The following quotations are from:
Bonfil Batalla, México Profundo: Reclaiming a Civilization
“The birth and consolidation of Mexico as an independent State in the turbulent course of the nineteenth century did not produce any different plan, nothing that deviated form the basic intention of taking the country along the paths of Western civilization. The struggles between the liberals and the conservatives reflect different conceptions of how to achieve that goal, but those struggles never question it. The new nation was conceived as culturally homogeneous, following the dominant European conviction that a state is the expression of a people with a common culture and the same language and is produced by having a common history. Thus, consolidating the nation was the goal of all the groups contending for power. They understood consolidation as the slow incorporation of the great majority to the cultural model that had been adopted as the national plan.
What was the model around which the nation should unify? It was a purely Western one. It could not be otherwise, given the background of the ruling groups. Those who claimed the right to define the course to be taken by the newborn nation were the minority who inherited the orientations of Western civilization, transplanted to these lands by the ancient colonizers. Liberty, yes; greater justice and equal rights, yes; but all directed toward the transformation of Mexican society into a ‘modern’ nation in the mold of Western civilization. The vast majority of Mexicans lived outside that mold because they belonged to a different civilization. Consolidating the nation meant, then, proposing the elimination of the real culture of almost everyone in order to impose a culture held by only a few. And the model to be imposed was not in any respect a higher level, a necessary and natural step to which the great majority would have risen had they not been prevented by the injustice and restrictions of the colonial regime. No, it was simply a different model, a different civilization.
In the terms in which I treat the problem of national culture here, neither do the paths taken after the triumph of the Mexican Revolution signify a change of direction. Modernization and concern with ‘development’ follow the lines of substitution of a Western cultural model, and the clearest example is now closer: the United States.” 63
“The only plan that at any moment had the possibility of converting itself into a national alternative—leaving aside for a moment the permanent resistance and the incessant struggles of the Indian villages—was that formulated by Emiliano Zapata’s movement. Its defense of the villages, is agrarian orientation, its affirmation of the real life patterns forged through the centuries, all gave to the Zapatista movement a special, different place within the various currents of the Mexican Revolution. No doubt there were other groups that acted from the same deep sense, but none achieved the transcendence and the national significance that the southern Revolution had in its day. Nevertheless, the Revolution defeated Emiliano Zapata more than it did Porfirio Díaz. We should not deny the importance of the agrarian articles of the 1917 Constitution or the merits of the best moments of the revolutionary governments, as in the Cárdenas period, but we must recognize that the essence of the Zapatista plan was eliminated. The only parts included in the triumphant revolutionary program were those demands that appeared compatible with the goals that in the end defined the Revolution. I say those that seemed compatible, since in the course of the years, and more so each day, there have been backward steps in the initial agrarian program. This clearly indicates that the program is less compatible with the Zapatista postulates than seemed to be the case at first. In fact, only isolated demands were incorporated, but never the underlying plan that gave the demands meaning and depth.
A first conclusion is inescapable. The ruling groups of the country, those who make or impose the most important decisions affecting all of Mexican society, have never admitted that to advance might imply liberating and encouraging the cultural capacities that really exist in the majority of the population. Never has it been suggested that development might mean precisely creating the conditions in which the diverse regional and popular Indian cultures could grow and become fruitful. These cultures make life possible for the majority of Mexicans. A colonized mentality, based on a scheme of domination from which they benefit, has kept the ruling groups form considering any cultural alternative. They rigidly promote Western schemes, through inability, for convenience’s sake, through submission, or, most probably, through simple blindness to reality itself.” 64
“The participants in ‘the Mexico that ought to exist’ have always been a minority, at times a ridiculously small minority. The others, all the others, remain excluded by decree. Their participation in the theoretically democratic processes is reduced, in the best of cases, to a simple external formalism. It is far from their real life and is sometimes completely fictitious. The norms that pretend to govern all orders of life are conceived as lying within a cultural matrix in which only a minority of Mexicans participate. From that governing nucleus and as a function fo their interests and tendencies, various efforts have been made to integrate other sectors into the behavior the model implies. These efforts have varied over time but have always been within the mainstream of Western civilization.” 66
“The notion of democracy was established two centuries ago as one of the central aspirations of Western civilization. However, upon being mechanically transplanted into a postulate of the imaginary Mexico, it converted itself into a series of mechanisms of exclusion, whose effect was to deny the existence of the population. It is a curious democracy that does not recognize the existence of the people themselves, but, rather, sets itself the task of creating them. Afterward, it would, of course, put itself at their service. It is a surprising democracy of the minority, a national program that begins by leaving out the majority groups of the country. It is a project that ends by making illegitimate the thoughts and actions of the majority of Mexicans; the people themselves wind up being the obstacle to democracy.” 66
“Western civilization was developed in successive centers, gaining power and influence. After a certain point in its historical development, its dynamic of expansion was always accompanied by an inability to coexist with other civilizations. The West sees itself as the bearer of the universal civilization. As something unique and superior, it entails the negation and exclusion of any other, different civilizational project. The ruling classes in Mexico until the present have been dependent, not only economically, but in all areas. This dependence results from affiliation with a civilization whose sources and centers of decision making and legitimacy are far distinct and not under local control. This situation has produced a creole variety of the dynamic of Western expansion, always badly copied and backward int relation to the advanced countries that served as models. It has always been crude, with a tendency to understand being modern simply as being stylish. For that reason it has promoted a subsidiary and spurious modernity.
