Oaxaca (State)

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Oaxaca (State)

The state of Oaxaca covers 36,820 square miles and contained 3,506,821 inhabitants in 2005. Crossed by the Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre del Sur, Oaxaca's rugged terrain accounts for its isolation and division into seven distinct geographical regions (Central Valleys, Sierra Juárez, Cañada, Mixteca, Costa, Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and Papaloapan River basin) and partially for the survival of sixteen indigenous groups.

Zapotecs and Mixtecs, the two most numerous groups today, are descendants of major Mesoamerican civilizations. Zapotec culture reached its height in the classic period at Monte Albán (200–900), and the Mixtecs flourished during the postclassic period (1000–1521). The advancing Aztec Empire established a garrison in 1486 at Huaxyacac (today the city of Oaxaca). Francisco de Orozco and Pedro de Alvarado conquered the Central Valleys in 1521–1522. A large part of Oaxaca fell within Hernán Cortés's marquesado del Valle, ceded to him by Charles V in 1529. Oaxaca was evangelized by the Dominican order and continues to be a stronghold of Catholicism.

The economy languished until cochineal dye, textile manufacture, and silver production generated prosperity in the latter eighteenth century. Owing to its geographical isolation, lack of transportation, and the tenacity of its indigenous population to retain communal lands, haciendas existed precariously. A commercial elite, based in the capital city, has dominated economics and politics since this period. The Bourbon Reforms established Oaxaca as one of Mexico's twelve intendancies.

During the struggle for independence, José María Morelos ruled briefly from the city of Oaxaca, where a native son, Carlos María de Bustamante, published the insurgent El Correo del Sur. In 1824 Oaxaca became a state. In 1853, after a local rebellion, a Conservative government created a separate federal territory straddling the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz. Although the state was abolished by Benito Juárez in 1857, isthmian separatism remains a latent problem.

Two Oaxacan Liberals (who also served as state governors) dominated Mexican politics during the latter half of the nineteenth century. President Benito Juárez guided the nation's Liberal reform movement through civil wars and the French Intervention. President Porfirio Díaz fostered economic liberalism: infrastructure, commercial agriculture, and foreign investment. During his rule, a railway connected Oaxaca to Mexico City, thus facilitating a mining boom and the exportation of cash crops. Commercial agriculture expanded at the expense of the communal landholdings of the indigenous villages.

Although urban and rural middle sectors seconded the 1910 Revolution in Oaxaca, support for Díaz was strong in his native state. In 1915 the conservative Oaxacan oligarchy, opposed to the increasing domination of Mexico by the Constitutionalists led by Venustino Carranza, attempted to distance itself from the civil war by temporarily withdrawing recognition from his government and resuming state sovereignty. However, by mid-1916, Constitutionalist forces controlled most of the state's territory.

After the revolution, Oaxaca continued to export coffee, especially the highly prized Pluma Altura bean. Nevertheless, neglected by revolutionary regimes and failing to industrialize (producing only 1 percent of the nation's industrial goods in 1990), Oaxaca became Mexico's poorest state, suffering from high infant mortality, malnutrition, and illiteracy, especially among its indigenous population. With the restoration of archaeological sites and colonial architecture, the recent development of coastal attractions (Huatulco), and distribution of indigenous artisanry, tourism has developed into a major source of income. The prominent Mexican artists Miguel Cabrera, Rufino Tamayo, and Francisco Toledo were born in Oaxaca. Controversy and political strife erupted in Oaxaca city in May 2006, when teachers striking for higher wages occupied and held buildings. By October, the movement had garnered the support of tens of thousands of people and supporters called for the resignation of Oaxaca's governor. On October 27, government paramilitary troops fired into a crowd of protesters and killed three of them. Two days later, President Vicente Fox authorized police and military officers to use bulldozers and water cannons to push back the protestors and to regain control of the city. Disputes between protestors and troops continued, but as of 2007 all actions had been peaceful.

See alsoCortés, Hernán; Díaz, Porfirio; Juárez, Benito; Mexico: The Colonial Period; Mexico: Since 1910; Mixtecs; Monte Albán; Zapotecs.


Jorge Fernando Iturribarría, Oaxaca en la historia (1955).

William B. Taylor, Landlord and Peasant in Colonial Oaxaca (1972).

José María Bradomín, Monografía del estado de Oaxaca (1980).

Leticia Reina, ed., Historia de la cuestíon agraria: Estado de Oaxaca, 2 vols. (1988).

Margarita Dalton, comp., Oaxaca: Textos de su historia, 5 vols. (1990).

María De Los Angeles Frizzi, comp., Lecturas históricas del estado de Oaxaca, vols. 2-4 (1990).

Víctor Raúl Martínez Vázquez, ed., La revolución en Oaxaca, 1900–1930 (1993).

Additional Bibliography

Baskes, Jeremy. Indians, Merchants, and Markets: A Reinterpretation of the Repartimiento and Spanish-Indian Relations in Colonial Oaxaca, 1750–1821. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Chassen de López, Francie R. From Liberal to Revolutionary Oaxaca: The View from the South: Mexico, 1867–1911. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004.

Guardino, Peter F. The Time of Liberty: Popular Political Culture in Oaxaca, 1750–1850. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

Overmyer Velázquez, Mark. Visions of the Emerald City: Modernity, Tradition, and the Formation of Porfirian Oaxaca, Mexico. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

Terraciano, Kevin. The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Nudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.

                                    Francie Chassen-LÓpez