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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed Oct 18 13:01:15 2000
Date: Sun, 15 Oct 2000 13:29:32 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: RIGHTS-MEXICO: Proud of Indigenous Past, Living a Racist Present
Article: 106814
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Proud of Indigenous Past, Living a Racist Present

By Diego Cevallos, IPS, 12 October 2000

MEXICO CITY, Oct 12 (IPS) - Mexicans are proud of the nation's indigenous ancestors but discriminate against and marginalize their descendants. For most of the native peoples here, the 508 years since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, commemorated Thursday, is just one more date to suffer.

Columbus, October 12, America, I don't know anything about it, said Marˇa Ojeda, an indigenous woman who moved to the capital five years ago from the southern state of Chiapas, in response to questions about the significance of the date.

Like any other day, Ojeda, carrying her small baby on her back, was standing under a traffic signal asking for money from the drivers of the cars passing by, and withstanding their insults shouted through car windows.

A short distance away, fewer than 500 people from indigenous organisations staged a march to commemorate the date, which they said does not merit joyous celebrations.

In other cities around the country, similar demonstrations took place, though also suffering from low turnout, they managed to make some noise and draw police attention.

Ojeda, 42, is one of approximately 10 million indigenous people in Mexico. Of this group, 53 percent of the women and 33 percent of the men are illiterate.

Among the 803 municipalities with majority native populations, 83 percent are categorised as suffering high or very high marginalization, according to government studies.

Among the country's native groups, more than 80 languages are spoken, as well as numerous dialects. The governmental Indigenous Institute reports that there are 62 different ethnicities, each one representing a culture thousands of years old.

In local schools, indigenous children are taught to be proud of their past, of the original peoples who built large cities and developed extensive knowledge. But in present-day Mexico, being Indian implies low wages and rejection from society.

A study by the National Institute of Statistics indicates that 48.5 percent of the nation's indigenous population do not earn an income for the work they do. The rest, who do earn wages, usually receive a pittance.

Research also shows that only small percentages of the native population are involved in political or social organisations.

With the exception of groups centred in the Mexican south, such as the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), indigenous peoples are generally not organised in groups that have national political relevance.

A survey published Thursday by 'El Universal' newspaper shows that 56.6 percent of the respondents believe there is racism in Mexico, and 61.1 percent say there is discrimination based on the colour of one's skin.

The indigenous peoples are in a clear situation of discrimination and disadvantage, something no one can deny, affirmed Oscar Gonz lez, president of the Mexican Academy of Human Rights.

In Mexico, as in other countries of Latin America, one of the most offensive insults is to call someone indio.

Though the indigenous issue periodically makes its way onto the political agenda, especially on dates like Oct 12, native representation in Congress and the government is practically zero.

A far cry from the commemorative events in 1992 for the 500th anniversary of the Spanish arrival in the Americas, native Mexicans now let the day pass by without much ado.

There were no specific proposals from anyone on Oct 12 to improve the fate of this group, beyond some declarations made in Congress, where representatives asked president-elect Vicente Fox, who takes office Dec 1, to remember Mexico's indigenous citizens.

Given the situation of hunger, misery and extreme violence in which indigenous peoples live, Mexico has a de facto apartheid against natives, maintained the National Plural Indigenous Assembly for Autonomy.

The roots of racism existing in Mexico, hidden or explicit, originate in the fifteenth century, when the Catholic Church debated whether or not natives had souls, point out historians.

This day, October 12, is just like yesterday. I continue without work and here in the street, said Ojeda.