From the Fall of Tenochtitlán to the Mayan Train: What Does It Mean to Ask Forgiveness?

This is a reflection on the 500 years since the fall of the Tenochtítlan and the demands for apologies [for the conquest]. With regard to the upcoming trip  that the Zapatistas will make to Spain, sociologist María Eugenia Sánchez Días reviews their contributions in light of the prevailing mestizo ideology in the country.  

Text and photos: Daliri Oropeza 

PUEBLA.- María Eugenia Sánchez Díaz has dedicated herself to study the mestizo ideology and its repercussions since the colonial era, through the Nation state, until the present day. Cordial racism, inequity, and social rifts are her subject of inquiry, but also the identities and the processes of social transformation. 

As a doctor in sociology she reflects from this perspective and launches a call to dignity in the face of the 2021 we are living, in which the government announced commemorations for the 500 years of the fall of Tenochtitlán from the institutional discourse of the government in office. In this conversation, María Eugenia evokes her 2011 book published with Jorge Gómez Izquierdo. The Mestizo Ideology, Guadalupe-ism and Its Social Repercussions.

She is an academic from the Iberoamerican University of Puebla; and since 1990 is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. She forwarded Pie de Pagina part of the investigation that she coordinated during three years with the Universities of the Jesuit System: Civilizational Rifts: Symbols, Corporalities, Territories.

In this context, she speaks of her conclusions and of Zapatismo:

“Dignity, as a sociocultural construct, which they have built at the price of unimaginable resistance, has an impressive subversive potency, and the announcement of the trip to Spain seems to me of incalculable human value,” affirms the doctor in sociology.

Cordial Racism

—Do we need apologies?

The asking for and granting of forgiveness between nations is not a novelty. King Felipe VI presided over a solemn act on Monday the 30th of November 2015, on the occasion of the Law granting Spanish nationality to the Sephardim, descendants of the Jews that were expelled from Spain in 1492, recognizing that they had done them harm.

—How should we understand the demand for an apology that López Obrador made to the King of Spain??

The demand for an apology that he [AMLO] made to the King of Spain reveals the complexity of the historical scaffolding of racism and violence, whose effect is made bluntly visible in the civilizing crises in which we are immersed. The demand and the reactions to it are revealing of how the so-called national identity, centered on the category of mestizaje, hid the racism in México, and of how the ethos of whiteness continues to be hegemonic, including in AMLO.

—How do we analyze the current colonialism and its consequences? 

AMLO is a liberal, and for that reason, he believes in development and progress, which we know have been at the expense of the dispossession and the misery of a large part of the population. On the other hand, it is hard to realize that this has to do with a tendency that for its long-standing inertia is not easy to reverse. It is important to recognize that dilemma or difficulty. López Obrador is a developmentalist and by being liberal, he is immersed in a racist ideology, of the kind that we could call a cordial racism. 

Liberalism of the 19th century  — that of Juárez, and of Lafragua— is imbued with the scientific racism that came from Europe. The political and intellectual elite of Independent Mexico developed educational policies and cultural devices to culturally and physically whiten the population. This is how they went about constructing the racist subject, because the mestizo was considered to be the one that would bring progress to the nation, and underlying the mestizo ideology is the aspiration to whiteness and with that, a latent racism. In addition to the mestizaje (racial mixing), in Mexico there was a process of forced deindianization, and that wound is still alive. AMLO is part of that mestizo construct.

Mestizaje, as an aspiration to whiteness, folklorizes past and present indigenous people as a way of denying or subordinating them. What can we say about his asking permission of Mother Earth for the construction of the Mayan Train? It consisted of a ritual in a paved place where they dug a hole. That is cordial racism, that is, that which refunctionalizes difference to maintain a racist, classist hierarchy. The indigenous people are folklorized and treated as minors. What, other than folklorization and manipulation, was the celebration of the Día de los Muertos in the National Palace at the same time that the paramilitarization of Chiapas is facilitated to debilitate or destroy all opposition to the Mayan Train? What does it mean to demand an apology for the violence against indigenous people, while at the same time such a predatory territorial reorganization as the train is being violently imposed, with manipulated consultations? This is hypocrisy, manipulation and an attack on the dignity of the indigenous people and on all of us who are not indigenous as well.

Hiding the Inequalities

The reactions to the demand for an apology from the King of Spain have gone in two directions. On one side, the people who deny that ours is a racist country, assume that the Mesoamerican and Hispanic matrices were horizontally articulated and produced a new “harmonious” culture, denying the very real tension between them. It has been the reaction of those that consider that the unity of the “Mexicans” is synonymous with hiding the inequalities and the discrimination, of those who don’t want to touch the past because it would have consequences in the present.

I quote some lines of poetry that Sitalin Sánches Acevedo wrote. 

“I know why they prefer to make fun of AMLO rather than get mad at the King of Spain.”

I know that to accept what AMLO says is to accept a painful wound. Because it is accepting that they raped our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers and that the myth of mestizaje, the union of two cultures, is a history that has blood throughout.

I know that when they say that we will overcome the past, it is because when they look back they are going to find indigenous grandmothers, aunts and mothers that they don’t want to recognize, because in their genealogy only the white grandfather matters. 

I know that if they don’t want to pick a fight with Spain, it is because for you it is more anachronistic that we as indigenous still exist than that Kings continue to exist. I know that it is because you aspire to be the sons, even if only bastards, of a decadent monarchy.   

I know that they prefer not to apologize to us indigenous people, because it would be recognizing that we don’t only exist in museums. 

Sitalin ends the poem: 

[…] AMLO, ask forgiveness and furthermore, cancel the Mayan Train. Don’t be a hypocrite.”

— On the other side, is the reaction of many, that of those who have suffered discrimination in their own flesh for the color of their skin, for the evidence of their indigenous past and present, and that are happy about this petition (for an apology) because the discriminations for them has meant enduring the injustice and the humilliation, and demands vindication. But is it not a vindication at the expense of today’s indigenous populations? Of a manipulation to hide and legitimize the aggressions against those that are victims of the current government?

The Zapatistas

—In this context, how do you see the proposal of the Zapatistas?

—The colonial gaze, the colonial posture, the colonial narrative, the colonial language dominate the culture in Mexico, the intellectual, the political and the popular. They are so introjected that it is difficult, at times, to even recognize them. The Zapatistas made them visible in a forceful way with the uprising of 1994, and attempted a horizontal dialogue with non-indigenous Mexico, an unprecedented attempt in the history of the country. But this horizontality has a very high cost, because it supposes the transformation of the economic, political and symbolic structures.

The announcement that a Zapatista delegation will travel to Spain in 2021 to arrive in Madrid on the 13th of Spain, a date that coincides with the 500th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlán is an act of dignity and creativity. They will travel to Spain to affirm that: “You didn’t conquer us. We continue in resistance and in rebellion […] you don’t have to ask our forgiveness for anything, enough already of playing with the distant past to justify with demagoguery and hypocrisy, the current crimes underway.” In this sense the struggle and the dynamic of the Zapatistas throughout these many years and the announcement of their trip to Europe mean, for me, the struggle to continue to break this gaze, this narrative of serious social consequences. And they break this discourse “crossing oceans and differences.” 

Dignity, as a sociocultural construct, has an impressive subversive potency, and the announcement of the trip to Spain seems to me of incalculable human value. 

This article was originally published in Spanish by Pie de Pagina. https://piedepagina.mx/de-la-caida-de-tenochtitlan-al-tren-maya-que-significa-pedir-perdon/ This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.