Introduction: Out of the total Mexican population of 108,700,891, 60% or 64 million are mestizo or mixed blood (Native American-Spanish), 30% or 32 million are full-blooded or predominantly Native American, 9% white (European/Spanish) and 1% are other (July 2007 est.). Mexico is an indigenous country!
According to 2005, U.S. Census Bureau an estimated 1.0 percent of the U.S. population was American Indian: 2.5 million were of one tribe while1.6 million were mixed. Unlike the United States where most citizens are the children of immigrants, the majority of Mexican citizens are the descendents of Native Americans, although only 10% of them still speak their native tongue. While Spanish is the official language, over 200 different languages/dialects are also spoken by the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
"Latin-America" as a whole has an Native American *population that totals 48,959,838 the largest populations are in the following countries:
Mexico 23,500,000 (32,000,000 est. 2007)
*Handbook of Middle- American Indians, Univ. of Texas Press, and Summer Institute of Linguistics, Wycliffe Bible Translators, 1982
Therefore if you or your ancestors are from Mexico, Central or South America you most likely have a percentage of Indian blood! The Spanish Conquistadores (explorers, solders) and missionaries who first came to the New World were men and depending on the situation either took Indian women by mutual consent or by force. The children of such unions were Mestizos, half Indian and half Spanish. Even though the children took Spanish names when they were baptized, they were half or more Indian. Without a doubt almost all the people (90%) in Mexico are Indian, either Mestizos or pure blooded.
“Inside every mestizo there is either one dead Indian, or an Indian waiting to re-emerge.” Jose Barreiro
Mexican Indian Stories by Bill Redondo
All these stories took place between 1975-1981 and 1983-1989 when I traveled and lived in Mexico and worked with different church groups.
Paipai of Santa Catarina:
In the late 1970’s I visited this small tribe between Ensenada and Valle Trinidad in Baja California. The tribe is located miles off the main highway down a dirt road. There was just a handful of old houses and broken down rusty cars. While there I was served hand made flour tortillas and beans. I translated the Song “Father I adore you” into their language and taught my hosts to sing it. I also observed an elderly woman industriously sweeping the dirt around the houses, when I asked how old she was I was told 119. I later speculated that her secret to long life was to keep busy. http://www.kumeyaay.info/santa_catarina.html
One Room Home:
In the same general area of Santa Catarina lies Valle Trinidad, a small village in a valley (Valle) between two mountains. For several years we visited several poor Pastors, churches and families in this area. I distinctly remembering visiting a large family that had about 9 children of all ages who lived in a one room house. In order to give a sense of privacy the parents hung blankets from the ceiling to separate one room from another. In spite of their impoverished surroundings, the children all seemed very happy. The family was friendly, loving and generous going so far as to kill the only chicken they had to feed us. I guess our visit was a special occasion worthy of chicken soup! One of life’s greatest blessing is to be honored by the poor..
Zozutla is a small town in the state of Puebla, Mexico. The indigenous of the area are Popoloca ,"to speak unintelligible" or "gibberish, not Nahuatl." It was here in 1975 that I had my first experience with Indian style mole, a thick Chile sauce made out of crushed animal cookies, chocolate, sugar, ground nuts and of course ground Chile. The mole was being made and stirred in a large 25 gallon steel basin with two large 36 inch wooden spoons, one person on each. The mole was to be served with chicken at a wedding. It was very hot (spicy) and I remember I developed a bad case of diarrhea as a result. Zozutla was also known for its chicharrones and pulque. The later stunk real bad, it was made by cutting the center out of the maguey cactus and letting the juices drain into the resulting hole. Then it is siphoned off and poured into goat stomach bags to ferment. It’s the combination of the bags and pulque that create the odor. For many people, indigenous cultures are “unintelligible," upsetting to the stomach and smelly but to those who endure the diarrhea will pass. http://www.mezcal.com/pulque.html
A poor Indians Dinner:
We visited a Mazahua "the owners of deer" town San Agustin Mextepec in the state of Mexico in the late 1970’s. It was winter time and quite cold outside, the people were so poor that all they had to give us for dinner was nopales (cooked cactus) and 3/8 inch thick corn tortillas. I think my system wasn’t used to nopales because I developed diarrhea and then a cold from visiting the outhouse all night long. While in this region we also visited La conception de los Banos, a communal hot bath were the local Indians both men and women bathed nude from the waste up. It was kind a like a gigantic inside hot tub with a pipe hanging from the ceiling supplying hot water. It was dimly lit, steamy and communal. I guess womb-like chambers (sweats, temescals, enclosed hot baths, kivas, caves) help reconnect individuals to their source (the earth) and create a stronger community.
