We are now ready to turn to the last group of non-Indians who have come
to Huayapan to teach the villagers about their Indian-ness. Over the last twenty-five years, members of an urban based,
primarily middle-class organization have been visiting Hueyapan and a number of other so-called indigenous communities in
Central Mexico to encourage the Indians to take pride in their indigenous heritage and to preserve it. These individuals
want the Indians to continue to practice their indigenous customs not simply as a tribute to Mexico’s Indian past, but
as a model for Mexico’s “autochthonous” future. Representing what I call the cultural extremist element
of post-Revolutionary Mexico, these people have been campaigning to rid Mexico of all Spanish and other foreign influences
and to revive indigenous traditions, so that the country might reemerge as the great cultural and political nation it had
been in pre-Hispanic times.
Although the Mestizo-oriented government considers the views of the extremists
absurd, it has not been able to ignore them. First, much to the government’s consternation, its own interest in
glorifying Mexico’s indigenous heritage has at times been confused with the position of the extremists.(1)
Furthermore, there have been moments when the extremists managed, with varying degrees of success, to put the government
on the defensive by promoting the idea that the nation was being ruled by people who were anti-Indian and consequently anti-Mexican.
Perhaps the most celebrated controversy between the government and the extremists
took place in 1949-1950. A historian by the name of Eulalia Guzman announced to the press that she had discovered the
bones of Cuauhtemoc in Ichcateopan, Guerrero. (2) When government anthropologists examined the find, however,
they concluded that Guzman had unearthed the remains of at least five different skeletons including those of women and children.
Yet since the cultural extremists had already aroused considerable patriotic fervor over the Guzman discovery, many people
were unwilling to accept the official report. Hostile feelings against the anthropologists were so pronounced, in fact,
that a few newspapers even suggested that these men be shot in the back like traitors. (3)
Even during my field stay in Mexico, twenty years after the Guzman incident,
government representatives were concerned enough about the cultural extremists to feel compelled to defend the official
view against them. Early in his campaign for the presidency Luis Echeverria condemned the idea that Mexicans should
reject their Spanish heritage and reasserted the traditional post-Revolutionary position that the concept of the Mestizo,
not the Indian alone, integrated Mexico’s national identity. A few days after Echeverria spoke on the subject,
a reporter interviewed Alfonso Caso, Director of the National Indigenist Institute (INI), to ask this government anthropologist
what he thought of Echeverria’s statement. The interview appeared in one of Mexico’s most important newspapers,
‘El Dia’, and received a two-column spread. The headline read: :Showcase Indigenismo--To Reject the Spanish,
One of the Two Sources of Our Nationalism, Would Be a Painful Mutilation: Caso.” Agreeing with Echeverria, and
calling the extremists “raving indigenists” (Indigenistas delirantes), the anthropologist presented the situation
in the following way:
“These indigenists whom I would call raving claim, for example, that
we should abandon Spanish and speak Nahuatl. Isn’t that unbelievable? And why Nahuatl, I ask? Why
not Maya, or one of other sixty or so languages that still exist in our country? These, let us call them for the time
being--raving indigenists, do not understand that Spanish is the national language, that is to say, a means of communication
among all Mexicans.
“Look, I have dedicated my life--as you know--to the study of ancient
Mexican cultures and what we modern Mexican anthropologists have shown the world has succeeded in gaining admiration for the
products of the ancient indigenous cultures. On the other hand, we must not forget that Spain brought to Mexico European
culture, which is the descendant of the Mediterranean culture that flourished from Egypt and Chaldea, passing through Palestine,
Greece and Rome and which culminated with the great thinkers and artists of the Renaissance. Thus as inheritors of both
cultures, we must affirm our personality and continue drinking at their fountains in order to conserve our own style, in order
to be each time even more ourselves.” (4)
Defending the indigenous policy of the Mestizo-oriented government, Caso
explained that Mexicans had two obligation vis-vis the Indians: to admire the Indian of the past and to help raise the standard
of living of the Indian of the present. In order to meet both of these responsibilities, he continued, the government
organized “two distinct but intimately related institutions: the Institute of Anthropology and History . . . Which is
concerned with the study of the Indian of the past and present and the National Indigenist Institute which is concerned with
. . . Taking the improvements of modern civilization to the Indians.” (5)
Committed as they are to the idea that the Indians are racially and culturally
superior to non-Indians, the extremists rejected the national acculturation program. Also, they take issue with the
concept of a Mestizo Mexico, because as far as they are concerned, there never has been a blending of cultures at any level
of society and there never will be. The Spaniards, as well as other Europeans, simply imposed their ways on the Indigenous
peoples, the extremists maintain, and thereby interfered with the “natural evolution” of the True Mexicans.
