México Profundo, Reclaiming A Civilization

Mexico Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization

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México Profundo, Reclaiming A Civilization, by Guillermo Bonfil Batalla (1935-1991), is translated by Philip A. Dennis and was published by the University of Texas Press in 1996, with eight paperback printings through 2009. From the back cover, Mexican studies; anthropology:For Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, the remaining Indian communities, the ‘de-Indianized’ rural mestizo communities, and vast sectors of the poor urban population constitute the México profundo. Their lives and ways of understanding the world continue to be rooted in Mesoamerican civilization… Since the Conquest [Hernan Cortés, 1519-1521] Bonfil argues, the peoples of the México profundo have been dominated by an ‘imaginary México’ imposed by the West.”

Philip A. Dennis is a Professor of Anthropology at Texas Tech University. The book opens with his Foreword of 1995: “Guillermo Bonfil Batalla’s book México profundo: una civilización negada seems prophetic in retrospect. He predicted the collapse of what he called the imaginary Mexico and hoped that the strengths of the “México profundo” would serve as a basis for building a new Mexico. According to Bonfil Batalla, Mexico is not a mestizo country. Rather, it is a country whose majority population continues to be rooted in Mesoamerican civilization and whose way of life reflects cultural patterns and values with thousands of years of history … The México profundo erupted into national consciousness on January 1, 1994, when the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejército Zapatista de la Liberación Nacional – EZLN) took over four towns in the southeastern state of Chiapas. Their struggle provoked a still-unresolved confrontation with the Mexican government. Most of the EZLN fighters are Maya Indians from a poor state whose population includes more than a million Maya people. Their rebellion responds to years of injustice and oppression. In recent years in Chiapas, large cattle ranchers have continued to usurp Indian land, with the support of paid gunmen and the judicial police. Land and wealth and political power in Chiapas are highly concentrated in the hands of the local elite, while the Indian and peasant majority live in extreme poverty.”

“Guillermo Bonfil Batalla had a distinguished career in Mexican anthropology, cut tragically short by his death in an automobile accident in July 1991 … Bonfil Batalla began his career as one of the early critics of indigenismo, a continent-wide movement concerned with Indian welfare, but directed by non-Indians. He and other Mexican anthropologists of the early 1970s concluded that the paternalistic stance of indigenismo obscured the truly multicultural nature of Mexico, and they supported, instead, Indian efforts at self-determination.”

The book is divided into three parts (each with two to five subheadings): Part I, A Civilization Denied; Part II, How We Came to Be Where We Are; and Part III, The National Program and the Civilizational Project. From Bonfil Batalla’s summary that precedes Part I: “What unifies them [the México profundo] and distinguishes them from the rest of Mexican society is that they are bearers of ways of understanding the world and of organizing human life that have their origins in Mesoamerican civilization and that have been forged here in Mexico through a long and historical process … The civilization of Mesoamerica has been denied but it is essential to recognize its continuing presence.” Later in Part I, under the subheading Cultural Schism, he writes: “Cultural diversity is not a problem in itself … The problem lies in the dual, asymmetrical structure that underlies the plurality. At this point it is indispensable to return to the origin of this problem, which is none other than the colonial situation from which current Mexican society is derived. This is a past whose basic, antagonistic duality has not yet been superseded. To the contrary, it is expressed in every facet of national life. It is an original sin that has not yet been redeemed.”

Part II details the violent establishment of The Colonial Order that began in the third decade of the sixteenth century, creating a split society with its dividing line marking the subordination of a group of peoples of Mesoamerican culture to an invading group whose culture was different and of Western origin. “The Conquest was a violent invasion. This violence – physical, bloody, brutal violence – was not an initial episode; it has been a permanent marker of relations with Indian peoples from the sixteenth century until the present … From the material point of view the violence was imposed by the deadly superiority of Spanish arms and tactics of war … However, arms do not kill by themselves, and those who use them must have motives for killing. The venturesome conquistadors had a primary motive, which was gold, silver, and quick riches; these would give them the honor they had not achieved in Spain.”

“The mortality of the Indian population during the first century of the colony provoked the most brutal demographic catastrophe in history.”

With the Sword, the Cross – “If violence was the primary and ultimate recourse for assuring domination, religion was its inseparable companion.”

Part III has two subheadings, The Nation We Have Today, and Civilization and Alternatives.

“From all that has been produced within the framework of the imaginary Mexico there is also much to retrieve and to put at the service of a new national program. What is imaginary is Western. It is imaginary not because it does not exist, but because, based on it, there has been an effort to build a Mexico different from Mexican reality…”

“It might seem that in speaking of civilizations and civilizational projects we are handling excessively abstract concepts. They may seem to have little to do with real concrete problems and urgently needed decisions. Needless to say, this is not the case. Rather, we are dealing with different, inseparable levels of the same reality… It is thus proper to explore briefly some of the concrete actions that would contribute to putting into effect a program of national pluralism. We should not lose sight of the fact that the program itself, with all its relevant details, by its nature must be constructed with the contributions of the societies that have developed historically in Mexico, with their different cultures. The priority is how to create the conditions for liberating these oppressed cultures. Their liberation is necessary for them to participate on equal terms, without renouncing their differences, in the design and construction of the new society.”

The book concludes with  References Cited, a Bibliographic Appendix, and an Index.  – Review by Martha Keltz



The Case for Anthroposophy – Anthropology and Anthroposophy, by Rudolf Steiner https://wn.rsarchive.org/Books/GA021/English/RSP1970/GA021_c01.html

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