Cultures are developed over centuries and are often the blend of many traditions that have been passed down through the years. There is quote from the article “Vanishing Voices” by Russ Rymer that states: “when small communities abandon their languages and switch to English or Spanish, there is a massive disruption in the transfer of traditional knowledge across generations” (Rymer). What is the cause of this abandonment of languages?
Looking specifically at the switch to Spanish by the indigenous groups in Mexico, which are not often discussed in the United States despite its proximity to the country, it was easy to discover that the Spanish colonists were the answer to this question. Next this led me to wonder about the effect the Spanish colonists had on the indigenous people and cultures in Mexico both in the past and the present.
Despite the development of one large, vibrant, knowledgeable culture in Mexico, the indigenous people have struggled against inequality and cannot find a voice that allows them to celebrate their unique traditions. Blended Cultures Over time, Mexico developed a culture and traditions that have been celebrated by both the indigenous people and those of Spanish descent. The culture of Mexico is a unique blend which consists of traditions of both the indigenous people of the country as well as many traditions of the Spanish Catholics that colonized the country in the sixteenth century.
One of the most well-known traditions of the Mexican people is the celebration of the Day of the Dead. First celebrated long before the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico, the tradition was started by the indigenous people who thought that death was “the continuation of life” (Miller). When the Spanish found it nearly impossible to kill the tradition, they changed it by merging it with the celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.
Reverend Donohoe states All Saints’ Day is “a celebration of the communion of saints, those people we believe are in heaven, through good works and God’s grace” while he describes All Souls’ Day to be a day that people begin “talking about all souls and asking God’s mercy for them” (Sinclair). Through merging these celebrations, the Mexican indigenous people and Catholics formed a tradition that still lives on today. It has become something that defines the Mexican culture. The use of the pinata also has roots in the traditions of both the indigenous people and the Spanish colonists.
For the indigenous people, it is very similar to the Aztec celebration for Huitzilopochtli tli, their god of war. In this tradition, the Aztec people would shatter a pot filled with colorful feathers over a symbol of the god in order “to adorn and respect the ways of their god” (Lopez-Hodoyan). To the Catholics, the pinata represents the concept that “those who persist with blind faith amidst the eyes of evil, will eventually receive good fortune” (Lopez-Hodoyan). Many traditional pinatas were in the form of stars with seven spikes that represented the seven deadly sins stated in the Bible.
While the tradition holds connections to the traditions of both groups, it no longer has the same meaning as it once did to the indigenous people because they were pushed to abandon their religions and convert to Christianity. Though these traditions would not have formed without the combination of the native and Spanish cultures, they came at a price that was paid when the original traditions were changed. As time has passed, new practices of medicine have been accepted as normal as a result of increased communication between the indigenous people and outside forces, such as scientists and missionaries.
Gleb Raygorodetsky, a specialist in biodiversity conservation who has worked with indigenous peoples for over twenty years, reports that indigenous people take up 22% of the world’s land surface and maintain 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity. Indigenous peoples are “excellent observers and interpreters of change in the environment” (Raygorodetsky). These people provide detailed insight and knowledge on the environment that scientists are not able to possess. Mixing the knowledge of the natives and that of the educated Western scientists has the potential to form a number of advances in the medical field.
One example of this is through the research performed on Psilocybe, which is a hallucinogenic mushroom from which the drug psilocybin is made. The drug was originally “used by the Mazatec Indians in Oaxaca, Mexico”, and although the collaboration hadn’t resulted in the creation of no new drugs or treatments, it set a precedent that can be met with collaboration of natives and scientists in the future (Heinrich). The combination of native healing traditions and the Catholic religion has resulted the respected healing method of Curanderismo.
According to Sandra Hurlong, a professor of cultural anthropology at the Intercultural Open University Foundation, the primary goals of the healer’s, or Curandero’s, are “to identify the specific physical illness and simultaneously diagnose the spiritual cause of the illness” (Hurlong). In this union, the cultures of both the indigenous people of Mexico and the Spanish missionaries that worked to convert the natives have joined to form a healing method that has survived through the centuries.
These two cultures have melded to form one unique tradition in Mexico that is unseen in any other country in the world. The knowledge of the indigenous people has helped to encourage new scientific discovery that will create a successful future. Mistreatment and Inequality In order to know how much has changed in the lives of the indigenous people of Mexico in the last few centuries, it is necessary to look at the atrocities that plagued their histories. The history of the indigenous people in Mexico is filled with abuse and mistreatment, and as a result their traditions suffered.
