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Caribbean - Central America (Costa Rica - El Salvador - Guatemala - Honduras & Belize -   Nicaragua - Panama)  - Mexico


Specific cultures: Aztec - Kuna - Maya - Mixtec & Zapotec - Tarahumaria - Ticos 

For books about the Latino American experience see the Immigrant Lives page



Serpent and the rainbow / Wade Davis

299.67 DAVIS 1985

In April 1982, ethnobotanist Wade Davis arrived in Haiti to investigate two documented cases of zombis—people who had reappeared in Haitian society years after they had been officially declared dead and had been buried. Drawn into a netherworld of rituals and celebrations, Davis penetrated the vodoun mystique deeply enough to place zombification in its proper context within vodoun culture. In the course of his investigation, Davis came to realize that the story of vodoun is the history of Haiti—from the African origins of its people to the successful Haitian independence movement, down to the present day, where vodoun culture is, in effect, the government of Haiti’s countryside. 

Voodoo in Haiti / Alfred Maetraux

133.47 METRAUX 1972

Voodoo in Haiti is a masterwork of observation and description by one of the most distinguished anthropologists of the twentieth century. Alfred Métraux (1902–1963) has written a rich and lasting study of the lives and rituals of the Haitian mambos and adepts, and of the history and origins of their religion. It is an accurate and engaging account of one of the most fascinating and misunderstood cultures in the world.

CENTRAL AMERICA (not specific to one people)

Anguilla, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curaco, Dominica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama, Puerto Rico, Tobago, Trinidad.


Brewing justice : fair trade coffee, sustainability, and survival / Daniel Jaffee.

301.29721 JAFFEE 2007

Fair trade is a fast-growing alternative market intended to bring better prices and greater social justice to small farmers around the world. But is it working? This vivid study of coffee farmers in Mexico offers the first thorough investigation of the social, economic, and environmental benefits of fair trade. Based on extensive research in Zapotec indigenous communities in the state of Oaxaca, Brewing Justice follows the members of the cooperative Michiza, whose organic coffee is sold on the international fair trade market. It compares these families to conventional farming families in the same region, who depend on local middlemen and are vulnerable to the fluctuations of the world coffee market. Written in a clear and accessible style, the book carries readers into the lives of these coffee producer households and their communities, offering a nuanced analysis of both the effects of fair trade on everyday life and the limits of its impact. 

The broken village : coffee, migration, and globalization in Honduras / Daniel R. Reichman.

301.297283 REICHMA 2011

In The Broken Village, Daniel R. Reichman tells the story of a remote village in Honduras that transformed almost overnight from a sleepy coffee-growing community to a hotbed of undocumented migration to and from the United States. The small village―called here by the pseudonym La Quebrada―was once home to a thriving coffee economy. Recently, it has become dependent on migrants working in distant places like Long Island and South Dakota, who live in ways that most Honduran townspeople struggle to comprehend or explain. Reichman explores how the new "migration economy" has upended cultural ideas of success and failure, family dynamics, and local politics.

Silent looms : women and production in a Guatemalan town / Tracy Bachrach. Ehlers

301.297281 EHLERS 2000

Based on new fieldwork in 1997, Tracy Bachrach Ehlers has updated her classic study of the effects of economic development on the women weavers of San Pedro Sacatepéquez. Revisiting many of the women she interviewed in the 1970s and 1980s and revising her earlier hopeful assessment of women's entrepreneurial opportunities, Ehlers convincingly demonstrates that development and commercial growth in the region have benefited men at the expense of women.

To die in this way : Nicaraguan Indians and the myth of mestizaje, 1880-1965/ Jeffrey L. Gould

301.297285 GOULD 2007

Challenging the widely held belief that Nicaragua has been ethnically homogeneous since the nineteenth century, To Die in This Way reveals the continued existence and importance of an officially “forgotten” indigenous culture. Jeffrey L. Gould argues that mestizaje—a cultural homogeneity that has been hailed as a cornerstone of Nicaraguan national identity—involved a decades-long process of myth building.