Conceding that there are mixed-bloods in the country, the extremists explain that the hybrids are the descendants of raped
Indian women, that they have been robbed of their indigenous cultural heritage and that they consequently have no choice but
to imitate the traditions of the White man. Given the fact that the Spaniards and other foreign influences have been
oppressing the Indians and depriving the mixed-bloods of their superior race and culture, there is only one solution: expel
the foreigners and educate the Mexicans in their own culture so that they might return the nation to its former grandeur.
Despite the heated disputes and the ostensibly different points of view,
the Mestizo-oriented government and the cultural extremists actually have a good deal in common. First, the members
of both groups belong primarily to the middle and upper classes and come from urban environments. Second, both groups
consider a certain segment of the rural poor to be culturally distinct, and they identify these lower-class people as the
descendants of the original inhabitants of Mexico. Third, the government and the cultural extremists are both eager
to demonstrate their own pride in Mexico’s indigenous heritage, and in their efforts to pay tribute, both groups--in
varying degrees--have called upon the contemporary Indians to participate in these acts of veneration by glamorizing their
Indian-ness. Finally, both groups claim to want to save the present-day Indians, the government by making Mestizos out
of the Indians and the extremists by making Indians out of the Mestizos.
I am particularly interested in the ideas and programs of the cultural extremists
because their “raving” campaign offers an intriguing sequel to the long history of non-Indian attempts to define
and resolve Mexico’s Indian problem. Since the early colonial period, when Catholic priests and Spanish landowners
first began to fit the Indians into the European cultural system, Hispanic political factions have been creating the image
of the Indian to meet the social, economic and ideological interests of non-Indians. First the Spaniards arrived with
very definite ideas about civilization--ideas that they imposed on the Indians. Indigenous ways were denigrated, and
the Indians were taught new traditions so that they could be integrated into the non-Indian society. Then, throughout
the colonial period and the first one hundred years of independence, champions of the Indian cause emerged from time to time
among disputing Hispanic factions. Usually these non-Indians were concerned about defending the Indians from exploitation
of other non-Indians rather than about fighting to revive indigenous traditions. And even on the few occasions when
non-Indians fought to restore indigenous customs, this almost always meant to re-institute practices taught to the Indians
by representatives of the sympathetic factions. (6) After the Mexican Revolution the new Hispanic elite claimed
to be the protector of the Indians and the admirer of indigenous cultures. However, as we have already seen, the government
has shown itself to be interested primarily in glorifying Mexico’s indigenous past, while continuing the program, first
introduced in colonial times, of integrating the so-called Indians into a non-Indian Mexico. Finally, disagreements
among members of the post-Revolutionary elite have given rise to another champion of the Indian cause--a group of people who
do not merely want to pay tribute to Mexico’s indigenous past, but who aspire to recreate this past in the present.
Yet the group’s vision of an Indian Mexico has been distorted by the beliefs and values of the dominant Hispanic cultural
system. Cultural extremists are so dependent on European cultural standards that in order to justify their plan for
turning Mexico back to the Indians, some of them have even felt compelled to show the world that European culture is just
a bastardization of Indian culture, that the cradle of Western Civilization is actually in Mexico. Thus we have come
full circle: first the Spaniards destroyed indigenous traditions in the name of giving the Indians “culture,”
and now a Hispanic group wants to make the Indians the founders of the very civilization that scorned them.
Since Hueyapan is a Nahuatl-speaking community, the villagers have encountered
only those cultural extremists interested in reconstructing the pre-Hispanic culture of Nahuatl-speaking Indians. Elsewhere
in Mexico, however, where other indigenous languages are still spoken, extremists have based their ideology on the restoration
of other pre-Hispanic traditions. Groups of this sort have been particularly active in Yucatan, where Mayan is spoken.
(7) As Caso’s statement indicates, the Nahuatl cultural extremists have received the greatest publicity and have
caused the greatest trouble for the national government.
As I mentioned in the Introduction to this book, I had the opportunity to
work in Mexico City with the Movimiento (The Confederated Movement for the Restoration of Anahuak), one of the most important
organizations in Nahuatl cultural extremist circles today. For about three months I participated in the Movimiento’s
weekend reunions and in their very occasional midweek activities. However, as I became increasingly disillusioned with
the Movimiento and more involved with my research in Hueyapan, I stopped attending the group’s meetings.
