Cerocahui Mission School

Hitting a piñata at the Mission residential school for indigenous Rarámuri girls in Cerocahui, Mexico.

I included this image in my last post, but I wanted to comment on it further. I suppose that if one wants to experience different cultures, without passing judgement on them from a short visit and from our own comfortable and perhaps ill-informed perspective, I should let this image stand on its own, without comment.

But I cannot. It reminds me too much of old pictures of smiling indigenous children in Canada’s horrific residential schools. Their poses reflect nothing of the realities of their lives.

The girls in this picture were each rewarded with a candy for taking some swipes at the piñata.They are performing for a group of a few dozen tourists who had brought school supplies and other gifts. Were we, rich and white, participating in tourist voyeurism? I wonder how often this ritual is performed for visitors like us? I wonder what the girls make of it, and whether the older ones question what is happening.

I would like to think that everyone involved is well-meaning. We are told that this Catholic mission school, run by nuns without government funds, provides an education to indigenous girls whose families in remote areas cannot otherwise provide for their “schooling”. We are told there is no coercion involved.

I did notice two other things at the school: The predominance of religious iconography; and several girls doing last-minute cleaning with brooms and dustpans.

I found the devotional art troubling, particularly in the context of Mexico’s colonial history, as hinted at in my previous three posts. The Rarámuri have resisted assimilation for centuries, but is this a more modern form of colonization? The piñata being struck here is neither an icon of indigenous nor Mexican culture.

These are my thought on what I saw. I admit to the possibility that I have misinterpreted what I saw based on a short visit and limited knowledge of Mexican history, culture and politics. But it is important as tourists to question and think carefully about what we see, and recognize our own limitations and biases.