Updated: Feb 4
This story comes also along with a very agitated week at the UoL in which we saw the strong contraposition between unreconcilable ideological positions and it is the result of a conversation in Spanish I was overhearing. The protagonist of this story is my roommate Roberto and his friends Laila and Brenda and revolves around an assignment for a class they are all attending together. They are all Maya Indigenous students in exchange here from the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico and their assignment was a questionnaire about the ways to indigenise the university achieving true reconciliation.
I must say the difference in age between my roommate and his two friends was such that the conversation was really a one-to-two monologue. He, much older than them, was explaining the meaning of those concepts going outside the constraints of academic language. "Try to substitute the words you do not know with another you better know to make sense of it," he said, "try to say futbolisation of the university". The parallel was successful "indigenise" was immediately perceived as a meaningful word. It means to "make school more indigenous" with all the implications associated with that operation. He proposed to think about the food. "How many Blackfoot delicacies do we know?" the reply was "no one." He said, "this is something to start working with, then." The second concept is "reconciliation" but what does it mean? My roommate explained it in a way none could expect. "It is about truth", he started, and then he added, "when your wife is mad at you –you tell her the truth. Only like this she will eventually forgive you." And he is right: without truth is there no chance for reconciliation. What happened in the residential schools? Why all that mass graves full of Indigenous children's corpses? Knowing the truth about that is an indispensable requirement.
He then dug into the main differences between a Maya and a Nitsiitapi person, reconstructing the story of the former to know what the latter should aim at. What were Maya's priorities and social conquests? Having access to education, to the health system, having a certain freedom, and what is lacking in the Canadian Indigenous population with respect to other populations all around the American continent.
The conversation was so dense it is difficult to reproduce it here in its entirety but it was embedded with struggle. He told them, again, "If they tell us to do this we say al carajo!" It is also the story of an Indigenous population that has found the strength to auto-determine themselves and fight back against the "castellanización," finding its place in the world. This made me also think, in many ways, about the story of Felipe Carrillo Puerto (1874-1924), who, despite not being Maya, fought for "his Indigenous people" becoming a martyr of the socialist revolutionary period whose name is nowadays still that of a village in Quintana Roo.
I realised from my roommate's words that his friends have no real understanding of what they are. I would say in Marxist terms, that they had no indigenous consciousness. "Being Indigenous is not only wearing our traditional clothes," so he told them, "it is something more." At that moment, I realised that for my roommate's friends being Indigenous was like having a surname. You do not really know where it comes from, but you still know something about it, and engaging in an in-depth study of it is always a possibility.
They have been chingad*s. Their identity has been stolen centuries ago but new generations do not necessarily know it. They are –as the title reads– hijos de una gran chingada madre. Their ancestors have been victims of unsayable violence –including rape– but knowing that is their strength. They can build something on this truth, they can recover their past, culture and identity, and make it their own again. They can engage with that by studying their culture –as they are doing at the Universidad Intercultural Maya of Quintana Rao. But most importantly, they have also the duty to transmit this same past to the newer generations so that they will not forget.
Just after having overheard this conversation –I must admit– I understand that having an identity is a privilege not everyone can claim to have.
I therewith thank Roberto, Laila, and Brenda for letting me overhear their conversation and giving me the opportunity to know something new.