrations whose organization strengthens relationships among the collective.

Catherine Good (1996) has stated that
The increase of ritualized exchange relationships is a mechanism that maintains vigorous native institutions, strengthens the social organization, and reaffirms cultural identity in the face of colonization… Thus, investment in celebrations is in the end an investment in the community and in ethnicity.5

We believe that the success of the resistance movement, which finally cancelled the project, was precisely the result of the force of the community’s social organization and the presence of a historical memory that was very much alive. We especially consider that Tepoztlán is representative of other villages in Mexico where we still find that investments in local history and culture are scarcely visible but extremely effective when drawn upon to respond collectively to what may be considered an assault on their cultural identity.

Another important factor for the success of the movement was a possibility offered by globalization, that of propagating local beliefs beyond national borders. The Tepozteco resistance movement not only spread through the Internet to different Mexican and international political and ecological organizations. In the U.S. there were at least two special features on the subject.6 This led to a series of demonstrations of solidarity, such as those mentioned by Concheiro and San Vicente:

[A]mong many others, Taller Espacio Verde in Morelos, Grupos de los Cien, Colectivo Ecologista in Jalisco, Pacto de Grupos Ecologistas, Comité Nacional para la Defensa de los Chimalapas, Consejos Nahuas del Alto Balsas, Greenpeace Mexico, and in a clear example of globalizing harmony, ecological groups in the United States, such as Sierra Club, Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, California Public Interest Group, Peoples for Parks, and Corporate Accountability Research Group, who revealed the name of the transnational company that was involved in the KS project and began a campaign against it that resulted in a letter from GTE Data Services resigning from the project.7

Widespread news of local resistance, made possible precisely thanks to globalization itself, also supports the formation of international collective identities that defend common projects and generate protective shields against the adverse consequences of projects of the world financial elite.
We believe that this movement unveils the polarization that results from investment projects that are typical of globalizing economic tendencies, where nations and people are seen as geographic spaces and possible clients for their interests and not as cultural groups or real human beings that deserve to be taken into account as interlocutors.

This analysis assumes a dynamic and interdependent perspective on the local and the global, and moves away from the tendency that analyzes the effect of global phenomena on smaller units without considering the impact and position of the latter regarding the former. This is why we emphasize the way the cultural peculiarities of certain localities can influence global scenarios.8

This takes us to a discussion of the cultural dimension, which has been frequently overshadowed by economism, the point of view that prevails in globalization studies.

2. The cultural dimension

Globalization is generally defined as part of the economic processes which the modern world and particularly the economies of hegemonic capitalist nations use to relate to the rest of the world. In spite of the fact that globalizing processes are closely linked to economics, we believe that the predominance of economism results from an attempt at imposing a specific interpretation of reality as inevitable, hiding other very significant realities, such as the globalization of justice, human rights, concerns about the environment, culture, et cetera.

In this vein, authors such as Luhmann (1990), Flores Olea (1999), and Vilas (1999), among others, have begun to discuss other facets of globalization that are gaining relevance, regarding political, cultural, and social matters. For example, Carlos Vilas warns that

the process of globalization emphasizes the existence of a broad set of universal topics and problems that can only be effectively faced if we admit their universality and adopt actions and strategies that are also global, or at least regional, in nature. This is, of course, the case with the environment. And we can add the problems of human rights, migrant workers, disarmament, children’s rights, violence against women, laundering money obtained from illegal activities, external debt and leonine conditions of payment imposed on debtor nations. Together, these topics and problems, and others that could surely be added, make up what we might call an "agenda towards a global citizenry" or, if this is too bold, an "agenda for citizens’ global awareness," a call for action above and beyond national borders.9

Flores Olea and Mariña Flores (1999) state that
capitalist globalization is not the only possible form [of globalization], since we can imagine a democratic globalization based on communal principles of solidarity. Throughout our text we have confirmed that globalizing processes are laden with cultural values and that they express peculiar human interrelations which are not limited to economic aspects and much less necessarily imply relationships characterized by subordination, exploitation or dependence.10

We would like to warn the reader that our case study emphasizes the political and cultural aspects of globalization. Further discussion on the subject should thus not be directed towards the question of whether its existence is inevitable or not, but towards thinking about the different tensions globalization generates, especially from the point of view of "majority" or Third World countries, as is the case with Mexico.

