Social Issues

500 Years after conquest, Mexico’s indigenous peoples continue to resist

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Mexico City, Oct 12 (EFE).- While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government has put the emphasis on “indigenous resistance” as it marks this year’s quincentennial of the Spanish conquest, the original peoples continue to struggle against what they describe as neglect and marginalization by the present-day Mexican state.

Fifteen-year-old Janet is one of some 40 members of the Triqui people who have been camped out for more than eight months outside the Palace of Fine Arts in the heart of this capital.

The Triquis came to Mexico City in search of help from federal authorities against the paramilitaries who forced the community off their ancestral lands in the mountains of the southern state of Oaxaca.

“We don’t want more violence, we want a village of peace, love and harmony,” Janet tells Efe.

Kids run around the makeshift encampment, whose occupants subsist on donations of food from residents.

“When it rains, the old people and children cry because they don’t know why we left (Oaxaca). It’s not their fault,” a woman named Maria says, suggesting that she was the main target of the paramilitaries who drove the group from their homes.

Tapping her face, she says: “If they (the paramilitaries) see my face, they will kill me.”

Data from the 2020 census shows that more than 7.3 million people, or roughly 6 percent of Mexico’s population, speak an indigenous language as their mother tongue.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist former social worker, promised when he took office in December 2018 to give “preference to the humblest and most forgotten, especially the indigenous peoples.”

Traditionally, Oct. 12 – the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World – was celebrated in Mexico as Dia de la Raza (Day of the Ibero-American Race).

But last year, the Mexican Senate changed the designation to Day of the Plurinational Nation to acknowledge the indigenous peoples, and the Mexico City government removed a famous statue of Columbus ahead of a march by indigenous activists who vowed to topple the monument.

“Mexican-ness is a construction. We must recognize that in this country called Mexico there exist 68 peoples with completely distinct characteristics and naming them makes the difference between a discourse that oppresses them and one that makes them visible,” says Aldahir Jimenez, a leader of a Tutunaku community in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

More than once, the Lopez Obrador government has apologized to the original peoples for their suffering in the wake of the Spanish conquest.

The focus of official commemorations has been on the Aztec Empire’s defense of Tenochtitlan (where Mexico City now stands) against the forces led by Hernan Cortes.

“Beyond the 500 years of the resistance of Tenochtitlan, there are 500 years of resistance by many other peoples, such as the Yaqui, the Wixarica and the Tutunaku, and it seems mistaken to me to continue talking from this centralist narrative,” Jimenez says.

Some indigenous organizations see the government as their enemy, the most prominent being the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), known around the world for the uprising they launched on Jan. 1, 1994, in the southern state of Chiapas.

Though they never laid down their arms, the Zapatistas ceased hostilities after a few weeks in favor of non-violent activism.

Unhappy with Lopez Obrador over his signature project for a passenger railway in southeastern Mexico (Tren Maya), the Zapatistas said recently that Chiapas on the verge of “civil war” due to the presence of paramilitaries.

Even so, the government hopes to prove its good faith by amending the constitution to include explicit guarantees regarding the rights of indigenous peoples and descendants of African slaves.

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