Romanticizing Indigenous Peoples’ Resistance Is Another Form Of Discrimination

By Emiliano Gómez Izaguirre

We, as members of an indigenous people in southern Mexico (The Mixteco People or Ñuu Savi) have years of experience as educators and community spokespersons in our region. One of the most common, yet barely discussed, difficulties that several of our colleagues have had to confront has been the romanticization of our communities’ ways of resisting. It has been expressed by activists, spokespeople, academics, from organizations, and from comrades in other places.

What does romanticization of Indigenous peoples’ resistance consist of? Unlike the romanticization of poverty which recognizes, elevates those who deal with their poverty without attacking its structural causes, romanticization of original peoples and their struggles is a discussion rooted in a stereotype, a cliché which makes invisible the many varying approaches to resistance. It simplifies and essentially limits the concept of indigenous resistance to a very narrow group of characteristics.

Among those characteristics is the idea or the prejudice that we indigenous communities are always clearly opposed to the government and to capital, merely because we are indigenous. Or that by calling ourselves original peoples (or being named such) we find ourselves isolated or distanced from the Western cultural hegemony such as the phenomena of globalization or neo-liberalism. Including, for example, a myth that has been spread about the CoVid pandemic, that indigenous peoples are conquering the virus thanks to our historic ways of organizing ourselves, which ignores the fact that there are also communities that are being devastated by this virus and by its social and economic impact.

Such romanticization of our resistance and our life, in general, is not accidental. It seems to come out of a superficial reading of, a deterministic approach towards some events which have shaken Mexico and the world generally in the last decades: the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, the emergence of community police and autonomous governments in Guerrero and Michoacán, or the surfacing of indigenous movements in several South American countries among others.

In the end, we are dealing with a discourse that reduces huge diversity within the struggle and indigenous resistance to a group of specific actors: Subjects on an international level who have represented the opposition to the politics of dispossession of lands and capitalist exploitation in various regions and countries. Such policies also exist, and without a doubt, in the Pueblo Ñuu Savi community, yet not with identical characteristics nor the same intensity as in a state such as Chiapas or Michoacán (in the case of Mexico), nor in countries such as Bolivia or Ecuador.

In that sense, if it is a fact that the logic of capital is the same everywhere in the world, strategies of dispossession and accumulation of capital vary depending on the region we find ourselves in, as do the history and culture of every people and each community. For that reason, resistance strategies against dispossession and other affronts towards the Zapatista community of Chiapas or indigenous organizations in countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador, for example, have not been and will not necessarily be identical to that applied to a the Ñuu Savi community.

Although those differences among groups and their experiences seem obvious, it is interesting that, encouraged by romantic notions about indigenous peoples and their communities, partners (in struggle) do not let go of such notions. On the contrary, they turn, enthusiastically to learning about and participating in community political processes eager to find and develop organizational processes with unexpected methods to counter the government, capital or westernization of life. This search, on more than occasion, ended in frustration and/or abandonment of such actions; because no matter how useful the experience shaped by these processes, they’ve not been able to recreate an experience identical or similar to that of the Autonomous Zapatisita Municipalities in Chiapas, to that of the indigenous who make up the CONAIE in Ecuador–to name a couple of known examples in Latin America.

It’s not difficult to imagine that the Pueblo Ñuu savi’s experiences are similarly repeated in other parts of the world. The abandonment of various organizational projects or resistance have likely been the result. And whether successful or failed, from a pedagogical point of view, they never provide anything useful for discussions, understanding or to launch a unified effort for defending life, land and territory.

In our community radio station, for example, this romantic idea regarding struggle and resistance by indigenous peoples has given rise to various disagreements about work that Radio Comunitaria Ñuu Dee has been realizing at present. There are those who are looking to launch and develop policy and process as if our communities were under violent, bloody siege by agents of the state, some transnational business or some other criminal organization.

Unlike communities such as Cherán in Michocán, the municipality of Sacamch’en in Chiapas or the Yasuni and Amazonía peoples who oppose land development of their territories in South America, our communities Ñuu savi talk among ourselves about problems, needs or urgencies which do not necessarily require riddance of the state nor the local authorities. In fact, in some instances what is required is joint participation in order to provide answers to problems and solutions for needs. And so, much of community resistance (in which our radio station is actively participating) translates precisely into that: not allowing federal, state, or local government to shirk their historic responsibilities nor ignore what they owe to those always forgotten in this great country called Mexico.

All of the above emerges as necessary and indispensable, and above all, our communities’ own voices are what must be heard. And what we say about our ways or our strategies of resistance, what we look for and pursue, without prejudice or false hope, assumes complete and absolute respect as brothers and sisters, as comrades. We ought to make ourselves listen beyond what is heard or seen, not limited by one particular view of the world, nor left with unsatisfactory politics, ideologically favoring one over another. On the contrary, besides continuing to confront racism and systemic violence by elites and the well-off, we will continue seeing ourselves as discriminated against by purist, romantic visions about indigenous community resistance.

—Emiliano Gómez Izaguirre, Se’e Ñuu savi (son of the people of the rain) from the municipality of Heroica Ciudad de Huajuapan, Oaxaca. He completed a degree in Political Science from the UNAM and a Master’s degree in Communication and Politics at the Autonomous Metropolitan University–Unidad Xochimilcan. He was a member of the Center for Community Support Working Together (CACTUS). Currently, he is coordinator of community radio station Radio comunitaria Ñuu Dee in Huajuapan, Oaxaca.