Although my decision to go to Hueyapan was made independently of the Movimiento,
upon my arrival in the village several Hueyapanos assumed that I either was from the Movimiento or would at least be interested
in the group’s activities. The fact that I was an anthropologist who wanted to learn Nahuatl suggested to many
villagers that I too was a cultural extremist. Thus, without my even asking them about it, a number of Hueyapanos volunteered
information about the Movimiento’s influence in the pueblo. Before looking in detail at the villagers’ experiences
with cultural extremists, however, let us acquaint ourselves briefly with the history, ideology and program of the Movimiento.
The Movimiento in Mexico City
Rodolfo F. Nieva, a lawyer living in Mexico City, founded the Movimiento
in 1950s. Previously Nieva and other members of his group had belonged to the Indigenous Confederation of Mexico that
was under the direction of the self styled linguist Juan Luna Cardena. (8) According to Hueyapano farmer who had
been quite active in the Indigenous Confederation, this earlier group had been in existence since the 1930s.
Since Movimiento members in Mexico City were unwilling to talk about conflicts
they had had with other cultural extremists, I am not entirely clear on the issues that caused the Indigenous Confederation
to split. One explanation which seems plausible, however, suggested to me by the Hueyapano Don Juan Maya. Having
participated in the activities of both groups, Don Juan says that Juan Luna and Rodolfo Nieva wanted to emphasize different
things; the former was interested in practicing Aztec religion, while the latter was devoted only to the study of pre-Hispanic
history. Although members of the Movimiento in Mexico City told me that they too had adopted the Aztec religion, the
ceremonies I had the opportunity to witness bear out Don Juan’s observations, for they were never dedicated to specific
pre-Hispanic deities, but to Aztec military heroes and generalized “cosmological” concepts. Such rites were
quite different from the ones Juan Luna’s group had previously organized to pay tribute to Huitzilopochtli, Texcatlipocatl
and a number of other gods. I never saw any ceremonies sponsored by the Indigenous Confederation, for that group had
disbanded before I came to Mexico. What I know about it I learned from Don Juan and another Hueyapeno whose name is
Don Eliseo Cortes.
Under Nieva’s direction the Movimiento organized a political party
(El Partido de la Mexicanidad), a newspaper (Izkalotl), a school for teaching Nahuatl (Mexikatlahtolkall), as well as innumerable
political, cultural and commemorative gatherings. The Movimiento was so successful, in fact, that it managed to add
to its list of members such illustrious figures as the controversial Eulalia Guzman and the former president of Mexico, Miguel
Aleman. (9) Furthermore, by 1964 the group’s campaign to promote Nahuatl had been effective enough to prompt a
major American newspaper to publish an article entitled “Nahuatl Language Gaining in Mexico.” Although the
report did not identify the Movimiento by name, it told about the First Congress of the Nahuatl Language that the group sponsored
and it mentioned the authors of the Nahuatl grammar “Izkalotl,” (10) one of whom happens to be Maria del Carmen
Nieva, Rodolfo’s sister. According to the article, this book was being used in the schools of an “Indian
community” located on the outskirts of Mexico City.
In September 1968 Rodolfo Nieva died and the Movimiento went into a decline
almost immediately thereafter. Clearly the problem was one of having no adequate successor for the charismatic founder.
The leadership was left to Rodolfo’s brother Jorge, also a lawyer, and to his sister Maria del Carmen, who until recently
had been an inspector in the federal school system. Jorge has shown little interest in the Movimiento and has left Maria
del Carmen exclusively in charge. Since the latter feels that she has no aptitude for political matters and since she
has always been responsible for the Movimiento’s cultural activities, Maria del Carmen has continued to carry out her
original duties and has allowed the political aspects of the group’s program to disintegrate.
Thus by the time I met the group in July 1969 all that was left of the organization’s
activities were occasional group outings, a few cultural ceremonies and regular Saturday afternoon Nahualt classes at Maria
del Carmen’s home.
Despite their lack of organization, a number of Movimiento members did try
to keep Rodolfo Nieva’s political campaign alive. Speeches made at cultural gatherings continued to use Nieva’s
rhetoric. Also, although the newspaper “Izkalotl” was no longer published monthly, when it did appear the
articles reflected the militant tone associated with Nieva. Finally, the founder’s philosophy and style have been
preserved in the book “Mexicakayotl”, which his sister, Maria del Carmen, wrote after he died.
In 1969 I was told that the Movimiento had between 400 and 800 members in
Mexico City and thousands in the countryside. Perhaps such had been the case when Rodolfo was alive and organizing congresses;
however, things had changed. During my brief contact with the group I never attended a gathering where there were more
than twenty-five members, and many of these were children. With the exception of one young girl who was the daughter
of Maria del Carmen’s maid, all the youngsters came from middle-or upper-class home.
