Protecting the Center of the Universe

And celebrating the connection between Latinos and the indigenous

By Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: September 21, 2004

Protecting the Center of the Universe

For many peoples, Teotihuacan has always been the center of not just the continent, but of the universe. The ancient metropolis, 45 minutes north of Mexico City-Tenochtitlan, is recognized worldwide as the patrimony of humanity. While it is ancient, it is not a ruin or an archaeological site, but a spiritual center.

There, we once found an ancient arrowhead. Another time, we exchanged vows as we greeted Peace & Dignity runners from throughout the continent in 1992. The runners carried the message and prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor -- that one day the whole continent would once again unite and help bring peace and justice to humanity. (The 2004 Peace & Dignity runners just passed through Teotihuacan this past week en route to Panama.) And in 2000, a historic intercontinental indigenous treaty ( was signed there.

Someone has forgotten to convey the spiritual and historical significance to Wal-Mart executives as they continue to build one of their mega-stores within its midst. As a result, people everywhere are outraged at government officials for approving this desecration and corporate transgression.

The problem is not limited to Wal-Mart executives. In the past, officials have also toyed with the idea of converting Teotihuacan into a touristlandia. Such travesties happen because few people anywhere are taught the history of the continent. As a society, we know more about the Middle East, Egypt and Ancient Greece and Rome -? but little of the history here.

All this frenetic building coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month. Something seems incongruent.

Only in the United States could the idea of celebrating Hispanic heritage be conjured up for this same time period (Sept. 15 through Oct. 15) when many nations, including Mexico and Central America, celebrate not their ties, but their independence from a despotic Spain. And Oct. 12 is the reminder of when the genocide, enslavement and land theft of the Americas began -- the date commemorating Columbus' landfall in 1492.

To be sure, Spain wasn't alone in its 16th- to 19th-century colonization efforts. England, France and Portugal also dug in. The 1800s wars of independence were but the latest in a series of hundreds of indigenous, African and mestizo insurrections that sought liberation from Europe. One great insurrection (the Pueblo Revolt) took place in 1680 in what is today the greater U.S. Southwest. In South America, Tupac Amaru led a similar pan-indigenous insurrection in the 1700s.

This isn't to say that Hispanic heritage shouldn't be celebrated. Like all cultures -- unless imposed -- it should be celebrated. Just not at this time. While there's no chance of designating a different month to hold such a celebration, the least that can be hoped for is that it can be transformed.

Ideally, rather than designating celebratory months for different demographic groups, the first priority of U.S. schools should be to teach the continent's foundational history -- including its rich multicultural history. In a sense, archaeologists and anthropologists are in pursuit of that story. There are thousands of archaeological sites throughout the continent. Yet to this day, we don't have even a basic narrative that connects the thousands of years of North and South American history. Call it bias. There was a time when some believed that native peoples did not have writing systems. Additionally, historians have been slow to undo the damage done by overzealous priests who sought to demonize and destroy all things indigenous, particularly the knowledge.

Fortunately, the priests did not succeed, as much knowledge has been preserved, primarily by native scholars and/or elders, stories that are often at odds with Western history. For example, the story of teo cintli, or sacred maize, contains a rich history of the continent. It is preserved by virtually all of the continent's maize-based cultures in diet, song, dance, ceremony, art and stories.

Of note, the continent's maize-based cultures and peoples -- like other native peoples and cultures -- are alive, not sequestered away in a warehouse or museum. Equally important, as Indian Country Today recently wrote in an editorial: "Fact is, the majority of Latino or Hispanic Americans are substantially rooted in indigenous tribal backgrounds."

This recognition is part of an emerging hemispheric consciousness that sees "Hispanic-Latino" peoples as connected to indigenous peoples and undeniably rooted to this continent. Part of this consciousness includes getting Hispanics-Latinos to acknowledge, as opposed to deny, those connections.

We needn't wait till November (Native American History Month) to celebrate that history. That celebration should begin every morning with the knowledge that every square inch of the continent was and continues to be indigenous. And that people of all cultures have a duty to protect sites everywhere that are more than links to the continent's ancient history, but part of living cultures.

2004 Universal Press Syndicate

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