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10,000 Years … 13 years later

2 June 2021

I realized, almost as soon as Gods, Gachupines and Gringos was first published, that it would need revised. Whatever intentions I might have had, through three moves, a marriage, dealing with having inherited by backrupt publisher, a crippling accident, a couple computers, a pandemic lock-down that’s run way, way too long … you know… “real life”, for some reason very little was ever accomplished. Although I’m not happy with, or comfortable with, this new WordPress platform (and still can’t figure out how to do anything more than drop in text),

Whether I see this as a completely different book, or just a revised edition, my first publisher and editor having died, I don’t expect any publisher is going to devote the time, effort and money that went into the original book. I haven’t really thought too much about submissions (not having done enough work to seriously consider looking for a publisher), and wonder if it may not be dump everything on some on-line platform, ask for donations, and hope for the best.

Anatole France wrote in “Le Jardin d’Epicure: “It is impossible to know the past; no one is able to read everything that one would be required to read.” Or, watch on videos, download, or rethink, either. But, one must start somewhere.

By way of an introduction:

10,000 Years… More or Less

Two things are very valuable in our country… our culture, and our cultures. Mexico was founded more than ten thosand years ago, and with all due respect, while buffalo still grazed in what is now New York, already Mexico had universities and printing presses. We have had earthquakes, familines, floods, files bad government, corruption and on it goes… [but our] culture always saves Mexico.

Andres Mánuel López Obrador

Said soon after his inaguaration in 2018, the new Mexican president was criticized for this remark, not only by his usual political rivals and those in the mass media who reflexibly picked apart the President’s fondness for hyperbole, but by many of his usual supporters among the intellectuals as well. For the intelletuals, the definition of “culture” and, specifically Mexican culture, was narrowly defined by what we see today… that modern country that did indeed have universities and printing presses while New York was still a grazing ground for buffalo. But they are thinking of “modern” Mexico, a geographic and political entity with a history going back only about 500 years, or at the most, to those advanced urban societies which have been identified, and imperfectly understood, dating back perhaps a mere thousand or so years earlier.

But then, in another sense, the President was absolutely correct. The Mexican cultures of today incorporate not only the native American societies which came before (about which we don’t know enough to say they don’t date back perhaps 10,000 years) but those which contributed to the cultures of modern Mexico. Not simply the Indigenous American peoples, but those of Iberia (Spain and Portugal), who are themselves heirs to Phoenician, Islamic, Jewish, Berber, Celtic, Roman, Greek, and Germanic cultural roots, but to the cultures of west Africa and east Asia, as well. To say nothing of more recent mainstream cultural additions from eastern Europe, the Middle East and, of course, from the United States.

The latter is the land of E pluribus unum (“One out of many”), which has only recently seen itself as multi-cultural. For most of its history, it has metaphorically considered itself a “melting pot”, in which various ethnicities and cultures are “melted” into one relatively homogenous people. That is not to say that African-Americans don’t enjoy pizza, or that Italian-Americans didn’t enjoy Motown music, but that Mexicans, unlike their neighbors to the north, recognize the different strains that make them who they are, and are much more likely to refer to their interwoven historical past than others.

It is nothing to hear or read in the political press, and even in general conversation , references to cultural traditions and history. “Pundits” think nothing of referencing Aztec history when making an argument for one or another political decision today. Politicians make historical references all the time, expecting their audience will understand them… which they do.

In a country where the past is very much part of the present—whether talking about the corn and chiles in pozole, or the lingering resentment over past invasions —misunderstanding this can be costly. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, a Mexican reporter one afternoon when we were joined by a foreign resident, who quite innocently voiced his opinion on his perceived shortcomings of the national oil company, PEMEX. The Mexican reporter barely contained his composure, as he patiently gave an overview of Mexican-U.S. relations with reference to the extractive industries from the 1880s to the late 1930s. Perhaps not coincidentally, the foreign visitor could not understand why he was having problems signing up customers for the business he was trying to conduct in Mexico. In 2003, Mexico sat on the United Nations Security Council at a time when the United States was seeking the council’s permission to invade Iraq. It naturally expected its friendly ally to the south to back the U.S: position, but Mexico refused. for reasons going back ten, thirty-five, sixty, one hundred fifty and five hundred years: Mexicans don’t consider five hundred years that long a time, nor do they consider history as something belonging only in a classroom. Street vendors and people just commuting on the same bus as I have, often will know, and generally know correctly, the historical significance of some local landmark, or of their community. The residents of La Merced, a down-and-out Mexico City neighborhood were delighted to pitch in to restore what was recently identified as the oldest standing building in the capital… which was a mere 490 years old, and still in daily use.

For Mexicans, history is simply part of who they are, their culture … or cultures. Whether one is trying to do business or just visiting the country, you will find Mexicans think about and react based on their history; more often than most people. But does that historical memory stretch back ten thousand years?


One Comment leave one →
  1. Esther Klein Buddenhagen permalink
    2 June 2021 9:29 am

    Excellent beginning though I think perhaps today’s students in my colonia lack some of this historical knowledge.

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