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Mintzi Martinez-Rivera

November 9, 2012

Mintzi Martinez-Rivera likes just about everything about Indiana University Bloomington, except winter weather and parking. Looking for a parking space on campus on a Tuesday morning is, in a word, “challenging,” and as for the weather? Well, when winter begins to arrive in Southern Indiana, Martinez-Rivera misses the warmth of her Mexican and Puerto Rican homes.

Otherwise, IU Bloomington is just about perfect, says Martinez-Rivera, a dual Ph.D. candidate in the folklore and anthropology departments in the College of Arts of Sciences.

“The folklore department here is one of a kind and the different programs for graduate studies are amazing. And the campus offers so much. IU was my first choice, no doubt,” she says.

Martinez-Rivera  enrolled at Bloomington in 2004. Since 2005, she’s been conducting research in Santo Santiago de Angahuan, a small indigenous community in the state of Michoacán, México. Her research focuses on young adults, ages 18 and up, and how those young people participate in their village community.

Martinez-Rivera explains that in Angahuan, community residents participate in rituals according to their social status. For example, during a wedding celebration, a person participates differently if he is the male relative of the bride or of the groom. Martinez-Rivera was interested to see how young adults fit into such traditional practices.

She started out documenting various kinds of rituals and festivals but quickly discovered that “one of the main things that moved the calendar in the village was the wedding. During certain times of the year, there are weddings every weekend,” Martinez-Rivera says.

Shifting her focus to weddings specifically, she began to examine how young adults are changing and transforming rituals as a way of expressing their indigenous identities.

“Indigenous identity is supposed to be static, it is supposed to preserve tradition,” Martinez-Rivera says, “but as we know, if you don’t change you die. You have to adapt.

“The new generation in Angahuan is not removed from modernity,” she continues. “They use Facebook, but they’re also members of the traditional festivals inside the community. What I discovered is that these young adults are active agents of change – but instead of contributing to the loss of traditional culture, they are actually strengthening it.”

Martinez-Rivera points to one wedding in Angahuan that struck her because of its simplicity and its rituals. Her research revealed that the rituals of the wedding she observed derived from a description that appeared in a colonial text from 1546. “What’s happening,” she says, “is that young people are picking and choosing the rituals that they want to perform.”

In the case of the modern-day wedding Martinez-Rivera observed, the young people modified the wedding by choosing the number of rituals performed. Instead of two distinct wedding celebrations, the civil wedding and the religious wedding, the couple chose to celebrate everything within three days. More importantly, the principal rituals in their celebration were those described in the 450-year-old text, with some variations.

“We need to rethink how we think of ‘traditional,’” Martinez-Rivera says. “Tradition is something that is alive and constantly changing. The young people of Angahuan are part of a new generation and part of their indigenous community.”

In summer 2012, Martinez-Rivera participated in a ritual of a different kind—that of scientific research at the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre in Malaysia. The research trip was funded in part by IU’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a National Science Foundation program. IU is one of three institutions in the Midwest Crossroads AGEP. The alliance’s goal is he goal is to increase the number of underrepresented minority graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Martinez-Rivera was invited as a social scientist. “But when I got there, they thought I was a biology student and expected me to do microbiology in the lab!” she says with a laugh.

Instead, Martinez-Rivera worked in the surrounding community to document traditional knowledge. As it turns out, she was the first anthropologist to be in residence at the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, so the scientists asked her to create protocols that would enable them to continue collecting data about the community to complement their scientific findings.

“When we went into the jungle in the mountains,” Martinez-Rivera says, “while the rest of the group collected plants, I collected stories. I gathered oral narratives and myths from the people. I asked them how the community uses the plants, and they would answer with hero-myths about how the plant knowledge was passed down and how the community came to be.”

Martinez-Rivera notes that the local researchers knew nothing of the stories that surrounded their scientific data. “We all found it amazing and fascinating,” she says. Martinez-Rivera hopes to return to the Centre to offer workshops on social science research methods.

Before that, though, she will complete her dissertation soon and start the processing of finding a new home in academia. “My parents are professors, and I’ve always wanted to be a professor,” she says. “I love academia!”

She’s looking for positions “mainly United States or Mexico,” she says – with any luck, a place with ample sunshine and parking.

 

 

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