The Arabs were in Spain for seven centuries but Spain is a Western country and not an Islamic one, however many Islamic traits may be present in the cultures of the peninsula. The West burst upon Mexico five hundred years ago, and in addition, we border Western civilization’s most powerful country for 1,860 miles… To deny the West in some lobal way or pretend to isolate ourselves from its presence not only would be impossible, it would be idiotic. The task is how to assimilate the inevitable and necessary Western elements in an autonomous national development plan, without incorporating others that by their nature and dynamics would deny the possibility of pluralism. How can we build and use the machines without glorifying the machinery? How can we produce the goods we need without falling pretty to consumerism?” 167
“The foregoing would mean a substantial modification in the way the West is implanted in the society and culture of Mexico. Its historical condition of being a civilization of conquest contradicts any possibility of carrying forward a project based on plurality. Western civilization has been presented in this country in such a way that it is not compatible with a decision to respect and favor the development of other cultures. As a consequence, it is necessary to reassimilate the west or, more accurately, to assimilate it for the first time. It will be essential to divest from Western culture the necessary elements, separating them from the arrogant garb of their imperial past. It will be necessary to domesticate these elements and make them do exist with others of a different origin, which do not pretend to follow the basic orientation of Western civilization. The Western elements should exist among others and not be the only ones or the preponderant ones. In the final instance, they must place themselves at the service of a project that is not Western but plural, and in which Mesoamerican civilization must play the lead role.
The foregoing implies an essential renovation of democracy in its meaning and in its implementation, here and now. The Western notion of democracy, based on formal, individualistic criteria, is insufficient to guarantee the participation of an ethnically plural population. In fact, as we saw earlier, it becomes an obstacle, a mechanism that prevents the participation of groups that do not share that way of understanding democracy. Western-style democracy has functioned in Mexico to justify a structure of cultural control, limiting the development of Mesoamerican cultures. This makes necessary a critical, in-depth review of the mechanisms of representation, delegation, and exercise of power, in order to ensure that decision making respects the plural nature of Mexican society.
In a society that recognizes itself as plural and wants to be so, thinking about a national culture means abandoning the idea that it be uniform. The common elements will not be the specific cultural contents of the diverse groups that compose Mexico. The common characteristic will be, first of all, the will to respect each other and to live together in diversity. The national culture will be a larger sphere of fruitful coexistence, free to develop according to its own plans. The necessary convergences will be few, as we have seen: the decision to build and maintain an independent state, and the acceptance of the minimum norms and mechanisms required for the functioning of a multicultural state.” 168
“To achieve the foregoing as part of a pluralism program, it will be necessary to respect internal forms of social organization. The current scheme must be abandoned, since it admits or, rather, imposes only a single structure of local government with the same norms and procedures for all. Is there any definitive reason why communities that have elaborated and maintained other ways of assigning and legitimating local authority, using their own procedures, should be obligated to use a different system? Is it necessary, for example, that local authorities be elected every three years instead of being replaced annually, as happens traditionally in many communities? Is the universal, secret, direct vote (which in fact is neither practiced nor respected in most of the country) an intrinsically superior way of achieving authority, as opposed to a hierarchy of cargos representing service to the community?” 170-171
“The range of actions that might be undertaken on a local scale, as the communities broaden the cultural spaces under their control, is very extensive. Actions would result first of all from local initiatives. But without a doubt the process would be accelerated if a general policy of support and encouragement were put into effect. There are already meaningful experiences with such policies. Educational policy must be revised in depth with the goal of leaving in the hands of the community an ever-larger number of decisions about the content, methods, general organization, and functioning of the school system. It will be necessary to direct sufficient credit and funding to finance self-directed productive projects, without trying to subject them to the rigid econometric policies of the imaginary Mexico.
All this requires more than simply ‘taking into account’ the opinion of the communities. It requires accepting and respecting their decisions. In this process, it must not be forgotten that the communities of the México Profundo have been subject for centuries to colonial oppression, with all the internal consequences that oppression produces and that have been discussed throughout this book. If in fact one wants to promote a national pluralism project, the process requires resolutely intensifying actions to recover local cultures and bring them into the present. One of the key points will be broad and intensive training of new community figures capable of making use of the opportunities created by the recovery of cultural control. However, this training must not uproot them or lead them to reject their culture. The new figures, cultural promoters in the broadest sense of the term, should be trained to value their culture and from that perspective to promote the cirtical appropriation fo foreign cultural elements. This is a process similar and complementary to that which I have suggested at a national level. Here the effort would be to see the West from the viewpoint of the community and stop seeing the community from the perspective of the West.” 172
“The conclusion, in my opinion, cannot be other than to try to construct a pluralistic nation in which Mesoamerican civilization, embodied in a great variety of cultures, has the place it deserves, a place that allows it to view the West from Mexico. That is to say, we should understand and take advantage of the West’s achievements, from the viewpoint of a civilization that is our own because it was forged here in this land, step by step, since remotest antiquity. That civilization is not dead, because it breathes in the heart of the México Profundo. The adoption of a pluralist project, which recognizes the validity of the Mesoamerican civilizational process, will make us want to be what we really are and what we can be. We will be a country that pursues its own objectives, that has its own goals derived from its own underlying history. In affirming our differences, to ourselves and to outsiders, we will be radically denying the would-be hegemony of the West, which rests on the supposition that difference implies inequality and that what is different is by nature inferior.” 175-176