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The Mother of American Education

11 December 2015

With the present government here trying to impose educational “reforms” by force, sending in federal police to prevent teachers from making a mockery of “testing” programs designed not to highlight weaknesses in the educational system, but to force public school teachers out, and pave the way for more privatization; and with teacher training having become potentially fatal (remember the 43?), a little bit on the history of education in Mexico.   A bit from the draft of my revised “Gods, Gachupines, and Gringos” (maybe Gods and Gringos Reloaded?).

The “apostles” I mention were the twelve Franciscan monks sent by Carlos of Castille and Aragón (aka, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) with a mission to convert the Aztecs.

Although the first Conquistadores were followed by more than its share of profiteers, rogues and outright psycopaths (like Nuño de Guzmán), the “apostles” were not the only Spaniards who found a higher calling in the New World.

Catalina Bustamante, one of the first European women in the Americas, had emigrated to Santo Domingo (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) was secure enough in her position as a “lady of quality” to bombard King Carlos with letters demanding justice… and a better education… for the indigenous survivors of the Conquest in the Carribean. Widowed young, with several children, she used the one sure skill she had, literacy in an era when it was rare for even a wealthy woman to read and write, to support her family as a teacher. Cortés hired her to educate his own children, brining her to Mexico.

Catalina-de-BustamanteWhile teaching the children of the elite was renumerative, Catalina became friendly with Motolinia, who had been teaching the sons of the former Aztec elites. With no one educating their daughters, Catalina took on the task, and opened her school to any indigenous girl. As a condition of receiving support from the Church, she of course had to add religious instruction to her curriculum, but daringly, began instructing the girls in Spanish law, and encouraging them to speak up for their rights. As one might expect, this wasn’t exactly what the “founding fathers” of the Colony had in mind, but… backed by Isabella of Portugal (Queen of Spain and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire) she was not only able to find funding for her school, but returned with the backing and money needed to expand her programs, and to start start training her girls to become teachers themselves. The only restriction ever put on “The Mother of Mexican Education” was that the Crown expected education to be controlled by the Church. Becoming a member of the “Third Order of Franciscans”, which bound her to follow the religious precepts of her superiors… the monks running the boy’s schools… she remained free to live independently of a religious community, to manage her own personal affairs, and to claim her school (and, later, schools) were officially religious institutions.

The Custom of the Country

2 December 2015

William S. Burroughs noted in the 1940s, “It would not occur to a Mexican to expect criticism from a stranger, nor to criticize the behavior of others,” it is as strangers that we do not criticize, nor expect criticism.  But a stranger is — by definition — “not one of us”, and to our community, irrelevant.  And, ironically enough, the quote is from a book written about a community … of “expat outcasts” in — but not really OF — México.

The community, even if it is of outcast expats, is however, essential to Mexicans and Mexico …  even in the most ephemeral of communities.  Riding the Metro, I am a member of the fourth car on the blue line between Chilpancingo and Chabacano village.  In our village, there are a set of rules (no different really than those of any other Metro car) that we live by, if only for those three or four minutes, and a sense that we are all in it together.  My building, my street, my neighborhood, has its own unwritten rules by which we all live… more or less in harmony.

As a foreign migrant, in some ways I am free to chose my community.  I am not born into the traditional community of the extended family, nor are there expectations of adhering to certain economic and cultural values simply because they conform to those of the community and family in which I find myself.  I can see the strength in those bonds (unchosen though they are) in equipping the community (and, on a larger scale, “la raza”) to weather difficulties and to thrive even under the worst of conditions.

Much as I may accept that I live in a much more communal culture, I was programmed to accept another more individualist one, with all its advantages and faults.  What if you don’t find yourself outside your culture, even if it is not by choice, or though any fault of your own?  It is part of one’s being, and one’s sense of one’s self, and cannot simply be rejected, even if it rejects you.

Miguel Ángel Léon Carmona, in the Veracruz-based  Blog Expediente MX, meets NOT a stranger who is immune to criticism, but one cast out by his own community… and his family… NOT for breaking the rules by his own volition, but for not fitting the pre-ordained unwritten rules by which the rest of the community believes it lives.

