The Guatemala Collection
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Changing Social, Political, and Physical Landscapes: Guatemala, Indígenas, and Modernization
Populated predominantly by indígenas (indigenous peoples) who speak Kaqchikel-Maya, Sacatepéquez department offers an excellent window into Latin American and Native American history. Located in the central highlands of Guatemala, it was home to two colonial capitals and is contiguous with the nation’s contemporary capital. Throughout the colonial and national eras, indigenous people farmed to feed themselves and the metropolises and broader regions that surrounded them. Through arduous and often corveé labor, they built much of the infrastructure in their communities and nation. Many indígenas found ways to survive and thrive despite discrimination. Spanning more than four hundred years, The Guatemala Collection: Government and Church Documents for Sacatepéquez (1587-1991) concentrates primarily on the national era, particularly 1824 to 1948. The documents of the collection are organized into fifty-seven distinct folder classifications that include such themes as economy, agriculture, forced labor, complaints, crime, natural disasters, municipal affairs, education, elections, military, public works, religion, public health, lands and estates, development, resignations and solicitations, regulations, festivities, and maps. Often converging at the nexus of modernization and tradition, the documents convey the complicated hybrid history of a nation striving to present itself as progressive and civilized in an Atlantic world that seldom associated those qualities with indigeneity. Penned primarily by non-indigenous elites, authorities, and scribes, the documents in this collection explore how complex ethnic, racial, class, and gender relations changed over time.
If, at the time of the Spanish invasions, many indigenous people were allied with and even assumed the role of conquistadores (conquerors), then the portrayal of Spanish soldiers vanquishing indígenas obscures more than it reveals. The ambiguous relations and roles of the diverse groups of Spaniards and indígenas who first came in contact with each other in the early sixteenth century necessarily established the foundations of a colonial system in which power, authority, and control were constantly negotiated. Even as their populations plummeted dramatically (due largely to epidemics) and the early survivors faced the deprivations of forced labor regimes, relocation schemes, religious conversion, and unfair market practices, indígenas persisted and resisted. Since subsistence agriculture was best practiced by small groups of people dispersed across the land, indigenous agricultural methods contributed to this independence. With pueblo cabildos (village town councils) that were controlled by indígenas, indigenous residents enjoyed local political power, except where the ladino (non-indigenous Guatemalan) or casta population grew internally and wrested power from the indigenous majority, as appears to have been the case in San Miguel Dueñas, one of the towns represented in the collection. In many communities, parallel organizations for indígenas and ladinos functioned at the municipal level.
Syncretism was the order of colonial rule. Even the most isolated indígenas adapted to Spanish rule and Catholicism in ways that affected their daily lives, culture, and language. Faced with colonists, government officials, and Catholic priests who exploited and abused them, many indigenous men and women revolted. They also developed less confrontational ways to expand their authority and influence. As the purveyors of sorcery, spells, and magic, indigenous women advised and emboldened men and women who wanted to escape or punish abusive colonial officials, overlords, and employers. Perhaps the best evidence of their tribulations and efforts to combat them comes from the documents’ very existence. With great alacrity, indígenas learned how to employ imperial procedures and institutions in their defense, as the petitions and legal record they left behind attest. Handing down those strategies over generations, they carried that tradition into the post-colonial period, as The Guatemala Collection demonstrates.
Pointing to Guatemala’s neocolonial state, many contemporary indígenas refuse to celebrate Independence Day. As one Maya intellectual decried, “September 15th is not a day of independence for Mayas; it is still a day of dependence.” Yet indígenas never stopped engaging the state or trying to improve their lot. With each change in political power, indígenas adapted. Evidence of nuanced ethnic, class, and gender relations emerge in The Guatemala Collection. As a number of scholars of nineteenth-century Guatemala have demonstrated, working with documents such as those accessible through The Guatemala Collection can be particularly fruitful.
