Whereas scholars of postrevolutionary Mexico have long attended to the ideological significance of pre-Hispanic monuments, this article looks at the actual work involved in reconstructing them. Field reports from state archaeologists for the pyramid at Tajín (in the lowlands of northern Veracruz) from the mid- to late twentieth century reveal a parallel between the fragility of the monument and the precariousness of the local population, whose labor refashioned the pyramid. An ethnographic consideration of San Antonio Ojital, a community once located north of the archaeological site, further suggests that the making of monumentality elicited a regime of perceptibility that conceals the ongoing struggles of local residents. By layering these temporally dispersed episodes in the long recovery of the main pyramid in Tajín, I present monumentality as a selective process of reconstruction, which despite privileging wholeness, unity, and containment has only worked on the basis of obscuring social and material fragmentation, destruction, and precariousness.
In March 1929, topographer Agustín García Vega visited the lowland basin of the Tecolutla River in order to pursue a project commissioned by the Office of Pre-Hispanic Monuments: he was to reconstruct a fragile and jungle-covered pyramid located only a few miles from the recently created settlement of Tajín.1 García Vega's presence in the lowlands of Veracruz was part of a larger nationalist effort to reconstruct the past or, in the words of President Plutarco Elías Calles (1924–1928), to “uproot prejudices and form the new national soul.”2 What García Vega found upon arrival, however, differed greatly from the complete, pristine, and deserted spaces suggested in the written accounts and images of well-known geographers, explorers, and scholars from the previous century.3 Judging by the photographs that García Vega took, the recessed niches of the structure had collapsed, the balustrades on each side of the stairway were uneven or incomplete, and the pyramid's outward-projecting cornices were severely damaged (figure 1).4 “Luckily,” García Vega observed, “the governments of the last couple of years, conscious of their duty, have started to look after our ancient monuments, and little by little we will attend and care for each of our great pre-Hispanic oeuvres.”5
At the most fundamental level, attending and caring for an ancient and crumbling monument required, in García Vega's view, “recuperating the pyramid's original look.”6 This meant returning the monument to what García Vega imagined to be its pristine and authentic state: a complete structure free from dirt, decay, and vegetation.7 Yet in order to achieve this, he had to contend not only with a complete lack of infrastructure, which made the transportation of materials and debris almost impossible, but also with a shortage of drinking water and the continuous winter rainfall. Likewise, finding a local indigenous workforce that fulfilled his expectations of competency turned out to be difficult. Characterizing the work of Totonacs as “inadequate and unprofessional,” García Vega complained that they seemed more interested in obtaining the cut wood lying around for their personal use than in securing the physical integrity of the monument—an attitude that he found perplexing. In fact, this banal example led him to reflect on the need to expropriate at least 32 hectares as dictated by the Law on Archaeological Monuments of 1897.8 It was imperative, García Vega wrote, to protect these ruins from potential damage caused by those living near them.9
For the next eight years, García Vega and his crew worked to reverse the process of decay by removing the accumulated rubble resulting from the collapse of the upper niches of the structure and by reassembling, straightening, and leveling its remaining decorative elements. It was through this process of monumental reconstruction that García Vega sought to create a space not only cordoned off from the flow of time but whose effects on the present and envisioned future could be carefully controlled through the management of its main architectonic components.10 Ironically, the broken pieces that allowed for this possibility also seemed to resist it: the more that García Vega rebuilt, the more damage that he found and created. After four fruitless field seasons, he submitted his last report in 1938 anticipating his replacement.11 The making of monumentality had proven to be anything but the quick and easy triumph of scientific practice and nationalist fervor over crumbling stones and those living around them.
The excavation and conservation of monuments belonging to the pre-Hispanic past, such as the pyramid of Tajín, formed a key feature in the cultural repertoire of Mexican nationalism during the reconstruction period that followed the armed phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). Building a new state, after all, required not only establishing a series of economic and political reforms but also fostering a set of cultural values and an official version of history.
Certainly, during the Porfiriato (1876–1911) the political and intellectual elite—aided by the emerging discipline of archaeology—had come to favor the concreteness, endurance, and scale of ancient objects and buildings as well as their preservation and display.12 This valorization continued and escalated during the postrevolutionary period as ancient monuments worked to “forge,” as Manuel Gamio famously put it in 1916, a “powerful country and coherent and defined nationality.”13
The heightened ideological importance attributed to antiquity and its remains has constituted an important focus for scholars of postrevolutionary Mexico.14 In particular, they have emphasized the role that the monuments of the pre-Hispanic past played in substantiating elite notions of nationhood and territoriality by naturalizing the idea of a modern nation with prestigious and ancient roots.15 Yet focusing on the ideas constituting the imagination of the intellectual and political elite, or on opposing ideas, obscures the significance of the actual, practical work through which the remains of the pre-Hispanic past—concealed and shattered—became visible and monumental despite the fact that, as García Vega's reports demonstrate, the recovery of historical landscapes took place on the ground through contested, troublesome, and lengthy social, technical, and legal interventions.16
In this article, I refocus our attention on the architectural practices that sought to give otherwise fragmented ruins visual and tangible unity and examine their cumulative aesthetic effect.17 Thus, I argue that the state-promoted process of monumental reconstruction assumed paramount political importance in the postrevolutionary period not only because it worked to cultivate a nationalist version of the past—onto which social actors then projected contradictory imaginaries, claims, and memories—but also because it established a consequential modality of sense perception. That is, the making of monumentality—the actual practices of surveying, excavating, and reconstruction—produced a regime of (in)visibility that defined what and who is and is not recognizable in the social and material landscape.
In what follows, I examine how this political process of rendering (in)visible—purposefully generated and maintained by state-sponsored archaeological practice—has unfolded in the lowlands of northern Veracruz. I do so by layering a set of seemingly loosely related and temporally dispersed episodes—bits and pieces—in the long state-led recovery of the main pyramid in Tajín. These discrete episodes, which have accumulated in the archives and the actual lived space, are important to recognize: they tell mundane and apparently inconsequential stories that nonetheless expose the cracks, fissures, and failings that too often get lost or smoothed over in standard narratives and imagery that present archaeological monumentality as a given quality. Instead, I hope to evoke a counterunderstanding of monumentality as a fabricated, disjointed, and ongoing process of fragment accumulation.
Thus in the first two sections I consider the salient transformations of the pyramid brought about by the work of state archaeologists from 1939 to 1977 and from 1983 to 1992 as revealed in their field reports. My aim is to point to the overlooked obstacles and conflicts that went into the construction and destruction of the site in an effort to expose the parallels between the visibly fragile state of the monument and the less visible precariousness of the lives of the workers, whose labor unearthed and bolstered it. In the third and final section, I look at the ongoing and concealed effects of monumentality—even after the completion of the pyramid's reconstruction in 2001—which include the expansion of the site's borders and the displacement of numerous locals. In the absence of archival sources that account for the effects of this expansion, I draw on ethnography to reveal how residents of San Antonio Ojital recreate wholeness and meaning in the aftermath of displacement by rendering their recently created community and sendero (trail) visible through an ecotourism project. I show how their future expectations for change and success—for achieving visibility—are often frustrated and conditioned by the same disregard that contributed to their relocation. Together, these three sections demonstrate that the state-led process of monumental reconstruction in Tajín, despite rhetorically privileging wholeness, unity, and containment, has only worked on the basis of obscuring social and material fragmentation, destruction, and precariousness.
