Recording Resistance: Indigenous Literacy, Archives, And Narrative Power In Twentieth-Century Ecuador

Marlén Rosas, University of Pennsylvania


My dissertation brings critical archive studies, oral history, and intellectual history approaches to the study of Indigenous mobilization in twentieth-century Ecuador, arguably the most organized Indigenous movement in the history of the Americas. I argue that Indigenous labor activists on the haciendas (landed estates) of Cayambe, Ecuador remade literacy to include expertise critical to the political demands they had pursued since forming unions in the 1920s. Labor leaders--particularly women-- created Indigenous socialist schools in the 1940s to teach their communities to read and write in Spanish in order to be able to read, understand, and defend their rights. In the 1960s, they recorded oral histories, printed books and visual images, and championed their local leaders as icons for the next generation. This work laid claim to new forms of political participation in the 1970s as alliances with the traditional Left unraveled, and government functionaries limited activists’ power. Challenging the notion that they were incapable of articulating an autonomous political agenda, Indigenous labor organizers in Ecuador asserted the power of Indigenous expertise on issues of class and cultural resistance, nationalism, modernity, and even global Cold War politics. By placing oral history and subject formation at the center of my work, I contribute to scholarship that recognizes the importance of narrative forms in enabling grassroots political consciousness.