Revenge of the Guelaguetza
It has always been a Popular Celebration Based on Sharing and Community Cooperation
By Hermann Bellinghausen
July 24, 2007
The Guelaguetza is a relatively new invention, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. It has a birth date (1932), a governor in lead (Francisco López Cortés, ), a Mexican President who patronized it (Abelardo Rodríguez, intern president, in 1933), a weak point (it originated from a racist idea: to render “racial homage” to the Oaxacans from below), and the humanitarian conjecture arising from the earthquake that in 1931 damaged seriously Oaxaca that the Federal government should lend a hand. The urban Guelaguetza, born from an earthquake, arrived in its 76th year shaken by yet another.
The important thing today is that it serves to underscore, once more, what a shameful country this is, which permits the continuance of an illegitimate government, criminal and violent as that of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The “dispute” through the divine Guelaguetza returns to the symbolic in a land painfully real and concrete. Originated in the festive traditions of the central valleys of the state, mainly populated by Zapotecs, and expropriated by Spanish missionaries in order to superimpose the Virgin of Carmen, has always been a popular fiesta based on gifts and on communal cooperation. It is not a coincidence that this arose from a civilization that practices communal labor.
The legend of a tragic love between the Zapotec princess Donají (dauther of the Lord of Zaachila, but since Christianized) and the enemy warrior Nucano, served the missionaries in sealing the fate of the Zapotec and Mixtec peoples. Since then, the dances and the fiesta are syncretic (just like almost all indigenous culture that survives). The fact is that the Guelaguetza has turned out to be the major banquet of the political and business power in Oaxaca, hiding behind the typical hypocrisy of creole racism: using the Indian to spotlight the master. This local bourgeoisie co-serves in the 21st century traits of the 18th, in the worst sense. And now, to enter the festival, one passes through Ticket Master and/or American Express.
The post-revolutionary state worked to attract the ignorant Mixtecs, the Zopotecs of the Ithmus, the Huaves, and the Mazatecs of the hills. Integration. Identity. Control? Today one supposes this to be a celebration of the 16 peoples (not “ethnic groups”) of Oaxaca. But it is not so that they join together, but rather to “spotlight” them. Through the years the Guelaguetza has turned into a great tourist opportunity offering for hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, artisans stores, jewelry, and services. To the people go the tips. Let them dance, folklorize, suffer and keep their mouths shut. By evolving from a street party to a mass spectacle, they carried it to the hill of Fortín and they killed it a piece at a time. Now with José Murat the perversion was complete: the Indians left offerings at the feet of the “lord” (live turkeys, fruit, bread, flowers) and the daughters of the master race could now shine dancing among the Indians. Ulises Ruiz never imagined what would be the Guelaguetza of his own destiny: a repressive crisis (for the second consecutive year). At the rate things are going, it will be his political grave.
We attended a new transformation of the Guelaguetza, which for the rest persists in many towns of the Oaxacan plateau. Ever since the APPO movement started it is seen as a tradition to recover, when it looked like deep substrata of the social movement of the state (not just the capitol) was lost. It is a struggle that did not begin yesterday, and which has now found its ways to say “Enough!” in the towns.
With the return of the Popular Revolutionary Army to the media’s attention and the useful conspiracy theories to explain the discontent in Oaxaca as “provocation” or a “plot by radical groups,” the repression has lost all shame and all limits, and even the international scandal has been deemed to be “manageable”; we in the media don’t say that anymore.
The Oaxacan capitalists are desperate. Their tourist booty (vampirizing the Indian) is cracking. “They want to take away the Guelaguetza from us,” they whine in the last little thread of their discourse about the “Oaxacan identity,” threatened by the hairy mob that surely comes from Pluto and who deserves “all the weight of the law,” no matter that those to whom this applies are the most illegal elements in Oaxaca: the Executive, Congress, police, judge. (Who is going to respond for the criminal “lesson learned” against Emeterio Merino Cruz?) (editor’s note: Merino Cruz is a carpenter who was beaten half to death by Ruiz Ortiz’s goons as he was walking from his house to a job.)
Today there is a popular Guelaguetza and there is another that the administrators of the patron festival to which they dedicate all of their repressive fury, only to reclaim their place. It is possible that Ruiz Ortiz may be the last “lord” of the Guelaguetza spell, as he cannot rescind the lines of riot police and the militarization of the highways, as that would prevent him from going out to the dance: this “fiesta” that with the background of a real mass of festooned indigenous communities wearing feathers which it was expected would serve as a modeling runway for the rich little girls, dressed up all as Indians, before the governors who look more like taskmasters in their hacienda.
Who would have said that the celebration/spectacle would turn into an icy cold popular recovery. With all of its load of symbolic and mythical elements, the “Mondays on the Hill” are not now what they were before. It turns out that the Guelaguetza bites, and it strips away the power that they thought was theirs.
Click here for more Narco News coverage of Mexico
Lea Ud. el Artículo en Español
Lisez cet article en français
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.