Wixárika Music, Huichol Music: The Construction and Commodification of an Indigenous Identity

This dissertation studies traditional and popular music of the Wixárika (a.k.a. Huichol) people of western Mexico, focusing especially on the phenomenon of Wixárika musicians who intentionally represent themselves as indigenous “Huichol” people yet perform popular Mexican music primarily for non-indigenous audiences. This phenomenon markets ethnic identity within regional and transnational music industries, following in the footsteps of Wixárika people who have successfully inserted their arts and crafts into global markets. The process of becoming indigenous cosmopolitan capitalists is partly the result of direct assimilatory projects directed by early Mexican anthropologists and the indirect outcome of over a century of Huichol identity construction for consumption, aided greatly by foreign ethnographers and other outsiders. On one hand, the commodification of identity through handicrafts, art, and music generates income for the Wixárika people, and the resultant visibility—sometimes international in scale—may strengthen them politically as Indigenous people. Conversely, the process simultaneously supplants some of the very elements they consider central to Wixárika culture. Musicians often leave their homelands to pursue their craft, making it difficult or impossible to participate in community affairs and ceremonies, and leaving their children bereft of Wixárika language and “customs.” Such people who represent the “customs” but do not practice them are sometimes disparaged as “half disqualified” or “Huichol de pirata” (pirated Huichol), illuminating identity’s commodity form. As the first English-language study of Wixárika music, this dissertation examines the paradox of identity commodification, developing a tripartite model of identity that shows the vital (albeit sometimes inadvertent) role of ethnography in defining the essence of the commodity form of Huichol identity.