When José García Payón was commissioned to reconstruct the pyramid of Tajín by the newly created National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), he brought with him the same expectations that had animated his predecessor García Vega.18 Likewise seduced by the visual renderings of the nineteenth century, García Payón was shocked by the poor state of the main pyramid when he arrived on March 23, 1939. Most of its distinctive niches were crumbling; García Payón, in fact, only found two “complete niches” with most of their original stucco covering.19
Yet before García Payón could begin the necessary work of disassembling and reassembling the niches, he felt it necessary to stabilize the structure to avoid complete collapse. With an average of some ten workers a day (two crews of five workers), he began to remove the rubble that had accumulated while “injecting” a mixture of concrete to fortify the structure.20 Returning to the decaying decorative components, García Payón was again compelled to improvise in order to confront unexpected challenges: given the lack of usable original fragments to rebuild the niches, he had to develop “a new technique” involving the fabrication of “artificial stones.” García Payón used iron as the body for each of these pieces that were subsequently covered with modeled cement, a modern material providing both the desired durability as well as a raw, ancient look to the pyramid's surface. Finding his method both “simple and practical,” García Payón first used it in 1944 when he placed 22 “stones” in the second level of the southeastern facade. He went on to use the method during the following seasons while working mainly on reconstructing the three first levels of each of the pyramid's sides as well as most of the main stairway.21
García Payón wasn't satisfied with simply reconstructing the pyramid, however. He also wanted to understand how it was built in the first place, which led him to dig an “exploration tunnel” in the western side of the structure. The tunnel would allow him, first, to document the possible existence of a substructure and, second, to gather cultural remains (such as ceramic shards), which could help him establish the chronology of the pyramid's original construction. But in order to penetrate the pyramid, destruction was necessary: building the tunnel not only caused an interior collapse, which destabilized the structure from within, but also put the lives of workers in danger as they could have easily been buried. Critiques flooded the press. “It was not rare,” García Payón wrote, “to read commentaries about the poor state of the pyramid . . . of how under my supervision, the destruction has been accentuated.”22 For the following ten years García Payón attempted to control the damage that his “consolidation, reconstruction, and conservation efforts” generated.23 Unfortunately for him, matters only became worse in 1957 as an earthquake in the area exacerbated the fragility of the structure—cracks, landslides, and collapsing niches again dominated the landscape.24
If García Payón's archaeological exploration of the site and his attempts to reconstruct it ultimately met unexpected and recurring challenges, it's worth asking why he was willing to go to such lengths in the first place to achieve a complete restoration. The answer to this question lies in the broader historical context and, more specifically, the link between state-led archaeology and tourism. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, several pre-Hispanic buildings in Mexico were involved in similar overdoses of reconstruction despite the fact that international conservation standards favored consolidation of historical buildings over massive intervention into them.25 The “institutionalization of massive reconstruction” by INAH experts responded in part to the state's interest in obtaining a visible return on its lengthy investment in archaeology.26 In other words, the state aimed to have “magnificent,” “wondrous,” and “colossal” pyramids ready to be put on the “‘must’ lists” of increasing numbers of tourists who, like US president Harry Truman (1945–1953) or Mexican president Miguel Alemán (1946–1952), visited Mexico's “treasured links to other millennia and other cultures.”27 It was in the midst of an unprecedented expansion of the middle classes, the advent of mass communication and travel, and a harmonious relationship with the United States that restoration at Tajín and many other archaeological sites unfolded.28 Nevertheless, unlike the “magnificent” ruins of Monte Alban, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, or Teotihucan, the site at Tajín remained littered with wreckage and debris, left behind by the reconstruction of its main pyramid during the 1940s and 1960s.29
The wreckage and debris at Tajín were only the most obviously visible impediments to the monumental reconstruction of the site, though: García Payón's field reports during this time reveal ongoing, unresolved social conflicts regarding land tenure in the area—even if these conflicts remained buried in the reports as tangential or anecdotal challenges to be brushed aside. Disputes arose as local landowners continued to either pay taxes on or sell the land that had already been expropriated for the development of the archaeological site by the INAH.30 García Payón, for instance, recounted in one report how “a capitalist from Papantla” who had bought land from a Totonac Indian came to his camp demanding either permission to start an orange farm on the site or monetary compensation for investing in land now under control of the state. García Payón encouraged the local entrepreneur to contact the Ministry of Public Education to get a better sense of the legal framework within which the INAH operated and showed him the boundaries of the archaeological site, suggesting the area where he could potentially start his business ventures in the future. For García Payón, the importance of the incident lay in the unfortunate fact that ancient vestiges could still be found outside the legal boundaries of the site, which meant that a second round of land expropriation was necessary. Yet locals hardly recognized the legal boundaries of the first expropriation insofar as they continued to buy and sell land that wasn't legally theirs. Accordingly, a second round of expropriation would only aggravate existing conflicts given that at least 30 small landowners with plots of 30 to 35 hectares would be affected.31
Postrevolutionary projects of “social landscaping” such as national parks, mining cooperatives, and even ejidos generated, in many cases, conflicts in the communities where they were implemented. Yet unlike these projects seeking to rationalize and preserve patrimonial resources by changing the way that local communities made use of them, the development of archaeological sites restricted locals' access to the resources (the remnants of the past) that the state sought to protect.32 For one, the conservation of historical landscapes involved either expropriating the land entirely that contained ancient remains or forcefully preventing locals from using the land. Additionally, the INAH took responsibility for the custodianship, study, and conservation of these sites as opposed to drawing on the greater involvement of local communities in the management of the land, as was the case with some national parks.33 In the eyes of the INAH's experts, these arrangements responded to the state's responsibility, on the one hand, to care for these monuments in order to safeguard their material legacy for future generations and, on the other, to control their proper use so as to ensure social and economic development, which in this case would be achieved through tourism.