Among the thirteen or fourteen regular adult members, over half of them
were teenagers or in their early twenties. These young people also came from middle- and upper-class homes. The
president of the student group, for example, who was supposed to have been communicating with preparatory schools throughout
the city, was the son of a wealthy agrarian engineer. This young man, whose name was Cuauhtemoc (11), had just finished
preparatory school and was about to enter the National School of Agriculturein Chapingo, State of Mexico. Then there
was several young women who made up the dancing group. Two were still in preparatory school and one was teaching primary
school. The other two or three teenagers who attended were friends and/or relatives of the above-mentioned young people.
Of the members who were over thirty, three were school teachers (including
Maria del Carmen), one was Maria del Carmen maid, two owned factories, one was an engineer and one rented fields to farmers.
This last gentleman, Senor Castillo, was the most picturesque member--the “pet Indian” in the group. He
had grown up in a Nahuatl-speaking community in the State of Mexico and spoke a bit of the language himself. Much to
everybody’s approval, Senor Castillo used to come to every meeting dressed in ‘charro’. (12)
Finally, with very few exceptions, the members were all light complected; Maria del Carmen even dyed her hair a flaming red
The Movimiento calls upon history to justify its campaign for the restoration
of “Nahuatl Culture” in Mexico. According to the group’s creation myth, (13) the inhabitants of North,
Central and South America originated in these lands and did not come over from other continents, as the Europeans would have
us believe. The Western Hemisphere was called Ixachillan (Immensidad, or Vastnest), and those who lived in it belonged
to the Ixachilankatl race. (14) One of the subgroups of this race was the Nahuatl people, and their domain known
as Anauak, included all of North America, extending as far south as Nicaragua. (15)
The history of Nahuatl people, the myth tells us, is divided into a number
of epochs: Olmekatl, Maya, Teotihuakatl, Toltekatl, and Mexikatl. The most important of these various stages is the
Mayan period, for it was during that time that the Nahuatl people traveled around the world and profoundly influenced the
subsequent cultural evolution of Western Civilization. Although no other dates were given, we learn that about 2500
years ago the Mayas already recognized the fact that the world was round and explorers set out from the Atlantic coast to
circle it. Passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, the Mayan explorers arrived in Egypt, built pyramids and taught
the Egyptians the essence of the Nahuatl religion: the concept of Teotl. (16)
From Egypt the Nahuatl people, who were known as Atlantes, (17) moved on
to Greece, influencing Solon and later Plato. The writings of Plato in particular capture the spirit of Nahuatl culture,
Nieva claims, and in the “Republic” the Greek philosopher introduced the Kalpull--the Anauak kinship and land-tenure
traditions--to the people of the Mediterranean. (18) After Greece, Nahuatl culture was passed on to Rome and finally
formed the basis of Christian theology, albeit in an adulterated form. The Christians, we learn, took from Roman culture
the ideas of the Nahuah, which they then “dressed over with all the religiosity and mysticism of the Jewish people.”
Specifically, the Chrisitians adopted the concept of Teotl--creation. That the Christian god evolved through the
Nahuah and not through the Jews is indicated by the fact that the Christians used the Latinized version of Teotl--Deus--instead
of the Hebrew one--Jehovah. (19)
As the Roman Empire dissolved and distinct European countries emerged, the
name “Deus” underwent the following phonetic transformations in the languages of the various nations: “Dieu”
in French, “Dio” in Italian and “Dios” in Spanish,
“Which is the way it [Teotl] returned to us, suffering in this
fashion the fate of all the raw materials which we have produced and continue producing and which we export so that the foreigner
might embellish and return it to us at a higher price. And what a price we Mexicans have paid for the concept of Teotl
transformed into the Dios of the Christians! That price consists in having almost lost the instinctive Mexican nature,
in having suffered the great crimes that the dominators of our country committed against our ancestors in order to force on
them the Catholic religion.” (20)
According to Nieva, on August 12, 1521, one day before Cortes conquered
Tenochtitlan, the Ueyi Tlahtohkan, (21) ruler of the Great Confederation of Anauak (a higher official than Moctezuma), ordered
the Nahuatl people to preserve their culture secretly, passing it down by word of mouth from one generation to the next until
such a time as Mexico might be freed from foreign domination. (22) This decree was obeyed, the Movimiento maintains,
and now the group would like to prepare the Mexican people so that they will be able to rise up, expel the foreigners and
reinstate the nation’s legitimate culture. As to how and when the Revolution will occur, the group says nothing;
nor does it explain--except in the vaguest terms--what the political, social and cultural organization of the country will
All that I was able to determine about the future state is that Mexico’s
national language will be Nahuatl and that the political organization will be based on the “Nahuatl family,” the
Kalpull. Inspired by the generative and creative force of Teotl, the Movimiento members describe themselves as “cosmological
socialists,” and they criticize Marx for having limited himself to a philosophy of material socialism. Maria del
Carmen, incidentally, points out in her book that Marx’s theory is a poor imitation of the original doctrine of the
Nahuah: the German philosopher, she says, learned about the Kalpull from Plato. (23)
Thus, while the group awaits the expulsion of the foreigners, it has been
trying to develop a following by educating the Mexican people emotionally, politically and culturally. In the newspaper
Izkalotl (“resurgimiento”, reappearance), slogans like the following are printed in bold type: “The Superior
Anauak World of Our Ancestors”; “Spanish Colonization, Mother of all Our Troubles and Miseries”; “The
Nahuatl Language Will Unite the Mexicans;” and “We must insist that they teach us our True History.” (24)
the articles themselves report on Movimiento cultural activities and on archeological finds; Aztec calendar stones are particularly
popular. There are also Nahuatl language lessons and Nahuatl crossword puzzles.
