The Indigenous is Strong in Mexico

Despite years of genocide (in some cases, 95 percent of indigenous people perished within 50 years of the Spanish conquest), the indigenous values, traditions, tongues, and people are strong and growing stronger in Mexico.

Mexico has more traditional, full-blooded indigenous people than any other country in the Americas. While there are more indigenous people percentage wise in countries like Guatemala and Bolivia, the sheer numbers of reportedly traditional indigenous people in Mexico outnumber the numbers of natives in those countries. In Mexico, it's between 10 to 20 million people. This is about 10 to 20 percent of the 100 million people who populate the country. Yet, I contend that most Mexicans are still indigenous.

While it's true that mestizaje occurred in the more then 500 years since Cortez first entered Mexico, this has largely occurred in the major cities. Most Mexicans still have the brown faces, eyes, and hair of their indigenous ancestors.

Here's an interesting statistic -- reportedly there were 60 percent full-blooded indigenous people at the start of Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain (1810-1821). Many Spanish stopped coming in large numbers after that. But by the 1910 Mexican Revolution, there were 40 percent indigenous people -- even with no more major Spanish populations to draw from. Today it's estimated to be 10 percent indigenous people.

The fact of the matter is, most mestizaje happened between native peoples from various tribes. It was more about the process of becoming Mexicanos, not so much mestizos.

Yes, it's true that there are many people of all races in Mexico -- whites not only from Spain but from Ireland, Germany, France, and the US. There were also Arabs, particularly after the break up of the Ottoman Empire, as well as Filipinos and Malaysians who came in the tens of thousands (especially when Spain controlled those areas). Japanese and Chinese also emigrated here. And there were apparently more African slaves brought into Mexico than there were Spanish settlers (around 300,000 to 150,000 at the height of their numbers).

I understand there has been a long history of mixing of races and cultures.

But none of this obliterated or even involved the majority of indigenous people. The de-Indianization of Mexico is mostly due to the removal of people from their lands, their traditions, and languages (which can be called mexicanization). Still, today there are some 240 languages and their variants spoken in Mexico.

The indigenous is still strong -- and deep -- whether one claims to be native or not.

When I was in Mexico from October 7 to 12 for Mexico City's Sixth Book Fair (Feria del Libro) this was most evident in the people in the main plaza or zocalo. Native people shared their wares on most corners, some in native dress. Many Mexicans have been learning the Mexika (Aztec) dances, held every day and evening in the zocalo since 1978.

I was also there when 10,000 mostly indigenous people from Oaxaca (Mixtecos, Zapotecas, and other tribes) marched into the capital in protest of voter fraud and extreme repression from the PAN-PRI united government in this southern state -- one of the most indigenous in all of Mexico.

I was also able to visit the Templo Mayor, discovered in 1978 during the burrowing for the Metro subway system. This and other ruins have been found beneath parts of the central city. The Spanish conquerors had destroyed almost all remnants of the Mexika/Aztec culture, even using stone bricks from their temples to build the Cathedral and other buildings. Many colonial homes and structures were built on top of the old Mexika temples and other structures.

Now many of these ruins are being excavated.

Just a week or two before I arrived, Mexican archaelogists discovered one of the largest Mexika monoliths ever, next to the Templo Mayor. Found on October 2, the rectagular monolith measures 13 feet on its largest side (the renowned circular Mexika Calendar monolith, found in 1790, has a diameter of 12 feet).

The Secretary of Culture of the Federal District of Mexico City, Raquel Sosa, invited me and other Feria del Libro participants, to a special tour of the Templo Mayor, with talks from the main Templo engineer and the director of the Templo Mayor museum. We were able to actually stand on the temple floor, something tourists and other guest don't get to do (there is a catwalk that goes around the temple floor where they can view the remaining walls and artifacts).

They also took us to the excavation area of the most recently discovered monolith, although we couldn't see it since it was covered as protection from the humidity, rain, and debris as they continued to carefully remove it from its resting place.

It was an extreme honor for me to witness this.

The indigenous is important for me because of my own indigenous roots from Mexico.

I also have strong ties to Mexika/Mayan and other indigenous groups in the US, as well, of course, with Native Americans. Every year for around ten years, my wife Trini and I (often with my two youngest boys, my daughter, granddaughter, and members of our sweat lodge circle in the San Fernando Valley ) go to the Navajo Reservation near the Chuskas mountains in a small rez town called Lukachukai. Our family was adopted by Medicine man and elder Anthony Lee and his family. We go for ceremonies and to visit our adopted brothers and sisters as well as Anthony and his wife, Delores. We made this visit again this past September.

This has become a renewing source for me, there with the Navajos, who call themselves the Dine. But, as Anthony has always told us, this was not meant to make "Navajos" out of us. It has, however, helped us get closer to our own indigenous roots and traditions from Mexico. We are all related, as the Lakota say. Especially since migrations between North American natives, Mexican natives, and South American natives had been going on for tens of thousands of years.

Borders came along (most through conquests) and have divided us. We go into Navajoland as people without borders, who recognize our ancestral roots and ties, and still find a spiritual connection to these ancient people and ancient lands.

So for me, Mexico is going back to the motherland. Being born in the US and having US citizenship doesn't change that. It doesn't mean divided allegences -- that's the fears of the narrow minded and unimaginative. I have ties to these lands, both in the US and Mexico, as long as anyone's. That doesn't make me better than anyone else. Nor does this give me any special privileges. It does mean that I belong here. I'm no stranger. No "foreigner." No "illegal." I'm home.


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  • Al Orozco
    commented 2017-03-16 07:15:29 -0700
    Great article