In most of the New World, starting from Mexico and going all the way down to Argentina*, there is an almost invisible form of slavery and segregation aimed towards the own citizens of each country.
Who am I talking about? I’m talking about the Indigenous people of the Americas. This is their story. Warning: The following paragraphs will contain a very harsh and heartbreaking truth; please proceed with caution and remember to always have an open-mind.
“They took our gold and they gave us bibles.”
As most of you already know, the Spaniard conquest of the American continent was a military and religious operation aimed to not only destroy the morale and temples of the indigenous people but also to slave them to the European way of thinking. Sadly, it worked.
If you ask a Mayan person today about Kukulcán and the temple at Chichén Itzá, he/she will tell you that it’s all a fable and that his/her ancestors were clearly insane to worship said deity since the only true savior is none other than Jesus. No, I’m not trying to be witty here; those are exactly the direct words I heard from a local tour guide at the Mayan Ruins of Palenque.
How sad is that?
Can you imagine a Muslim saying that about Allah? Can you picture an Hindu saying the same about Vishnu? How about a Buddhist completely dismissing the mere existence of Siddhartha Gautama?
Why are the Mesoamerican religions dismissed as myths and fables while the European/Asian ones treated with respect and veneration?
When 2012 was coming to an end and the sensationalist news featured the Mayan Calendar (and of course, 8 out of 10 newscasts featured instead a picture of the Aztec “Calendar”, which isn’t really a calendar at all…) and the prophecy about the end of the world, one of the main features was segments about “What would the Mayans say if they existed today…” while completing ignoring that the Mayans still exist in modern-day Mexico/Guatemala/Belize/Honduras.
And yet…do they really exist today or are they just an empty-shell of their former selves? Did the Spaniards kill the true cultural heritage of our ancestors? When did all of this begin?
Understanding the causes of racism against the Indigenous People
Once the Spaniards settled in the New World, they began to have extramarital affairs with the indigenous females, giving birth to a new mixed race of people, whom we call Mestizos. Today, it is extremely rare (if not outright impossible) to find a pureblooded Spaniard descendent of the original settlers since all of us are of mixed race, something that sets us apart from the modern day citizens of the USA and Canada.
Only the sons of Spaniards had access to education so it was only natural that the Indigenous people fell far behind in the politics and society of the New World, their roles of proud warriors and bright astronomers was now reduced to cheap labor on the agricultural fields and the production of textiles.
Mestizos were taught to completely obliterate all traces of their indigenous roots and embrace instead the European mold in order to be true Spaniards and enjoy a limited share of privileges. Even after the Independence Wars of the 19th century, this way of thinking prevailed.
Today, in Mexico, it is extremely common for phrases such as “Eres un Indio” to be used as an insult against uneducated people, regardless of their ethnicity. In fact, the only Indigenous President of the history of Mexico, Benito Juarez, was actually raised and educated in the city (under the patronage of a Franciscan layman) ever since he was 12 years old.
He never related to the plight of the Indigenous people since he could never identify with the average one. It’s not that different than USA President Barack Obama and the fact that he simply cannot relate at all to the average African Americans since his background is extremely different from theirs.
The Indigenous people today
Governments came and went and the Indigenous people remained segregated from the main society. Of course, in theory they have the same opportunities as everybody else. They can go to school (after walking for 4 hours in order to reach it!), apply for a scholarship at any college (no affirmative action in Latin America!) and obtain any skilled job they want (as long as they have a name that can be easily pronounced!) and yet…they have to integrate in order to be fully accepted by the main society.
Last year I read in the news about the case of an Indigenous university student at Mexico who entered a coffee shop after classes and was told by the barista “No street sellers allowed here, get out immediately!” Just because she was proudly wearing her traditional clothes she was deemed unworthy of taking a seat while drinking a coffee she was willingly to pay for!
What kind of world are we living in? In Peru, the average city-dweller citizen tries its best to distance himself/herself from his/her Indigenous roots. If you go to a dinner with a Peruvian family, all you will hear is how they have a German relative, how their great-great-grand-father was from France and things like that. It’s as if they were ashamed of their origins.
It’s not an issue of being white versus being brown anymore. After all, the average Latin American citizen is all shades of brown. No… the issue seems to be about trying to be as European as possible while diminishing the rich cultural roots that we all share with the Indigenous people.
Before being a Mexican, I was an Aztec. There’s no denying that. I don’t want to pretend to be European. I don’t want to follow a religion that was imposed by blood. I don’t want to conform to the racism that we are implementing against our own brothers and sisters. I want to make a change. I want people of Latin America to read this and understand that the Indigenous people ARE our ancestors. Will you help me spread the message?
*Disclaimer: Why are the USA and Canada excluded from this essay? I made the choice of doing so because the average citizen of those countries has no relation via blood or culture to the indigenous people that inhabited the land before him/her.
Also because they both have programs meant to “benefit” the indigenous people of their country by excluding them from the main society in order to “protect” their unique heritage while also giving them special legal “privileges”.
Yes, the quotation marks are done on purpose.