"Forgetting or Remembering, Ignoring or Listening to the Marginal People," Case Study I and Case Study II (32 pages)


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"Forgetting or Remembering, Ignoring or Listening to the Marginal People," Case Study I and Case Study II (32 pages)
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Series 4: General Papers
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Elmendorf, Mary L. (Mary Lindsay)
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A Discussion Paper

Mary Elmendorf

Analyzing the Development Decade of the 1960's, Dr.
E.F. Schumacher was concerned that:

the source and centre of world poverty
and underdevelopment lie primarily in
the rural areas of poor countries,
which are largely by-passed by aid and
development as currently practised.
(International Labour Review, July 1972).

/ r


- -^c

-146Q2- y'

Prepared for Appropriate Technology
International September 20, 1979

/ 6


There are two preliminary tasks which must be

completed prior to entering into the substance of this

paper. The first is the nature of the questions to be

addressed and the second is the intellectual/professional/

experiential perspective from which they are to be


As a new organization defines policy related to

project planning and field operations, key issues surface,

such as should we work:

1) with small organizations, private voluntary

groups -- or with government agencies?

2) in pinpointed communities.or in broad

geographic areas? or

3) with seemingly isolated* communities, left

behind in the "development process" in the

worldwide race toward "modernity."

No matter what the answers are to the

* Isolated by geographic, cultural, ethnic, religious,
political or economic forces,-both historical and

- 2 -

first two questions, we cannot ignore

the third, and this paper addresses it

directly in an effort: 1) to analyze rea-

sons.why we should work in isolated

communities, and 2) to challenge some

of the assumptions which appear to dis-

courage or discredit such an effort; and

3) to propose some avenues of possible

approaches which respond to the needs

of remote and marginal communities as

perceived by their own members.

If an agency really means that it is committed

to help the "poorest of the poor," then it is impossible

not to work with these isolated communities who lie at

the very bottom of the development heap, and who see

the gap between them and the intermediate communities

inevitably widening with each new step in the moderniza-

tion process. Even a feeder road into a previously

isolated village increases local stratification and

hence the basic inequities in what previously had

seemed a nearly equalitarian society, as indeed was

- 3 -

the case in the isolated ejido village of Chan Kom

(Yucatan). (See Case Study I attached).

That marginal people have serious needs to be met

is beyond question, but whether there is any feasible

way to work with. them in arriving at possible solutions

to some of their primary needs is indeed a reasonable

question, since they are characterized by wide dispersion,

low levels of accessibility linguistically, culturally

and geographically by strong traditions of isolation

and independence, and the overall handicap of having been

passed by in a long sequence of "development" efforts.

Some were pushed into what Aguirre Beltran* has termed

regions of refuge but others either had always been

there and remained or had voluntarily retreated to these

areas as an escape from pressures they did not understand.**

The challenge these marginal communities present to a

development agency are real and they are complex, but

* .Gonzalo Aquirre Beltran, The Regions of Refuge, 1979
The Society for Applied Anthropology, Washington Mono-
graph Number .12:1979.

** This is as true of some urban islands of poverty as
it is with the more familiar remote rural communities, the
only distinction being that the distances to them are
psychological/sociological more than physical.

- 4 -

it will be argued here -that they also posses# certain

attributes which can.be used to help them help themselves

effectively (enough to make the effort worth while) by

an agency which is seeking to provide appropriate

technologies for development.

The author presents her material from a somewhat

special point of view, that of a humanist lately come to

professional anthropology after more than twenty years of

practical field experience in development-related jobs,

preceded by training in psychology, social work and

public administration. This work has often, if not always,

kept her in touch with the "poorest of the poor," ranging

from the rural South where she grew up to the urban

ghettoes of New England and later to the most remote

villages of Southern Mexico and other parts of the world.

For the past ten years .she has done research with Mayan

agricultural subsistence communities in rural Yucatan.

The scope and variety of the problems she has encountered

have gradually but irrevocably led to the cross-cultural

and interdisciplinary commitment which has pervaded both

her work and her writings as has her concern that the

- 5 -

total communities be involved, including the women, with

the focus on improving the quality of life within the

individual households.