We would like to begin with a discussion of Mexico’s political, historical, and cultural conditions, taking into account not only an analysis of the country as a whole but also of its different regions and cultures. Mexico is a sampler of great cultural diversity; it has an important Indian population whose cultural traditions are very different from its population in northern Mexico or in urban areas in the highlands. This implies a wide variety of local responses to the large economic projects that are currently being proposed at the national level.

2.1 Mexico and globalization projects

As regards the domestic scenario, we must understand the manner in which the State, the official party, and powerful economic groups have positioned themselves regarding globalization. During the past two decades, the neo-liberal project championed by these actors has taken the mandate of international organizations and hegemonic countries for granted in order to embark upon an economic modernization that has been indiscriminately promoted without considering the political and economic consequences for the majority of the population. The government and its agencies present the world with an image of Mexico as a first world country, a modern nation capable of competing with world powers in international markets. They assume that all Mexicans share the values, goals, and dispositions that favor the economic growth of a few, forgetting that this process leads to the exclusion of the majority. Economic policy during these years has taken Mexico back to the poverty levels it had thirty years ago.

Here we need to bear in mind the eloquence of the economic indicators during this period, when the momentum of modernization and globalization was at its peak (during the past three government administrations). According to data from the Central Bank, Mexico has witnessed a widening of the abyss of distribution of wealth. Its foreign debt has increased; at least one-fourth of its population lives in extreme poverty; fiscal policy has significantly taxed those with mid-level income and allowed the disproportionate growth of large capital. This has placed Mexico among the countries that rank highest in social inequality.
Within this framework of injustice and inequality, Mexican society itself has also been the scenario of another social project. There is a growing awareness among large groups and movements that have started to gain spaces for participation, that clamor for a true transition towards democracy and political modernization. Civil society, actors such as NGOs, left political parties, resistance movements, guerrillas that support Indian rights, all those whose profile is more and more visible in today’s political life are making their voice and their demands public.

These movements do not as yet have a particular label, nor have they been able to propose an alternate model, partly because they have been kept on the margins of political and economic power structures and partly because they are still a work in progress. However, although civil society has not backed a globalization project, it is evident that it has been opposed to the project formulated by the State, and has become the voice of the demands of marginal and unprotected sectors against the ideal of society and nation held by groups in power.

Flores Olea and Mariña Flores state that

Mexico’s movement towards democracy has brought about permanent mobilization and begun the transformation of traditional, concentrated and restrictive power, and challenged authoritarianism and the neo-liberal economic model. The country’s "new" civil society, active and full of initiatives, has promoted the struggle for Mexico’s democratization, has opposed the authoritarian centralization of power and rejected the economic inequalities that have impoverished large sectors of the country. 9

Another example of the opposition to State policy comes from Indian and rural communities. The situation in the state of Chiapas is only one of a number of manifestations that have come to the surface over the centuries, evincing the need to analyze the cultural diversity and plurality of every nation-State.
Mexico’s case is very special in that it includes many cultures, ethnic groups, and communities that do not easily fit in only one definition. There is an important Indian element in Mexican identity, and it is very much alive despite purposeful homogenizing efforts to proclaim a "mestizo identity" which has historically hidden contempt towards and lack of attention to living Indians. Attempts at domination and extermination notwithstanding, these Indian groups have demonstrated their ability to survive and maintain their cultural values. This attests to an incredible power of resistance, which as regards our case study proved to be stronger than millions of dollars and the influence of political power.

