The Sorting of Identities
||When defeat is happening, and in the midst of
disaster, a people's problems of identity pass before its eyes with a great
rush of urgency. Mexico had the problems, and it faced them on behalf
of nationalities that reached far beyond its own borders.
But, just as personal loss does not always lead to lasting religious "conversion," the re-thinking did not commit Mexico securely to a plural culture that would stand against the monolithic standards promoted by the United States. The crucial element in this Mexican failure was the refusal to accept "uncivilized" Indians on any better terms than did the United States.
A succession of speakers revealed where the debate could go, among them:
One of these was the writer Guillermo Prieto, then beginning a long career in national politics. On the battlefield he encountered another writer, also lending a desperate hand for however that might help: Antonio García Gutiérrez, a Spaniard, living in the New World for the time being, the author of the play El Trovador, which Verdi was later to take as the libretto for his opera Il Trovatore.
Prieto to García: "¡Antonio! ¿Qué haces tú, aquí?" [What are you doing here?]
Urgency reduced complexity to a word. One universal Hispanic race was defending itself against a threatening North. But the complications, including those in El Trovador, were still there.García, in reply: "¡Mi raza! ¡Mi raza!" [My race! My race!]
In the apparently absurd plot a gypsy woman steals and raises as her own one of the two infant sons of the nobleman who had burned her mother as a witch. One brother grows up an aristocratic soldier, the other a plebeian rebel who turns troubadour. They become rivals for the love of the same woman. When the aristocratic son captures and kills his own brother (and the heroine takes poison) the gypsy woman gets her revenge, or suffers it..
The Spain for which García wrote, like the Mexico to which he came as an intellectual visitor, was plagued by fratricidal wars, between rival causes. Each claimed legitimate descent from something basic in the life of the nation. Back of that clash between brothers, García saw a far deeper hostility, between Hispanic conquest and an earlier race, between authority and maternal life, between forces that had to be reconciled if nationality was to become real.
It was this whole complex of hostilities, supposedly resolved in the patriotism of the moment, that García expected Prieto to understand, automatically.
Two years after the war, he brought out a little newspaper called Temis y Deucalion -- for Themis, the Greek goddess who would pursue, ruthlessly, anyone who usurped the rights of others, and for Deucalion, the ancestral figure who had the task of repopulating Greece after the Flood. Justice and the Rebirth of Peoples -- these were the Necromancer's theme.
He quickly made it clear that justice could work against something more than the conquering United States. It told also against the hacendados who, in thousands of cases, usurped the land and water-rights of indigenous communities. In an issue drumming up support for his own "progressive" ("progresista") party, he included a section addressed "To the Indians" ("A los indios"). Lining out one grievance after another, he insisted that the progressives would support indigenous laws and customs and property.
The authorities and great men of the area (Mexico state, where Ramírez was writing) struck back. Mariano Riva Palacio led the attack. Riva Palacio had what might have been popular credentials. He had married the daughter of one-time President Vicente Guerrero, who as el Negro Guerrero had been deposed, then charged with stirring up Indian peasants, and finally executed. Riva Palacio now turned around and said that Ramírez was slandering the hacendados by suggesting that they cheated their Indians, was encouraging disobedience, and was actually stirring up the peasants to a guerra de castas -- race war. He demanded that the courts ban the Ramírez article.
In his self-defense at the trial, Ramírez made a point of the recent crisis in Cuernavaca. The jury exonerated him. Conservatives and moderates raged that the jury system did not work against offenders who abused the freedom of the press.
He sounded like García Gutiérrez when he described the United States as the enemy of "nuestra raza" ("our race"). After U.S. forces occupied Mexico City, he wanted a quick peace in order to get rid of those foreign troops who threatened to corrupt Mexican values. He lamented the slavery that was institutionalized in the United States, and he gloried in the fact that Mexico had become a mixed race uniting Spaniards with Indians -- that is, with those Indians whom they had civilized.
Yet he felt that the United States had succeeded in one moral goal where Mexico had failed: it had successfully colonized the wilderness, freeing it from the influence of beasts and "savages." He would not even mind if Mexicans adopted some gringo ways gradually into their own culture.
And he told himself that ethnogenesis and secessionism might continue to operate in the territories transferred by the treaty.
"...tal vez antes de medio siglo Tejas, Nuevo-México y California serán una o dos naciones independientes, que harán ilusorias las culpables tendencias de los Estados Unidos contra México. Y esta no es una teoría; porque así es como se han formado todas las naciones de la tierra."
("...perhaps before half a century Texas, New Mexico, and California will be one or two independent nations, which will render illusory the aggressive inclinations of the United States against Mexico. And this is not some theory, because that is the way all the nations of the earth have been formed.")
--José María Lafragua to Manuel de la Peña y Peña, 25 November 1847
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