“A punta de madrazos te quitaré lo puto” (my translation)

In Tlanecpaquila, Veracruz, set in the central mountainous Zongolica region, the word has come down. Not one is to speak to Eduardo Xóchitl, the only homosexual in the community of 236 inhabitants. The elders warn their offspring to stay away, less they contract a horrible disease.

ScreenHunter_29 Dec. 02 04.07“I am not welcome in my own home. My own mother wants to run me out, and I’ve been told to live somewhere else. I’m afraid to go out, and have been kicked in the balls, told the the bruises were to keep me from turning into a faggot.”

Eduardo, 32 years old, is alone and depressed. He agreed to an interview, held at the only clinic in the community, visibly nervous about being recognized. His hands shook as he began to discuss a life suffering under homophobia.

A campesino, he leaves every moring at six to till his fields. He waves at his neighbors out of good manners. No one waves back. He spends entire days never saying a word to anyone.

He discovered his preference for his own sex when he was sixteeen — the worst of it being he was in a school room at the time. “The other kids jumped me, one pulled my hair, another stabbed me with a pencil in my ass. As soon as we were outside, they beat me.”

It was not easy for him to understand, let alone accept his penchant for me. The rules of life in Tlanecpaquila are simple and clear, learned if necessary, by the application of the sole of a huarache1. One lives as God intended.

Finish secondaria2. Dedicate your life to wheat and hay. Harvest coffee from November to February. Find a woman or two. Have children in abundance. Drink pulque. Wear a hat. Obey your mother. Beat your enemies to the ground. Believe in God.

The rules are simple enough for the 127 men in the community. All but Eduardo Xóchitl. He cannot look another man in the eye, or shake his hand, or hold a conversation. Love between men is punishable by exile or absolute rejection.

He has heard of other homosexuals in the Zonoglia, in San Sebasian, a two hour walk. But a relationship seems out of the question. “My mother told me she wants to die in peace, and not see me doing ‘dirty things´.”

Two years ago, Eduardo invited a gay friend from Emilio Zapata3. The visit had to be secret, timed to occur at eight in the evening while his family would be out at a festival honoring the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The friends held hands, commiserating on their situation.

— “We need to go to another city, Lalo. Far from this god-forsaken town.”

Eduardo trembled in fear. The dogs began to bark, and the door opened.

— Who the fuck is this guy, son?

“My father started hitting me. It was December, and my friend was chased out into the night. My mother was screaming at me to move out as soon as possible.”

His brother, doing what he could, bought him five square meters of land for 6000 pesos. “’There, you can do what you want,´ he told me. I felt horrified that my family had thrown me out, and screamed all night. I thought of killing myself, but I’m not capable of that.”

So, he lives in a secluded hamlet. His house of four brick walls, with a dirt floor, without electricty or running water sitting on hill is a morbid local attraction. The sinful leper of the Bible according to Tlanecpaquila, has only the rocks for neighbors, the desolation of his room relieved only by with four religious prints, an old serape, a teddy bear, and a sharp machete.

Eduardo Xóchitl was destined to do field work, and its the only work he knows. Doing seasonal contract labor he says “The contractors don’t know I’m gay, but I have to keep quiet and just do my job.”

“On the big farms, during harvest season, when I have to work with the others, they don’t work next to me, saying ´Don’t stand near the faggot, it’ll rub off on you.’ I never talk to anyone, but when I get home, I just want to scream.”

Field work is natural tor Eduardo, with his hands rough and his feet calloused. He tops his father’s quota, picking 70 kilos of coffee a day, earning 140 pesos. Half he gives to his mother, in return for allowing him to eat in her house.

Work days end at four in the afternoon. Eduardo is the last to leave. People speed up to avoid walking with him, not wanting to be mocked. Sometimes, they throw stones at him.

Going to his mother’s is the bitterest part of the day. The family will not eat with him, nor will his mother, as she does with his brothers, serve dinner and heat up hot water for their baths. “They just give me food, and let me take a bath there.”