When military recruiters arrived in the Sacatepéquez town of San Antonio Aguascalientes (hereafter Aguascalientes) on 24 July 1849 to conscript “all robust and rigorous naturales” (indigenous people), local officials and the families of those “torn from their work” protested that “planted fields and fincas were ruined, [and suffered] grave losses.” To combat conscription, the petitioners leveraged small- and large-scale agriculture. In petitions that belittled indígenas and the military alike, progenitors warned, “indígenas who were inclined toward vices even when they have full-time work” would become “terrible instruments against the same society” once they were exposed to the idleness of the military. “We wish to preserve . . . the naturales’ custom . . . we do not want them to lose their love of work and more importantly . . . forget the respect that they profess to authorities who are convinced they are the only useful agricultural workers,” José López explained. His mid-century praise for indigenous industriousness stood in stark contrast to his contemporaries and successors who dismissed indígenas as lazy drunks or unruly subjects even as the nation depended on their labor. When it served their interests, elites softened racist disparagement and portrayed indígenas as noble and hard working.
Given Sacatepéquez’s crucial foodstuff contributions and predominantly rural territory, agriculture forms a cornerstone of material in The Guatemalan Collection. Tension between farmers and ranchers pervaded nineteenth-century rural life. If the archival record for Sacatepéquez is any indication, many ranchers ignored laws restricting livestock mobility. “Tired of suffering damage . . . in our town,” Santiago Zamora residents petitioned the corregidor (chief magistrate) on 26 December 1849, because Tomás Jesico “mocks us” instead of “remunerating us in some way for our losses.” Jesico regularly left his cattle unattended to roam in the fields for days at a time while he was on the coast. In addition to recovering their losses, López and his counterparts wanted to prevent future ones and thus asked the corregidor to sanction Jesico. Depictions of Jesico notwithstanding, livestock owners were not necessarily exploitative or negligent; some considered themselves victims in a nation that privileged agriculture. When four of her cows escaped their pasture the following year in Ciudad Vieja and got into neighbors’ plantings, Bernarda Ramirez searched for three days before she finding them tied to a public post in the town square. With the permission of her husband, she dictated a petition to the President. Instead of notifying her, she explained, the corregidor neglected the cows, which “were considerably worse off” as a result. In an extreme abuse of the law “that even in Turkey could not be carried out against citizens much less a hard working family that subsists on ingenuity and sacrifices,” the governor refused to release the animals. Explaining that his actions were intended “to protect Agriculture,” the corregidor M. R. Bladera insisted that Ramirez’s accusations were false. Ramirez’s ability to assert herself within the confines of gendered strictures that required she solicit her husband’s approval before taking public action is as noteworthy as her knowledge (however skewed or misinformed) of the world beyond Guatemala, to which her Turkey reference hinted.
Crucial to economic development, agriculture often trumped other concerns. In an 1859 letter, the Sacatepéquez corregidor insisted, “Agriculture has become so important that it can be considered the greatest and most active source of national wealth. Convinced of this truth and treasure,” he sought to remove any barriers to agricultural production. More than twenty-five years later in 1887, the government distributed “special instructions . . . to protect agriculture and remove any obstacles . . . to its greatest development.” Although the focus of those concerns was coffee, officials recognized that both domestic and export agriculture were keys to the nation’s development.
Domestic and export production agriculture depended on indigenous labor. Keenly aware of discrimination and disparagement, indígenas sought to carve out a space for themselves in a nation that aspired to portray itself as European and modern. The 63 Kaqchikel men from Aguascalientes who penned a petition in 1886 knew the state held the potential to both help and harm them. Instead of appealing to the executive or dictator General Manuel Lisandro Barrillas (1885-1892), they sought a more systematic change: “We approach the Respectable Legislative Body, to demand an injunction and protection, so that through a law and in harmony with the founding charter [constitution], we los indíjenas [sic] expeditiously have our rights, to reclaim our freedom of work, whose limitations must be urgently defined and determined.” Keen to liberal critiques that conservative rule merely maintained the colonial status quo, the signatories embraced Guatemala’s attempt to establish independent, democratic institutions. After outlining the abuse they faced “as a result of the law that obligates us to perform agricultural labor,” they explained that they wanted “to end once and for all this slavery to which we have been condemned.” Referring to de facto rather than literal slavery, the petitioners unlikely were aware that some of the original inhabitants who settled in early sixteenth-century milpas (corn, bean, and squash plantings) came as slaves of Spaniards who owned the land, which they received in grants circa 1530. By juxtaposing the constitution—a symbol of the nation’s independence and effort to chart a just society—with the colonial vestige of forced labor and “slavery,” the Kaqchikel signatories encouraged the very legislators who regularly deployed the tropes of progress and order to match rhetoric with reality. Confident that state institutions and particularly the legal system could aid them, they wanted to “find . . . another law or arrangement that can protect us and limit the abuses to which we are victims.”