By 1945, however, the local population had failed to benefit from the state conservation of the site, let alone the influx of tourism that its reconstruction promised. Site workers expressed their frustrations by openly demanding higher salaries.34 Whereas they should have been paid Mex$6 according to the legally established minimum wage in the region, they in fact only received Mex$4.35 In response to repeated complaints that even vanilla farmers paid more than García Payón did or could (vanilla farmers paid Mex$4.50 plus meals), their salaries were eventually raised, although they remained below what was legally stipulated.36 Frustration with the state's changes in land tenure and the current state of economic precariousness was also expressed through sabotage. Local residents often deliberately destroyed the road signs that signaled the existence and location of the site. “It is the fourth time this has happened,” García Payón complained in his December 1953 report.37 After several failed attempts to keep the signs standing, he ordered the use of cement pillars for a new set of signs with the hope that a change in building material would prevent future destruction. The visibility guaranteed by these signs was central to the ultimate success of his project. As the completion of the interstate road connecting the lowlands of northern Veracruz to the central and northern parts of the country became a reality, such signs would be needed to guide the many tourists whom he believed would soon visit Tajín—a site that was still quite obviously in the making.38
Despite García Payón's best efforts—but also precisely because of them—the old pre-Hispanic city of Tajín continued to be covered with layer upon layer of refuse from the relentless archaeological exploration, clearance, and reconstruction. By the early 1960s, fragments from the collapse of niches, columns, and relief sculptures were still being uncovered and carefully reassembled by several crews (cuadrillas) of Totonac men; what they deemed useless was simply piled up. The noise of the trucks taking these scattered pieces (escombros) to the main entrance of the site continued to echo throughout the workday.39 According to García Payón, nearly 2,800 cubic meters of rubble had accumulated in the area since 1939.40
It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the ruined landscape of Tajín attracted not the expected tourists but the voices critical of the PRIista regime—a regime whose ability to break up and violently quash the protests of workers, peasants, and students had become increasingly manifest throughout the 1960s.41 Mexican poet Efraín Huerta, for example, relied on the site's accumulated rubble and debris to express, in his poem “El Tajín” (1963), the despair of a generation that saw its promises of a social revolution collapsing into ruin:
Huerta's metaphorical use of Tajín's fragments gave voice to the social disaffection that had come to dominate Mexico after the high tide of social reform under Cardenismo (1934–1940) and the subsequent ascent of a conservative postrevolutionary oligarchy (1940s–1960s).43 Not unlike Mexico itself, the main pyramid was anything but stable after decades of intervention (figure 2).44
During the last stage of his work, which coincided with the regime of Luis Echeverría (1970–1976) and the dirty war against the Mexican radical Left, García Payón focused mostly on containing the most imminent fragmentation and decay in the site—a much more modest goal than the one he had started out with.45 His intermittent program of consolidation and restoration ended up stretching out for almost 20 more years, until his death in 1977.46 Yet another ambitious reconstruction project would unfold during the following two decades as Mexico's transition to neoliberalism involved a continued commitment to the development of tourism.47
In 1985, archaeologists René Ortega Guevara and Alfonso García y García were commissioned to carry on the restoration of the main pyramid of Tajín under the project's new director, Jürgen K. Brüggemann. They found the pyramid—despite García Payón's extensive efforts to stabilize it—in a precarious condition, which they attributed to weather-related decay, especially in the upper levels of the northern, eastern, and southern facades.48 Constant rain and humidity had dissolved the pyramid's mortar, exacerbating the structural damage caused by previous archaeological interventions. Even worse, they concluded that the building was sinking and commissioned a geological study to determine the cause. The results indicated that the subsoil varied between semipermeable and impermeable, a quality that made the absorption of water difficult. Accordingly, a drainage system had to be installed before they could proceed with the actual reconstruction of the pyramid.49
The renewed interest in the making of monumentality in Tajín, which led to this latest series of interventions into the main pyramid, was the outcome of an agreement established in 1983 between the state governor of Veracruz, Agustín Acosta Lagunes (1980–1986), and the federal government of Miguel de la Madrid (1982–1988). Their cooperation marked a more direct involvement of the state government of Veracruz in the management, use, and marketing of the site. The INAH likewise began working more closely with the state university, the Universidad Veracruzana, in order to complete the reconstruction of the monuments, which would finally position Tajín as an important tourist destination generating economic benefits for the region.50 Brüggemann clearly stated the economic motivation behind Proyecto Tajín, as the project came to be known: “The current tendency of nations and international organizations,” he wrote in 1984, “is to implement a more efficient protection and conservation of natural and cultural patrimony not only for cultural reasons but also for very valid economic ones.”51 It was this broader context of collaboration and more intense preservation efforts that pushed a team of archaeologists to work simultaneously on 36 buildings and ultimately complete the transformation of the pyramid.52
Nevertheless, the increased allocation of expertise and economic resources toward the reconstruction of the ruins contrasted sharply with the relative neglect of the situation of locals who helped to carry out the project. Whereas the demand for wage labor in the area had once offered workers leverage in labor negotiations, demand now worked against them: the regional oil industry faced crisis and vanilla production had diminished significantly such that area laborers became dependent on work at the ruins. Some 300 seasonal workers were assigned to conduct maintenance work in the site by 1999, for example, 16 years after Brüggemann took control of the project.53 These workers, who were mostly in their early 30s, came largely from poor area families whose livelihoods otherwise depended on subsistence agriculture. They lived in houses made of wood and palm without running water or septic tanks.54
Whereas the poverty of these workers remained largely invisible, their bodies unexpectedly did not as they became subjects of an anthropometric study intended to help scholars to understand the mestizo population in the area. The noses, skulls, and chests of “a random sample” of workers were measured, analyzed, and correlated; their bodies were photographed and cataloged, their blood tested. Bare figures were photographed from the front and in profile standing solemnly with their feet parallel, palms resting at their side, and heads held straight. According to the study, “the average individual in this region presented poor weight gain, as a result of heavy physical activity, a low-calorie diet, and questionable sanitary practices.”55 Such objective-sounding descriptions, which along with statistics, standard deviations, and indexes accompanied the photographs, contribute to the troubling resemblance of this work to studies produced by Mexican biotypologists and eugenicists during the first half of the twentieth century. This study, however, was conducted by Jaime Ortega, one of the physical anthropologists brought to Tajín to analyze the pre-Hispanic human remains found at the site. Once at the site, Ortega found out that the ancient human remains that he intended to examine had already been analyzed, and thus Ortega turned his attention to the living local population in Tajín.56 The only explanation we have for why Ortega rendered visible the frail and naked bodies of the site's workers can be found in his report: “Proyecto Tajín requested an anthropological study on the physical characteristics of local workers. I was therefore commissioned by the Museum of Anthropology, with the approval of the director of Proyecto Tajín, to conduct such study.”57
Although these images may appear to be only loosely related to the reconstruction of the site, they illustrate, perhaps more forcefully than the rest of the archaeological records, the ways in which the state-led reconstruction project facilitated a particular mode of perception that made this anthropometric study—a form of intrusion into the personal space of those inhabiting the region—possible and permissible. For those conducting the project, such disturbances in fact constituted “a social labor” insofar as the restoration project “offered employment to a reasonable percentage of the community population.”58 But the benefits of the project for the locals remained ambiguous at best as the subjection of workers' bodies to the camera lens or to a poor diet reveals.
Moreover, as the reconstruction of Tajín's ruins culminated in their nomination as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in 1992 during the presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988–1994), a new sense of vulnerability among the local population soon emerged.59 In 2001 President Vicente Fox (2000–2006), the first opposition candidate to win the Mexican presidency, approved the INAH's request to extend the boundaries of the archaeological site. With the blessing of state governor Miguel Alemán Velasco (1998–2004), the site's borders were extended to include 1,221 hectares.60 As a result, many small property owners living north of the site, such as the subsistence farmers of San Antonio Ojital, were displaced (figure 3).61
Once the restoration project came to an end, many locals were physically excluded from the new configuration of the site. Their presence was no longer needed, and their displacement and concealment was, for the INAH and state authorities alike, of little consequence. Underpinning this new distribution, as I have argued, was a problem of perception—that is, of aesthetics, following Rancière's use of the term—that made locals invisible, inaudible, and unavailable to the general awareness. This aesthetic effect of reproducing a fundamental inequality between the Mexican state and its rural subjects was the result of a long series of monumental reconstruction practices that sought to give otherwise fragmented ruins tangible unity and visibility while obscuring social fragmentations and economic precariousness. Today this regime of (in)visibility continues to play an active role in the politics of the present and the expectations for the future, since those who carry on while enduring the effects of concealment strive to reconfigure this regime of (in)visibility—but with a limited degree of success. It is to their efforts that I turn next.
It was Jesús Trejo, a young anthropologist working for the INAH at the archaeological site of Tajín, who first called my attention to several features of the landscape that had escaped my eye during previous visits. We only needed to push aside a curtain of weeds and climb a small mound to reveal the remnants of an oxidized and decaying oil well as well as the floor and stone walls of what we believed was an oil camp.62 After this brief stop, we continued to walk through a path full of orange and banana trees. The vegetation was dense, but the roof of an abandoned house was discernible.63
According to Jesús, a famous caporal (ritual dancer) used to live in this house whose structure now barely remained. As we followed the path, we walked with increasing difficulty through the rain forest and started hiking uphill. Scant light made it through the thick vegetation, which suggested that this may have been a suitable space for growing vanilla in the past. Given how the jungle landscape has been managed for optimal vanilla production, this decrease in light—not unlike the residues of the oil industry or the ruins of the house once inhabited by a Totonac resident—served as a reminder of the ways in which this particular space, today valued on the basis of its pre-Hispanic monumental structures, has been reconfigured. The sendero was made out of a fragmented pattern in which each component had shaped the other as well as the lives of those who have inhabited this space. Perhaps it was because of how these varied histories were sedimented in the landscape that the archaeological monuments began to seem more distant than they actually were—we were only a mile away from them.