“We always have tamales with mole for her birthday. I brought 20, but they had the party without me. Niether a hug, nor a gift. I spend my time here in the hills. I’m not afraid of being alone, nobody bothers me here.”

In a small community, hidden in the mountains, there is not only hunger and a lack of basic services. The customs passed down through the generations deprive people of the ability to think freely, to be different, like Eduardo.

“I’d like to go to a place where no one would stare at me, or see me as an animal. But I don’t know how to use a telephone or a computer, and I can barely read or write. And, I’m afraid to talk to people. The furthest I’ve ever been is Cordoba and Oriziba, about three hours by bus.”

The interview comes to an end. The time is passing, and people might notice. Leaving the doctor’s office, Eduardo Xóchitl comments, “I would like to know what I can offer to men. I wish my family would accept me, but I know that will never happen.”

The men in the waiting room, look down at the muddy boots with glassy stares. The women, cover the eyes of the children with bloated bellies, lest they absorb the evil in their midst.

1Beating children with a shoe.

2About 9th or 10th grade in the U.S. System.

3Another community in the Zonoglia, with a population about twice that of Tlanecpaquila.  The Zongolica, has among the highest illiteracy and poverty rates in the Republic, and is mostly indigenous.

The story is heart-breaking, though it’s hopeful that several commentators stepped up to assist in any way they can, leaving e-mail addresses and telephone numbers.

But, as Eduardo said, he doesn’t know how to use a telephone or computer.  I would love to send him a laptop, then realized he doesn’t have electricity, and would need to learn how to use it.  And it would likely be stolen, or his electric service cut off, just as he has been cut off from contact with his own family and culture.  And, much as foreigners (or even outsiders who have by their own choice “turned Mexican”) think we can  … or maybe should… be the ones to try to alleviate his situation, I don’t think we are.  Much as we care, and much as we think we “know better”, any intrusion is going to be seen as not just an intervention on behalf of Eduardo, but an intrusion into the community.  For the better, we’d hope, but how we’d do that without uprooting the entire cultural framework is something I don’t know, and it’s not up to me to decide what needs to be changed, and what doesn’t.  And how to go about it.

This one I’ll leave to those Mexicans who have been through the same situation, and who might have a workable solution.  But, if I do find “those Mexicans” can use a bit of practical gringo assistance, you’ll be the first to hear about it.



Injun givers… French fashionistas and Coca-cola

30 November 2015

Isabel Marant, a French designer, and the clothing line Antiquité Vatic claim they have intellectual rights to their new winter designs, which somehow bear a striking resemblance to those worn by the Mixe-speaking residents of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca for … oh… forever.  Marant has fessed up to “borrowing” the design that she is passing off as her own work, but Antiquité Vatic is seeking to obtain a patent to the design.

arteThe municipality, and its inhabitants, are quickly discovering, legal protections for indigenous rights including ownership of intellectual and artistic work, basically doesn’t exist.  Our “civilized” legal system, it appears, gives no rights to human beings as collective owners of non-material goods, but apparently does when the collective is based not on human existence, but on being collective financial resources.


At least the French fashionistas… greedy pigs that they are… don’t pretend they’re doing some sort of public service, and are open about stealing from the Mixes.

Unlike one of the tackier… if not the tackiest… Christmas season ads of all times, based on a “colonial fairy tale” of the white savior… and a

… clear demonstration of the presence of transnationals in the Indigenous territories of Oaxaca. In the last years, these companies have increasingly been taking over natural, economic and now cultural resources from the communities…

Also targeting Mixe-speaking communities, Coca-Cola is not stealing Mixte creative work outright, but instead is trying to sell itself as some sort of savior of the community, by way of selling the community on buying their products. Presented as a weird “public service project” in which obviously European-descended Mexicans bring a Christmas Tree (itself an odd cultural appropriation by north European Christians of Germanic Yule celebrations) made of wooden slats painted “Coke Red” (Pantone 484, which Coca-Cola did attempt to patent) with the words “Tökmuk n´ìjttumtat” (“Merry Christmas” in Mixte) tacked on to the Mixe.