Even as they celebrated liberal ideals, these Kaqchikel men were well versed in Guatemala’s patronizing and paternalistic modus operandi: “We have faith in the dignified representatives of the nation that, inspired by the genuine support of the liberal institutions that govern us, will protect . . . la raza that until today [has been] helpless, [and] create for them the freedom to dedicate themselves voluntarily to work.” Aware that the nation’s aspiration did not match its governance, the petitioners combined the language of rights with a plea for special consideration. Despite the disadvantages they faced as “la raza,” they considered themselves citizens. “If one looks to extend progress, before anything else he should improve the condition of the citizen . . . because each one, in the orbit of their intellectual and material faculties, can be useful to himself, his fellow citizens, and the entire society,” they encouraged.
A snapshot from 1886, this petition captures indigenous realities and responses for much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Recognizing that some laws intentionally restricted their rights even to the point of condemning them to servitude and poverty, the Kaqchikel progenitors deployed other laws to protect themselves and recognized the potential of writing legislation that would guarantee their rights. With this knowledge, they distinguished between authorities who held the power to create such laws and various power brokers who intentionally exploited them. Even though the legal system sustained colonial relations and restricted their rights, indígenas knew that it could combat capricious and abusive landowners, foremen, and authorities. Therein lay a neocolonial conundrum: The very system that oppressed them held the potential to liberate them; the same class of men who exploited them also held the key to their rights.
The 1886 document also points to one of the challenges of representing indigenous historical knowledge and its production during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unlike the colonial period, when indígenas produced (albeit often under the watchful eye of Spaniards) such documents as the Anales de los Kaqchikeles and Titulos de Totonicapan, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century indigenous voices survive almost exclusively in archival materials produced by the state or non-indigenous scribes. Like colonial archival materials, these are hybrid documents wherein muted indigenous voices and frameworks fuse with emancipatory liberal conceptions of history (as suggested in the 1886 document by references to slavery, liberty, and rights).
Defying contemporary discourse and their association with subsistence agriculture and coffee labor, indigenous people were perceptive entrepreneurs. Of the 4506 coffee trees in Santa Catarina Barahona (hereafter Barahona) by 1887, the indigenous landowner José María Saqche had planted 1200 of them. That year, he harvested 10 quintalesi> of coffee beans. Five years later in San Miguel Dueñas, at least four of the fourteen farmers who planted coffee were indigenous. All had taken on debt (between fifteen and 70 pesos) to do so. In his 1898 report, the Aguascalientes mayor emphasized subsistence production and the expertise of the Guatemalans who toiled in it: “With the advantage that farmers always sow what is necessary to live, that very necessary element [corn] is always supplied.” While that observation held for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, according to other documents in The Guatemala Collection, coffee briefly dominated agricultural production in some Sacatepéquez communities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In a dramatic shift from a long-standing history of milpa agriculture, San Andrés Ceballos claimed coffee as its “principal crop” in 1899. The Guatemala Collection reveals the unique and complex ways indígenas contributed to nineteenth- and twentieth-century domestic and export agriculture production.
Grounded in local knowledge and a keen awareness of the national milieu in which they operated, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century indigenous leaders’ strategies ranged from focusing on local goals to helping national authorities co-opt the indigenous rank and file. As upwardly mobile indígenas became more successful in their endeavors, their poor and working class counterparts tended to dismiss them as traitors. Even as educated and entrepreneurial Kaqchikel’s social mobility broke with hegemonic notions of indígenas as ignorant manual laborers, indigenous elites’ efforts to improve their lot ultimately reinforced rather than subverted Guatemala’s social and racial hierarchies.
