Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 17TH, 1999 – CHIAPAS (CONT.)

Finally I meet Senor Lopez. He speaks pretty good English. Although I'm not sure I'll be able to use Indians in my book, I can't leave without visiting the two most touristy Indian villages nearby: Chamula and Zincantan. He says, Chiapas in all of Mexico is very special. Nobody believes this, but actually it is the richest area. Production of electricity from hydroelectric dams. 50% of all Mexico's electricity comes from the Hidalgo River. Also oil and natural gas here.

Chiapas is the most indigenous state. There are seven main indigenous groups in Chiapas. Each have their own language. The "coletos" are the mixed-race people: Spanish & Indian. They are very closed-minded to changes. Many think of themselves as descended from the Spanish and there's a deep feeling of racism against the Indians. There's a new generation of coletos who have gone elsewhere to study or work. These younger ones have a new vision of the world, and don't have the racial problems.

San Cristobal has changed because people have come here with other ideas. Younger people can have racism too, however, if their parents have taught that. There are two kinds of coletos: new and old. The new are involved with and sympathize with the Zapatistas. The old coletos refuse that completely; they are afraid for the economy. (Some say the Zapatista uprising is what caused the devaluation of the peso.)

We're driving to Indian villages. The outskirts of San Cristobal look like what I'm used to seeing on roadsides, but we're in the mountains. Indians arrive every day in San Cristobal to buy and sell products. They are in contact with local people and tourists. 25-30 years ago racism. 40-50 years ago, Indian people didn't have a right to walk on the sidewalks! The sidewalks were owned by the owners of houses.

A long time ago (1930), merchants would wait for the Indians to arrive on the bus at the border of town. The merchants would then give the Indians insufficient money for their products. The Indians had no choice but to sell cheap to the merchants, because the Indians themselves could not go into town. The traders of San Cristobal didn't allow Indians into the marketplace. But the Indian people were well organized and had a strike. They refused to go to San Cristobal. This was a problem, because Indians supply all the food to the town! Maize, sugar cane, beans vegetables, chickens & turkeys. After the strike, the townspeople understood that the Indians were important.

We arrive at a cemetery. A little girl comes running alongside us. She tosses a necklace into the car and says "a present!" Sure, a present you have to pay for, says my guide, and throws it back. Seven little girls attack the car, trying to sell, and begging money. Frankly, the woven wrist-bands don't interest me. But I give them my change anyway, for a picture.

The tour guide says that tourists who give money to them are teaching these kids to be beggars. Begging brings money. He says I should only give money if I really want to buy something. Oops. One little girl whines in a phony way, and even puts her fist up to her eyes, as though rubbing tears. Then she bursts out laughing and all the girls giggle. He says, It's easy for tourists to think that these people have no nourishment but no, it's just a different culture. Don't feel sorry for them. The poorness and misery is complex.

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