Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dame West and Mr. Paz

As I move about the city, captivated by the people all around me, I realize the significance of Rebecca West’s observation (noted in my previous post) that “All these brown people in the Mexican streets are there because throughout the centuries Indians were physically and mentally delectable.” In a way she’s echoing Mexican writer Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950), where he suggests that Mexicans identify, individually and nationally, as “hijos de la chingada” -- children of rape -- symbolically manifested in La Malinche, the mistress of Hernán Cortés, and actually manifested everywhere, as around 80% of Mexicans are a mixture of Spanish and Indian descent. Paz even says that at the “Grito de Dolores” -- the September 16th ritual where the president repeats Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s 1810 cry for Mexican independence -- Mexican citizens respond with yells of “¡Viva México, hijos de la chingada!”

Anyway, I’m struck by the words of Dame West because they are, as a generalization, at least as cogent as Paz’s -- and I’d even dare say more so. They’re as true now -- in the metros, bars and cafés of Mexico City, and all over the country -- as they have been for the last three hundred years. And where Paz roots for the origins of Mexican identity in an act of masculine violence, perpetrated by Europeans on helpless native women, West assumes much more feminine power and native choice. And I have to agree: as in all forms of cultural production, the making of a culture, of a people, and of a national identity is never simply a top-down affair. A national identity -- especially one with such a beautiful people and history, with such a warm heart and passionate culture -- cannot be built on violence alone. And besides, seduction and intrigue always make for better stories than tear-‘em-up violence -- especially in the stories we tell ourselves to understand who we are: that is, stories that become myths, that become us.


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