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democratic.  Let’s look at these qualities a little more closely.

Eroticism and tropicalism

There were strong elements of Orientalism and notions of the exotic “other” in  how Tehuantepec was imagined and consumed during the 1920s and 30s.   "To the average city Mexican, a Tehuana is as romantic and attractive as a South Sea maiden to an adolescent American, " wrote M.Covarrubias in Mexico South.  Tehuantepec, with its exhuberant vegetation, its dense festival life, and its beautiful, siren-like, and flirtatious (and reputedlly promiscuous and amoral) women, offered a release from straight jacket of bourgeois morality and taste, and the pressures and alienation of modern society.  Travellers such as Carleton Beals could imagine in every Tehuana beauty, a virgin there for the taking (to the double baths for $5 pesos).

Tina Modotti, Tehuanas bathing 1929


Here was a region where indigenous identity and culture, far from having been marginalised, as Indian cultures tended to be elsewhere in Mexico (particularly during the 19th century), had held its own since the Conquest.  It had done so by resisting colonialism but also by creatively absorbing European and American influences, without sacrificing its Zapotec intregrity. This Isthmus Zapotec identity was (and still is) based upon language, dress, strong regional identity/respect for the patria chica and control of the natural resources and markets of the southern Isthmus. Zapotec Indianness, embodied in the market selling Tehuanas, contrasted with the more culturally "other" (not to say hostile) indianness of other parts of Mexico (including other ethnic groups residing on the isthmus of Tehuantepec such as the Huaves and Chontales). Far more than being  a culture of resistance or retreat, this was an accessible, evolving - even quite modern -  hybrid culture that was easier to embrace and emulate than other much more different Indiannesses.

In “An Image of ‘Our Indian’: type Photographs and Racial sentiments in Oaxaca, 1920-1940”, HAHR, 2004, Deborah Poole relates how during the 1880s and 90, a local Oaxacan intellectual, Manuel Martínez Gracida, compiled a series of albums of water colours and photographs in which he documented Oaxaca’s racial and ethnic diversity, focussing particularly on the Zapotec people as Oaxaca’s original and dominant racial genealogy.  The 8 hand-written albums, entitled Los indios

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