Rarámuri women in Chihuahua, Mexico, have made an indigenous style of dress a means of fighting assimilation.

By midmorning on the Wednesday before Easter, the desert sun was gaining strength in Chihuahua, Mexico. So was the deep sound of beating cowhide drums in Oasis. This settlement, situated in the working-class neighborhood of Colonia Martín López, is home to approximately 500 Rarámuris, commonly known as Tarahumaras, an indigenous people who are fleeing drought, deforestation and drug growers in Sierra Madre.

In the city, their displacement is marked by other forms of hardship, which are magnified by the way the Rarámuri stand out.

The women dress in bright, ankle-length frocks — and often spend afternoons sewing traditional Rarámuri dresses — despite pressures from the people of mixed race who comprise most of Mexico’s population to assimilate with Western style. For Rarámuri people, assimilation is the same as erasure. But there’s a pervasive idea among many in Mexico that progress is dependent on severing ties with the country’s indigenous history.

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