A LIFE OF THEIR OWN: An Indian Family in Latin America by Aylette & Lisa W. Kroeber Jenness
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A LIFE OF THEIR OWN: An Indian Family in Latin America

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In her explorations of the tundra (1970) and Along the Niger River (1974) Jenness always tried to see beneath the picturesque surfaces and communicate the very different pace, attitudes and expectations of unindustrialized societies. Here, in collaboration with Lisa Kroeber, she visits the Hernandez family, relatively prosperous Guatamalan Indians, and tries more than ever to involve us in their lives--both with an introductory note on how the authors went about their research and a final chapter of projects designed, not so much to produce crafts objects, as to let youngsters experience the stringencies of bathing with two pots of water, sweeping with a twig broom and washing clothes by hand. (These last are tactfully presented, without condescending or romanticizing the poverty.) One sees the Hernandez family lunching on tortillas, frijoles and a special treat of gaseosas; going to the mercado to trade or handweaving cloth at home; and making purses (the work of the father, Hipolito) on a treadle sewing machine. One also learns some basic Spanish words (although Cakchiquel is the family's first language) and respect for the diverse skills required by such a seemingly simple way of life. Disease and hunger, though acknowledged, remain in the background, but we do see the teacher who is trying to bring scientific agriculture to the village and the nurse in the new health clinic, both from a perspective that takes account of their dedication as well as the Indians' suspicions of ladino outsiders. The curriculum activities and personal comments tailor this to a narrower age range than previous Jenness books, but the photos and text speak with the same quality of intimate, unhurried acquaintance.

Page count: 134pp
Publisher: T. Y. Crowell