In a way, the awareness of this fragmented pattern animates the project of the cooperative Lankasipi, a group of men and women from San Antonio Ojital who seek to open this sendero, which leads to their community, to tourism. Despite the fact that cooperative members have worked with Jesús to obtain the INAH's recognition and permission to operate in what is today a protected area, their project is a concrete attempt to look beyond the celebrated monumentality of the site. “Our goal,” as one of the leaders told me during an informal chat, is “to remind people to look behind the ruins.”64
San Antonio Ojital is a community of recent creation, despite the fact that its residents have inhabited the region for decades. After the completion of the pyramid restoration in the 2000s, land that had once sustained the livelihoods of approximately 800 residents was put under control of the INAH in order to guarantee the preservation of the archaeological monuments. Some 30 families, each owning between 5 and 10 hectares, were required to sell their land at a discounted price to the state government. Many decided to move to other nearby places, but many others refused to relocate or were simply unable to. After tense negotiations, municipal authorities agreed to obtain a new plot of land (predio) for a new settlement (congregación).
The first time that Jesús visited the community, he was mostly impressed by the contrasting landscape that he encountered. On the one hand, he saw a vulnerable community that had built their new lives by intertwining bits and pieces of their old homes with new materials such as zinc sheets provided by the municipality to facilitate the relocation of residents. On the other hand, from the community he could also see a great view of the archaeological site. “It was beautiful,” Jesús told me, “but somehow also disturbing.” His mixed feelings were understandable. After all, he not only was aware of the forced relocation of the community but also knew, perhaps better than any other member of the INAH, how hard these residents had worked to improve their lives and adjust to new conditions. The view, albeit picturesque, was a constant reminder of what the making of monumentality had entailed, even if it was often obscured: the precariousness and uncertainty of displacement.
After sacrificing their homes, livelihoods, and privately owned land for the sake of national (and now global) patrimony, many residents of San Antonio Ojital had attached their expectations for a stable and secure future to the success of the cooperative or “el proyecto,” as they often refer to their entrepreneurial initiative. The cooperative allowed them not only to recreate a sense of wholeness and meaning in the aftermath of their community's fragmentation but also to interrupt the modality of sense perception established through the pursuit of monumentality. Members of the cooperative, after all, demanded to be seen and accounted for. Yet their attempt was often frustrated and always somehow conditioned by the same disregard that had contributed in the first place to their relocation and invisibility.
When el proyecto was still in development, residents of San Antonio Ojital experienced this disregard concretely as time spent waiting.65 “I won't believe it,” Aurelia told me as we lingered in the shade of a ceiba tree; “We have worked very hard for this, but until we are operating we won't believe in it.” Aurelia shared her skepticism toward the project while we had a glass of Coke and some crackers outside a small gathering at the home of a cooperative member who also happened to be Aurelia's neighbor. Aurelia served as the official local authority of the community, or agente municipal, at the time of my research, and she knew better than anyone the difficulties that the group had to go through in order to move the project forward:
We have been dealing with all sorts of papers since we began the project five years ago. No one wanted to be part of a cooperative committee because no one wanted to be traveling all the way to Papantla or Poza Rica to get a paper signed or to initiate the kind of bureaucratic procedures—los trámites—which, we soon found out, was necessary. But if we wanted the project to succeed, we had to start the pilgrimage. Many of our friends and neighbors had quit though. I don't blame them. They got tired of waiting. To a certain extent, we are all tired of waiting.
Aurelia and several members of the cooperative spent hours recounting the details of the bureaucratic procedures that they had initiated—which include requesting permission from the INAH to work in a protected archaeological area, obtaining funds from PEMEX to build a restaurant in their community to serve local food to potential tourists, obtaining legal personhood for their organization, and opening a bank account where funds could be deposited. Because all the cooperative members had participated in the process through groups (comisiones), each member had his or her own story to tell about waiting.
The anecdotes of cooperative members Martha and Panciano are relevant because they illustrate not only the process through which the cooperative was formed but also the frustrations that accompanied its members every step of the way. “When we began with all of this,” Martha told me, “I knew it was not going to be easy, but I did not imagine how many obstacles we were going to find—first with the INAH, the state institution tasked with the preservation of this area, and then with PEMEX, the state-owned oil company also operating in the area, and with the resources to finance the project.” Martha proceeded to explain how the INAH rejected the project several times, mainly because bettering the conditions of local people was not their mission. “We couldn't believe it,” she said. But there was no way of establishing a legal business without INAH support. In her view, it was only with assistance from the INAH and with the support of “the law” that the cooperative could succeed. But obtaining institutional support was not easy:
The INAH argued that the mission of the institution was not social development. But Jesús was persistent and really helped us with the letters and documents. We even stopped dealing with the regional office in Veracruz and instead went directly to Mexico City. We waited for two years to obtain a positive response. We just waited for Jesús to hike up the hill and let us know if there was something in the mail for us. We sent the required paperwork, but then we were asked to send something else for a different study. Finally we obtained permission, but the really tough part was about to begin.
According to Panciano, the next challenge was obtaining an acta constitutiva, a legal document certifying the legal personhood of the cooperative. “It was election time,” he said, “so nobody wanted to provide his or her official identification cards [credenciales para votar] because many believed that someone could commit fraud in the upcoming elections.” The first task for Panciano was to convince his neighbors that their identification cards would only be shared with the notary. Obtaining the acta, a process that can be completed within a week, took them three months because they did not have the funds to complete this legal transaction. They began showing up at the municipal office in Papantla and waiting for hours in order to talk to someone. After months of meeting with several bureaucrats, they were able to meet the municipal president and explain their needs. He asked the cooperative members to visit a notary in Papantla who would then take care of the legal paperwork. By the time that legal personhood was finally obtained, the cooperative had already been sending comisiones to PEMEX's offices in Poza Rica in order to present the project to members of the Social Development (Desarrollo Social) team and to ensure that their project could be considered for funding as soon as their partnership was legally recognized and registered. They submitted the project to the Social Development office in 2012 and waited for a year before news finally came: the project was accepted, but funds could only be released once the cooperative had provided evidence of owning the land where they wanted their restaurant to be located.
In the weeks that followed, Panciano and Jesús searched for a half hectare of land (terreno) in the community and surrounding areas. “We talked to two owners,” Panciano recalled, “but they did not want to sell.” They continued their search, Panciano told me, without much luck as the only land available for sale was simply too expensive even to be considered:
We kept looking, and finally we found what we thought was a usable piece of land. So we called the construction company and they came to evaluate our potential terreno, but they told us that it was not suitable because it would raise the construction cost. PEMEX asked us to find a new plot. We only had 15 days in order to submit the complete file to PEMEX. I remember walking all over looking for a better plot of land. It was so hot. I remember telling Jesús that the project was simply not happening. Finally, the husband of one of the cooperative members, of Martha, decided to sell us a plot that he had inherited. That, however, initiated a series of conflicts among Martha's extended family. We felt terribly sorry, but we got the cooperative a plot of land.