Once I went to a wedding in the State of Oaxaca near the town of Tuxtepec (náhuatl for "In the hill of the rabbits"). It was a very hot humid region. We got there the day before the wedding and as part of the preparation they brought a bull that weighed about 500 lbs. After they unloaded the bull from the truck they tied his feet together and laid it on its side on the ground. The butcher then sharpened his knife and said “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” then severed the large artery in the neck. We all watched in amazement as the bull bled out and gave up the spirit. Afterwards they gutted the beast and several people with knives’ started removing everything imaginable, ultimately cutting large chunks of meat and wrapping them in banana leaves. A large pit had been prepared where hot coals were laid and the meat was carefully stacked to cook over night. Several days after the wedding feast, as we got ready to leave our host gave each of us an artifact that he had discovered while cultivating his fields. He commented that the local farmers find them as often as they turn their fields and plant new seeds. Below the surface of “the hill of the rabbits” wrapped in banana leaves and hidden under the good earth lies a banquet for the living and reminders of the past.
Chontal Distrust of Foreigners:
The Chontal Mayans are the indigenous people of the Mexican State of Tabasco. The state is hot and humid, now you know where the hot sauce got it’s name. In Tabasco also grows Cacao beans which are ground into chocolate, and made into a drink, either hot or cold. In pre-Cortez times Cacao was the drink of Aztec nobility. In the late 1970’s I traveled back and forth between Chiapas and Tabasco. In the city of Comalcalco I had a Chontal girl friend for a while. However her parents didn’t trust me because I was from a distant country and had a little pot belly. They reasoned that possibly I had a wife back in California. Whenever we went anywhere her younger brothers and sister went with us, so we never had a moment to ourselves. Ironically, "Chontal" is from the Nahuatl word for chontalli, which means "foreigner".
The team of young Christians I was living with had a room in the home of a Mayan family in the town of Berriozabal, Chiapas. They had no indoor bathroom when we moved in but desiring to be good hosts built one after several months. The family we lived with was the nicest people one could hope to meet. The streets of Berriozabal were dirt and rocky with turkeys and donkeys roaming freely. The donkeys had their front feet tied together so they couldn’t roam too far. Another friend lived about two blocks away and made Hammocks. I asked him to teach me how to make one and after he showed me it took a whole week to make what my friend could make in an eight-hour day. I still have that hammock.
Iguana Stew, Crab Crunch and Oyster Slurp:
Once while driving past the open market in Paraiso (Paradise) Tabasco which lies on the Gulf of Mexico I saw about half a dozen live Iguanas all tied up waiting to be bought for dinner. On another occasion on the road between Paraiso and Puerto Cieba, the road was covered with thousand of crabs crossing the road to enter the lagoon on the other side, “crunch, crunch, crunch”. Several miles past Puerto Cieba next to the lagoon lived a lady who did our wash, one afternoon we went to drop off our clothes, her husband who had just returned from harvesting oysters invited us to eat some. We said “of course,” they loaded up a bucket and started to steam them, they then proceeded to open them with a knife and feed them to us as fast as we could slurp them down. Nasty looking but great with limon! Not everything that looks disgusting is disgusting.
Chicken Head shuffle:
Once on the border between Tabasco and Chiapas we were invited to have dinner with a local family. Their house was a typical tropical rural home with thatched roof, stick or board walls and dirt floors. They invited us to the table and as I approached I noticed a different piece of chicken in each bowl of soup. When I saw that the one closest to me was the chicken head I quickly moved to the right, in front of the one with the thigh piece. In the middle of the meal the table started to shake and when I looked under it I noticed a small pig rubbing its back against the leg of the table. At that moment I figured out how I also could scratch my back when in need, in place of a table leg I use door ways, thanks porky! This village was close to the Usumacinta River that leads back to the jungle where the Lacandon tribe lives, in one of Mexico’s most remote areas. The next day we asked our hosts about the legendary flying serpents of that region and he assured us that it has real. The next day in the town of Tenosique I talked to a Lacandon Indian who had traveled to the city to make purchases, he told me that the fish and the wild animals they hunt for food was not as abundant as they used to be. That was back in 1976, just think what hunting is like today after 32 years.