While indígenas enjoyed some success, obstacles to their development remained. In 1903, five San Lorenzo El Cubo men who petitioned for a two-year reprieve from compulsory labor argued that forced labor mechanisms undermined domestic production. “The mandamientos [labor drafts] have . . . left our families desolate and destitute . . . because of the continuous demands we have neglected our work to the extreme of not having finished harvesting [corn] nor have we prepared our fields to plant garbanzos and sweet potato. . . our agriculture has suffered a great setback. How can our families support themselves?” Although the governor’s response is lost, like their K’iche’ counterparts in Quetzaltenango who supplied the region with corn and other vital products, Kaqchikel farmers who provisioned the capital with crops enjoyed some leverage against corvée labor.
In scholarship that provides a nice framework for analyzing the documents in The Guatemalan Collection, Kaqchikel ethnohistorian Edgar Esquit traces how indigenous elites “constructed and negotiated autonomy and equality between indigenous people and ladinos.” Choosing their words carefully, Kaqchikel leaders advocated for the superación del indígena, or indigenous success. In practical terms, superación del indígena meant taking back local municipal posts from ladinos, eliminating poverty, dismantling racism, and establishing indigenous autonomy, authority, and sovereignty by assuming leadership positions in schools, health clinics, and even the military in the early to mid-twentieth centuries. Evident in the documents in The Guatemalan Collection, that strategy sharply contrasted with contemporary ladino and creole (pure-blooded Spaniard) elite discourse that celebrated efforts to civilize the Indian. As Esquit notes, “The life of the indigenous people subordinated to state and elite power is not simply resistance or self-defense, it is the result of interests, values, histories, and a struggle for self-definition.” In other words, indigenous strategies were not always counter-hegemonic; at times they reinforced state power.
A key component of superación was education. Even if they did not attain it themselves, indigenous leaders saw education, and particularly literacy, as a means to power; by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, indígenas were increasingly inserting themselves in municipal posts partly because they provided a space and justification for their literacy, which they evoked in photographs (see image 1). Through these positions and other vehicles, they established indigenous schools where Kaqchikel children could thrive. In the far more numerous state-run schools, indigenous parents advocated for appropriate learning and respect for their children when public teachers failed to deliver either.
Not surprisingly, teachers often resisted scrutiny and oversight. As school directors and local authorities pursued parent complaints, teachers objected that their superiors should support, not critique, them. One group of teachers in Barahona considered the overzealous school director “their persecutor” and a “little dictator.” (hyperlink to those two collection docs in footnotes) In his defense, the 32-year-old school director Joaquin Ordóñez López explained that he arrived at the municipal office early and visited individual schools to observe teaching and tidiness because “it was the only way to ensure that teachers attended to their work punctually.” As the documents in this collection suggest, frustration with teachers was rampant among parents, principals, and officials. A few months later, on 29 October 1946, the Barahona mayor Luis Saqche reported that students were receiving a “bad education” and wasting time with teachers who failed to show up at school, let alone fulfill their teaching obligations.
Particularly irked by racist teachers, indigenous leaders sought to create conditions whereby indígenas could wear their traditional clothing, speak their own language, and articulate their worldviews without the fear of being ostracized or punished for doing so. In a nation bent on defining itself as non-indigenous, that was no small feat. In the process, indigenous leaders charted an alternative to indigenismo — a nationalist program set forth by non-indigenous intellectuals to glorify and appropriate some indigenous influences (especially a pre-Hispanic indigenous past) even as it denigrated other indigenous characteristics and demanded indígenas’ assimilation. That the idea of superación never penetrated indigenismo discourse did not negate the importance such notions held for the indigenous entrepreneurs who developed them. Depending on the historical moment and movement, ladinos and the state viewed indígenas superados as both threats and allies. Despite discrimination, by the 1950s, increasing numbers of Kaqchikel men and women were advancing their socioeconomic positions and becoming professionals, merchants, teachers, and students.