Featured in each issue of Izkalotl are several articles dealing with the
interpretation of history. Most of these pieces criticize the way Mexicans have been taught about their own past.
The dramatization of the atrocities committed by the Spaniards during Colonial and post-colonial times is a popular subject.
Another favorite theme of these articles is the unfortunate consequence of Columbus’ error of thinking that he was in
Indian: for centuries the people of Mexico have been forced to bear the name “Indian” even though they are not
from India. Rghting this wrong, the newspaper refers to the Indigenous people of Mexico as Mexicanos, Mexikah, Nahuah
or Autoctonos; (25) and those Mexicans who collaborated with foreigners are derogatorily associated with Cortes’ indigenous
mistress Malinche and are called Malinchistas.
In an effort to encourage the Mexican people to pay tribute to the great
moments in their "autochthonous" history, the Movimiento organized a ceremony on July 6, 1969, in commemoration of the night
Moctezuma's brother Cuitlahuac defeated the Spaniards in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). Known in the Spanish chronicles
as the Sad Night, the occasion was renamed the Victorious Night by the Movimiento. The ceremony took place, appropriately,
at the impressive monument erected by the Mexican government in Cuitlahuac's honor, located on the busy Mexico City Avenida
de la Reforma. Since the emperor Moctezuma II had already been made a prisoner of the Spaniards, it was Cuitlahuac who
led the Aztecs into battle on July 6, 1519. Not until two years later were the Spaniards able to reconquer the city.
Although it was reported in Izkalotl that a large crown had gathered to
participate in the 1969 ceremony (26), actually the turnout was poor. At most twenty people were there. Despite
the small group, the members maintained their good spirits and the ritual was performed as planned. First a floral arrangement
in the shape of the Movimiento symbol (the Nahui Ollin symbol, plus Cuauhtemoc's emblem in the middle of the Ollin, plus the
letters P and M)was placed at the foot of the statue of Cuitlahuac, high above the people who were standing at the base of
the statue's pyramidal platform. Next a young man climbed up to where the flowers were and blew a conch shell, while
at the base of the monument another young boy beat a Plains Indian tom-tom and a young girl solemnly walked back and forth
before the monument waving copal incense. Afterwards several Movimiento members made short speeches calling to all Mexicans
to recognize their true heritage, and with that the ceremony came to a close. The entire program did not take more than
Since the Movimiento is not only interested in venerating the past, it also
participates in presentations concerned with promoting the indigenous present and future. On October 21, 1969, for example,
I had the opportunity to attend a performance sponsored jointly by the Movimiento and an organization of hair stylist known
as the Mexican Beauty Group. The theme of the evening was hot to be "chic" and "autochthonous" too. The program
took place in the fashionable Teatro del Bosque, which is located in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park. First the Movimiento
performed a "Nahuatl Ceremony". Maria del Carmen, listed in the program as Maestra Izchalotzin of the Institute of Mexican
Culture, gave a little talk about the significance of the "ceremony". Dressed in a floor-length Spanish lace gown, the
woman explained that we would see "an act of veneration to our race." Then, describing briefly the cosmological concepts
of the Movimiento--its ideas about the creative forces of the "Natural" Mexican--she told us that the dance to be performed
would be a "philosophy without words."