3. Children and resistance

3.1 Including children in the community

An important aspect of the cultural values of villages with Indian traditions is the way children are integrated into community life. In the specific case of Tepoztlán, we were able to observe that children were present in all activities related to the resistance movement: night watches, marches and demonstrations, daily meetings in front of City Hall, and when their protest was taken to the Senate in Mexico City. They were also victims of the violence displayed by state security guards during a celebration honoring Zapata, when two buses full of women and children were detained for several hours.

Parents and teachers thought that it was both natural and necessary that the children participate from an early age, in spite of the risks this entailed. "If they don’t go now [to marches, to keep watch], when will they learn?" A teacher who took her children to the Zapata celebration said

We were there shaking because they might be reached by a bullet, crying with rage at seeing we couldn’t even give our children water when we were detained. Do you think they are going to forget how the government treated us? Do you think we are going to forget? This gives us more strength to continue our struggle.

The ideas that those in charge of the children had about the spaces they could have access to and the way in which they learn should be taken into consideration when trying to understand forms of socialization. Although these examples refer specifically to the resistance movement, we want to emphasize the way in which village children are integrated into important activities. This has to do with a tradition of community life where children naturally participate from an early age in collective tasks, festivities, rituals, and all activities that are relevant to the community.

Rogoff (1993) comments that children in certain Indian communities have a privileged access to all communal activities. They are practically the only ones that can be present in any event (except childbirth), in spite of the fact that they are not considered interlocutors because it is not considered proper that children talk in those situations. In addition to what this author mentions, there are numerous social functions and roles that are assigned to children in different communities; for example, in the barrios, it is common for girls to be in charge of making the flowers and ornaments for festivities, to facilitate communication among families thanks to their disposition to carry messages back and forth, and to participate in rituals that are exclusively for their age group. This speaks of an active participation of children in community life.

Further on we will discuss what this means in terms of reinforcing collectives ties, here we would only like to underline the fact that in villages like Tepoztlán, children and adolescents are not barred from participating in political life, as is the case in certain urban, middle and high class situations, where, in protecting them, children are confined to their home environment and their views are limited to events of their family and school life.

The participation of children plays an important role in efforts that are currently underway to modify the place they occupy in society, in order to concur with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A brief discussion of this matter will help us understand the relevance of studies that bring the role of children in different local contexts into the open.

3.2 The relevance of the participation of children

In spite of the fact that since the early 1900s attempts were made to recognize the rights of children, and several international agreements on this matter were signed, the Convention on the Rights of the Child subscribed in 1989 was an important advance because it was quickly and widely accepted in most countries around the world. By ratifying the Convention, governments committed themselves to adapting their laws to the provisions of the Convention as well as to making periodical reports on the progress of the implementation of said provisions and principles. Another significant aspect that was introduced is what has been called "the child’s supreme interest," which establishes that in any conflict of interest, public and private institutions, courts, and any administrative official must guarantee that the child’s interests are foremost and that he or she be protected.

Another innovative concept that is especially relevant to our case study is the right to participation, established in the Convention as freedom of speech, the right to access information, to express an opinion and the right of association.12 This evinces a totally different concept of children than the ones considered in previous declarations, where children were seen as objects to be protected because of their lack of maturity and not as subjects capable of thinking, expressing an opinion and even deciding their own affairs.

As a result, there has been an interesting debate regarding the meaning of child participation, where what it means to be a participant, to express an opinion, and to make a decision have been discussed. Most of the initiatives that have been implemented to promote participation have been oriented towards forums, held mostly in cities, where children can express their opinions and thoughts. During the past years, there has been an attempt to take their opinions and proposals a step further, to follow up and commit adults so that, together with the children, they can put into effect what the latter propose for their communities.
However, efforts to motivate the participation of children often favor oral participation, expressing opinions in artificially created scenarios that are not related to social and political activities. This kind of work with children is important, but so is recording their testimonies in situ, to get to know what is happening with children who participate in different, but no less significant, ways. We believe that this speaks of a difference between the emphasis our culture gives to verbal expression and other forms of participation, such as modeling actions, silence, and learning through observation, all of which are more important in traditional cultures.

