06/26/2008 1:21 PM EST
Raza Studies: A ceremonial discourse
Roberto ‘Dr. Cintli’ Rodríguez
Atop the hills of the Nahuatl-speaking village of Ocotepec, Morelos,
México, while a colony of red ants is carrying maiz kernels on their
backs, an elder explains: "These are the ants of Quetzalcoatl."
The sensation is magical. In a metaphorical sense, the ants are acting
out a cosmic drama. It and similar stories – which can be considered a
ceremonial discourse – are recorded in many of the ancient
Mesoamerican amoxtlis or codices of how maiz or cintli came to the
people. They are also recorded in songs and dances and in the
collective memory of the maiz-based cultures of the Américas.
In the nearby village of Amatlan, the late elder, Don Felipe Alvarado
Peralta, relates from memory the following story:
At the dawn of the Fifth Sun, after humans were created, Quetzalcoatl
– bringer of civilization, writing, the calendar and the arts – is put
in charge of finding food for the people. Walking along, Quetzalcoatl
notices a red ant carrying a kernel of corn. Quetzalcoatl asks:
"What's that on your back?"
"Cintli," replies the ant. "Maiz. It is our sustenance."
"Where did you get it?"
Reluctantly, the ant points toward Tonalcatepetl – the mountain of
sustenance. "Follow me."
When they arrive, the only way into the mountain is through a small
opening. At that, Quetzalcoatl transforms into a small black ant. Once
inside the mountain, Quetzalcoatl sees the maiz and takes it,
proceeding to bring it to the "lords" in Tamuanchan. There, they
approve of it. Unable to bring Tonalcatepetl itself, Quetzalcoatl
instead brings the seeds to the people.
This ancient story of the Nahuatl peoples of México was recorded in
the Chimolpopoca Codex of 1548. Don Felipe was reputedly the keeper of
the stories of the Quetzalcoatl priest, Ce Topitzin, who had been born
in the ancient city of Amatlan some 1200 years earlier. One such story
was about the association between Nahuatl-speaking Mexican
revolutionary Emiliano Zapata and Quetzalcoatl. He related that during
the 1910-1920 Revolution, Zapata had hid in the caves above Amatlan –
the same caves associated with Ce Topitzin. After Ce Topiltzin's
schooling in nearby Xochicalco, he also later left his impressionable
civilizational mark throughout Mesoamerica, including the ancient
cities of Cholula, Tula, Cacaxtla and Chichen Itza. Known as a wise
and peaceful elder, he took his name from the much older or mythic
Quetzalcoatl – the plumed or beautiful serpent – whose presence is
also recorded in the ancient city of Tollan-Teotihuacan. According to
Maya scholar, Domingo Martínez Paredez, in Un Continente y Una
Cultura, Quetzalcoatl is known by various names throughout the
continent, including Kulkulkan among the Maya of Yucatan, Gucumatz
among the Maya Quiche of Guatemala, Itzam among the Huastecas, Tohil
among the Zapotecas and Arara among the Andean Quechuas. This plumed
or water serpent reputedly also goes by several other names in what is
today the U.S. Northeast, Southwest and Northwest.
While it is not certain when and where maiz was specifically created,
most botanists place the age of maiz somewhere in the vicinity of
7,000 years in Southern México and /or Central América. Oral
traditions generally agree with this framework and scenario.
While there are plenty of variations, Mesoamerican cultures appear to
have sprung forth from a common root – maiz. Thus, many share similar
stories of mythic or hero twins who battle lords of the underworld in
a cosmic ballgame; stories of a plumed or beautiful serpent; and the
attempts to create humans, first out of mud, then wood, and finally
maize, as recounted in the ancient Popul Vuh, the Maya creation book.
It includes maize-based calendars and similar cosmovisions, including
the belief in the sacredness of maiz. As Guillermo Bonfil Batalla
argued in México Profundo, maiz itself is the civilizational impulse
or germinational seed that triggered Mesoamerica's development. Traces
of that impulse can still be seen today throughout Turtle Island or
the Américas, including wherever corn, beans and squash – wherever
tortillas and chile – are being eaten.
This society tells people of Mexican/Central and South American
descent that they don't belong; witness the massive immigration raids
sweeping the nation and the clamor for a 2,000 mile wall. At best,
they are told that they are subservient. This maiz discourse (there are other
discourses also), which underpins Raza-Mexican American Studies nationwide,
tells a different story. The primary stories teach respect and that as humans,
we are all equal. It is such stories, contained in the codices, that were
destroyed by fanatical priests during the colonial era. Contrary to
the myths [about Raza Studies in Tucson and Semillas del Pueblo in Los
Angeles] that are being foisted upon by new would-be censors – rather
than subvert Western Civilization – these stories provide an
invaluable glimpse of the continent's history. And similar to
Greco-Roman, Chinese and Egyptian stories, they are part of our human
legacy and heritage.
Positive Representation in Education has been formed to Save Raza
Studies. They have a listserv at: email@example.com. Also, a
petition to Save Raza Studies can be found at:
Roberto Rodríguez can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com or 520-743-0376. Column
of the Americas PO BOX 85476 -- Tucson, AZ 85754. The column is
archived at: http://web.mac.com/columnoftheamericas/iWeb/Site/Welcome.html.
© 2008 Roberto Rodriguez