To Mexico from Guatemala, With Love
Mexico, the deep Mexico, the Mexico from below that never ceases to work and sustains the wealth of those on top, the Mexico that the anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla wrote about in his 1987 classic work Mexico Profundo is precisely the Mexico that has always been closest to us Guatemalans in the majority Maya-Chuj, Maya-Q’anjob’al, Maya-Akateko, Maya-Popti, Maya-Awakateco, Maya-Ixil, Maya-Tektiteco, Maya-Sipakapense, Maya-Mam, Maya-K’iche’, Maya-K’eqchi, Maya-Itza families and communities, and the poor mestizo communities concentrated in the departments of Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán, Retalhuleu and the north of Quiché, Alta Verapaz and Petén. Closer to us even than the official capital of our country, Guatemala City.
Several reasons explain the affinity between the Maya and mestiza communities of Guatemala and communities of southern and central Mexico. To start with, all these social groups pertain to what the ethnographer Paul Kirchhoff (1943) defined as Mesoamerica. They also share historical, spiritual, cultural, economic, political, social, and culinary elements, among many others. This means that since before Hernan Cortes’s arrival to the coast of Veracruz in 1519 and the fall of the incredible Tenochtitlan in August of 1521, these peoples shared territories, with all that this implies: they had linked trade circuits; maintained exchanges of products in markets the breadth and length of the extensive region; specialized in labor and activities according to the natural resources they possessed; shared spiritual practices, festivals and celebrations with common elements, and promoted matrimonial alliances among diverse groups.
Later, three centuries of colonial rule, with its variables, subjected the thousands of collectives that lived in Mexico and the upper parts of Guatemala with equal cruelty. Independence from Spain, for both countries, meant only the creation of nation-states in which the racial hierarchy constructed by the elites relegated all the indigenous peoples to the bottom rung of the racial pyramid. Although the Mexican Revolution of 1910 gave some small relief to the Mexican communities, in Guatemala, they had to wait until 1944 for the Constitution of 1945 to recognize them for the first time since 1524. In 1952, Decree 900 of the Agrarian Reform allowed them to recuperate some of their ancestral territories. But this policy was short-lived and was dismantled by the counterrevolution of 1954, executed by the agrarian bourgeoisie and the hierarchy of the Catholic church, with the direct intervention of the United States.
This region has also been characterized as always seeking to create its own forms of work, a subtle and almost always silent form of resistance that brings some measure of collective freedom. This has continued throughout its history, despite confronting oppressive systems, based on historical and institutional racism in a continuous and permanent class oppression, and the vehement oppression of indigenous women. As a result of these creative forms that have endured to the present, thousands of small and medium-size family businesses located in upper Guatemala owe their existence to their ongoing commercial relation with Mexico.
Furthermore, thousands of day-laborers travel annually to work in southern Mexico. These workers depend on what they earn there, and although the working conditions there are extremely hard, they are much better than those on the farms in Guatemala. Historically, thousands of refugees who fled from the repression that the Guatemalan government unleashed against unarmed populations in the late-1970s through the mid-1980s will never forget that they were protected by Mexican communities that were just as poor as they were. Their shared ethnic and cultural roots were expressed in the shelter they gave to the elderly, women, and children who fled the genocide and who the Mexican communities received like human beings.
Through these brief sketches it can be seen how Mexico is part of our social memory. The snapshots of our great-grandparents, grandmothers, and parents trading with a diverse Mexico are part of the long history we preserve and reproduce. Our parents’ participation in religious celebrations of central Mexico has been interwoven into our cultures, producing a fusion of new forms of spiritual life. We recognize that thousands of opportunities, spaces, and ideas that Mexico and its people have shared with us have, in the long run, saved our communities from dying of starvation in the face of the permanent abandonment to which we have been subjected by the racist and classist State of Guatemala. Centralized and arrogant, the Guatemalan state has consistently turned a deaf ear to our realities and emergencies, and done nothing but keep our individual or collective dreams from flourishing in our own territories.
The Guatemalan State has kept us in a constant state of crushing oppression, seeking the most effective ways to limit us, offering us an education devoid of quality, providing health systems for animals but not for human beings, weakening our means of production, and isolating us though third-class highway systems. This bad faith system is part of the economic framework that seeks to keep us as ignorant Indians, reduced to being cheap labor and willing to countenance the extreme forms of corruption that enable the economic elite to keep enriching itself.
That is why thousands, or millions, of indigenous Guatemalans love the deep Mexico, its people of solidarity, who have never stopped offering us economic, commercial, educational and cultural opportunities, among many others. And that is why today we share their tragedy, and we hope that they get back up on their feet so we can continue together to weave those threads of Mesoamerican memory that unite us as family along the immediate and the millennial history we share.
Irma A. Velasquez Nimatuj is a Maya-Quiché journalist and anthropologist in Guatemala.
Translated by Jonathan Tittler