In 1981 my wife Mary and I moved to the southern Mexican State of Chiapas and settled in the small town of Teopisca. I worked as the Pastor of a small Presbyterian Church that had about 6 families. Teopisca is on the Pan-American Highway, it has two main roads through town, one going north to San Cristobal de las Casas (named after a Priest and Bishop who tried to protect and defend the Indians from Spanish cruelty); the other road goes south to Guatemala which like Chiapas is predominately Mayan. Two miles from Teopisca is the Tzeltal Indian village of Amatenengo which is famous for its women potters. See Youtube of Potters. Once we went to Guatemala for a few days in order to renew our tourist card, when we returned we found that the owners, to our surprise, had painted the outside of our house bright blue with a large three foot yellow stripe on the bottom. We no longer blended in but stuck out like a canary in the sky!
Pictures, Bad Medicine:
Once my friend Lance came down to visit us in Teopisca. I took him for a visit to Amatenengo because it was such a fascinating place unlike anything I’d experienced before. The houses had no running water, electricity or bathrooms. They were constructed of sticks covered with mud, dirt floors and thatched roofs. The women of the town wore traditional huipiles (blouses) and blue skirts, they crafted pottery in their homes and fired them in the streets by piling wood around them and setting them on fire. As my friend and drove down the streets of the town we saw a family in front of their house doing chores so we stopped to photograph them. As soon as we pulled out the camera the family quickly moved to the sides, when we told them we wanted to take a picture of them in front of their house they said we could photograph the house but not them. When I asked why, they told me that their spirits would get trapped in the picture and they would become sick. At that moment I realized that these peoples view of the world and mine was completely different.
Several months after we moved to Teopisca my wife Mary went missing. She had left for what I thought was a quick trip down the street to purchase something, but after an hour I started worrying were she was. So I jumped on my ten speed bike and drove down to the several possible places she might have gone but they could not give me any information. I went back home and waited and waited but she never came. I started to imagine the worse! Another hour lapsed and my fears grew even more certain of her demise. I remember sitting in our backyard and throwing dirt over my head completely undone. Finally after what seemed like an eternity she came home, my heart was relieved and when I asked her where she had been she said she had met another American woman who lived in our town and as she was getting ready to leave the rain came so she spent another hour getting aquatinted. Through Mary’s friendship we learned to make our own yogurt and how to sprout seeds which made an interesting addition to our simple diet. Loss love brings profound sadness and love found sprouts seeds of health.
Mariano lived in a house like the people of Amatenengo but in Campo Santiago, a squatters settlement that he founded in the early 1970’s. It was off the main road to San Cristobal on a rugged dirt road that went through a logging camp. In the rainy season it was almost impossible to navigate. Sunday afternoons I would plug in my electric Guitar, open the door and windows of our house which faced the busy street filled with Indians from Amatenengo, and sing Christian songs in Spanish to passer buyers. One Sunday Mariano showed up, came in and introduced himself and I let him play some tunes. He converted right away to the guitar (he already confessed to be a follower of Jesus). Every Sunday thereafter Mariano would make the seven mile journey barefooted from Campo Santiago to our home in Teopisca. We would take turns playing songs passing the guitar back and forth. Mariano would brag whenever a group of Indians would gather, “here we speak Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Spanish and English.” I don’t think they were very impressed as they would only listen a few minutes and then go about their shopping: Sunday was market day in Teopisca. I remember one time a group of about five Indians came in, sat down on the wooden benches and listened to all the songs and stories we had to tell, the guitar went back and forth, we even repeated several songs and they were still there. I was perplexed, no one had ever stayed that long before, then suddenly I realized that they wanted me to pray for them, so I did and then they went on their way. Many Indians patiently wait for others to understand them. In North America they’ve been waiting 500 years! Next page >
Stories of Bill Redondo, Fresno, California