MEXICO (not specific to one people)


Bakers and Basques : a social history of bread in Mexico / Robert Weis

972 WEIS 2012

Mexico City’s colorful panaderías (bakeries) have long been vital neighborhood institutions. They were also crucial sites where labor, subsistence, and politics collided. From the 1880s well into the twentieth century, Basque immigrants dominated the bread trade, to the detriment of small Mexican bakers. By taking us inside the panadería, into the heart of bread strikes, and through government halls, Robert Weis reveals why authorities and organized workers supported the so-called Spanish monopoly in ways that countered the promises of law and ideology. He tells the gritty story of how class struggle and the politics of food shaped the state and the market. More than a book about bread, Bakers and Basques places food and labor at the center of the upheavals in Mexican history from independence to the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution.

Chocolate and corn flour : history, race, and place in the making of "Black" Mexico / Laura A. Lewis.

301.29721 LEWIS 2012

Located on Mexico's Pacific coast in a historically black part of the Costa Chica region, the town of San Nicolás has been identified as a center of Afromexican culture by Mexican cultural authorities, journalists, activists, and foreign anthropologists. The majority of the town's residents, however, call themselves morenos (black Indians). In Chocolate and Corn Flour, Laura A. Lewis explores the history and contemporary culture of San Nicolás, focusing on the ways that local inhabitants experience and understand race, blackness, and indigeneity, as well as on the cultural values that outsiders place on the community and its residents.

Decade of betrayal : Mexican repatriation in the 1930s / Francisco E. Balderrama

973.0468 BALDERR 2006

Introduction : saludos -- Immigration : al norte -- The family : la vida -- Deportation : adiâos, migra -- Welfare : el condado -- Repatriation : afuera -- Revolutionary Mexico : para los Mexicanos -- Colonization : pan y tierra -- Adjustment : agringados -- Accommodation : al otro lado -- Repatriation in retrospect : quâe pasâo? 

The hot and the cold : ills of humans and maize in native Mexico / Jacques M. Chevalier.

301.29721 CHEVALI 2003

Based on extensive field work in southern Veracruz, this innovative study details folk tales and stories of illness from indigenous people, and provides explanations that emphasize the close connections between healing practices, milpa cultivation, and corn mythology. These close connections reveal that human health and the life cycle of the corn plant are governed by the same principles founded on native concepts of the hot and the cold. Notions of what is frío and what is caliente pervade the ways in which the Nahuas and Zoque-Popolucas of the Sierra de Santa Marta think about their relationship with the land and all entities that surround them, including fellow humans, plants, animals, and spirits. By revealing the connections between ethnomedicine, agriculture, and mythology, Chevalier and Sánchez help clarify puzzling aspects of Mesoamerican religion and symbolic thought, and lead the way towards better understanding of indigenous worldview in the modern world.

The Irish soldiers of Mexico / Michael Hogan.

972.05 HOGAN 2011

 One of the least-known stories of the Irish who came to America in the 1840s is that of the Irish battalion that fought on the Mexican side in the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-1848.  They came to Mexico and died, some gloriously in combat, others ignominiously on the gallows.  United under a green banner, they participated in all the major battles of the war and were cited for bravery by General López de Santa Anna, the Mexican commander in chief and president.  At the penultimate battle of the war, these Irishmen fought until their ammunition was exhausted and even then tore down the white flag that was raised by their Mexican comrades in arms, preferring to struggle on with bayonets until finally being overwhelmed by the Yankees.  Despite their brave resistance, however, 85 of the Irish battalion were captured and sentenced to bizarre tortures and deaths at the hands of the Americans, resulting in what is considered even today as the "largest hanging affair in North America."

Land of the cosmic race : race mixture, racism, and blackness in Mexico / Christina A. Sue.

301.29721 SUE 2013

This is a richly-detailed ethnographic account of the powerful role that race and colour play in organizing the lives and thoughts of ordinary Mexicans. It presents a previously untold story of how individuals in contemporary urban Mexico construct their identities, attitudes, and practices in the context of a dominant national belief system. 

Mariachi / Patricia Greathouse.

781.62972 GREATHO 2009

Description: What is mariachi? -- History of mariachi music -- Instruments and song forms -- Screen stars and early mariachis -- Living legends -- Making a living -- The rise of modern mariachi -- Education and conferences -- Recipies in the spirit of mariachi. 

Line in the sand : a history of the western U.S.-Mexico border / Rachel St. John.

