Review from Arches alumni magazine, Summer 2010
Ethnic Entrepreneurs: Identity and Development Politics in Latin America
Monica C. DeHart, associate professor of anthropology
208 pages, clothback or paperback
Stanford University Press, www.sup.org
For generations, indigenous groups have been considered a hindrance to economic development. Perhaps this is because strong ties to cultural history and tradition are often seen as stuck in the past. Monica DeHart’s new book, Ethnic Entrepreneurs, forces us to rethink that view and consider how capitalist entrepreneurship and authentic indigenous culture can actually work together to promote community development.
DeHart spent a decade researching this book. Particularly fascinating is a chapter that tells the story of how the Maya in Guatemala moved away from production of corn and started making cosmetics for Wal-Mart. This is no small leap. The Maya are called “The People of Corn,” and producing corn is practically a sacred duty. Yet the people were able to embrace this new industry, developed through the work of CRDO, a cooperative rural development organization in Guatemala. They’ve kept their hand and land in corn for subsistence, but, as one grower noted, “You can’t get by on corn alone.” A big part of the change is a dramatic shift in global corn markets. DeHart does an in-depth analysis of the various cases in the book and explores the changes that have transformed indigenous groups in Latin America from perceived impediments to agents of development by capitalizing on their identities. It’s a risky business, but one they are banking on for the future.
— Greg Scheiderer