3.3 Collective welfare and the relationship with nature

Perhaps because of the way they are included in the community, children in Tepoztlán are inclined to consider the welfare of the community before particular privileges. When asked who had more rights to the land, those who had bought it or the townspeople, all the Tepozteco children affirmed that the townspeople did, and they stated several reasons for their answer.

Because the people appoint the mayor and he didn’t come to an understanding with the people.

Because like Zapata said, the land belongs those who work it with their hands.

Because trees, water, and animals would be lost.

Because it is their [the townspeople’s] property, their forests, and forests should not be cut down for any reason.

Because there wasn’t going to be any water for the people of Tepoztlán, and everything was going to be more expensive, like basic foods.

Here, in their comments, we can see not only a tradition of making important decisions after consulting the community but the influence of Zapata, characteristic of the state of Morelos, for whom land was of fundamental significance. It is also interesting to see that most of the arguments opposing the golf club mention the damage to nature, for example, "endangered trees will disappear," "we’ll lose the animals that live where they want to build," "there won’t be water for planting," "they’ll destroy our hills."

Although the area chosen for the golf club belongs to the Ajusco-Chichinautzin biological corridor --a protected area for flora and fauna--, the children were in effect referring to the relationship the townspeople have with their environment. Several authors (Broda, 1997; Good, 1996; López Austin, 1998) have mentioned the important place held by the landscape and the hills in the cosmovision of people that still maintain Indian traditions. For them nature is not merchandise to be exploited --such would be the logic of globalization-- but rather a living thing, something they relate to, as we can see in the following testimony.

When I’m tired and sad, all I have to do is look at the hills that surround us. I talk to them and they answer, and so we spend our days, the hills and I. I go up on the roof of my house and I scream at the hills to help us defend them, not to abandon us, and finally they answer.13

In Tepoztlán, there is also an element that is tied to the sacred, because the mountains are ceremonial spaces where a ritual is performed as part of the legend of "El Tepozteco," legendary hero, son of the god of wind, and protector of the village, according to its inhabitants.

Boys and girls both mention that it was Tepozteco who appeared "like a black cloud" to scare away the soldiers sent by the governor, who appeared "like a child" to tell those who wanted to build the club to stop "because they would be sorry." The reference to the hero was always present in the struggle against the golf club, proof is what happened during the assembly of pueblos in solidarity with Tepoztlán, which was held in 1995, when the movement began.
Representatives from several villages around the country and movements that supported Tepoztlán gathered in the municipal plaza. After several speeches by those who went to show their solidarity with the town’s struggle against the golf club, a Tepozteco took the microphone and said:

We have dealt a mortal blow, stopping the golf club, we have also removed our municipal authorities from office because they were corrupt, and we welcome all the people from Morelos and the Federal District and the state of Mexico that join us in this merciless fight against the KS group, a monster with a thousand heads. Our Tepozteco of yore has clearly told us, "Men of these lands! Don’t be fooled by lights that come from the stars, because they are the moon; our people are brave, they have a tempered heart; don’t believe in the honey KS offers, because it will cloy you; don’t allow the construction of something which is not of this pueblo, because if you do, the people themselves will ask for your heart to satiate the ire of our gods Ome Tochtli, Tonatiuh, Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcóatl." Just as Tepozteco destroyed the monster with a thousand heads, Xochicácatl, devourer of men, we have dealt the final blow to kill this monster, the KS group, sponsored by Francisco Kladt Sobrino. We have showed the town, the country and brother countries around the world that Tepoztlán has, above all, dignity, it has men and women, youths, teachers, campesinos that have joined together to fight for what Zapata bequeathed us, we fight for the land, for justice, and for liberty.14

The people of Tepoztlán constantly draw parallels between the situation they are experiencing and legend. Their life is powerfully and subtly crossed by history, that continually commemorates and revives their mythical past. Their struggle is a clear example of a movement in which collective action is guided by a system of symbols, a cosmovision full of mythical and religious elements that answer for and legitimize their behavior. The survival of this mythical construct is a relevant spiritual phenomenon that has an important effect on the children, as it transmits the idea that religion, politics, and social activism are not separate spheres.