Apparently, the “white man’s burden” is not only to steal the culture of the Mixe for the greater glory of French corporate interests, but to seduce the downtrodden Mixe into accepting the non-Mexican U.S. symbols of Christmas and … in so doing… buy foreign corporate products.

Coca-colonialism, 2015:



Bonilla, Isadora, “La propaganda del descaro de Coca-cola utilizando a indigena” (Regeneración, 25 November 2015)

“Coca Cola Navidad comunidad Mixe Totontepec 2015” (Youtube)… was taken private by Coca-Cola.  Copy via Latino Rebels (Youtube)

“Empresa francesa reclama los derechos del diseño de blusa oaxaqueña” (Mientras tanto en México)

Franceses pelean diseño de blusa de Tlahuitoltepec  (Oaxaca Pólitica)

“This New Coca Cola Ad Shows Mexico’s White Savior Problem” (Telesur TV)

Trashy behavior?

27 November 2015

“Lord” or “Lady” -whatever has taken on a specific meaning in Mexico City… people who become instant celebrities for some anti-social act which they then follow up with a  self-justification or entitlement.  The latest to receive the “dishonorific” is “LadyBasura”, “Lady Trash”, who was charged with throwing trash in the street and causing a public disturbance.  Had she picked up her trash, there wouldn’t have been any newsworthy story here, and she earned her title for her behavior towards the officers who tried to reason with her, and with the subsequent story that although she apparently has a job with her delegacion, her penalty for throwing trash in the street (defined in the Federal District Code as a fine ranging from 1,345 to 13,458 pesos, and/or 13 to 24 days in jail) was reduced to 69 pesos (about US$4.20) on the argument that she was without an income.

Although there’s no question that LadyBasura was acting like a self-entitled jerk, I think most of us in Chilangolandia are in something of a bind when it comes to dumping our trash.  While I suppose it is possible to be home, or have someone home, when the trash collectors come by (around 10… or 11 … or whenever) during the day, and hear them ringing their bell, and run down the stairs, unlock the gate, get around the cars blocking the driveway, out to the street and hand it to the collector, ain’t gonna happen.

Even in an advantaged neighborhood like mine (Roma Sur) good luck finding a public trash bin.  We are fortunate that up on the corner, there is enough of a berm for people to pile trash the night before.  Whether we can be fined for that I can’t say, but with the trash from everyone within two or three blocks piling up on one corner, of course, its going to end up in the street.  And even with most of us in the neighborhood boxing or bagging the trash accidents happen, the collectors don’t get everything, or animals and recyclers pick through the bags and … well, the situation is far from ideal.

I’m all in favor of reduce, recycle and reuse, and I’ve long supported reforms in trash collection here.  I try to keep our own trash to a minimum, and with recyclables not being easily disposed of, I bag them separately so the”freelancers” aren’t just ripping through bags of  dog poop and orange peels and burnt dinners looking for the good stuff.  Still, it’s a mess.  The District Assembly, as it has too often, wrote a good law, with no way for citizens to easily comply.  There just aren’t any trash cans or dumpsters for us to use, and no one seems to have considered the issue.

It’s not the sexiest urban design project, but couldn’t someone come up with neighborhood dumpsters that are esthetic enough to sit on street corners in our neighborhoods?  Then, when self-entitled jerks DO break the rules, we can all mock them with a bit less hypocrisy.


Sending the turkey to damnation

26 November 2015

drunk-turkeyThere have been the usual parleyings about the brandy for the turkey — the guajolote, the Indians sitll call him — the ancestral bird of Mexico.  The Aztecs ate, and continure  ot eat, him; and good cooks have the habit of giving him the following happy death: on the morning of the day on which you are to eat him, you generally hear him gobbling about.  Then, there is the demand for whisky or brandy “por el guajolote, pobrecito.” The unfortunate (or fortunate) bird is then allowed to drink himself to death. This is the effective way of rendering him chable, it being impossible to hang meats at this altitude. The flesh becomes soft and white and juicy. But try a gravel-fed guajolote that has not gone to damnation!

