Thursday, February 26, 2009

How History Has Ruined Everything

The introduction paragraph to Lynn Foster's A Brief History of Mexico, Revised Edition states 
"The democratic reforms in 2000 that ended 70 years of party domination in Mexican politics by the Partido Revolutionario Institutional (PRI) have swept in a new era in Mexican history..... The corrupt party leadership that so long ruled Mexico has ended, and everything from labor relations to indigenous rights has been affected.  Moreover, these momentous changes, unlike so many others in Mexican history, were accomplished peacefully.  The political confidence of Mexico today could not contrast more sharply with the ominous foreboding described in the earlier edition of this book."
Yeah, it's true that some things have changed now that there is a new party in power, but there is certainly no more "political confidence" now than when the PRI was in power, and the Mexican distrust of their government is not going to change any time soon.  If you ask any indigenous person, nothing has changed.  They are still discriminated by almost every government policy and regarded as backward people who don't want to "develop."  
We visited with some members of the indigenous community of Amatlán in the state of Morelos.  They told us that not long ago, some people from the government wanted to come visit the community to offer a proposal for a development plan, and the community welcomed them.  But when they proposed a program for developing fish farms in their town, the community members just laughed.  Every year, there is a period of 5 months where water is so scarce that they barely have enough for their basic needs!  How are they ever going to develop fish farms?  Of course they refused the proposal, and no doubt the government reps when back to their people and told everyone that those damn indians don't even want to develop...  So clearly, there are still problems with the Mexican government.
This is the problem capital-H History and history books in particular: they always portray history as a past struggle that has resolved itself already.  In elementary school, we learned (a little bit) about the struggle for women's rights, which basically went like this: "Women used to not have the right to vote.  Can you imagine?! But now they do!  Yay!  Thanks to the women of the past, women don't have to fight for their rights anymore!"  Similarly, the history of race relations in the US goes like this:  "Black people used to be slaves, but then they weren't!  Then they were segregated, but not anymore!  Yay!  Everything is perfect!"  History books teach us not to recognize current systemic problems because it only shows us how they have already been fixed.  No different than a fairy tale, history books only feed our need for a happy ending.
So basically, history teaches us to be complacent and to accept the status quo - Thanks!