The cooperative then needed to obtain funds to buy the land. The municipality had agreed to help with the initial payment for the plot, yet they requested that the cooperative provide an invoice so that the funds could be released. This meant initiating a new series of fiscal procedures to obtain the federal taxpayer registration for the cooperative. “We had no idea how to do that,” Panciano continued:
That week I felt like I had turned into a fundraiser, a lawyer, an accountant . . . it was simply terrible. To obtain the taxpayer registration, Martha and I left by 8 a.m. to Poza Rica. We wanted to be there as soon as the office opened. We simply brought with us all the documents that we possessed, every single one, because we did not know what they would need. We waited in line for half a day. After waiting for four hours, our turn came. We realized that we could not obtain the registration for the cooperative as a moral person without having first registered as a physical person. So we registered Martha first. Right in the middle of the procedure lunchtime came, and the administrative staff left. We waited for another three hours in the office as we only had gotten funds from the cooperative for bus fare, not for lunch. We waited there, for another three hours; the person who was taking care of our documents never came back. Finally at 6, some other person approached us and simply gave us our documents. Apparently, our papers had already been there—in the printer—but nobody had cared to give them to us.
According to Panciano, Martha had a terrible headache by then and complained all the way back home about what they had just gone through in order to obtain the paperwork. But the next day, with all the necessary documents, they traveled to Papantla to finally obtain the money from the municipality—the money that would allow them to buy their terreno. Funds, however, needed to be transferred to a bank account, which the cooperative did not possess. In order to open one, they needed at least 1,000 pesos. Panciano remembers calling Jesús so that they could tell the cooperative members that they needed to collect the money in order to open their account. They did and were able to obtain the funds. Finally, members paid a visit to the notary—the one who had helped them before—to obtain their property titles. They could only collect Mex$300 out of the Mex$8,000 asked for by the notary. At the time of my fieldwork, they still owed him Mex$7,500. Their property titles, along with all the documents that they have accumulated since the project began, are carefully kept in a yellow folder secured in a black plastic bag. Panciano is responsible for keeping them, and he proudly showed each of these documents to me.
Almost a year after all these events took place, having long since completed all of PEMEX's requirements, the cooperative members were still waiting for the engineers to show up in the community to start the construction of the restaurant. We later learned that PEMEX had assigned the work to Waterford Oil, one of their subcontractors working in the area, as a social labor project. But Waterford Oil's responsibility to contribute to social labor projects ended when their oil-related contracts with PEMEX came to a close, which was why no one had shown up in San Antonio Ojital after all that time. Apparently a new file needed to be submitted in order to arrange for an alternative contractor. When I left Veracruz, members of the cooperative in San Antonio Ojital remained hopeful though obviously frustrated.
The act of waiting is considered by scholars of bureaucracy as a temporal process in and through which political subordination is reproduced.66 It is through these seemingly banal yet recursive interactions between the poor and bureaucrats that the state teaches a political lesson to the popular classes.67 In San Antonio Ojital, cooperative members indeed knew that if they wanted to succeed in their project, they needed to remain temporally neglected—that is, partially invisible—as meetings, promises, funding, and visits kept being postponed. Moreover, the distressing effects of this partial invisibility were intensified as the constant exposure to long delays molded how residents came to encounter the landscape that they inhabit. The experience of waiting, I came to realize, partially revealed that which was absent: The association of the residents had obtained legal personhood, but they did not possess a restaurant. They had documents proving the legality of their enterprise, but they were without extra sources of income. They had been recognized by the INAH as a legitimate association, yet there were no tourists visiting their community. Everything was incomplete—just like the ruins that had once surrounded them—and this incompleteness contributed to locals' suffering and resentment.
I remember, for instance, a casual conversation that I had with Panciano after spending the morning cooking with the cooperative members, testing recipes for the restaurant that they had envisioned. Panciano joined us for lunch, and I thought that it was a good time to ask him about his experience with the cooperative—despite the fact that I had already listened to him relate his experience during the local press interviews that Jesús often arranged to promote the project. But the conversation that we had that day was less formal and had more to do with his memories about growing up in the area, migrating to California, and then returning (after being deported) to the same place where he had grown up—a place that he admitted to resenting as a child. “When I was a kid, perhaps seven years old,” he recalled, “I remember standing firmly in the middle of the milpa, staring at the pyramids and the cerro that surrounded me. I was so mad—to have to walk up the hill to attend primary school and then spend the rest of my day carrying water—that I started screaming, ‘I am going to take this Indian blood out of my veins.’” Panciano started laughing hysterically; his wife Vicky, sitting next to him, started laughing as well. Vicky had asked him to tell me the story, a story that she had first heard from her mother-in-law a few years ago in California. They both laughed because of the irony of their current situation: having returned from the United States, they now found themselves having to embrace Panciano's Indianness as they marketed their project to the public, the INAH, and PEMEX.68
Panciano firmly believed that they could improve their new community by making the project succeed. He, in fact, often complained about the decaying condition of the nearby primary school—the school that he had attended—and how after all these years there had not been a single improvement in its infrastructure. This was what Panciano feared the most—that if the project did not materialize, if it failed, things would most likely remain the same. “What do you mean by ‘the same’?” I asked, quickly realizing the absurdity of my own question. After all, I was pretty aware of how precarious life in the area was. Both Panciano and Vicky made a living mostly from their nixtamal mill, selling corn dough to their neighbors. Panciano looked at me and responded calmly, as if he had been thinking about his response in advance: “When we were trying to register the cooperative with the Tax Administration Service, we were almost unable to complete the transaction. Do you know why? Because the community does not even appear in the state records. We had to register our cooperative in a different community. We are so close to the pyramids and still it is as if we were invisible, as if we did not exist.” After this conversation, it was evident to me that those feelings of skepticism openly voiced by members of the co-op were embedded within a troubled everyday experience that wasn't capable of erasing the frustrations of the past or of providing the means of repairing this painful sense of constant betrayal.
In this essay—inspired in large part by Panciano's remarks—I have tried to show how an impairing regime of (in)visibility has been purposefully generated and maintained in the northern lowlands of Veracruz through archaeological practice. I have done so by historically and ethnographically examining the process of monumental reconstruction for what today is the most celebrated pre-Hispanic structure in the area, the Tajín pyramid. The cumulative effects of demarcating, excavating, and reconstructing suggest that monumentality assumed paramount political importance in the modern process of state building. This was so not only because ancient and massive monuments were used in the creation of national myths and histories, as scholars have rightfully argued, but also because their actual making established and reinforced a distinctive modality of sense perception that has obscured the fragmentation, precariousness, and ruination endured by those whose labor unearthed and refashioned the monuments. Indeed, it is in the context of this regime of (in)visibility that the members of the cooperative Lankasipi struggle for recognition and a livable wage. Yet they continue to be overlooked even as the unity, stability, and inclusive national grandeur of the pyramid become more tangible and visible.
The fragmented story that I have presented here is in many ways specific to both the lowlands of northern Veracruz and the practice of archaeology. We may nevertheless discover that other purportedly revolutionary, state-promoted projects of reconstruction have produced violent (in)visibilities in those areas where they have been implemented.69 Rendering visible this kind of political work that building does, however, requires scholarly attention not only to the discourses animating these state interventions but also, as I have tried to argue here, to the practices of construction themselves.
I would like to thank the reviewers and editors of HAHR for their insightful comments and critical suggestions. I also want to thank Ray Craib, Timothy Haupt, Mark Healey, Sandra Rozental, Adam Smith, Kirsten Weld, Marina Welker, and Trais Pearson for commenting on drafts of this article. Earlier versions of this piece were presented at Harvard's Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Seminar on Violence and Non-violence in 2015 in Cambridge, MA, at the 2016 Latin American Studies Association conference in New York City, at the 2016 University of Florida Center of Latin American Studies Annual Conference in Gainesville, FL, and at the “Antropología, poder y ruralidades” seminar held at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México's Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas in 2017. I am grateful for the feedback that I received from all the participants. I am further indebted to the members of the cooperative Lankasipi, to Jesús Trejo, and to Benjamin Blaisot for sharing their experiences and their own photographs with me. I also wish to acknowledge the staff of the National Institute of Anthropology and History for allowing me to conduct ethnographic research at the site, consult their archives, and use their historical images. Research for this project was made possible by a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation.