After the collapse of the Aztec empire that had been caused by the Spanish colonists, “Mexico City, built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, became the capital of Spain’s North American empire” (“History of Mexico”). The Spanish took what land once belonged to the indigenous people and destroyed many important pieces of Aztec culture that were once considered sacred. There was little respect given to the civilization that had ruled over the land of Central America for several hundred years prior to the European colonization of the West.
Gary Smith, a fellow at Yale University, explains that Spanish missionaries went to the new world in addition to the colonist. Many of these missionaries “saw the expression of aboriginal culture as the work of the devil” (Smith). As a result of this belief, many ancient traditions were prohibited by the colonists and were eventually en about. The missionaries and colonists showed fear of what they were not familiar, and as a result they restricted many natives from practicing traditions that were once key parts of their cultures.
The Europeans prohibited what they feared and took what they wanted from the indigenous people in Mexico. The indigenous people were forced to change or abandon what they knew in order to please these new influences that wanted to be in charge. forgotten abo Though the Mexican government has given a few rights to the indigenous people in recent years, they still struggle against extreme discrimination and inequalities. In an article by Carlos Underwood for the Yucatan Times, it is reported that about 72% of the indigenous population in Mexico live in extreme poverty.
Despite the fact that “any form of racial discrimination against indigenous people [is] illegal… Mexico’s indigenous communities still experience marginalization and continue to be disadvantaged and vulnerable” (Underwood). The government has done little to enforce laws put in place to protect the indigenous people, and there are few chances for the indigenous people to represent themselves. The native people in Mexico will receive few chances to better their positions if they are not given the same respect that is given to average itizens. A large portion of their problems are also a result of a difference in language. A majority of indigenous people continue to speak their traditional languages instead of Spanish. Vernellia Randall, a professor of law at the University of Dayton, posted an article which states that “Spanish illiteracy particularly disadvantages indigenous peoples in the political process” (Randall). The native people of Mexico have worked to adapt to the new and changing ways of the modern world; however, they still struggle to find their voice.
Their voice will need to come from others unless the government will allow them to speak in their native tongues. The indigenous people are once more being forced to adapt to their new surroundings instead of being respected as the original settlers in the country. Mexico has refused to recognize that there are separate cultures which belong to the indigenous people within the country, and as a result it is ignoring the social issues that have been affecting the natives.
Possible Solutions In recent years, several movements have been put in motion, working to improve the lives of indigenous people around the world. One example of this is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which was proposed on September 13, 2007. Essentially, the Declaration puts in place a structure for “minimum standards for the survival, dignity, wellbeing and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples” (“Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People”).
This declaration has been highly effective in creating a platform on which the indigenous movement rests, and pushes countries to provide basic human rights. Other groups have been formed, including the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation, otherwise known as the IPMSDL. This organization contains 76 indigenous representatives who “push for proactive government and international programs and policies in response to climate disasters affecting indigenous peoples” (“IPMSDL Declaration”).
Specialized groups such as this have worked to remove inequalities that are easily preventable and have worked to keep indigenous people safe from disasters caused by the inability of people to protect the environment. Groups such as these work to help indigenous peoples around the world that struggle against circumstances, and more should be created, such as those that focus on certain areas of inequality, in order to truly improve the lives of these people, and of people everywhere.
The struggle of the indigenous people in Mexico is not solely contained in the country, but it instead is a struggle that is fought by indigenous people around the world. Conclusion Though the traditions and knowledge that have resulted from the combination of indigenous and Spanish beliefs are important parts of society today, the traditions that have been set aside by the indigenous people need to be remembered. Most native traditions have been either completely eradicated or have been changed to fit in with those of the Spanish settlers.
Many of these forgotten traditions were prohibited by the settlers. They did not gradually fade away as the natural progression of these cultures, but were instead ripped away by the people that feared what these traditions could lead to. The struggle of the indigenous peoples in Mexico is one that started with the arrival of the Spanish colonists and will not end until the indigenous people find their voices and truly find equality and respect that is desired by people from around the world.
When everyone is equal and everyone is communicating, life has the possibility to improve greatly. Science will continue to develop with the long possessed knowledge of these ancient groups, and people will find compassion and understanding for others that will help to improve relations among people and countries. Traditions will be celebrated once again, and there will be true peace. Listening and understanding could improve life for all, not simply for those in Mexico, but in order for people to listen, those who struggle against inequality and circumstance need a voice.