325.7387 STJOHN 2012

"Remarkably well-told tale of the origins of the U.S.-Mexico border line and the social, economic, and political developments it has generated over more than a century and a half. . . . She clearly aims to tell the story of the border from both sides of the line and to emphasize the manner in which both the United States and Mexico have used it to foster transnational communities of interest as much as to divide them."--San Antonio Express-News

Women and work in Mexico's maquiladoras / ltha J. Cravey.

301.29721 CRAVEY 1998

The emergence of global assembly plants is closely linked to the creation of a global female industrial labor force. Women and Work in Mexico's Maquiladoras examines this larger process in Mexico, where―despite a century of industrialization and a tradition of well-paid, highly organized, male workers―the maquiladora factories have turned to predominantly female labor. Exploring this dramatic shift, this book convincingly demonstrates how gender restructuring in workplaces and households has become a crucial element in the reorientation of Mexican development. The author compares Mexico's new industrial system with its historical antecedent and documents federal policy changes that have resulted in distinct patterns of gender, unionization, household form, and social welfare. Rich in ethnographic detail, the book uses the voices of workers themselves to provide an intimate look at how daily lives have been transformed―in ways that could not have been foreseen―by the national and international processes shaping the country's industrial transition.

SPECIFIC CULTURES & PEOPLES                                                                                  



Kuna art and Shamanism : an ethnographic approach / Paolo Fortis

301.297287 FORTIS 2012

"Known for their beautiful textile art, the Kuna of Panama have been scrutinized by anthropologists for decades. Perhaps surprisingly, this scrutiny has overlooked the magnificent Kuna craft of nuchukana--wooden anthropomorphic carvings--which play vital roles in curing and other Kuna rituals. Drawing on long-term fieldwork, Paolo Fortis at last brings to light this crucial cultural facet, illuminating not only Kuna aesthetics and art production but also their relation to wider social and cosmological concerns. Exploring an art form that informs birth and death, personhood, the dream world, the natural world, religion, gender roles, and ecology, Kuna Art and Shamanism provides a rich understanding of this society's visual system, and the ways in which these groundbreaking ethnographic findings can enhance Amerindian scholarship overall.


Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala and Belize, Honduras and El Salvador


Chamulas in the world of the sun; time and space in a Maya oral tradition / Gary H. Gossen.

301.29721 GOSSEN 1974

The oral tradition of the Chamula people in southern Mexico is rich and varied in its humor, detail, style, imagery and insight. Decendants of the Ancient Maya, the Chamulas use language in a way that expresses their special understanding of the social and cosmic order to which they belong. The Sun/Christ deity presides over this universe. In this innovative study in anthropology and folklore, Gary Gossen offers a brilliant analysis of the cosmology, symbolism and verbal behavior of the Chamulas based upon his systematic collection of their oral traditions within the framework of their own folk classification scheme of language.

Economics and prestige in a Maya community; the religious cargo system in Zinacantán / Frank. Cancian.

301.29721 CANCIAN 1965

This book is the first of several that will result from work sponsored by the Harvard Chiapas Project. The Project was initiated in 1957 and will continue in the decs,des to come to study a variety of ethnographic and social anthropological problems in the Highland Maya area of the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Indians of Southern Mexico. These Indian communities in the high, pine-covered mountains of central Chiapas constitute one of the most interesting surviving pockets of American Indian culture in the New World, and hence provide a field site of major importance for the development and testing of new methods for ethnographic description and for the analysis of the processes of change. (WVC copy is hardbound with a plain green cover)

Fear as a way of life : Mayan widows in rural Guatemala / Linda Buckley Green.

301.297281 GREEN 1999

Between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s, the people of Guatemala were subjected to a state-sponsored campaign of political violence and repression designed to not only defeat a left-wing, revolutionary insurgency but also destroy Mayan communities and culture. The Mayan Indians in the western highlands were labeled by the government as revolutionary sympathizers, and many Mayan women lost husbands, sons, and other family members who were brutally murdered or who simply "disappeared." Fear as a Way of Life traces the intricate links between the recent political violence and repression and the long-term systemic violence connected with class inequalities and gender and ethnic oppression––the violence of everyday life.

In the eyes of the ancestors : belief and behavior in a Maya community / June C. Nash.

