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The Illusion of Openness


Sydney Boles
Contemporary Indigenous Peoples in Latin America
Spring, 2012
Jacobo Schifter
The Illusion of Openness:
Identity and Resistance in Boruca, Costa Rica
Marina is fifty-five years old. She has the kind of hair that might be grey or
might be black but is definitely expansive, and her sitting body resembles that of a
female Buddha perched on her holy stool. She is sorting beans with wrinkled
fingers, but her main job is weaving the traditional bags and clothes that are native
to her indigenous people the Boruca. “We’ll tell you a lot” she says in musical
Spanish. “But not everything. Some things we keep to ourselves.” (Marina. Personal
Interview. March 14, 2012.)
I asked her about a feeling I experienced during the time that I lived in
Boruca, a small town of indigenous peoples nestled in the valleys of southern Costa
Rica. On one hand, I was struck by the willingness of the Boruca people to share with
me their heritage of oral history, their crafts, their outlook on life; but on the other
hand I had the nagging feeling that there was something I wasn’t being told. When I
asked the question Marina’s wrinkled digits paused in their work. There was no
standard answer to my question.
But in that small moment in Marina’s dirt-floored home, I stumbled upon an
experience intrinsic to indigenous peoples in Latin America: as ethnic tourism
becomes an increasingly important part of indigenous life, as tribal secrets become
commodities to be traded for money, keeping hold of traditional identities turns into
a bigger challenge than ever before.
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