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Los Guardianes del Maíz

Los Guardianes del Maíz

Un documental de

Gustavo Vazquez

producido por

Jonathan Barbieri

Duración: 58 min


For thousands of years, native farmers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca have kept alive a system of seed exchanges that, like oral almanacs, have brought the collective knowledge of traditional milpa* farming methods into the Twenty-first Century.

One such seed exchange takes place in the town of Ejido Unión Zapata, in whose province lie the caves of Guila Naquitz. Today the caves are catalogued as a World Cultural Heritage Center by UNESCO, whose website describes them as containing, “the earliest known evidence of domesticated plants in the continent, while corn cob fragments from the same cave are said to be the earliest documented evidence for the domestication of maize".

The seed exchange at Ejido Unión Zapata is host to over 500 indigenous farmers and their families who come from every region in Oaxaca. The system predates the arrival of the Europeans and to this day, no money changes hands. The only currency tendered here is genetic diversity and good advice. It was at Ejido Unión Zapata that the idea for our documentary, Los Guardianes del Maíz, The Keepers of Corn, 2020 was born.

To fully understand the importance of preserving the over sixty varieties of native corn in Mexico and the genetic diversity of the hundreds of eco-system-specific strains cultivated in Oaxaca, we needed to trace some of the farmers back to their fields and communities in the far flung Mixteca, Zapotec and Chinantla regions of the state.

The film is an affirmation of the viability of traditional indigenous agriculture as a model that can be applied where industrial mono-cropping methods have failed. It explores the cultural and organizational continuity that emphatically links today’s corn farming communities in Mexico to their pre-Columbian ancestors. “Nature,” at least as it is understood by the Zapotec, Mixtec and Chinantec communities surveyed, may be threatened, even wounded, but is not “broken.” In the course of our three-year journey as filmmakers we learned that even under the stress of bio-piracy, reckless glysophate use and the insinuation of instant soups and soft-drinks into their communities, traditional farming and its coeval systems have been surprisingly resilient.


It is hoped that this work serves as a testament to both the fragility and tenaciousness of traditional farming cultures. We are honored and grateful to have been invited into these communities and hope that our work provokes a dialog between them and others like them, even in other countries.


We learned along the way that coalitions between budget-strapped, yet dedicated, government scientists, activists, chefs and the farmers themselves actually do happen and that together they can work in defense of the great genetic diversity and cultural treasure that native corn represents.

I invite you to listen to the Broken Nature podcast hosted by Paola Antonelli and produced by Isabel Custodio with research and writting by Anna Burckhardt for the Museum of Modern Art.

Episode Description

Showing up in food, cosmetics, fuel, medicine, and even the air we breathe, corn has become one of the most ubiquitous presences in our lives. In this episode of The Broken Nature Series, host Paola Antonelli talked to Bex, who runs the blog Corn Allergy Girl, cultural anthropologist Alyshia Galvez, and community organizers Yira Vallejo and Jonathan Barbieri about the proliferation of corn and its consequences for our health, environment, and communities.

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