Thus, the logic of the Tepoztecos, including the children, regarding their land is entirely different from the logic of investors and the political groups that support them. One of our hypotheses about how this small village was able to affirm its right to decide matters regarding its land --in spite of the huge campaign leveled against it by powerful political actors with the help of the media--, is that it garners strength from this relationship between the divine and the mundane. This mythical religious sense, and the value of the sacred, is what gives political resistance movements an unexpected power, since it is clear that the people of Tepoztlán were willing to die for that which they defended.

3.4 Lack of State legitimacy. Another meaning of laws for children

In our interviews and observations, we asked the children their opinion about what the media and the governor said regarding "respect for laws and the system of justice," since this was one of the main arguments supporting the golf club project. We found that children from the age of eight felt that there are laws that aren’t any good because they affect nature and that they should be changed or not observed. In the individual interviews with sixth graders, we found that they all thought that these laws didn’t have to be obeyed. Their opinion on how to go about this differed: approximately one third was inclined towards getting rid of the law and felt it "should be lost forever because the power belongs to the people"; another third said that it should be changed for another law, making it just, and the remaining third thought it should be ignored. Only three out of 20 children felt they had to protest, speak with the mayor or send a complaint to the governor asking him to repeal the law. It is interesting to note that none of them mentioned punishing those who oppose or break the law, nor did they talk about negotiating an agreement.

This differs from the results of other authors, such as Adelson (1971), Furth and McConville (1981), and Kohlberg (1976), who found that children and adolescents rarely imagined that a law might be absurd, wrong or unjust and thus were radical as to its compliance, suggesting fines and punishments for transgressors. But although none of the Tepozteco children felt that those who oppose or break that law should be punished, there are references to the risk this entails:

The mayors don’t respect some laws, like the one that a person is free to express whatever he or she feels convenient, then when a person speaks against the mayor or the people that back him, after that person said that, he or she disappears or is taken to jail or killed.

Secondary school students also considered the possibility of making adjustments or changing the laws, and they were concerned about analyzing the situation and evaluating the different points of view that arose.

If the group doesn’t agree and its arguments are valid, and they defend something that is beneficial to the whole community, we would have to respect that way of looking at things and make an exception regarding compliance of the law. (Female, 15 years old)

If a law is not approved by the people, it has to be changed, because the ideal would be that those who obey the laws agree with them, if not, they’ll break them anyway and it won’t do any good, only fill the jails. (Male, 14 years old)

There should be democratic voting, to see who is wrong, the community or the government. (Female, 16 years old)

We wonder if these children, who are eight years and older, propose a modification or transgression of the law because they identify with the "good guys" (the villagers) or because their concept of law is more flexible and they think it can be changed if there’s pressure from certain social sectors.

To place what is happening in Tepoztlán in the context of the social processes that are currently under way in Mexico, we would like to mention the data reported by Guevara Niebla in a discussion on political culture in this country.15This author made a national survey on civic culture and asked the following question: Should citizens break laws if they feel they are unjust or should they always obey them? Fifty-nine percent of those interviewed answered that they should be disobeyed; five years ago, in a similar survey, only 33 percent felt unjust laws should be broken. What does this mean? Is it, as Guevara Niebla maintains, that in our country civic culture has been contaminated by a lack of respect for the law? Or is this another symptom of the deteriorating relationship between authorities and citizens that shows the lack of credibility in the system of government? We think that the answer has to do with the latter, as we hear what junior high school students have to say. A seventh grader tells us that

laws are made by people involved in politics, most of them promise changes, benefits, and seem very promising, so much so that you believe them, but this is only a mask that in the end serves to fill the pockets of others and is just for their convenience.