1. Agustín García Vega to Ignacio Marquina, Mexico City, 22 June 1934, Archivo Técnico del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City (hereafter cited as ATINAH), vol. 1 (1924–35), tomo 125, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz. On the history of the settlement of Tajín, see Kelly and Palerm, Tajín Totonac, 56. On the violent land disentailment process that affected this region in the late nineteenth century, see Kourí, Pueblo Divided. It must be noted that experts commissioned by the Office of Pre-Hispanic Monuments were not the only ones visiting Tajín. Geologists too visited the area hoping to identify rock formations potentially rich in oil. Oil exploration and drilling during the first half of the twentieth century in fact contributed to the active land market that characterized the region during this period. See Brizuela, Historia agraria. On the expansion of the southern frontier of the oil-producing district in northern Veracruz, the subsequent nationalization of the oil industry, and its eventual demise, see also Olvera, “Rise and Fall”; Salas Landa, “Crude Residues.”
2. Plutarco Elías Calles, quoted in Meyer, Segovia, and Lajous, Historia, 178.
3. The role that the nineteenth century played in valorizing this monument and therefore in advancing its visual reconstruction should not be underestimated. The photographs of the pyramid taken in 1890 during the Comisión Científica Exploradora to Cempoala led by Francisco del Paso y Troncoso and the lithographic representation of the pyramid from Antonio García Cubas, which was attached to his Carta general de la República Mexicana of 1858, illustrate this point. In both instances, each of the structure's seven levels is symmetrically placed, its characteristic niches are perfectly aligned, and an imposing main stairway exhibits all its constitutive blocks. The pyramid, in short, is given solidity and integrity that it certainly lacked in material terms but that nevertheless was attributed to it in order to communicate a sense of stability, historical precedent, and grandeur. On the Comisión Científica Exploradora, see Galindo y Villa, Las ruinas; Casanova, “La fotografía”; Torre Villar, Ocupaciones. On the life and work of García Cubas, see Craib, Cartographic Mexico, 32–33; Carrera, Traveling, 17–18, 156. Earlier accounts and images of the pyramid are found in Diego Ruíz's report of his discovery of the monument in 1785: Diego Ruíz, “Cabo de la ronda del tabaco,” Gaceta de México (Mexico City), 12 July 1785, pp. 349–51. See also Marquez, Due antichi monumenti; Humboldt, Essai politique; Nebel, Voyage pittoresque. For an analysis of the role of travelers in the construction of a national patrimony in Mexico, see Pani, “Los viajeros decimonónicos”; Keen, Aztec Image, is also relevant.
4. Archaeologists believe that the pre-Hispanic city of Tajín was developed between AD 800 and 1200 according to the Classic era of Mesoamerican chronology, a period characterized by the development of urban centers. See Daneels, “Developmental Cycles”; Brüggemann, “La zona”; Ladrón de Guevara, El Tajín.
5. García Vega to Marquina, Mexico City, 22 June 1934, ATINAH, vol. 1, tomo 125, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
7. García Vega's notion of authenticity was certainly a construction. Ruins are, as Quetzil Castañeda argues, “inventions of modernity,” copies “of an original that never existed.” Castañeda, “Aura of Ruins,” 456. See also Castañeda, In the Museum. On the fabricated nature of ruins and the modernist sensibilities that gradually produced them, see also Gordillo, “Ruins of Ruins,” 31–33.
8. García Vega to Marquina, Mexico City, 22 June 1934, ATINAH, vol. 1, tomo 125, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz. President Benito Juárez's Ley General de Bienes Nacionales (1868), which stipulated that castles, forts, historic cities, weapons storehouses, and other buildings could become national property through sale, donation, or some other manner, was broadened during the Porfiriato with the Ley sobre Monumentos Arqueológicos (1897). This law declared national custodianship over all immovable property (muebles inmuebles) or monuments. For a broader discussion of this legislative genealogy, see Lombardo de la Ruiz and Solís Vicarte, Antecedentes; Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio,” 222; Olivé Negrete, Antropología mexicana, 19–46; Breglia, Monumental Ambivalence, 61–91.
9. García Vega to Marquina, Mexico City, 22 June 1934, ATINAH, vol. 1, tomo 125, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz. An image of the project's workers at this time appears as supplemental material (online only) to this article at dx.doi.org/10.1215/00182168-4294456 (supplemental figure 1).
10. The Athens Charter of 1931—the first international document to establish the guidelines for modern architectural conservation—sought to reconcile two dominant tendencies at the time: one favoring the preservation of the assumed stylistic value of monuments (which implied the monuments' complete reconstruction), and the other seeking to preserve their historical value (which implied retaining the monuments' ruinous state to showcase the passage of time). During the time that García Vega visited Tajín, the Mexican state and its commissioned experts seem to have favored the preservation of the style of ancient monuments insofar as they gave precedence to massive reconstruction. Yet, it must be noted, commissioned experts sought to retain a certain degree of decay by, for instance, not finishing the exterior of the reconstructed structures with stucco or paint. On the restoration and falsification of pre-Hispanic monuments during the twentieth century, see Molina-Montes, “Archaeological Buildings.”
11. Agustín García Vega, “Informe de los trabajos ejecutados en la zona del Tajín,” Mexico City, 1938, ATINAH, vol. 2 (1936–40), tomo 126, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
12. On nineteenth-century nationalism and the ways in which the pre-Columbian era and its material remnants were incorporated into national history, see Earle, Return, 100–160; Achim, “Las llaves”; Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio”; Bueno, “Teotihuacán”; Rutsch, Entre el campo; Kelly, “Waking the Gods”; Florescano, Imágenes; Garrigan, Collecting Mexico; Keen, Aztec Image, 310–568; Tenorio-Trillo, Mexico, 65–68, 182–200.
13. Gamio, Forjando patria, 183.
14. During the postrevolutionary period, however, intellectual and political elites were concerned with both the pre-Hispanic past and the indigenous present. See Villoro, Los grandes momentos; Earle, Return, 184–212; López, Crafting Mexico; López Caballero, “Which Heritage for Which Heirs?” On the state's particular interest in the conservation and display of pre-Columbian monoliths and monumental ruins during this period, see Brading, “Monuments,” 526; Castañeda, In the Museum; Breglia, Monumental Ambivalence; Rozental, “La creación.”
15. Brading, “Monuments,” 526.
16. Scholars have, for instance, accounted for the discursive “ambivalence” of archaeological heritage—that is, the contingent practices, expressions, and claims enacted in negotiating both the meaning and use of archaeological ruins. Lisa Breglia, for instance, puts forward this discursive approach and suggests that “understanding the contemporary everyday life of heritage is not to be found in examining material culture as such.” Her study seeks to release “heritage from its own confines of monumental materiality.” Breglia, Monumental Ambivalence, 11, 14. Here I offer an alternative approach, one that takes monumental materiality—its concrete fabrication—as an object of analysis. In this regard, this essay is part of a broader body of work interested in the making of archaeological patrimony in modern Mexico. Christina Bueno's study of the transfer of antique objects to the Museo Nacional Mexicano during the Porfiriato and Sandra Rozental's study of Tlaloc—a monumental stone monolith extracted from the town of Coatlinchan in 1964 in order to be relocated to Mexico City's Museo Nacional de Antropología—are good examples of this trend. See Bueno, “Forjando Patrimonio”; Rozental, “Stone Replicas.”