This paper, therefore, begins with the assumption

that problem-solving which involves the marginal peoples of

the world will nearly always depend on the skills and

insights of more than a single discipline and above all with

the people themselves and consequently, that expectations of

successful outcomes can be higher when prospective problem-

solvers keep this fact at the forefront of their planning.


We might as well begin with the assumption that

"isolated" communities function as self-sufficient and

self-determining social groups, a popular point of view,

but one which in fact does not often correspond with

today's realities.

This paper uses the term "seemingly isolated" be-

cause rare indeed are truly isolated or totally autonomous

N2 KI) 7-

TW/^^^ /0^< /^^ ^^ ^ 1^

- 6 -

communities. As Redfield* (1934), and Foster** (1967)

pointed out, and Fromm and Maccoby*** (1978) reminded us

recently, all communities.,.even seemingly isolated

villages, are only part-societies, since they must be

responsive to the changing social, economic, and

cultural movements of the cities and thus remain de-

pendent in great part on national plans and agencies.

For example, the process of obtaining even the simplest

of facilities such as.piped water forces even remote

rural (or urban slum) people to comply with unimaginable

bureaucratic regulations. It is important to under-

stand this if one wishes to comprehend the problems of

small-scale societies in.relationship to larger more

complex social networks and the linkages between the


A second assumption often made about marginal

peoples is they are left out of the development process

because they are unproductive (or minimally productive)

Redfield, Robert and Alfonso Villa Rojas, 1934,
Chan Kom, A Maya Village. Washington: Carnegie Institute

** Foster, George M., 1967, Tzinzunzan: Mexican Peasants
in a Changing World. Boston: Little, Brown.

*** Fromm, Erich and Michael Maccoby, Social Character
in a Mexican Village: A Socio-psychoanalytic Study,
Englewood, Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1970.
^^n/(cJ "yea t

6aI 4/c^J'''^ '^c^j/^<-/ ,7^ /W&

- 7 -

and that efforts to help them have little or no effect

on national economies.* To some extent, this argument

can be dispelled by the sheer numbers of people in-

volved -- about 75% to 80% of the world's population

still live in or close to marginal circumstances -- but,

as Aquirre Beltran points out, they have become "marginal"

in the main because their productivity has been and

continues to be exploited by others, mostly by power

groups, whose immediate interests are best served by

maintain the status quo. Thus, the formation of

small village sewing cooperatives by rural peasant

women to produce handicrafted embroidery and by-pass the

traditional middleman by resorting to direct marketing

is initially resisted by the organized commercial

* Here, we are dealing with an area of development theory
sometimes referred to as the theory of unequal develop-
ment. It is also referred to in the literature as "the
theory of dependent development" or as "peripheral capitalist
development." See discussion pp. 34-37, in Deere, "The
Division of Labor by Sex in Agriculture" Ph.D. Research
Paper, Department of Agricultural Economics, University
of California, Berkeley, 1975.

- 8 -

community as disruptive to trading patterns and less

profitable for the established entrepreneurs.

Another assumption which makes agencies hesitate

to work with remote communities, particularly in tradi-

tionally societies, is that they are "conservative"

and therefore, a priori, resistant to change. When

the overall goal of a development-related program is

the introduction of appropriate technology, attempting

thereby to "change" the ways things are done, or the

things that are done, it is not a comforting prospect

to initiate those efforts in the face of presumed total

and inevitable resistance to change.

As it happens, readiness to accept change may be

generally prevalent in remote or marginal societies.

Their very isolation may in fact have forced on them

an image of their own identity which includes and encourages


In case I, attached, isolation and traditional Maya

culture helped give this village pride and identity.

Y/v /c- -/ j (_-/j) . ./..0 4
44 i" "
^ ~~/o^ ^w^ ^ k J

..: ^ ^-^^a^^^f^ ^ An./

- 9 -

Identity, in fact, plays a very important
and largely unrecognized part in some
development situations. Often the kind
of behavior adopted in a village or in
any group is closely related.to .the
image this group has of itself. If the
image stresses an identification with
the outside world, an environment suit-
able for development is created . .
There will be agreements to change
local customs.*

Good contacts with outside people-agency representatives,

missionaries, even anthropologists-become possible.

Whether they will accept change may well

depend on-their ability to feel competent to cope with

its consequences. There is a growing literature in which

scholars are beginning to recognize the modernizing

aspects of tradition. Modernity and tradition are no

longer perceived as being radically contradictory, but

rather as different. Traditional societies have the

capacity for welcoming change (or rejecting it) accord-

ing to community based criteria of its validity with their

own perception of needs. "There must be apparent incentives

on the side of adaptation, innovation, and change before

* David Pitt, Development From Below, Mouton Press, The
Hague, 1975:16.

- 10 -

some kind of dialogue between new and old arises."*

As George Foster said so well:

People will change- traditional-behavior,
i.e., innovate (1) if they perceive
personal, economic, social, psychological,
health, or other advantages in so doing;
(2) if they perceive change is a realistic
possibility for them; (3) if the economic
costs are within their capabilities; or
(4) if the social costs do not outweigh
the perceived advantage.**

A cursory review of Rogers*** reveals that the

literature on innovation in general is vast and contradic-

tory. There has been the wide acceptance of the so-called

"S-curve" by many development writers. This postulates

that in the population, one will find early, gradual, and

late-adopters of an innovation. The fallacy of this model

is that it assumes that the innovation is suitable for all,

or at least a great majority, of the population which is

not necessarily the case. A good test for the definition of

innovator characteristics requires multiple integrated in-

terventions in which virtually all members of a community

Rudolph, Lloyd and S. Hoeber Rudolph. The Modernity
of Transition, Chicago, University of Chicago Press,

** Foster, George, Traditional Societies and Technological
Change, New York, Harper and Row 1973, (1st edition, 1962)

*** Rogers, Everett, Communication of Innovations, N.Y.
The Free Press, 1962, etc.

- 11 -

have a realistic opportunity to participate or innovate at

some level.

7 fourth and final assumption bears on the concepts

of local participation and/or local leadership. As
Farrell* points out: "Leaders exist to serve some prior

interest. Sometimes this interest may coincide with the

goals of the project, at other times not. To accept

as truth the time-worm phrase 'work through local leaders'

may not be the optimum strategy for introducing a new

technology of whatever nature." Goodenough** (1963) has

gone still further: "To deal only with leaders is, in

effect, to make them one's interpreters and to invite all

the distortions that are entailed." (1963:396).

Here we are dealing not so much with erroneous

assumptions as with incomplete ones. "Take me to your

leader" has become a comic ploy which, taken seriously,

is an obvious commentary on the uncritical and automatic

assumption that cooperation from existing village leader-

ship will necessarily be the sina qua non of success.

* Farrell, Timothy, Consultants Report for World Bank
Research Project on Appropriate Technology, mimeo, 1977.

** Goodenough, W.H., Cooperation in Change, M. Russell
Sage, 1963.

- 12 -

In a similar view,.it cannot be automatically assumed

that "community participation" will result in harmonious

acceptance of change since,-to quote Farrell again:

In the case of many attempts at
diffusing an innovation, the technology
introduced is often suitable, or cost-
beneficial, for only some segment of the
population. That is, the risk of adoption
is only a risk for already marginal farmers,
while those who are comparatively well-off
can absorb the risk and place it in the
category of an experiment.

Finally, no one questions the basic wisdom of

identifying sectors or individuals in any community whose

evident readiness to consider change offers hope of its

acceptance, but perhaps insufficient attention has been

directed at the prospective characteristics of these

people. It is possible, for example, to seek out

entrepreneurial types who can be expected to take hold

of a new idea, recognize its potential for them or for

their community and proceed to promote and even exploit

it, with the ever-present threat that they will end up

exploiting the less powerful members of their community.

In contrast, an application of the "user's theory" of

selecting community decision-makers hinges on the

- 13 -

essential elements of the technology (or concept).to be

introduced, and the ultimate key to user acceptance of

any project is the level and nature of community partici-

pation of those who will in fact be using it.

Marginal societies do include these varied kinds

of individuals and groups. Whether urban- and congested

or rural and remote, the human elements needed for the

introduction of almost any appropriate technology can

be found. In the following section we will discuss some

of the ways in which people can most effectively be

involved in the development of their own communities.

Most anthropologists have a little of the historian

in them; consequently, one of the first questions they

like to ask (about any project or community) is:

What has gone on up until now? Determine the antecedents

of the actual situation in as much depth as possible to

avoid jeopardizing new projects. If adequate attention

is paid to previous projects of a similar nature -

especially any which have failed and to the whys of

the political structure under which they were introduced,

- 14 -

there is always the possibility.of avoiding repeating

prior errors.* Oral histories taped for the village

record and for agency use can .be most effective.

Extremely isolated communities which have not

had the bad projects, the failures, are easier to work with

because they have not been "burned". They still have

hope, pride and self-identity.


The policy of ATI, as I read the materials, is

based on the user's philosophy, in which ideally all

projects are built around the goals identified by the

community. But if we as change agents are to use the new

strategy of responding to the felt needs of the poorest of

the poor people, and if we rely on their problem-solving

capabilities as they define them we have to be able to hear

what they are saying, or as Owens says, "to think. like

them." Vicariousness, affinity, empathy the ability to

imagine how the project will feel to the people of the

* Caceres, Roberto and Berta Salinas, "San Pedro La
Laguna, Solola. The Introduction of an Innovative
Sanitation Technology," in M. Elmendorf and P. Buckles,
"Socio-Cultural Aspects of Water Supply and Excreta
Disposal," Public Utilities Report #RES 15, World Bank

- 15 -

project area and their perceptions of it are usually

the most neglected aspects of planning.

The reasons for failure and successes are seen

primarily as managerial, organizational or institutional

rather than as being related to factors inherent in the

project itself or to the community perception of it.

The new services which isolated communities are

seeking, or maybe only dreaming about for themselves or

their children are usually related to better education

and health, or to economic alternatives to supplement

their meager incomes. The economic need often begins

as a migratory search for additional cash income to

supplement a subsistence economy, which has become in-

creasingly precarious due to the population explosion,

environmental degradation/decline, soil exhaustion, pollu-

tion or to some disaster, earthquake, flood, or disease,

human or animal. In the plight of the Marias, who had fled

to Mexico City from a poverty stricken area devastated

even more by the loss of their livestock following the

AFTOSA commission effort to stop hoof and mouth disease, we

see the vicious circle of marginality/isolation, both rural

- 16 -

and urban. (See Case Study II attached referring to

Lourdes Arizbe's excellent studies, Las Marias, SEP./70,

1976, Mexico.)

In analyzing the case studies done as a part of

the World Bank Research Project on Appropriate Technology

for Water Supply and Waste Disposal ie found.. .

r tpbtt t t-socially appropriate
technical designs may encourage users to
choose a technology. However, socially
appropriate methodologies for introducing
the technologies are needed to ensure
widespread user adoption, and socially
appropriate organization and management
systems within responsible agencies are
needed for rapid diffusion of the

Felt Needs -- User's Philosophy

The social science techniques which have been found

most useful in determining existing attitudes and practices

as well as in designing more acceptable and effective

projects are those in which the local people were most

involved in the identification of community felt needs and


* Elmendorf and Buckles (1978) op. cit.

- 17 -

When problem solving approaches are substituted for

the mere introduction of a .technology, the result is dia-

logue between community users and agency facilitators or

social scientists involved in project promotion and research.

Face-to-face communication raises awareness of al-

ternative opportunities and defines problems and priorities.

Ultimately, the joint analysis by community and agency leads

to a feasible solution or.action plan.

The figure below describes this interchange in

which the ensuing dialogue becomes a process of search

and retrieval.


/ 4

Ousd Outside RESOURCES Inside

SChange- rch

Adaption from Havelock in J. Rothman in
Planning and Organizing for Social Change
1974, Columbia University Press, New York.

- 18 -

Users make decisions on the basis of what seems

logical to them, including their perceptions of benefits

or costs. Social costs such as offense to kin or friends

may well have equal or greater influence than economic

costs and benefits.*

This problem-solving approach depends on a "develop-

ment from below" or "bottoms-up" approach on the part of

the agency combined with a "learning" approach for the

community. "Far more attention needs to be paid to the

differing social contexts of development, especially

at the grass-roots level, and to the complexity of the

social relations involved in the exchange of goods and

services."** The search and retrieval process which takes

place provides the agency with the data needed about the

community in order to select appropriate alternatives,

and the community with insight into its own situation and

awareness of opportunities for change.

The ultimate key to user acceptance of any pro-

ject is the level and nature of community participation.

* Miller F. and C. Cone, Yalcuc-Revisited, 1978, World
Bank, mimeo.

** Pitt, David, Development from Below, The Hague, Mouton,

- 19 -

The problem-solving approach does require a greater amount

of communication between agency and community in the initial

stages, which in turn helps to achieve effective community

participation in choosing a technology which will .have

relative advantages over previous methods and be compatible

with the users' present. values, attitudes, and institutions.

The field methods used to achieve this must be

flexible to relate to local populations, agencies, and

research personnel as well.as to the overall needs and

available data. A holistic approach in which the

perceptions of their environment by the people, as in-

dividuals and as a part of a cultural group, need to be

taken into consideration along with those of experts and

officials. A combination of. techniques which involves

questioning--both structured and unstructured--observing,

and listening is most effective in obtaining reliable

data.* Local people leaders and followers, men and

women, students and the elderly can be active participants

* See Whyte, Anne V.T., Guidelines for field studies in
Environmental Perception, UNESCO, 1977 (an excellent

- 20 -

in the process. Quantitative data needs to be supplemented

with other more qualitative materials to understand the

problems and plan creatively. The choice of the most

effective methods depends on training, rapport and

empathy of the available field personnel as well as on

the dynamics of the community. Diversity and flexibility

of approach are recommended with emphasis on communication

skills. Experience in the successful management of

credit unions, cooperatives and joint community ventures

would serve well and illustrate the kind of human abilities

which are called for.

Social Science Inputs into Project:Design

For discussion and planning see the chart on

the next page for Technology.Design, Means for Diffusion,

and Motivation for Adoption.



Technology Design

The innovation

- is technically feasible.

- is cost efficient.

- can be understood by users.

- fulfills user-needs and expec-

- is affordable.

- can be user maintained.


Means For Diffusion

Channels and systems exist for:

- responsive administration.

- promotion of activities and
health education.

efficient service delivery.

instruction on operation.

training in maintenance..

effective delegation'of authority.

periodic monitoring.


The communities have input into

- project initiation.

- design (choice in level of ser-
vice, location, etc.).

- scheduling labor intensive acti-

- instruction on operation.

- training in maintenance.
- frequency and mechanism for fee
- authority to enforce sanctions.


Research of Target Area Evaluation of Exisng Institutions Consultation and Community Orga0ization
and Programs p

SOurce: M. Elmendorf & P. Buckles, "Socio-Cultural Aspects of
Water Supply and Excreta Dis 1," Public Utilities
Report #RES 15, World Bank, .

- 22 -

In this short paper.there is not time to discuss

all the different do's and don't, but since we are dis-

cussing community participation and the dialogue approach

I suggest, that.-large community meetings be. held before

trying to determine the leadership components of a pro-

ject. This is particularly crucial in larger communities

where numerous factions compete. Some writers have argued

that formal communication is a relatively ineffective means

for communication (Neihoff 1966:16). But it is educational

as well. As a consequence it is recommended that a number

of formal meetings be held before any leadership group or

committee is formed. This will help to ensure that a large

number of people are informed-of intentions, objectives and

rationales for a project before they are asked to parti-

cipate or collaborate with it. Also women should be

involved in these meetings, both the formal and the in-


Once a committee is chosen by the community, it

seems important to continue town meetings on a regular

basis. This can be an effective way to clarify the nature

and aim of the project, and to redefine objectives and

recommend changes.

S- 23 -

And most importantly, ATI must keep its innovative

approach and not .catch that dreadful disease, .projectismo,

"a situation in which the plan is the only sacred

reality."* This endemic ailment almost certainly.leads

to thinking about the introduction of any new technology

as a simple linear operation, with a foreseeable beginning

middle and end. Rather than linear, however, effective

programs tend to be circular, beginning with a search

which continues as a repeated search-and-retrieval

sequence, a kind of on-going dialogue with the community

which gradually helps them achieve antonomy and control,

learning the skills needed to attain the increased

productivity and independence which was the true.goal

of the project.

Once again it needs to be pointed out that affinity

and empathy are essential traits required of agency staff

who will find that they are not only participating in

"grass roots" planning, but also in on-going mutual

evaluation, not supervision and monitoring alone, but

also involvement. As catalysts/linkers with other

* Fayerweather, J.,. The Executive Overseas, N.Y. Syracuse
University Press, 1959:77.

- 24 -

networks both horizontal and vertical, formal and

non-formal .-, staff can speed up recognition of success-

ful appropriate technologies and their diffusion to

others,/ moving from pilot projects to models..- ^ /li47

For policy makers the long familiar ."top-do

program planning is easier aProjects are designed,

pipe lines are established and laid down, budgets

N' are set, cost-benefits pre-calculated and monitoring

or evaluation processes programmed. It is al ia I


Sf to do if the ou when te

tar-. :opened. 7 _. X

In analyzing some of the technical briefs pre- i 4

pared by A.T.I. staff it clear that they

ef both innovative and creative in responding t //

village problems/needs. M pric that in a

relatively short period, seme patterns of response

to the introduction of appropriate technologies will
4 X&4,;4" &x// d6& f4 Z 40Vw/kA
become evident., But, in the meantime policy planners

need to be flexible, be quickly responsive

to their several experimental projects. Both staff

-7c'+(4& '- "4 y / ; ,tw/i^z/'c' "f{ .'

i fo


- 25 -

time and field budgets will necessarily need to be

expanded during this exploratory period if A.T.I. is

to work in isolated marginal areas, among the poorest

of the poor.

The take-off will usually be slower but the

journey, may well be longer and safer and the destina-

tion one which.is worth the trouble of reaching.

./ .Z/--- Z I / -" A& ^i -

417' 62I*6J,

Case Study I .Chan Kom

In Chan Kom, Yucatan, I have been observing the

transition of an isolated ejido village, into which I

walked for 2-1/2 hours over a jungle trail just ten years

ago, into a modernizing community trying to live in two


Today, 40 of the 95 household have one or more

of their members working outside of the village part or all

of the time, mostly in Cancun, the tourist zone on the

Caribbean, but only one of 131 families has given up its

rights to membership in the ejido. Most of the wives

continue to live in the village and the others come back

to have their babies, even the ones with Social Security

and rights to free hospital care outside of.the village.

More and more are sending their children back to go to

the village school, now that there are 5 years of

primary education. Most husbands and many sons come

home every other week, to see their families, eat home

cooking, even though often only beans and tortillas, and

have clothes washed,.to do "fagina" (labor on community

projects) or just to check on their cornfields and walk

around the plaza. A number have taken lower paying jobs

- 2 -

aearer home in order to come back nightly and more. would

io so if there were steady employment, in order. to be

with their family and friends. Money is not everything.

They do recognize the disorganization in their. lives,

the violence and the anomie in the barrios of Puerto

Juarez where they live while working at service or

construction jobs in the Cancun tourist zone. Some with

Dne year of formal school or even less have carved out

aew careers as pastry cooks, learning to make French

pastry or as chefs, boiling lobsters and making pasta.

rhe personal network which have made these things possible

fits into the theories of peasants coping in cities

(see Kemper, Lomnitz.) But the cities are also coping

with these peasants. Is there a better way?

The people of Chan Kom keep trying to improve living

conditions in the village. Since 1971, many improvements

have come following the completion of a feeder road:

electricity, water, a park, more schools, a small clinic,

But still there are no sanitary facilities,,not even a

latrine and only three stones on the earth floors for

cooking. But the urban workers enjoy coming home and

- 3 -

have kept coming, bringing expensive stereos to share

their music and refrigerators to cool their drinks.

In this village, "The Village that Chose Progress"

the local leaders, with community support, talked to

state politicians and government agency representatives,

anthropologists, local school teachers, volunteers, and

missionaries. They learned how to make petitions for

special projects, village maps, and surveys indicating

needs and hopes. They are learning the ropes.

People ask: "Is Chan Kom typical of other Maya

communities? . Does the fact that 30% of the married

women in Chan Kom have accepted family planning mean

that other villages will respond to the same approach?"

My answer is that Chan Kom is not atypical. The

people of Chan Kom feel, as they should, that they have

accomplished these things by helping themselves, by

hard work and a desire for change.

Elmendorf, Mary, The Mayan Woman and Change, CIDOC,
Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1972; La Mujer Maya y el cambio,
SEP/Setentas, Mexico, 1973; "The Mayan Woman and
Change" in Women Cross-Culturally: Change and
Challenge, Ruby Leavitt, ed.; Mouton, The Hague
Netherlands, 1975; Dilemmas of Peasant Women" in
Women and World Development ed. Tinker and Bo Bransen,
1976a, Overseas Development Council; Nine Mayan Women:
A Village Faces Change, John Wiley, New York, 1976b;
(Changing Roles and Status of Maya Mothers and daughters)
in Women and Technological Change, eds. M. Cain and
R. Dauber, West View Press, 1979.

Case Study II: Las Marias, Mexico City

An example of a most poignant human plight is that

of the colorful Indian women vendors, with their native

costumes and their similarly dressed little children beside

them -- the Marias* selling fruits, the Juanas, nuts who

were considered by the "modern" officials of Mexico City

colorful eyesores, but also an embarrassment, a visual

symbol of the breakdown in Mexico's development. When

Mexico City was being painted and readied for the Olympic

games in 1968, the Mayor decided that something had to be

done. These women must be.removed. Just forcing them off

the streets was not considered an adequate solution. What

could be done to help them survive? Was it reorientation

and/or training to teach these nonSpanish-speaking women to

be maids or cooks? There was ready employment among the

wealthy, but the Juanas and Marias didn't want to work as

servants to the middle class. They wanted to be with their

children, and with their husbands, who often helped them

stockpile goods from the market, and with whom they lived in

enclaves, in, shall we say, marginal communities in the

* L. Arizpe has studied and described the "Marias". See:
Las Marias, Sep/70, Mexico, 1976 and "Women in the Informal
Labor Sector: A Case of Unemployment or Voluntary Choice."
Wellesley Conference, 1976.

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bowels of Mexico City. So, they are still there, still on

the streets.of Mexico City. Anytime you look you'll still

see the Juanas and Marias, living symbols of the vitality of

the transplanted "marginal people."

Clearly, the answer is not to make these women

into maids and lottery ticket vendors. The problem is

deeper; it is both their problem and the problem of the

growing/dying.cities, and its.roots lie in the rural

area they left, often left because survival was no longer


The Juanas and the Marias first appeared on the

streets of Mexico City after aftosa (hoof and mouth

disease) had ravaged their cattle, and killed their live-

stock. Already their land had been poor, dependent only

on the seasonal rains, but it had been their home and, as

home and roots vastly preferred to migration. Could

they have stayed? Might there have been a solution back

in the village? Could some appropriate technology have

met their needs? Would a small industry -- like the

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cookie factories which Spain has scattered through its

rural areas have prevented this disruptive migration?

Would something like the'mango factory or the cassava

industries that ATI is supporting have helped? The question

remains unanswered, but the implications are clear. There

is a need to recognize the existing and potential linkages

between these seemingly isolated peoples and the outside

world, to identify the services they want in order to

improve the quality of their lives and those of their

children. That is one of the keys to working effectively

with them. What are their networks to urban areas?* How

did they develop? How are they used? For what? Can these

networks become a part of a training process, an experi-

mental learning?

* L. Lomnitz, Networks and Marginality, N.Y. Academic
Press, 1977.