Another student says that

laws are made and unmade by the government to suit its convenience or needs. They are a way for the people to "defend" themselves, but they’re only used by the government to justify its actions.

Yet another secondary school student tells us that

laws are supposed to control society, but in a village like Tepoztlán, laws should only be made by people who are worthy and fair, just to avoid a catastrophe, because here traditions are really important. In Tepoztlán laws were established little by little, according to what was really needed, this is how it was done, laws have changed to benefit everyone.

Listening to the responses of these students, we can see that they differentiate between ways of legislating on a national level and traditional or local forms. We might think that in the last testimony there is a certain degree of idealization of what happens in the village, but it may also be the adolescent awareness of the current debate regarding traditional forms of government in communities with Indian roots. This leads to the discussion of another aspect that we feel is significant: the ability of children and youths to sense the political temperature of what is happening around them.

3.5 Childhood as a mirror of the political environment

We would like to comment on the attitude and emotional mood of sixth grade children during two different moments of the movement. In March 1996 we asked a group what they would do to solve the conflict; their responses were as follows:

We have to grab the traitors and not let them go until they cancel the golf club and if they don’t cancel it, well they should lynch them because they are betraying the people.

KS and its whole family should die, and the mayor should rot in jail, and Alejandro should be hung in City Hall.

The worse that can happen is a Mexican Revolution. The worse thing would be if they took our water, and we could make a revolution in the year 2000.
Kill all the traitors and the damn government; if there’s no solution, there’ll be a revolution.

The sixth grade boys interrupted each other to answer. They stood up from their seats, yelled, and talked faster and more directly than the girls. But the girls didn’t keep quiet:

Let them leave, and the people can give them back the money so KS can be reassured.

It harms the land and vegetation and water, because the land belongs to the campesinos and it should be sold back to the people again.

There’ll be war, the worse would be for the Tepoztecos who work not to work and for the children who go to school not to go.

There’ll also be a revolution and all the people will die.

During the months that followed we wondered about the intensity of these answers. Why this violence? Why do they all talk about killing? And why, even though they don’t talk about killing, all the girls mention war and death? We returned a year later to ask the same grade the way in which they felt the struggle could come to an end. These responses were completely different:

Organizing marches in front of the authorities and fighting for the land.

Shutting down the machines that are working.

Not letting them come into the village.

File a suit with the governor.

Run them out of town.

We would have told the PRI that they’re making damage, that these lands belonged to the people and if they want their money back, it’ll be returned.

Demonstrations to solve the problem and let them know that the village and its people can’t be bought, that the lands belong to Tepoztlán.

Take the lands away from them because they belong to the people.

The difference between the boys’ and the girls’ answers is not as apparent as in the first interview; they both keep participating actively, suggesting several ways to solve the problem, but their tone is more reserved and conservative. Why, a year later, do boys and girls of the same age no longer talk of killing or of dying?
Reviewing the context of what happened can help us understand the subjectivity of the young actors. At the beginning of 1996 the atmosphere in the village was tense, and many thought that there was the possibility of an armed attack. A month later, the caravan that year after year is organized to follow "the route of Zapata," was surrounded by a special police force; several of the buses were carrying women and children. Firing shots and shouting they kept the buses under a hot sun for long hours and finally a man from the village was killed. This was the most critical juncture of the struggle and from that moment forward, the intensity was reduced although the demonstrations continued. Different organizations came into being and during the night watches boys and girls played until very late. Resistance continued while elections were organized and people worked intensely so the "people’s ticket" might have a chance. Small children ran around during the meetings and kept playing during the watches; older children were present in small groups, listening to what was being said or talking among themselves.

