Crafting Identity: A good read


(Note: I’ve posted comments and summaries of the texts of several books that I have had in my Master’s in Communications degree. This isn’t one of them, though it is by one the professors I have had for said degree. But it is the book I have most enjoyed reading from that academic background. I am sharing my own perspective on the book, and doubtless have missed much of the scholarly point and may even have misunderstood some of it. For the scholarly among you, I apologize for that. For the rest of you, I encourage you to read more deeply than you usually do with my “scholarly” reviews. This one is more fun, and more worth it.)

When I saw that one of my college professors, the one teaching my next class on Communication Ethics, had published a book (mentioned in his signature line on his e-mail), I decided to go out and see what it would take to purchase it to read. I hit Amazon, took a moment to find it, and got sticker shock. Not really that bad a price for an academic book, but beyond my budget. Interlibrary loan would have to do.

So I put in a request, certain I wouldn’t get it. Yet it came into my library, less than a month after the request, a loan from the Howe Library, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT.

I checked Amazon again. The book is less than two months old from its publication date, and already six used books are available to purchase. The markdown is laughable on them. So I’ll read my ILL (InterLibraryLoan) copy within the two weeks allotted, and then get back to reading texts for the Ethics class.

The book title is Crafting Identity: Transnational Indian Arts and the Politics of Race in Central Mexico, by Pavel Shlossberg. Published by The University of Arizona press in Tucson. It really is quite a “cute” title – the book is about how native arts and crafts in Mexico are used, by both the natives and the government, to create racial and cultural identities.

The prologue tells the story of Xavier Reyes, a local leader of the Union of Michoacan Artisans in Tocuaro, Mexico. The Casa de Artesanias was making a video to promote artisans, and selected him to be featured in it, demonstrating his mask making. So he got himself presentable, and made sure to arrive on time for the appointment. But they had rescheduled four hours later and didn’t tell him. He killed time in town and came back later, to find them waiting for him.

Only they said he wasn’t ready. He was dressed like the artisans – mask makers – really dress. Only that isn’t the image people expect. The film crew made him take off his shoes and socks, put on “traditional” pants that no one wore (image of “rural backwardness”), and made him sit on the floor while carving a mask. Since Xavier was just an “Indio” they didn’t expect him to mind.

Quite an interesting story. No judgments made, just hints from the facts being presented. What tack will the book take? I guess we will find out in the introduction. The book has both a prologue and an introduction.


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