17. I use the term aesthetics here, following Jacques Rancière, to refer to the sensible order conditioning the ways in which we perceive and apprehend the world. The central question for Rancière—a question that also animates this article—concerns the ways in which the making and unmaking of such hierarchical arrangements achieves a political effect by rendering particular things, thoughts, voices, and actions visible while rendering others invisible. See Rancière, Politics of Aesthetics, 7–14.
18. In line with Lázaro Cárdenas's social program to conserve patrimonial resources, the INAH was established on the basis of the Ley Orgánica del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia passed in 1938 to ensure the research, protection, and dissemination of archaeological, anthropological, and historical patrimony. Today all sites of archaeological patrimony are under the governance of two pieces of legislation: the Ley Federal sobre Monumentos y Zonas Arqueológicas, Artísticos e Históricos of 1972, last amended on January 28, 2015, and the Ley Orgánica del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. See Olivé Negrete, Antropología mexicana, 245–319, 357–69; Vázquez León, El Leviatán arqueológico, 129–42; Cottom, Nación. The most comprehensive account of the long series of interventions at the site of Tajín during the twentieth century can be found in Sara Ladrón de Guevara, “Informe, imagen y pensamiento en el Tajín,” Xalapa, 1999, ATINAH, Mexico City, 29-253, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
19. José García Payón, “Exploraciones en el Totonacapan septentrional y meridional (en El Tajín y Misantla), temporada de 1939,” Xalapa, Oct. 1939, ATINAH, vol. 2, tomo 126, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
20. José García Payón, “Informe de los trabajos de conservación efectuados en el Tajín en la temporada de 1951,” Xalapa, Oct. 1951, ATINAH, vol. 3 (1940–53), tomo 127, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
21. José García Payón, “Estado actual de la exploración y de los trabajos de conservación de la zona arqueológica de Tajín (1942–1944),” Xalapa, Aug. 1945, ATINAH, vol. 3, tomo 126, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz. Images of this reconstruction work appear as supplemental material (online only) to this article at dx.doi.org/10.1215/00182168-4294456 (supplemental figures 2–4).
22. García Payón, “Exploraciones en el Totonacapan septentrional,” Xalapa, Oct. 1939, ATINAH, vol. 2, tomo 126, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
23. Jose García Payón, “Informe de los trabajos de conservación efectuados en El Tajín en la temporada de 1951,” Xalapa, Oct. 1951, ATINAH, vol. 3, tomo 127, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
24. José García Payón, “Condiciones actuales de la pirámide de la zona arqueológica del Tajín en mayo 1958,” Xalapa, Mar. 1959, ATINAH, vol. 5 (1956–58), tomo 129, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
25. Molina-Montes, “Archaeological Buildings,” 129. The Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli (or Pyramid B) at Tula, the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacan, Building F at Cholula, and the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal serve as examples. For a detailed description of these restoration projects, see ibid., 130–40.
26. Ibid., 139. According to Augusto Molina-Montes, there were additional factors explaining this trend, such as the ignorance among experts of principles of modern restoration as established in the Athens Charter in the early 1930s and later reaffirmed in the Venice Charter in 1964. Moreover, several archaeologists in Mexico believed that the ideas developed in Europe were not applicable to pre-Columbian buildings. See ibid.
27. Robert K. Shellaby, “Pyramids Put on ‘Must’ List in Mexico Tour,” Christian Science Monitor (Boston), 18 July 1947, p. 7. See also Barry Bishop, “Pyramid of the Sun,” Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago), 1 June 1947, p. B6.
28. The appreciation of Mexico's pre-Hispanic heritage constituted an integral component of what Eric Zolov calls the “cosmopolitan-folklórico discourse” that characterized the post-1940 period. This discourse rested on the promotion of Mexico (domestically and internationally), on the one hand, as a modern and cosmopolitan nation and, on the other, as an exotic and authentic place. Zolov, “Discovering a Land,” 236. The workings of this discourse are clearly illustrated in newspaper articles from the 1940s and 1950s that celebrate Mexico's ancient wonders while also emphasizing the modern quality of nearby cities as well as the availability of tours, guides, hotels, roads, museums, and comfort. See, for instance, “Sun Pyramid About as High as Bunker Hill Shaft,” Boston Globe (Boston), 22 Apr. 1948, p. 19; “Pyramids Put on ‘Must’ List,” 7; Oden Meeker and Olivia Meeker, “Awesome Mayaland: Most Magnificent Ruins on the Continent Can Be Viewed on a Visit to Yucatán,” New York Times (New York), 28 Nov. 1948, p. X15.
29. Betty Kirk, “New World Monuments: Indian Civilizations of Ancient Times Left Many Traces,” New York Times (New York), 23 Feb. 1941, p. XX7. This situation was also the result of insufficient funding. In fact, during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, García Payón had to request building materials, equipment, and financial support from Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state-owned oil company created after the Mexican nationalization of foreign oil holdings in 1938. José García Payón, “Informe de los trabajos de exploración y restauración llevados a cabo en la zona arqueológica del Tajín, Ver., durante la temporada de 1945–1946,” n.d., ATINAH, vol. 3, tomo 127, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz; García Payón, “Informe de los trabajos de conservación efectuados,” Xalapa, Oct. 1951, ATINAH, vol. 3, tomo 127, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz; “Exploraciones en el Tajín 1953–1954,” Xalapa, Dec. 1954, ATINAH, vol. 4 (1953–54), tomo 128, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz; “Exploraciones en el Tajín, durante la temporada de 1961–1962,” n.d., ATINAH, vol. 6, tomo 130, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
30. José García Payón, “Informe sobre condiciones y proyectos de las zonas arqueológicas del Estado de Veracruz,” Xalapa, 22 Nov. 1956, ATINAH, file 8-1 (311-726), Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
32. On social landscaping in the postrevolutionary period, see Boyer and Wakild, “Social Landscaping.” On the development of mining cooperatives, see Ferry, Not Ours Alone. On the absence of ejidos in this particular region, see Kelly and Palerm, Tajín Totonac; Kourí, Pueblo Divided; Salas Landa, “Enacting Agrarian Law.”
33. On national parks, see Boyer, Political Landscapes; Wakild, Revolutionary Parks.
34. The economic transformation of the region in the first half of the twentieth century, which involved the expansion of pastureland for cattle ranching, the further development of the oil industry in Poza Rica, and the establishment of citrus farms, resulted in an increased reliance on wage labor. See Ortiz Espejel, La cultura asediada; Velázquez Hernández, Cuando los arrieros perdieron; Salas Landa, “Enacting Agrarian Law.”
35. José García Payón, “Informe de las labores efectuadas en la zona arqueológia del Tajín, municipio de Papantla, Ver., del 12 de abril al 22 de mayo y 3 a 5 de junio del año de 1948,” Xalapa, 22 June 1948, ATINAH, file 8-1 [311(726-1)], Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
36. Ibid. Vanilla farming remained an important source of employment in the region even after the decline of vanilla production and export after the late nineteenth century. See Kelly and Palerm, Tajín Totonac.
37. José García Payón, “Exploraciones en el Tajín: Temporadas 1953–1954,” Xalapa, Dec. 1954, ATINAH, vol. 4, tomo 128, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
38. On the building of roads connecting the site of Tajín, see García Payón, “Estado actual de la exploración y de los trabajos de conservación de los monumentos de la zona arqueológica del Tajín,” Xalapa, 1945, ATINAH, vol. 3, tomo 127, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz. The fact that the reconstruction of the site was far from being completed did not stop those attending the annual meeting of the Mexican Society of Anthropology in 1951 (the V Mesa Redonda de Antropología de México) from visiting Tajín's main pyramid. García Payón, “Informe de los trabajos de conservación efectuados,” Xalapa, Oct. 1951, ATINAH, vol. 3, tomo 127, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz. On the relationship between tourism and the state at this time, see Saragoza, “Selling of Mexico.”