We think that their answers were a sample of their awareness of what was happening around them. We interpret the responses of the first interview as a representation, an understanding on the part of the boys --but not the girls-- of their responsibility as men to fight unto the death for what the village was defending. We also think that the difference between this violence as representation and the actual use of violence by the State against a community that insists on being heard in something as important as land and water issues is clear.

The above speaks of the sensibility of children and youths to grasp political situations around them, the emotional intensity of the same and their ability to become involved in the conflicts their community is experiencing. The difference between the attitude among the children of our study and the apathy towards things political found in other studies makes us think about the relevance of the participation of children and youths in all community activities.

It is evident that what occurred in Tepoztlán --a community that has struggled to maintain its right to make decisions regarding its affairs in a very significant historical juncture-- is the result of a formative process that was forged through day to day activities, which offered many and diverse very intense experiences that had a profound impact on their children’s subjectivity. This is truly a "pedagogy of resistance" in which the children are totally immersed in the construction of their social and political knowledge, in keeping with local cultural values.

We must be critical of the models that are being adopted to promote children’s actions and participation. Forums and spaces in which children can express themselves are highly beneficial but we must take care to avoid creating artificial situations that encourage discussion but are lacking in experience. We must stimulate studies on the actual participation of children in popular movements, both civil and resistance, in order to know and understand their effects on the political culture of children and adolescents.

What Friedman and others (1997)16mention about the "primacy model" vis-à-vis political socialization is relevant here. The authors maintain that what a child learns in this stage of his or her life is more likely to last and shape future learning. In spite of the fact that there are other conceptions that suggest that childhood is not the best time to establish political attitudes, these authors presuppose that the most significant influences are those acquired during childhood; they consider that loyalties, identification, and the very appraisal of the political system and its representatives are constructions that are permanent despite the fact that with age this content becomes more rational and more complex.

Final comments. An ethical look at our position on globalization

The Iroquois made important decisions considering the effect they might have on five future generations. This exercise in broadening the horizon of visibility towards the future might be an effective antidote against the shortsightedness with which decisions are made in Mexican political spheres.

The children of today will have to assume the concrete consequences of the economic and social decisions that are currently being made within a global context. We must prefigure the country that future generations will inherit, taking into consideration the impact of present-day policies not only in the long run, but in the medium term.

We need to think about the possibility of finding other ways of joining the global village, of including local cultures rather then destroying them by unquestioningly adopting the neo-liberal model as the formula to access the globalization process, a tendency that has been dominant in Latin American countries.

Civil society movements, such as those of Indian resistance against State policy, are more and more common, pressuring to build a fairer social project, one that is respectful of local history and culture. As Flores Cano has stated, we need not reject modernization but we must maintain relative autonomy vis-à-vis cultural elements or technical innovations that are contrary to the needs of the society.17 This is why a region, a community or an ethnic group cannot deny its own history as it embraces globalizing tendencies.

From our point of view, we must reappraise history, traditions, and local political culture to face the challenges of global reality and we must also consider the differences among regions, ethnic groups, and communities. Mexico’s history and culture are still strong. Our country is a good example to discuss the different routes that can be taken at the inevitable hour of assuming the globalizing tendency. From a regional, community or local perspective, belonging to a broader world can take on new significance and currency.

What we have discussed throughout this paper leads us to suggest the need to listen to the voice of different social sectors at a time when collectives are being strengthened in Mexico and when there is a greater participation of civil society. We must generate spaces where the voice of children and youths can be heard, and examine what is being embedded in new generations, the different beliefs and attitudes they are developing as a response to the situations they face and to the problems that affect us all.



1La infancia vulnerable de México en un mundo globalizado, UNIVERSIDAD AUTONOMA METROPOLITANA, UNICEF, 2001

2Professors-researchers in the Department of Education and Communication, UAM-Xochimilco.

