The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1978, Volume 24, Number 1
Thomas L. Scharf, Managing Editor

Book Reviews

Douglas H. Strong, Book Review Editor.

Culturas en Peligro. By Miguel León-Portilla. México, D.F.: Alianza Editorial Mexicana, 1976. 227 pp. Illustrations, maps. Paper $4.10.

Reviewed by W. Michael Mathes, University of San Francisco.

The eminent Mexican ethnohistorian, Miguel León-Portilla, presents here a series of essays resulting from many years of intensive research, writing and reflection upon the indigenous cultures in North and Meso America. These essays provide a brilliant insight into cultural problems of the last quarter of the twentieth century, particularly in the Southwestern United States and Mexico.

Endangered Cultures (Culturas en Peligro) calmly and objectively approaches the problems of indigenous minorities, principally Indian and Mexican-American, as well as, generally, all Latin American, Asian and African cultures, in light of contemporary crises and historical analogies. The forces of majority economic and political power, mass media, and the ensuing loss of minority personality (“integration”) versus the desire to retain cultural identity is analyzed, as is the problem of “nepantlism” (“being in-between”); a problem widely encountered in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico.

Following an introductory chapter, Dr. León-Portilla deals with acculturation without loss of identity as reflected in the Chichimec migrations to Toltec domains in the thirteenth century, and the later religious and philosophical conquests by Spain in the sixteenth century, with resulting cultural conflicts. The cultural trauma, “Indian problem” and problems of race-culture mixture in Middle America is then treated.

Of major interest to the United States reader are chapters 6-8 dealing with problems of cultural plurality in the Southwest, the isolation of Northern Mexico, Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, immigration to the United States, cultural differences in Northern Mexico, and the cultural problems of the Navajo as a case-in-point. This deep and well-researched work is capped with a chapter reviewing the problems of the study of culture history from the “inside” and “outside”, with a strong exhortation for study from the “outside”.

In light of the extensive, and often controversial, literature in the field of minority studies, particularly of the “Chicano”, Culturas en Peligro presents a refreshing, well-thought-out and documented series of essays. This book should be read carefully by all persons interested in minority history and problems, especially those of the Mexican-American. Hopefully, an English-language edition will be forthcoming.