Before the Zapatistas, there was the Mayan Defense League. Its goal was similar, but it did not resort to the use of arms. It also had a different modus operandi.
It was created for the expressed purpose of defending Indigenous culture. And its services were in constant demand in America’s urban jungles – called upon to help detoxify a person who
had undergone assimilation, American-style.
Assimilation was gauged by several factors, including loss of culture and language, and a change of last name, but No. 1 was the eating of white bread.
When a person was observed eating it, that was the final step. There was no recourse but to call in the Mayan Defense League.
The antidote: the force-feeding of corn tortillas.
Ha, ha. Sure, this is a joke … Actually, it was part of a 1980s-era production of the theater group Latins Anonymous. It was a satirical piece created by four actors because actors of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Central and South American origin could not get jobs in Hollywood or New York unless they played the stereotypical roles of bandits and “loose or hot women.”
It was a different era. It was a time when George Lopez was an upstart comic doing humor in his trademark pompadour hairdo. It was also the time when filmmaker Jesus Trevino had rhetorically asked Hollywood if there were to be no bronze faces in the future? (He hadn’t seen any on “Star Trek.”)
I remembered all this recently because an indigenous summit at the end of last year called upon indigenous peoples throughout the continent to rise up in a state of cultural rebellion. (Armed rebellions have usually resulted in the genocide of indigenous peoples.)
On that day, I joined the uprising: I ate a tlaxcalli, or rather, several corn tortillas. I also ate some chile, beans, avocado and cactus and some atole and chocolate. To be truthful, that’s what I normally eat and drink most every day. I don’t eat these foods for cultural reasons; I eat them because I’ve been eating them all my life and because they taste good.
This call for a cultural uprising made me think of an elder at Nahuatl University in Ocotepec, Morelos. There, she addressed a group of Mexican – American teachers who had come to learn Nahuatl language and philosophy. She reminded them: “Many of you have lost your original [indigenous] languages, your culture and your ways, but don’t for one second doubt that you are indigenous. If you ever do, eat a tortilla.”
It’s also what made me think of the Mayan Defense League.
Even when culture is under all-out attack, there’s still time for humor. In fact, tortillas may not simply be an antidote to assimilation; they may also function as cultural therapy.
They may force us to become monolinguals, they may try and force us all to wear blue- or green-eyed contacts or subject us to watching blondes 24 hours a day on TV (and here I’m just talking about Spanish-language television) … but the one thing they can’t do is force-feed us their bland food …
This is why the cultural revolution will triumph.
The battle in this case, is between indigenous foods vs. the corporatization of the world’s food supply. And despite the dominance of McDonald’s worldwide, there’s little doubt that indigenous foods from the Americas will eventually triumph over the red-headed clown – the modern equivalence of cultural imperialism.
It’s not simply because the food is better-tasting, but also for reasons of health. Organic indigenous foods (more than 60 percent of the world’s foods originate in the Americas) are the natural antidote to diabetes, obesity and heart disease. They’re also the natural antidote to greed, globalization … and assimilation.
Yes, this is humor, but the truth is we indeed are what we eat … and in this sense, what we eat has to be considered as part of that cultural and political insurrection. Incidentally, the basic diet of Mexicans is an indigenous diet; it is thousands of years old – corn, beans and squash (the Three Sisters), plus chile.
Little wonder that millions of us have been in a state of constant rebellion since 1492, particularly now that aside from toxic pesticides in our foods, a greater potential danger to humans now comes from genetically modified foods.
I wonder if the Mayan Defense League pays visits to supermarkets? Organic indigenous foods, or else?
Roberto Rodriguez co-authors, with Patrisia Gonzales, the syndicated “Column of the Americas.”