3 As regards the interviews, 78 children aged 10 to 15 were interviewed individually and seven groups of sixth to ninth graders were interviewed in schools. The interviews were recorded and later transcribed; the children’s testimonies are their exact words. Thirty-eight of the children interviewed were from families rooted in the town, while 40 were born in Tepoztlán to families who were originally from somewhere else. All the testimonies from the seventh to ninth graders are from the latter group. The interview guide is in the appendix.

4Yolanda Corona and Carlos Pérez 9 (1999), Tradición y modernidad en Tepoztlán: historias y leyendas de un pueblo en resistencia. Mexico: T.I.P.I., UAM-Xochimilco.

5Catherine Good (1996), Las fiestas religiosas en la construcción de 9 la cultura: procesos de identidad entre los nahuas del Alto Balsas, Guerrero. Paper presented at the Meeting on Identity and Region, October 31, 1996, ex-convent of Tepoztlán, Morelos.

6Information supplied by Raul Bennet, 6 who also told us that that there were demonstrations in front of the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C. against the KS project.

7L. Concheiro and A. San Vicente (1997), "Zapata cabalga de nuevo en el 7 Tepozteco," Viento del Sur, no. 9, Spring 1997, pp. 41 and 42.

8For a broader discussion of this topic, see Carol Smith (a984), "Local History in Global Context: Social and Economic Transition in Western Guatemala," Comparative Studies in society, vol 26 (1), pp. 193-226.

9;Carlos Vilas (1999), "Seis ideas falsas sobre la globalización," in John Saxe Fernández, ed., Globalización: crítica de un paradigma. Mexico: Plaza y Janés/UNAM, pp. 96 and 97.

10Víctor Flores Olea and A. Mariña (1999), Crítica de la globalidad. Dominación y liberación en nuestro tiempo. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, p. 12.

11Op. cit., p. 566.

12See Articles 12 to 15 and 30, Convention on the Rights of the Child.

13Testimony of villagers. Registry of the ex-convent of Tepoztlán, Morelos.

14O. Me3néndez. La batalla de Tepoztlán, independently produced video (Video Cine Independiente), 1995.

15Gilberto Guevara Niebla (1998), Panel on Civic Education, Ethics, and Democracy, Forum on Civic Education and Democratic Political Culture, IFE, Novembger 1998.

16Friedman (1997), Socialización y educación política de la niñez y adolescencia en la RFA y Estados Unidos, in C. Pizarro and E. Palma, Niñez y democracia, Colombia: Ariel-UNICEF.

17Enrique Flores Cano, "Siete tesis equivocadas sobre los grupos étnicos," Perfil de La Jornada, March 12, 1998.


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The group interviews consisted of open-ended questions; topics were presented to encourage group discussion. Depending on the answers, new questions were introduced until all the points were covered. Individual interviews tended to be more systematic, although they did not necessarily follow the same order as the group interviews. Following is the interview guide, with a (G) to identify a question that was asked to the group and an (I) when it was asked to an individual.

What’s happening in Tepoztlán? (G)
Who are involved in what’s happening? Who are "the people"? Who are "them"? (G,I)
What does each one want? (G)
What might happen if they build the club? (G,I)
What would you do to solve the conflict? (G,I)

SECOND STAGE (six months later):
Who are involved in what’s happening in Tepoztlán? (G,I)
What does each one want?
If they bought the land, do they have the right to build whatever they want? (G)
If the people of Tepoztlán sold the land, do they have the right to make decisions about it? (G)
Who has more rights over these lands? (G,I)
What might happen if they build the golf club? (G,I)
What benefits or harm would its construction bring? (G,I)
Who makes the laws, and what do they make them for? (G,I)
Who enforces the law? (G)
If a law doesn’t work, what should be done? (G,I)
How would you have solved the conflict? (G,I)

Do you know the legend of Tepozteco? Who knows it?
Who told you the legend?
What did Tepozteco do?
Whom was he the son of?/Who was his father?
How does he manifest himself?
What powers does he have?
What would you do if you were Tepozteco?