First a maiden of the Anauakxochitl (Flower of Anahuak) dance group appeared
on stage. She blew a conch shell and then lit some copal incense. Next the entire corps of eleven dancers, all
women and young girls, came out and performed the "Autochthonous Dance of Happiness." Maria del Carmen accompanied the
dancers on a drum, and the women moved around in a circle doing a slow hopping step. Several days later I asked one
of the dancers about the choreography, and she told me that Maria del Carmen had made it up and that the Maestra claimed that
every step had a meaning.
The dancers wore a two-piece off-white linen costumes. Their blouses
were decorated with large colorful representations of the Movimiento's symbol, and the skirts, which were mid-calf length,
had colorful stripes on the bottom halves. In addition, the maidens wore wreaths of red flowers in their hair, and dried
bunches of the "coyoli" fruit were tied around their ankles, creating rattling sounds as they danced.
After the Movimiento finished performing--they were on stage for about twenty
minutes--ten female models came on. One woman was dressed in what was supposed to be a traditional costume of the Yalalteca
Indians of Oaxaca and her hair was combed in the rather distinct Yalalteca style. The other nine models were dressed
in modern clothes, and each one was wearing a variation of the Yalalteca hairdo. For those in the audience who were
interested in trying the basic modern variation of the Yalalteca style, the theater program offered diagrams that illustrated
how to set the hair correctly. Furthermore, there were photographs of several of the models showing some of the alternatives
to the basic set.
The private gatherings at Maria del Carmen's home are much more informal
than the public ceremonies. The ritual blowing of the conch shell and the lighting of the incense are not observed;
nor does the Maestra often discuss the underlying philosophy of the Movimiento. These get-togethers are primarily social
affairs which might touch casually on Movimiento themes. However, on December 22, 1969, the Nahuatl New Year, there
was more of an attempt to keep the spirit of the Movimiento's philosophy and concerns alive. The dancers put on a little
performance, and the guest were invited to play a game similar to bingo, using symbols of the Aztec calendar (27). The
evening ended with a slide show of calendar stones and other archeaological finds that members of the Movimiento had recently
come across during their travels around the country.
Finally, on Saturday afternoons young children and teenage members of the
group are expected to attend a Nahuatl class at Maria del Carmen's home. These lessons are based on the Maestra's published
grammar Izkalotl. Maria del Carmen's teaching method consists of giving her students a list of vocabulary words to learn.
Since the Movimiento is particularly interested in etymological studies, Maria del Carmen concentrates on presenting her students
with the derivation of such words as "Mexico" and "Tenochtitlan". She also teaches the pupils the Nahuatl words for
such modern devices as the automobile and the train. No attempt is made to teach the group grammar, even at the most
elementary level, and the pupils are never even asked to try to make sentences.
Cultural Extremist and Hueyapenos
For the villagers, the cultural extremists represent one more group of urban
Mexicans who have come to the pueblo to teach the Hueyapenos about their Indian-ness. Once again the villagers have
been told that they are culturally deprived, but that with the help of outsiders they will soon acquire the “culture”
that they presently lack. What they are missing this time, however, is their own so-called original culture. In
other words, no matter what the criteria, the villagers never seem to meet the standards set by outsiders and are always told
that they need the latter’s assistance in order to change accordingly. First religious and government missionaries
came to the pueblo to save the Hueyapenos from being too Indian, and now the cultural extremists have appeared to save them
from not being Indian enough.
Actually, the cultural extremists have succeeded in converting only a handful
of Hueyapenos to their Movement. Most villagers are more eager to lose their indigenous identity through the Mestizo-oriented
government acculturation program than they are to emphasize it. Nevertheless, the extremists cannot be dismissed, primarily
because many Hueyapenos have associated--some might say confused--the work of the cultural extremists with what the villagers
see to be a general trend among middle- and upper-class Mexicans. Whenever a group of well-dressed outsiders drives
up in a private car, the villagers assume that the visitors are looking for Indian culture and will be disappointed if they
do not find what they expect. Thus, tourists, anthropologists and government workers--when the latter are performing
acts of veneration to Mexico’s Indigenous past--are all classified with the cultural extremists. As far as the
Hueyapenos are concerned, all these people want the villagers to conform to the outsider’s glamorous image of the Indian.
Accustomed as they are to accommodating the wishes of the elite, the villagers
usually comply, as we have seen, and “play” Indian for their honored guests. Still, most Hueyapenos remain
much more interested in exchanging this Indian identity for a Mestizo one. As Indians the villagers might provide a
bit of regional charm, but as Mestizos they will enjoy the socio-economic advantages of a higher status.