Like those attentive to agriculture, ethnicity, and education, scholars and students interested in the burgeoning fields of Environmental History and History of Medicine will find much to inform their research in this collection. At the intersection of those fields, documentation surrounding President Lázaro Chacón’s (1926-1931) collaboration with Aguascalientes municipal officials and residents to drain a lake that propagated mosquitoes provides insight into public health and environmental management initiatives, labor relations, state power as exercised through democracy and dictatorship, municipal rivalries, agriculture, and race relations, among other topics. Although municipal leaders did not deny the public health threat posed by the lake, much was at stake for community members who relied on it for the provision of resources (fish, water, and reeds) and income (via tourism). As this environmental management and public health project unfolded, national authorities and local community members negotiated working conditions, distribution of lakebed lands, conservation, and eventually canal maintenance. Indigenous leaders and residents did not accept this invasive campaign into their lives and livelihoods without criticism. Culled from the collection, copies of selected documents have been compiled for a teaching module.
From another perspective offered via environmental history, exchanges with forest guardians in the mid-1940s shed light on the democratic reprieve from dictatorship known as the Ten Years of Spring (1944-1954). After the overthrow of Jorge Ubico’s dictatorship (1931-1944), Aguascalientes officials and residents refused to succumb to abusive and incompetent forest authorities. When community members wanted to prune trees that were creating too much shade, the Aguascalientes mayor Federico Santos López summoned the Forest Inspectors. Much to his dismay, one inspector arrived completely drunk yelling “obscene words . . . [and] making all kinds of excuses to not go” to the site. After they relented, instead of granting community members’ request to trim trees, the inspectors insisted they cut down “the young trees and not the [older] ones with signs that they would soon die.” The combination of their vulgar behavior and ignorance of their trade prompted Santos to observe that at least one inspector was a “servant of the past Regime, he did not behave with decency, now if that man did it because everyone here is indigenous, he should not think [that way], we are in an era of Democracy and not with our hands tied as past Administrations have had us.” Implying that the inspector’s behavior was born partly from racism, Santos contrasted a revolutionary government that advanced equality, Democracy, transparency, and liberty with the “capriciousness” and “brusque manner” that he associated with officials from the Ubico regime.
In addition to covering such somber topics as forced labor, epidemics, and crime, The Guatemala Collection also offers insights into popular culture. When a U.S. film crew re-arranged ancient indigenous structures to facilitate filming Tarzan in the early 1930s, local authorities immediately contacted Ubico. The correspondence that resulted offers a window into the delicate balance between protecting patrimony and encouraging foreign investment—a dance that Ubico mastered in his development of national fairs and other venues in which be highlighted Guatemalan industry alongside exhibitions of real indígenas. Another particularly rich thread throughout the collection are the land titles that date to the colonial period and subsequent documents on land distribution informed by extensive data collected from the Registro de Propiedad Inmueble by Guatemalan scholars and researchers Eddy Gaytan, Héctor Concohá, and Felix Concohá.
The vast majority of the documents—correspondence, annual reports, statistics, letters, litigation—found within The Guatemala Collection are from the Archivo General de Centro América in Guatemala City (General Archive of Central America, AGCA) and the Archivo Histórico Arquidiocesano Francisco de Paula García Pelaez (formerly known as Archivo Eclesiástico de Guatemala) or Catholic Church archive. In recent years, the latter has seldom been opened to the public. Colonial documents come from the AGCA and the Archivo General de Indias (General Archive of the Indies) in Seville, Spain. A few of the documents and transcripts come from the Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (The Center of Regional Investigations of Mesoamerica or CIRMA) in Antigua. In general, the documents are organized by place, theme, and chronology.
The Guatemala Collection contains ten series in sixty-three boxes. Eight of the series are titled after the department or municipality to which the documents correspond. The remaining two series—Colonial Documents and Secondary Sources—are titled descriptively. Although they also present findings and information concerning Sacatepéquez and its municipalities, for reasons of chronology and/or the nature of the documents, these series have been set apart from the main collection. The secondary source documents primarily authored by the donor and historian Christopher Lutz, Héctor Concohá, historian Wendy Kramer, and anthropologist Sheldon Annis are notes, commentaries, descriptions, indexes, syntheses, and analyses of materials included in the collection itself or from the archives. Although Lutz initially was explicit with his research requests, after his voluntary exile from Guatemala because of death threats in early 1981, the project took on a life of its own as Héctor Concohá continuously widened the parameters of the research. Consequently, The Guatemala Collection houses a distinct array of government, church, and civil documents that primarily concern an indigenous population’s struggle and success with the changing social, economic, political, and religious dynamics of colonial and national rule.