Edith O’Shaughnessy, “A Diplomat’s Wife in Mexico” (Harper and Row, 1916)

O’Shaughnessy was not just a diplomatic spouse who wrote on “safe” subjects like Mexican cuisine (and how to kill turkeys).   “A Diplomat’s Wife..” and “Intimate Pages of Mexican History” (1920) attacked Woodrow Wilson and argued for a “strong hand” in Latin American affairs.  One of the first women to write on political affairs for a popular press, she was a pioneering right-wing pundit who would have been at home today on Fox News.



Your Mexican visitor today

26 November 2015



The genetically mutated Meleagris gallopavo  on your dinner table was first served to Europeans in 1519, at Cozumel, where Mayans, like the Wampoags a century later, would take pity on some hungry foreigners and serve them up a decent meal featuring what was a staple of the north American diet.  Pedro d’Álvarado would begin his career in stealing treasures from the natives with a couple of the birds, which he mistook for peacocks:  a native bird of Iran, and known to Europeans through contact with the Ottomans… i.e. Turks.

While the peacock is mostly an ornamental bird, our bird is quite a bit tastier (and has more meat), and our humble American bird was dubbed by the Spanish, “pavo”:  peacock.  The showy (and not particularly useful) peacock was promoted to “pavo real”… or, now, “royal turkey”.

The English, being late to the imperialism in the Americas game, were already somewhat familiar with the bird a century later, by which time they’d mixed up the dethroned Ottoman peacock with the Spanish word for the American bird… and dubbed it “turkey”.   By the 18th century, the English were breeding them prodigiously, and by the 20th century … the toms having been bred for larger and larger and larger breasts are unable to breed the natural way… and those frustrated adolescents on your table probably welcome their fate as a relief.

In the countryside, most homes will still have a few hens and maybe a tom wandering around the yard…in their original glory.   Politicians don’t always give away frozen ones at election time, but the live birds, though it’s technically illegal now for the pols to tell you the turkey is in exchange for your vote in the next election.

Here, while you see “pavo” on the labels in the supermarket, we remember it’s “our” bird, and call it by its nahuatl name, “guajolote”.

Gone, baby, gone

20 November 2015

“From 2009 to 2014, 1 million Mexicans and their families (including U.S.-born children) left the U.S. for Mexico, according to data from the 2014 Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamics (ENADID). U.S. census data for the same period show an estimated 870,000 Mexican nationals left Mexico to come to the U.S., a smaller number than the flow of families from the U.S. to Mexico.”

(via National Council on La Raza, commenting on this story)

I’ve been hearing as long as I’ve lived here the unsubstantiated figure of a million USAnians living in Mexico, which may even be true by now, but by no means are there a million “expats”… which seems to mean retirees in the gringo ghettos around Chapala, San Miguel, and along the coats, a  sizable number of quasi-illegals (the “border runners” who try to have it both ways — living here on the cheap, but who don’t qualify for residency, and claim to be tourists, making regular trips out of the country) and the relatively large number of those who (as I was for a while), being white people with some money coming in from the outside, don’t like to be called “illegal immigrants”.

Of course, implying that the million gringo figure is people like “us” is self-serving.  When not dished up by real estate agents trying to convince someone that a house is not a house, but a financial instrument that can be sold at a profit to the supposedly limitless gringo community, it’s usually bandied about by those who complain about some minor “inconvenience” to them in the immigration procedures here — the people who somehow get the idea that spending money on rent, and housing, and maybe their underpaid “help” is a boon to the economy.

As opposed to those U.S. born (and U.S. citizen) dependents of Mexicans who have returned here, and who are likely to spend their lives here as taxpayers and will be contributing to the economy (and the culture) long after us geezers have cashed out last Social Security check, and bought our last eight-pack of Pacifico … and whined our last whine about being expected to give the kid who bagged the beer a whole three pesos.


And, as long as I’m on a roll… the U.S. is losing a million families off the tax rolls, and it freaking out that 10,000 Syrians MIGHT be coming.  Absurd.



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