The Person in the village who has had the longest and most intimate contact
with the cultural extremists is Don Eliseo Cortes. In 1939 he attended a Nahuatl Congress in Milpa Alta. Then
in 1945 he met Juan Luna Cardenas, and the two men became good friends. The circumstances surrounding this encounter
are rather significant, for they suggest that cultural extremists and government representatives are frequently the same people.
Not only did Maria del Carmen serve as a school inspector and do several Movimiento members have teaching positions, but Juan
Luna himself had been head of the linguistic division of the Department of Indigenous Affairs, and it was in this capacity
that the linguist introduced Don Eliseo to cultural extremism.
It seems that a school teacher in Hueyapan had suggested to Don Eliseo that
he go to the Department of Indigenous Affairs in Mexico City to see whether the government office might provide one of Eliseo’s
sons with a scholarship to continue his education. At the Department, Don Eliseo met Juan Luna. Although the Hueyapeno
did not succeed in securing the money for his son, Don Eliseo returned to the village with several Nahuatl grammars that had
been given to him by Juan Luna and by another member of the Department.
Several years later, in the early 1950s, Don Eliseo, Don Juan and two other
villagers went to Mexico City to study Classical Nahuatl at Juan Luna’s school, in Uey Tlatekpanaliztli (The Great Society
of Aztec Fellows). Regular Nahuatl classes were conducted by Juan Luna’s brother and another gentleman, Juan Chavez
Orozco, gave a course on calendar stones. Chavez was a painter associated with the Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and
had studied with Diego Rivera, Don Juan told me.
Don Juan said that Juan Chavez often took students to see calendar stones
on Calle Moneda in Mexico City and interpreted extensively from them. These calendar stones explained world history
in such detail, the teacher claimed, that even the story of the founding of Hueyapan was included. Thus Don Juan learned
that the Xochimilcas were not the first settlers of Hueyapan, as the villagers were told in school; instead a group of people
known as the Metzintin were the original inhabitants. Not only the age of Petl, after the First Flood, did the Xochimilcas
Since the cultural extremists did not provide the Hueyapenos with lodging
and food, the villagers finally had to give up their studies with the group. Of the four, only Don Eliseo had been invited
to teach Nahuatl at the school, and even he was offered such a low salary that it was financially impossible for him to remain.
As Don Juan described things, the other students were lawyers, engineers and school teachers who lived in Mexico City
and had high-paying jobs. The Hueyapenos, however, were poor and their only means of making a living was on the land.
Thus after a few months the villagers returned home, but the initial contact had been made and Don Eliseo in particular came
back with great aspirations to revive Nahuatl culture in Hueyapan.
In 1956, with the help of Juan Luna, Don Eliseo opened a school in the village
to teach “pure” Nahuatl, uncorrupted by Spanish interference. During that year the Mexico City linguist
visited Hueyapan quite frequently, giving classes in the school and organizing meetings in Don Eliseo’s home to practice
the Aztec religion. Furthermore, Juan Luna offered Hueyapenos the free services of his group to arbitrate local land
While Juan Luna was working in the school about fifty villagers sent their
children to classes. However, once he left the school soon folded. Today only a handful of villagers continue
to take an informal interest in studying “pure” Nahuatl.
Another villager who had been active with Juan Luna and then later with
Rodolfo Nieva was Lino Balderas, a former singer at the Bellas Artes. This Hueyapeno was among the first group of villagers
who studied Nahuatl in Mexico City, and afterwards he entered the world of music. In addition to singing in the Ballet
Folklorico chorus, Lino Balderas made a recording of a Nahuatl translation of the traditional Mexican birthday song, “las
Although I met this famous Hueyapeno, I was unable to interview him, since
a few years before I arrived in the village he had been in a terrible car accident and had suffered severe brain damage and
crippling. What I know about the man I learned from other villagers. Apparently the singer never made very much
money either at the Bellas Artes or from his record, and consequently left Mexico City a very bitter man, complaining that
he had been taken advantage of.
Lino Balderas was also responsible for making a Spanish translation of a
Nahuatl poem that the Mexico City teacher Juan Chavez had taken from the Ozomatl (tiger) glyph of the calendar stone.
The villager wrote a Nahuatl song himself about a man wooing a beautiful maiden with blond hair, and he served as a Nahuatl
informant for the well-known scholar of ancient Mexico Miguel Leon-Portilla.