301.29721 NASH 1985

Description: Spirits and places -- Traditional economic activities -- New economic activities -- Family authority and community control -- Rituals of life crisis -- Curing and the curers -- The formal organization of local government -- Taking care of the lord spirits -- The competition for power -- Roles, persons, and the evaluation of performance -- Ordering behavior by places -- Ordering behavior by time -- Belief and behavior in a changing society. 

Tortillas for the gods : a symbolic analysis of Zinacanteco rituals / von Z. Vogt (Evon Zartman).

301.29721 VOGT 1993

In Zinacanteco society, located in the upper elevations of Chiapas, southern Mexico, rituals function for the Zinacanteco people as communication and to organize life into a four staged-life cycle. Zinacantan prestige comes with age, and some rituals are only performed by people of a a higher social status, such as elderly or wealthy mean. Women are often relegated to minor roles. Some rituals seem designed to alleviate the tensions between different classes as well as conflicting beliefs, such as tensions between Mayan and Christian traditions. Rituals dominate every aspect of the Zinacanteco society and are taken very seriously.


including Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla, Mexico - for Pre-Columbian see also AZTEC


Becoming an ancestor : the Isthmus Zapotec way of death / Anya Peterson Royce.

301.2972 ROYCE 2011

Powerful and beautifully written, this is the story of the Isthmus Zapotecs of southern Mexico and their unbroken chain of ancestors and collective memory over the generations. Mortuary beliefs and actions are collective and pervasive in ways not seen in the United States, a resonant deep structure across many domains of Zapotec culture.  Focusing especially on the lives of Zapotec women, Becoming an Ancestor highlights the aesthetic sensibility and durability of mortuary traditions in the past and present. An intricate blending of Roman Catholicism and indigenous spiritual tradition, death through beliefs and practices expresses a collective solidarity that connects families, binds the living and dead, and blurs the past and present.

Being Indian in Hueyapan /Judith Friedlander.

301.299614 HOLMES 1974

When Being Indian in Hueyapan came out in 1975, it challenged commonly held ideas about culture and identity in indigenous Mexico, raising questions that remain as provocative today as they were over thirty years ago. Now in this revised and updated edition, Judith Friedlander places her widely acclaimed work in historical context. The book describes the lives of the inhabitants of an indigenous pueblo during the late 1960s and early 1970s and analyzes the ways that Indians like them have been discriminated against since early colonial times. After presenting the case as she saw it in 1975, Friedlander examines the relevance of her arguments for explaining the changes that have subsequently taken place over the intervening years, following the story into the twenty-first century, both locally in Hueyapan and nationally. Friedlander pays particular attention in a new final chapter to the role anthropologists have played in defining the so-called Indian problem and in finding solutions to it, most recently as advocates of indigenous rights.  In the process, she takes a critical look at current debates about identity politics and the meaning of multiculturalism.

Into the hearts of the Amazons : in search of a modern matriarchy / Tom DeMott.

301.29721 DEMOTT 2006

"Into the Hearts of the Amazons is part rousing travel adventure through a little-known world and part popular ethnography, exploring how Zapotec women earned their legendary status in a remote corner of southern Mexico. To satisfy his curiosity about this culture, Tom DeMott journeyed to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where he discovered a thriving modern-day matriarchy among the people of the Isthmus - a cultural crossroads, breeding ground for rebels, and home to a half-million Zapotecs. DeMott integrated himself into the culture by joining in the rites of spring (where women pelt the men with fruit); by interviewing the women who control the marketplace where men are rarely seen; and by honoring the saints with drink and dance at all-night ceremonies. 

Life in a Mexican village : Tepoztlâan restudied / Oscar Lewis.

301.29721 LEWIS 1963

This is a penetrating sociological second look at a Mexican Village in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City. The village was first studied by Anthropologist Robert Redfield in 1926 and described in his book Tepoztlan, A Mexican Village and became a standard reference and classic in the field of community studies. Lewis, another anthropologist returns for a follow-up view of the community’s work, play, politics, superstitions, economic life, marriage customs, etc. 

