Last week’s April 2 column’s “callout” here (called by some a “sub headline”) was long. Long enough to be dealt with as a slice of Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1392 “Canterbury Tale.” (And thus the father of “April Fool’s Day” and the grand “Chaucerian” list.)
Much later – and equally humorous – came Dia de los Santos Inocentes, and Mexico’s December 28 taste of a similar genre. A “Chaucerian” humor genre.
On that day, Mexicans play jokes and pranks aimed at misleading friends and family. The media reports news too ridiculous or funny to be true, but all in good fun.
And frequently, for Mexicans, slices of daily North American behavior often fall unknowingly into this category. This is equally true of “official Mexico.” I had some English acquaintances who live in Canada and recently flew to San Cristobal, Chiapas. This, even though the closest Chiapas airport is one an hour and 15 minutes from San Cristóbal. These visitors returned with a list of complaints about San Cristobal, a place my wife and I have always enjoyed.
Chiapas is home to a ton of Mayan history, and especially noted for it hieroglyphic script, the only fully developed writing system, starting in the Archaic period, before 2000 BC. Later came long clashes between ancient varying Mayan centers. Very much later came pre-hispanic conflicts, and the ongoing history of resistance between indigenous tribes. Much later the ruins of opposition to Spanish efforts to conquer ancient “Indian” settlements are evident. The Mayan ruins of Palenque, Yaxchilán, Bonampak and Chinkultic have attracted “European” conquerors for centuries.
It is also home to one of the largest indigenous populations in the country with 12 federally recognized ethnicities. Much of the state’s history is centered on the subjugation of these peoples with occasional rebellions. The last of these rebellions was the 1994 Zapatista uprising, which succeeded in obtaining new rights for indigenous people. Thus, Chiapas is the home to a good deal of pre-Hispanic, as well as post-Hispanic penetration and exploration.
The conflict between “Mexicans” and this country’s indigenous civilization continues. About the time my acquaintances were in Chiapas, three residents of a poor pueblo in that state were being abused by authorities at the other end of Mexico. The two sisters and their brother are Tzeltal Indians and were on a bus bound for a northern Mexican farm to work. It was a farm where they had worked last year, and the year before that. Jorge was 18, Almar was 15, and Rebeca 24.
The “authorities” who took them off the bus said they were illegal Guatemalan workers because they could speak such little Spanish. The three youngsters mostly speak their – and Chiapas’ – native Tzeltal. Jorge was tortured until he signed papers he could not read. The papers said that he was a Guatemalan – a country he knows nothing about – and was in Mexico illegally. He was told to sign the papers or he would die where he stood. He had already suffered a beating and been given an electric shock. He signed the papers he did not understand.
Mexicans and other activists say Mexico’s National Immigration Institute has cranked up its tendency to act very much like other branches of this country’s unchecked security forces.
After eight days of this kind of treatment, the three siblings were sent back home to Chiapas. They now feel they cannot travel freely without being abused by their country’s security forces.
Misapprehension is a common handicap, often widespread among visitors to other cities, cultures, among people with differing upbringing, though they may live in the same country. Citizens of the United States are witnesses to these cultural differences during this ongoing political election season.
The mixture of American and Mexican cultural habits often can emphasize this difference to high drama. Patience – and a sense of humor, best applied to oneself – is a useful tool in such instances.