Accepting the fanciful account of the Hueyapeno cultural extremist, Leon-Portilla
actually published a prayer that the singer claimed his “old mother” used to recite to the pre-Hispanic rain god
Tlaloc. (28) Unlike the prayers published by Miguel Barrios, this one is written in “pure Nahuatl”,
so “pure” in fact, that when Elvira Hernandez went over the text with me she pointed out several expressions which
Hueyapenos probably never used. Furthermore, aside from Don Eliseo, Lino Balderas and a few other cultural extremists,
nobody in Hueyapan prayed to pre-Hispanic deities. Even the Pueblo’s mushroom-eating rain-makers called on the
Christian god and the saints in their rituals.
That the Hueyapeno singer was able to make a name for himself in Mexico
City by capitalizing on his Indian-ness has impressed a number of villagers. But the fact the he returned to the pueblo
a dejected and penniless man has affected them even more. The story of this singer represents for many villagers the
classic case of what happens to a poor, ignorant Indian who tries to get ahead and stay Indian at the same time.
Another Hueyapeno experience with cultural extremists is the story of Don
Adelaido Amarro. In 1965 Don Adelaido was selling fruit in the Manzanares market in Mexico City and there he met an
acquaintance of his who was from the lowland community of Jumiltepec. The friend told Don Adelaido about the Movimiento and
took the Hueyapeno to a meeting held at Nieva’s office. Don Adelaido told me that Nieva received him warmly, and
was delighted to have somebody with whom he could speak Nahuatl. The two men chatted in Nahuatl for a while--Nieva spoke very
poorly. Don Adelado recalled--and the lawyer invited the villager to join the group. Nieva also wanted Don Adelaido
to represent the Movimiento in Hueyapan and to see that Nahuatl was taught in school there. Don Adelaido asked the lawyer
to send him a formal document authorizing th Hueyapeno to act in the name of the Movimiento, for otherwise the villagers would
assume that Don Adelaido had made the whole matter up while wandering about the streets of Mexico City drunk.
Rodolfo Nieva complied with Don Adelaido’s wish and sent a formal
letter to Hueyapan announcing that Don Adelaido was authorized to act in the name of the Movimiento. Don Adelaido informed
Maestro Rafael, who was at this time the director of the village primary school, of the Movimiento’s wishes. Although
Maestro Rafael expressed an interest in the project, nothing was ever done about initiating classes in Nahuatl.
In 1966 Nieva sent Don Adelaido an announcement inviting him to attend a
Movimiento congress that was going to be held in Morelos. However, by the time the notice arrived the congress had already
taken place. Greatly disappointed, Don Adelaido, with the help of Maestro Rafael, wrote a letter to Nieva asking the
lawyer to send any information available about how the Hueyapenos might participate in later congresses. The letter
also told Nieva that Maestro Rafael was now in charge of organizing the Nahuatl school. This letter was the last communication
between Hueyapan and the Movimiento. A year and a half later Rodolfo Nieva died.
Don Adelaido was intrigued by, but never committed to, the Movimiento.
He told me that the people he met at the Mexico City meetings were all rich professionals. They had time to indulge
themselves. He, however, had a large family to care for and could not remain in Mexico City with a group that did not
even offer him a meal, let alone a job or a place to stay. Nevertheless, the idea that his Indian-ness was attractive
to the wealthy did make a deep impression on him, and he has put it to some use at home.
Capitalizing on his wife’s exceptional weaving skills, Don Adelaido
has cultivated an acquaintance with the head of the Cuernavaca branch of the Burlington Textile Mills, who is a fancier of
Indigenous textiles. Known in the Pueblo as the Ingeniero (engineer), Juan Dubernard has been employing Hueyapeno men
to work in his factory since 1953 and has been visiting Hueyapan to purchase woven goods since 1960.
The combination of his wife’s talents and his own promotion campaign
has paid off for Don Adelaido, for as far as Dubernard is concerned, Dona Epifania is the best weaver in the village (29)
and the Ingeniero does almost all his business with her. Thus whenever Dona Epifania has a couple of extra pieces of
cloth Don Adelaido takes his wife into Cuernavaca to see the Ingeniero, and on these special occasions he always insists that
she wear her “increate”--although she almost never wears the traditional skirt at home--for the Hueyapeno has
learned that he and Dona Epifania are received more enthusiastically when his wife arrives at the factory dressed like an
A bit of cultural extremist himself, Dubernard told me that he was distressed
to learn that the Cultural Missions were trying to modernize the indigenous weaving technology. As he put it, “they
are ruining things.” In Hueyapan Dubernard has even tried to make the weaving more authentic than he found it
originally by teaching Dona Epifania about the pre-Hispanic dyes. As far back as Dona Epifania can remember--she was
about 45 in 1969--Hueyapenos have always used commercial dyes. Dona Zeferina, who is twenty years older than Dona Epifania,
also cannot remember a time before commercial dyes.