The Illusion of Openness HTML version

Sydney Boles
Contemporary Indigenous Peoples in Latin America
Spring, 2012
Jacobo Schifter
The fight for indigenous identity has been fought since the first Europeans
left their boot prints in the sand. At first, the Boruca fought with bows and arrows,
with the strength of their arm and their cooperation as a unit. (Indeed, there is no
mention of Boruca in any account of the Spanish conquest of Latin America precisely
because the Boruca were the only people to defeat their conquerors. [Santos.
Personal Interview. March 9, 2012.]) Then they fought amongst each other, and for a
time they lost what it meant to be Boruca. Now they fight with the written word.
They sign contracts, meet with government officials and use the Internet to get their
message across.
But what are they fighting for? On first glance, even on second or third
glance, the little town is barely different from any other rural Costa Rican
settlement: they have pulperías, a soccer field, a school, dirt roads shared between
horses, motorcycles and delivery trucks bearing familiar brand logos. The people of
Boruca watch TV, make rice in rice cookers and have favorite American bands. They
have Facebook accounts. They lament their homework load and paint their nails.
They wear clothes that are made in China and sport American designs. Only the very
old grew up with the native tongue caressing their ears.
They have been fighting for so long: have they retained their identity at all?
The first point to resistance in Boruca must be to dissuade the notion that if
someone wears foreign clothes and eats foreign food he must have lost his culture: