Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Cynthia Gorney Questions Her Own Presuppositions

This month's National Geographic magazine contained an article written by Cynthia Gorney titled Tarahumara: A People Apart. It was the usual National Geographic observations of a culture in northwest Mexico that has escaped so much of modernity through its life in the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range.

What struck me as most interesting was Ms. Gorney's description of an incident while there, followed by the statement that she made in her 'debriefing' blurb at the end of the magazine under 'People Behind the Stories.

The incident:

The Tarahumara of Mexico Evaded Spanish Conquerors in the Sixteenth Century. But Can They Survive the Onslaught of Modernity?

...I found myself envisioning electricity in Guagueyvo as a pileup of metallic chabochi objects with cords sticking out- push button grinders, digital clocks, hair dryers, the new black refrigerator, TVs broadcasting Telenovas between commercials for mascara and laundry soap. I asked Fidencia how she would react, should somebody bring all these items into her home, and she stopped looking at her daughter long enough to take me in for a moment, gravely but kindly, as though she were trying to figure out whether I could possibly be as stupid as I appeared.

"That would be very good," she said.

When I glanced at Lorena, she was trying, with Tarahumara dignity, not to laugh. (p. 89)
Cynthia Gorney's conclusion:
"The trickiest thing about writing 'A People Apart'," says Geographic contributing writer Gorney, "wasn't reaching Mexico's remote Tarahumara Indians. Nor was it getting a guarded people to talk about their way of life. It was avoiding certain biases. Any outsider," Gorney says, "including me, thinks: These people are better off with modernity held far away. But that's cultural relativism. We have preconceptions about what is and isn't right, for us and for others. To tell the full Tarahumara story," she says, "I kept reminding myself how little I understood about this place, these people." (p. 156)
I found Gorney's observation somewhat unusual. She appears to have been slapped upside the head with the unpopular possibility that American and Western culture isn't all bad and it had a positive effect. Good on ya, Cynthia Gorney!

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