To Hermann Bellinghausen and José del Val, for their involvement.
No one can deny that our continent’s modern history is based on the genocide and the subjugation of the peoples and cultures that have existed here since before the arrival of Cristopher Columbus. Although the situation has improved, the truth is that ever since the 16th Century, America has never ceased to be colonized. Every day, people face discrimination; every day indigenous people are forced to stop speaking their own language and to adopt the language of the oppressor; every day they face the threat of being stripped of their culture, traditions, and territories; every day, with the pretext of integrating them into “progress” or “modernity,” there is an attempt to erase them. Colonialism has many faces. The extractivist actions of large companies, military interventionism in indigenous communities, the scientific concept of nature as something from which we must obtain resources, and schools that favor hegemonic culture and look down on others, are only a few of them.
The history of our continent is also one of a long series of rebellions and social movements. From Geronimo and Tupac Amaru to the water protectors at Standing Rock, as well as the Zapatista Army and Idle No More, one shared spirit of freedom and vindication gives life to this land. Abya Yala is a Guna term that has been adopted as an alternative to the colonial America, by leaders and spokespeople of indigenous resistance from Alaska to Patagonia.
There are many ways of referring to the descendants of the first settlers of these lands. Some states have chosen to call them ethnicities or indigenous peoples in order to deny them nation status. While the Mapuche refuse this name, the Aymara declare: “if we were conquered as Indians, we will free ourselves as Indians.” The name pueblos originarios [native peoples], on the other hand, emphasizes their historical legacy and therefore legitimizes their claim to land rights, but it sidelines their existence in the current world. These peoples do not exist only in the past— and neither do the injustices perpetrated against them.
We cannot keep ignoring it: what we have deemed normal for so many generations is in fact a cause for shame. For this reason, on this occasion the Revista de la Universidad de México offers up its pages as a space for dialogue amongst indigenous intellectuals, activists, and poets from our continent. Instead of turning to anthropologists, who for a long time presented them as a curious object of study, we prefer to read texts written by the Mixe linguist Yásnaya Elena A. Gil about the exhaustion brought about by a life of constant resistance; by the Guna poet Arysteides Turpana about the situation in his region; of the Sarayacu activist Patricia Gualinga on the philosophy of el buen vivir [good living] and by the Maya K’iche’ sociologist Gladys Tzul Tzul, who describes the efforts of Tzejá women in their fight against alcoholism. We prefer listening to their versions, their demands, their proposals, their poetry. As we read them, it is easy to find common ground. Among the concerns they share is the Earth’s wellbeing; another is the condemnation of the settler States’ failure to comply with the autonomy agreements they signed—such as those of San Andrés Larráinzar—and the apathy of non-indigenous people in failing to put pressure on our governments to meet those promises. Another is the denunciation of the fact that in many countries, the efforts made by indigenous peoples to improve their situation have been described as terrorism by national media outlets as a measure of delegitimization. Indigenous movements bring with them issues of paramount importance for the modern world. After all, seeing as these peoples do not consider their identity as separate from a healthy and balanced natural environment, the fight to defend their territory is also a fight for the preservation of nature. Not only the natural environment that surrounds them, but that of the entire planet. Moreover, their constant pursuit of communitarian models of organization challenges capitalism and even liberal democracy. Finally, in a globalized world that increasingly homogenizes us, these cultures preserve an invaluable store of traditional knowledge. John Ralston Saul puts it very well: “Indigenous peoples […] will continue to amass strength and power. The question we must all ask ourselves is whether we want to play our role of citizens—as people who keep their word—, or whether we are going to stick to the old ways.” Before making a decision, we suggest, dear reader, that you make some room for silence, that you listen to or read what those who have been silenced for centuries—indeed the voiceless, as they are called in Chiapas—have to say. Perhaps you will find that among their hopes and desires, there are many to which you too would subscribe.
Imagen de portada: Oswaldo de León Kantule, Abya Yala sumergida, 2010. Cortesía del artista