The Observer, Ethnography and Cultural Commentary

Ruth Behar, the noted anthropologist, wrote “Anthropology That Breaks Your Heart,” in 1996.  It is one of the readings for our documentary filmmaking workshop that starts tonight in Teotitlan del Valle.  I read it on the plane ride between Houston and Oaxaca last night and it raised my consciousness about going through life interpreting what we believe to be happening or the reasons behind other people’s behavior and decisions.  This is especially true when one is living and working in another culture.  It is so easy to observe traditions, differences, ritual celebrations, and bring your own meaning to it.  But, it is just that, my own interpretation of what someone is is thinking or feeling based upon my own cultural history and bias.  So, as we enter this week of documentary filmmaking in the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, we will raise and discuss these questions as a group.  What we see from our own lens is just that.  We interview others and they will tell us their story.  It may not reveal all that 7,000 years of cultural history has imbedded in their answers.  I will be careful, as an interested observer, to recount, retell, describe.  I will ask those who live here to explain, interpret, give meaning to the visual story and I will do my best to accurately record in writing and on film their voices.  My role is not to evaluate or judge, but to discover.

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