The Mixe of Oaxaca : religion, ritual, and healing / Frank J. Lipp

301.29721 LIPP 1998

The Mixe of Oaxaca was the first extensive ethnography of the Mixe, with a special focus on Mixe religious beliefs and rituals and the curing practices associated with them. It records the procedures, design-plan, corresponding prayers, and symbolic context of well over one hundred rituals. Frank Lipp has written a new preface for this edition, in which he comments on the relationship of Mixe religion to current theoretical understandings of present-day Middle American folk religions. 
 1. Social Organization and Kinship -- 2. Subsistence Agriculture -- 3. Religious Belief System -- 4. Calendrical System -- 5. Ritual Behavior -- 6. Rites of Passage -- 7. Village Festivals -- 8. Medical Concepts and Behavior -- 9. Postscript Appendixes -- A. Mixe Region -- B. Mixe Phonemes -- C. Mixe Texts -- Notes -- Glossary -- Mixe -- Spanish and Nahuatl

The other game : lessons from how life is played in Mexican villages / Phil Dahl-Bredine.

301.29721 DAHL 2008

This work tells us what we in the West can learn about democracy, economic well-being, the environment and cultural and spiritual values from Mexican campesinos. The authors invite you into a community that can make the world bigger, richer and more exciting, as it has done for them.  -- Cultural genetics -- A glimpse into the mixtec world -- A mixtec teaching about work -- Money and wealth and mixtec fiestas -- Objection! -- Culture and violence -- Mary's paradox -- The organizing poor and their advocates -- Exchanging universes -- A special time of hope. 

La Zandunga : of fieldwork and friendship in southern Mexico / Beverly Chiänas.

301.29721 CHINAS 1993

This account of how to become an anthropologist doing fieldwork relays the pleasures and pitfalls that anthropologist Beverly Chinas experienced while studying women's roles in the culture of the Isthmus Zapotec. The story of her long- term research allows the reader to make several trips to the field in different roles: as graduate student gathering dissertation material, as young professional pursuing more sharply defined goals, and as mature researcher directing the work of assistants. The reader encounters Zapotec culture and people through the eyes of the questioning anthropologist-narrator, discovers the methods and techniques of anthropological investigation, and, instructed by the author's commitment to her Zapotec friends, learns how friendships may transcend cultural barriers. 


Chihuahua, Mexico


Primal awareness: A True Story of Survival, Transformation, and Awakening with the Rarámuri Shamans of Mexico / Donald Trent Jacobs.

301.29721 JACOBS 1998

In 1983, caught in a violent rainstorm while kayaking the Rio Urique in Mexico's Copper Canyon, Don Trent Jacobs was swept into an impassable catacomb of underwater tunnels toward what he believed was certain death. But instead of panic, Jacobs found himself filled with a strange consciousness that left him feeling at peace and invigorated with a confidence he had never before known. Moments later he was spit from the tunnel alive--not at the end of his journey, but only at its beginning. Primal Awareness tells the story of Don Trent Jacobs's remarkable vision of the human mind and heart and the compelling spiritual quest that brought him to it. Through his experiences with the Raramuri people of Mexico and his research of other indigenous societies, Jacobs identifies what he calls our "primal awareness," an innate knowledge that exists within us all.

Tarahumara : where night is the day of the moon / Bernard L. Fontana.

305.8 FONTANA 1997

"Inhabiting the Sierra Madre Occidental of southwestern Chihuahua in Mexico, the Tarahumara (or Raramuri) are known in their language as the "foot runners" due to the way in which they must navigate their rugged terrain. This book offers an accessible ethnography of their history, customs, and current life, accompanied by photographs that offer striking images of these gentle people." "The subtitle of the book derives from the Tarahumara's belief that the soul works at night while the body sleeps and that during this "day of the moon" both the spirits of the dead and the souls of the living move about in their mysterious ways."


Costa Rica


The Ticos: culture and social change in Costa Rica / Mavis Hiltunen Biesanz.

301.297286 BIESANZ 1999

Written with the perspective of more than half a century of first-hand observation, this unparalleled social and cultural history describes how Costa Rica's economy, government, education and health-care systems, family structures, religion, and other institutions have evolved, and how this evolution has affectedCand reflectedCpeople's daily lives, beliefs, and their values. The authors are particularly concerned with change and continuity since the economic crisis of the early 1980s and the structural adjustment that followed. 

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