David Carey Jr.
 M. Restall, Maya Conquistador (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998); L. E. Matthew and M. R. Oudijk, eds., Indian Conquistadors: Indigenous Allies in the Conquest of Mesoamerica (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007); M. Restall and F. Asselbergs, eds., Invading Guatemala: Spanish, Nahua, and Maya Accounts of the Conquest Wars (University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007); F. Asselbergs, Conquered Conquistadors: The Lienzo de Quauhquechollan: A Nahua Vision of the Conquest of Guatemala (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2004).
 W. G. Lovell, “The Highland Maya,” in R. E.W. Adams and M. J. MacLeod (eds.) The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 412; M. MacLeod, Spanish Central America: A Socioeconomic History, 1520-1720 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973); C. Lutz and W. G. Lovell, “Core and Periphery in Colonial Guatemala,” in Guatemalan Indians and the State: 1540-1988, ed. C. A. Smith (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990): 35-51.
 K. Gosner, “Women, Rebellion, and the Moral Economy of Maya Peasants in Colonial Mexico,” in S. Schroeder, S. Wood, and R. Haskett, (eds.), Indian Women of Early Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997): 217-30.
 M. Few, Women Who Live Evil Lives: Gender, Religion, and the Politics of Power in Colonial Guatemala (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002)
 K. Dakin and C. Lutz, Nuestro pesar, nuestra aflicción: Memorias en lengua náhuatl enviadas a Felipe II por indígenas del Valle de Guatemala hacia 1572 (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica, 1996).
 E. Esquit, “La Superación del Indígena: la política de la modernización entre las elites indígenas de Comalapa, siglo XX.” (PhD. Diss., El Colegio de Michoacán, México, 2008), 39.
 Kab’lajuj Tijax, 9/13/97, Comalapa.
 See for example, G. Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000); R. Reeves, Ladinos with Ladinos, Indians with Indians: Land, Labor, and Regional Ethnic Conflict in the Making of Guatemala (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006); D. McCreery, Rural Guatemala 1760-1940 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994)
 Loyola-Notre Dame Library, Special Collections (hereafter LNDLSC), Guatemala Collection (hereafter GC), Box 46, Folder 1: San Antonio Aguas Calientes (hereafter SAAC). Quejas 1849-1889, Sr. Ministro de Gobernación de Mariano Rosa Blandera, Antigua, August 1, 1849.
 C. Lutz, Santiago de Guatemala, 1541-1773, City, Caste y Colonial Experience (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994).
 Esquit, “La superación del indígena,” 24-29, 374-75; Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala; Esquit, Otros poderes, nuevos desafíos: Relaciones interétnicas en Tecpán y su entorno departamental (1871-1935) (Guatemala City: Magna Terra Editores, 2002).
 Grandin, Blood of Guatemala, 120.
 Esquit, “La superación del indígena,” 12.
 Esquit, “La superación del indígena,” 12, 25-28.
 Esquit, Otros poderes, nuevos desafíos, 23.
 Esquit, Otros poderes, nuevos desafíos, 333, 343.
 J. Maxwell, “Bilingual Bicultural Education: Best Intentions across a Cultural Divide,” in W. E. Little and T. J. Smith (eds.) Mayas in Postwar Guatemala: Harvest of Violence Revisited (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009), 93-94; S. Garzon, et al., The Life of Our Language (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998); R. M. Brown, “Maya Language Loyalty Movement,” in E. Fischer and R. M. Brown (eds.) Maya Cultural Activism in Guatemala (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996), 165-77.
 Esquit, “La superación del indígena,” 32.
 Esquit, “La superación del indígena,” 23.
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