A Male Chauvinist Journey through Mexican History

My neighborhood mailman just handed me two copies of “Journey Through Mexican History”, by Luis Gonzalez y Gonzalez, a book being distributed gratis throughout the country. He left me two copies instead of one, “since we have to distribute as best we can, and there are millions of them,” he told me.

Being from the same part of the country, and having had dealings on occasion with the respected historian Don Luis Gonzalez of the Colegio de Michoacan, when I was Director General of the Michoacan Cultural Institute, and as a member of the “Consejo de la Cronica de la Ciudad de Mexico” (Council for the Chronicle of Mexico City) during the time of Miguel de la Madrid and his coordinator, Guillermo Tovar, I was curious to know how the history of Mexico would be different in the PAN era, where the biographical sketches of Jose Yves Limantour, Enrique C. Creel and Manuel Gomez Morin could not be omitted .

My first impression was that the descriptions of important people in our history were bland, even insipid, almost on the level of the biographical sketches sold in stationary stores to help our schoolchildren with their homework. There is no recognition of contributions from the cinema, photography, nor popular music, of people like El Indio Fernandez, Cantinflas, Luis Bunuel, Dolores del Rio, Maria Felix, Jorge Negrete, Agustin Lara, the brothers Casasola o Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

It was strange to me, that when talking about Fray Bartolome de las Casas there is no mention that he was one of the first, if not the first, defenders of human rights in the world, and that Fray Vasco de Quiroga’s major contribution was omitted. Besides being a cultural hero in Michoacan to this day where he is still called Tata Vasco, Fray Vasco de Quiroga was a great reader of Tomas More’s “Utopia” and brought utopia to Mexico through his township hospitals. As for Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana, his losing half of Mexico’s territory to the United States, including Arizona, from where “illegal” Mexicans will soon be expelled, is avoided.

However, my biggest surprise was that with more than 180 male historical personages in Mexico listed there are only two women: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez.. Spain’s Isabel de Castillas appears with Fernando de Aragon as the “Catholic Sovereigns”. The other feminine presences are the goddess Coyolxauhqui and the Virgin of Guadalupe. The omission of women in this historic compilation, now republished by the Ministry of Education (SEP) and the National Council for Culture and the Arts (Conaculta) for the Independence Bicentennial and the Centennial of the Mexican Revolution –(in its earlier edition the work was called Album of Mexican History (Album de Historia de Mexico) as mentioned by Felipe Calderon on the first page-, reveals a shocking and unacceptable male chauvinist interpretation of our history.

To begin with; conquistadors such as Hernan Cortes, Pedro de Alvarado, Nuno de Guzman, Francisco de Montejo and Bernal de Castillo do appear, but where is La Malinche, Hernan Cortes’ translator? Without Malinche there would have been no conquest. And where is the Tarascan princess, Erendira?

Other names of women that I have chosen at random and who I believe could have been included, are Leona Vicario, revolutionary and wife of Quintana Roo; Gertrudis Bocanegra, the heroine of Patzcuaro, who fought in the War of Independence, was arrested, tortured and executed; the Adelitas who inspired the songs and accompanied revolutionary troops on the trains and into battle; the three great painters Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, the writer Rosario Castellanos, the photographer Graciela Iturbide, the astronomer Julieta Fierro and Maria Sabina, the Mazatec shaman and curandera from Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, whose songs have had so much influence on contemporary poetry. Recognizing her would be a way of recognizing the cultural contribution, unwritten and unexpressed in Spanish, of the ethnic groups of Mexico, such as the Huichol, the Purepecha, Zapotec, Tarahumara or Tzotzil.

After having taken this male chauvinist journey through Mexican history by way of this little volume, reedited and slightly lengthened by the Ministry of Education (SEP), one concludes that women were practically non-existent in our social and cultural movements. The seriousness of this fact is that if, in the bicentennial celebrations of 2010, our government does not recognize their contribution, our history will inevitably be incomplete.

– translation by Jeremy Greenwood.