39. José García Payón, “Tajín 1967,” Xalapa, 1968, ATINAH, file 8-1 [311(726-1)], Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
41. The creation of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 1946 by President Manuel Ávila Camacho represents the conclusion of the institutionalization of the Mexican Revolution, a process that began in 1929 with Plutarco Elías Calles, founder of the National Revolutionary Party (PNR).
42. “El Tajín,” in Huerta, 500,000 Azaleas, 69. On the work of Efraín Huerta and his context, see Huerta, El otro Efraín. On the ways in which the middle classes experienced discontent after 1968, see Walker, Waking from the Dream.
43. Scholars, too, have questioned the political stability and economic prosperity of the Mexican Miracle, revealing instead the violence and repression on which the PRI depended. On the making of the authoritarian regime that followed Cardenismo, the effects of the Cold War, and the myth of the so-called Pax PRIista (1940s–1970s), see Gillingham and Smith, Dictablanda; Rath, Myths of Demilitarization; McCormick, Logic of Compromise; Pensado, Rebel Mexico; Aviña, Specters of Revolution; Padilla, Rural Resistance; Alegre, Railroad Radicals; Trevizo, Rural Protest; Ross, Is the Mexican Revolution Dead?; Joseph and Spenser, In from the Cold; Sherman, “Mexican ‘Miracle’”; Schlefer, Palace Politics.
45. During the 1970s García Payón tried to repair the damage caused by a severe flood that affected the site in 1970. He did little work, however, on the main pyramid. José García Payón, “Breve informe de actividades en El Tajín,” 20 Jan. 1971, ATINAH, B311.32(261-2), Tajín, Estado de Veracruz; “Exploraciones en el Tajín durante la temporada 1972–73,” n.d., ATINAH, B311.32(261-2), Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
46. See Castillo Peña et al., Plan de manejo.
47. On Mexico's transition to neoliberal capitalism, see, for instance, Haber et al., Mexico since 1980, 1–19; Moreno-Brid and Ros, Development and Growth, 176–205. In 1970, however, the site collected between Mex$5,000 and Mex$12,000 in admissions fees and began to receive more visitors than it was prepared to accommodate. In one of his reports, García Payón mentioned the need to increase the number of guards in order to prevent both damage caused by visitors and armed robberies. García Payón, “Breve informe,” 20 Jan. 1971, ATINAH, B311.32(261-2), Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
48. René Ortega Guevara and Alfonso García y García, “Informe de los trabajos de conservación y restauración de la pirámide de los nichos en el Tajín, Ver., 1984, Tajín,” n.d., ATINAH, vol. 1, 29-28, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
50. It must be noted that the Universidad Veracruzana had already been supporting archaeological work in Tajín. For example, in 1952 they gave José García Payón Mex$2,500 for conducting a stratigraphic study at the site. José García Payón, “Informe de los trabajos de conservación realizados en la zona arqueológica del Tajín durante el año de 1952,” vol. 3, tomo 127, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
51. Jürgen K. Brüggemann, “Informe Tajín,” 1984, ATINAH, vol. 1, 29-28, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
52. An image of the pyramid from this time appears as supplemental material (online only) to this article at dx.doi.org/10.1215/00182168-4294456 (supplemental figure 7). Proyecto Tajín had two goals. The first was to work on the preservation of unearthed monuments. In this regard, Brüggemann favored reconstruction over restoration despite the fact that several members of the INAH had already recommended avoiding the practice of reconstructing pre-Hispanic monuments, in line with the Venice Charter. See, for instance, the recommendations of the First Technical Meeting on Conservation of Archaeological Monuments and Zones, held in Mexico City in 1974. Molina-Montes, “Archaeological Buildings,” 139–40. The second goal of the project was to reassess the chronology and urban development of the site. Brüggemann, “Informe Tajín,” 1984, ATINAH, vol. 1, 29-28, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
53. Jürgen K. Brüggemann, “Informe de los trabajos de mantenimiento arqueológico, llevados a cabo en la zona arqueológica Tajín durante el período septiembre 1998 a febrero 1999,” n.d., ATINAH, 29-230, Tajin, Estado de Veracruz.
54. Jaime Ortega, “Informe de las actividades realizadas durante el período comprendido del 22 agosto al 21 octubre de 1989,” Tajín, June 1990, ATINAH, vol. 2, 29-69, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
55. Ibid. On the role that medical and scientific professionals affiliated with state institutions played in the process of racialization in postrevolutionary Mexico, see Stern, “From Mestizophilia to Biotypology.”
56. Ortega, “Informe,” Tajín, June 1990, ATINAH, vol. 2, 29-69, Tajín, Estado de Veracruz.
59. Salinas de Gortari expanded the neoliberal reforms introduced by Miguel de la Madrid. On local conflicts over the UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination, see Forrest D. Colburn, “Blaming Salinas: Anger at El Tajín,” New Leader (New York), 21 Sept. 1994, p. 11; Nahmad Molinari and Rodríguez, Informe del programa. On how similar processes unraveled in Chichén Itzá, see Breglia, Monumental Ambivalence.
60. The Fox administration carried on the neoliberal orientation of their predecessors by seeking to foster tourism and improve the economic relationship between Mexico and the United States. Yet as Alex Saragoza argues, the Fox administration eschewed a deliberate cultural association with mexicanidad or the fascination with indigenous peoples and the pre-Hispanic. See Saragoza, “Golfing in the Desert.” Nevertheless, this shift has not undermined or challenged the allure of antiquity and its protected status. Monumental sites, around which folk art is often exhibited, continue to be widely visited by tourists, which profits the state and locals in varying ways. See Coffey, “Marketing Mexico's Great Masters.”
61. Others, like several residents of the community of El Tajín, which is located one kilometer south of the site, were unable to benefit from the land that they legally owned. The current regulations on land use and tenure can be found in Castillo Peña et al., Plan de manejo.
62. PEMEX retains a strong presence in the area due to the proximity of the Poza Rica oil field.
64. During February and March 2013, I carried out formal interviews with those living and working in and around the archaeological site of Tajín, including INAH staff members, guards, residents of El Tajín and San Antonio Ojital, and members of the cooperative Lankasipi, the source for the quote here and subsequent quotes in this essay. Images of the sendero, the cooperative's members, and San Antonio Ojital appear as supplemental material (online only) to this article at dx.doi.org/10.1215/00182168-4294456 (supplemental figures 10–12).
65. In my use of disregard I follow Ann Stoler, who defines the term as a particular affective state, one of “those habits of heart and comportment recruited to the service of colonial governance.” Disregard, she observes, does not mean to ignore something but to refuse to take notice of it, revealing an attitude of “inattention.” Stoler, Along the Archival Grain, 237, 255.
66. See, for instance, Auyero, Patients of the State; Gupta, Red Tape; Graeber, Utopia.
67. Auyero, Patients of the State, 7–9.
68. In very concrete terms, this meant having to wear traditional indigenous clothing during official meetings with state authorities, the INAH, or PEMEX personnel. Men wear, for example, loose white shirts and pants made out of manta as well as an embroidered pañuelo around the neck. Women wear cotton skirts and embroidered blouses. Given that this clothing doesn't constitute the everyday wardrobe of the cooperative members, they often made great effort to obtain or buy it.
69. For scholars interested in examining forms of spatial destruction and the violence that they entail (see, for instance, Gordillo, Rubble, 77–84), acts of reconstruction hold a positive dimension. Although I acknowledge that construction efforts have been used to forge more inclusive and just nationalist projects (see in particular Healey, Ruins), my aim here is to demonstrate that building and reconstruction can also violently produce their own forms of disruption and precariousness.