By Winona LaDuke
They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds…” – Mexican Proverb
I have always loved the above quote; rooted, ancient, and resilient. That is my Mexico, not the Mexico of Donald Trump tales. 40,000 years of history; the origin of corn, potatoes, tomatoes, avocadoes and, let me say it, chocolate. The Mayans have a Goddess of Chocolate, Ixcacao. Now I can understand that. People who remember, a land which remembers, and reborn, as seeds. And a river, reborn.
In early September I was invited to Mexico City for a conference on De-Growth, in the largest city in the world: 21 million people. There, academics, leaders of social movements would talk of how we might live in societies for another 100 years, maybe 1000. After all, if the ecosystems collapse and there is no food, air, or water, and a few people head to another planet, that’s not really a long-term plan. The conference, held at the University’s Museum of Medicine, made me pause as I listened not only to academics but to the voices of a strong social movement in Mexico. A movement for change and resilience.
Where does this story begin? With land and water, far before the people. The Colorado River is one beginning. The river was once alive, the delta spanning that invisible line called a border encompasses three thousand square miles. The size of Rhode Island, the Colorado Delta is one of the largest desert estuaries in the world. The nutrients brought by the river nourished dolphins, the rare vaquita porpoise, and an enormous relative to the white sea bass grew to 300 pounds spawning in the brackish water and ranging the Sea of Cortez.
When the Spaniards arrived, they spoke of flocks of birds so abundant they darkened the sky, deer, bobcats, beavers, and coyotes. The people there, the Cocopah, have an origin story which reminds them they are children of the gods. When the Spaniards saw them, they were by the thousands, tall and strong, the women adorned with feathers that fell from the waist, feasting on a cornucopia of gardens, soils rich from a river delta and harvests plentiful.
That was before the dams. The United States has squeezed the lifeblood out of the Colorado River, literally. The Hoover Dam, built in l935, reduced the flow of the river to fill Lake Mead, the water supply for Los Angeles. Then came the Glen Canyon Dam, cutting the river flow for seventeen years, then the Imperial and Morelas Dams, until the Delta is without water. Choked. The people fewer in numbers, many refugees in their own country, and sad for the world, they knew. As Joni Mitchell would say, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…” That is a story of a river, one of so many stories.
The official period of the Mexican Inquisition was from 1571 to 1820. That’s a pretty long run as Inquisitions go. That’s where a good deal of burning of witches occurred and a good deal of torture. The conference I attended was in the former Holy Office of the Inquisition, the “palace” now called the Museum of Medicine. Thick stone walls still smell like blood of the tortured, I swear. That’s another beginning of this story, little vignettes of Mexican history.
I am reminded of the Inquisition in Diego Rivera’s mural “Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda”. Mexican history is told in art. The city celebrates more museums and public art than any in the world. That’s along with a free education, from grade school to graduate school. It is a beautiful Mexico.
The Indigenous Candidate
Maria de Jesus Patricio Martinez, an indigenous woman backed by Mexico’s Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), ran for the President of Mexico in 2018. Running as an Independent, she did not win, but collected signatures and told the story of Indigenous peoples and the Zapatistas. Maria de Jesus Patrico Martinez’s (also known as Marichuy) campaign changed the dialogue in Mexican national politics and focused on the rights of women, Indigenous peoples, and the rights of Nature.
This is the first time independent candidates have been allowed to run for office in the country, on condition of collecting a minimum of over 850,000 signatures. Although Marichuy’s registration was not successful, she was able to reach broad community support and marked a change in Indigenous politics.
Having shunned party politics generally, the Zapatistas and the National Indigenous Congress (CNI) formed independent autonomous communities known as “Caracoles” across the country. These are founded on the principle of self-determination and are seen as resilient models of self-government for people across the globe. This campaign marks a move into national political arenas.
Changes, however, have come. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is the new president of Mexico. Obrador is a progressive leader, former Mexico City mayor, nationalist and leftist. That’s who Trump is trying to get to pay for that Wall.
In a country with one of the highest death rates for Indigenous and environmental leaders, Marichuy courageously traveled the country and provided courage and a voice. A spokeswoman for the National Indigenous Congress, the political arm of the EZLN, she brought to the electoral politics a strong movement. As record numbers of Indigenous women run for office in the US, we are also inspired.
And then there is the river, resilient and hopeful. On March 23, 2014, the Morelas Dam groaned open, unleashing a surge or “pulse flow” of water into the thirsty Colorado River. As the gray-green torrent roared south, children who had only known a dry riverbed played as the Colorado River came back to life.
The Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River Project helped work through an international multi agency initiative allowing release of 106,000 acre-feet of water (52,000 Olympic-size swimming pools). The goal: jump-start restoration of the Colorado River Delta.
On September 2017, the Trump Administration’s Interior allocated 210,000 acre-feet of water annually for delta restoration over the next nine years. That’s a beginning. Life returns. Egrets, geese, cormorants, and sandhill cranes who summer in the north country, to the Colorado Delta they fly. To them, and the Cocopah this is life. That is my Mexico.