Lucia Hinojosa in Chiapas, Mexico (part 2)

Here is the photo essay by Lucia Hinojosa that I introduced in yesterday’s post. Aside from slightly adjusting the text’s formatting to make it fit the blog’s style template, I have tried match the layout of the original paper as closely as possible. All of the images are situated as they were in the original text.





Literature and Writing II

Janice Ahn

The indigenous groups of Mexico are the founders of the land, the natural inhabitants and the essence of the land.

When colonization came with Spanish imposition, the struggle, which continues in present times, began. The exploitation of the indigenous groups has been a constant throughout the history of the Mexican nation.

The contemporary minds of modern societies recognize the term indigenous as a concept of estrangement and repression. Although the land is shared in the Mexican Republic, the general background of indigenous groups is oppressed.

The Mexican Revolution came about in 1910 when general Emiliano Zapata* led an armed movement with the indigenous groups in order to recover the land that long ago had been taken away from them, first by colonization, then by exploitation of the newly established social classes after independence. Indigenous people fought vehemently and many died during the Revolution. Many died with a sentiment of dignity, because they truly believed in the movement that would restore their land and ownership.

For native groups, the land is of crucial importance. It represents maternal concepts, the way they live, as a sustainable provider of means of life and survival. The land is what assures their identity. As sedentary groups, they worship the land where they were born; it gives them a place of existence.

Their main source of suffering is the recovery of their land through successful reforms. They seek to have the recognition of government and a legal right to the land they inhabit.

The question that arises is, what is the function and role of the indigenous groups in modern societies, which seek urbanization, the transformation and exploitation of natural resources in every inch of land in their territories?

The remote ways of life of indigenous groups are affected by social schemes that exist beyond their understanding of the world. Their level of education is extremely low, and they live in a state of extreme poverty, therefore, their way of life is crude, austere, and based in ancient customs of making the most of the land. Their means of survival rely on rustic agricultural methods, and every outcome of the land and their fauna is thorough and extensive. Their methods stand far from concepts like civilization and technology. Their way of life dates back to colonial times and even before, without any significant change or difference.

Modernity and globalization have found a way to affect these remote cultures in ways far from their understanding. The exploitation of natural resources, which happen to be rich in the mentioned land, is a fact that takes intruders to the tiny bits of land that indigenous groups have left.

This paper analyzes one indigenous group in the southern state of Chiapas. The indigenous name is “Tzeltal” and they are based in the Lacandon Jungle near the border with Guatemala. They derive from Mayan heritage. This sector of indigenous people leads the “Zapatista” movement of national liberation. Their main struggle is the already mentioned restoration of land, amongst other issues. Other indigenous groups of the area share the alignment.

The “Zapatista” movement has grown incredibly since the initial uprising in 1994. The leader is the “Subcomandante Marcos.” The chosen day of uprising shared the date with the approval of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). Indigenous groups stood against the treaty for many reasons, but mainly the presence of the dominant modern economy in indigenous lands. With the treaty, Mexico was an active part of globalization and its methods. Indigenous groups stood against this idea, knowing that it would affect their way of living and their land. The uprising was a mere statement, supported by their cultural background.

The globalized civilization has found a way to make its way through to the remotest of nooks inside indigenous territories.

Popular products that have birth in modern economies and contemporary regimes have substituted some ancient customs of indigenous life, the elements of the Mayan culture. The best example is a corporation like Coca Cola, which can be found everywhere in the planet and in many contexts. Coca Cola, a symbol of capitalist exchange, is present in indigenous ceremonies of religious content. These sorts of elements are part of their everyday life, as a product of consumption. Coca Cola is now as rudimentary as their local everyday products.

This sort of conceptual invasion can be more severe and can cause more damage to the indigenous societies, slowly erasing their culture.

Examples of products that have cracked their way into indigenous, remote civilizations are processed salt, Coca Cola, soap, and fabric to make clothes.

The pictures above were taken in Ocosingo, Chiapas. They travel fifteen hours by foot through the Lacandon Jungle to get there, in order to buy these external products.

The external elements just mentioned are not vital for the internal development or key to the survival of the remote communities. Every rural practice that takes place in the communities is sustainable, and this is why the indigenous groups of Chiapas demand the sole virtue of being owners of the land they work in, the land that provides them with food and their state of happiness. They seek nothing related to profit or the extension of their land. The only thing they need is to be able to own the land that they so pleasurably work and gain subsistence from. The threat of their land taken away is the idea of having no means to survive with incentives of living pleasurably. The historical heritage of these groups remains. They accept their social position in wider schemes; the only fundamental ideal they pursue is the legal recognition that the land belongs to them, as a result of hereditary order.

Many indigenous groups of southern Chiapas face the constant threat of government ordered eviction. The treasured lands of these rural civilizations are rich in natural resources, and the Mexican government seeks to take full advantage of them. Many groups have already been vacated aggressively from their native land and placed in environments in which their fulfillments are limited. Their gifted talents concern working the land and obtaining what they need from it, not working for larger schemes that are a puzzle to them.

The objective of this paper is providing first hand experience about the sentiment of the indigenous people in Mexico. The piece is based one of the “Tzeltal” communities of southern Mexico, although many other indigenous groups suffer similar issues. Many problems can be analyzed individually as well, however, every problem has the same root and source of suffering.

Indigenous people want their suffering to be known, since their means of overturning their problem are limited. They seek for outsider help in any form or measure it might have.

*Emiliano Zapata was the revolutionary figure (among others) that fought specifically for the restoration of land that indigenous communities still struggle with.

Visual & Critical Studies