Otavalo Cultural Integrity and the Forces of Globalization
801 Words4 Pages
Despite common misconception, indigenous peoples the world over are remarkably free from the cultural immobility and permanence suggested of them by foreign travel brochures and “imperialist nostalgia” (87). The attitudes, perceptions and behaviors of modern Otavalos shift and grow members of the community travel overseas and sell native textiles and music in international markets. Thus, the concept of “maintaining cultural identity” must reflect the invigorating and active exchange of social, political and economic realities between people. Adaptability is an element of every human culture around the world.
Handsome profits roll into Otavalo accounts through their extensive textile industries, a complex international music scene, and annual floods of tourists for the Otavalo Saturday market. Our politically “potent tropes” of progressive/backward societies, and modern/primitive cultures are frustrated by the reality of Otavalo wealth. Yet these indigenous Ecuadorian people are no less culturally “authentic” for their organized adaptability than any other affinity of people (96). Indeed, when indigenous societies do not meet the flowery, exotic ideal of a “forgotten paradise” exhibiting a quality of “timelessness,” “foreigners often react with outrage” (87). Yet from the Inuit of Nunavut, to the Himba of Namibia to the Hawai’ians of Hawai’i, no culture is an object ready for the taking. Culture cannot be “lost like car keys” (97).
Change, however, is not without cost and the question of agency. The consequences of forced cultural subordinance, as demonstrated in by colonial era, are destructive, alienating, and endlessly residual. Cultural sovereignty and political autonomy must be vigorously defended for every people: the right to collectively determine the future of one’s own people is intrinsic to maintaining a cultural identity. Ironically, it is via interaction between people and places that we learn to fully define ourselves by our own culture among the many cultures on this Earth. Only through cultural opposition can we human beings determine who we are and the relevance of our own way of living.
In the late 1980s, local civil registrars allowed Otavalo parents to officially enroll their newborns given Quichua, rather than Spanish, names. This liberating gesture of cultural sovereignty revived common names of the indigena and permitted the Otavalo to powerfully reject the mestizaje in an explicit statement of faith in their own identity (234). In another, more complex, affirmation of autonomy, Otavalos maintain “a chameleonlike ability to meet audience expectations while still identifying as Otavalos” in selling their goods and exotic appeal on the global capitalist market (170).