Docile descendants and illegitimate heirs: Privatization of cultural patrimony in Mexico
Breglia, Lisa Catherine
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
Archaeological ruins in Mexico, although juridically mandated as national property, are, in practice, sites of multiple, coexisting claims on ownership, custodianship, and inheritance. Focusing on more than a century of interventions by US/Mexican cultural agencies, foreign archaeologists, and private sector interests, I demonstrate how de jure policies and de facto practices of privatization have affected patrimonial claims to and understandings of "ruins" vis-a-vis (1) state policy regarding cultural materials, (2) jurisdiction and access within archaeological zones, and (3) scientific investigation and international cultural tourism. While the neoliberal state contemplates the relinquishment of territorial control over national properties through privatization, my ethnographic and archival evidence clearly supports the claim that for at least a century, the state has merely assumed---through it laws, policies, and institutional management---that sites of monumental cultural patrimony were within its firm grasp all along. In order to demonstrate this claim, I create micro-level spatial genealogies of two archaeological sites Chichen Itza and Chunchucmil) and their several associated living communities (Piste, Chunchucmil, and Kochol). The results of this study show how, at the local level, the overarching concepts of "national cultural patrimony" or "World Heritage" signal only two forms of patrimonial significance, both based on archaeological heritage's privileging of the "ancient" over and above the modern or contemporary. At Chichen Itza, federally employed site custodians understand the site as an inheritable family patrimony. At Chunchucmil, local residents consider the land coterminous with the archaeological heritage site as their patrimonio ejidal, or ejido land-grant heritage. In both cases, Maya people have been historically constructed, by archaeology, the state, as well as the private sector, as docile descendents and illegitimate heirs. The cultivation of Mexican nationalism required Maya people to be "docile descendents" playing a political and cultural role in the appropriate role in the Nation's articulation ancient ruins to Mexican modernity. Under emergent conditions of neoliberalism, they are joined by private sector entrepreneurs in becoming "illegitimate heirs" in their attempts to reterritorialize the nation's patrimony.