Mexico's President Renews Call For Apology From Spain For Conquest Violence
It’s been 500 years since the Spaniards landed on the coast of what is now Mexico, and proceeded to subjugate the native people by enslaving them, killing them and destroying their monuments and culture.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was in Tijuana on Wednesday repeating his call for Spain and the Catholic Church to apologize for harms against indigenous people during that Conquest.
“It’s appropriate to apologize to the natives because there is no doubt there were abuses," he said in Tijuana, adding that it's important to remember the past.
López Obrador made history last year when he won the presidential elections, promising to prioritize the needs of indigenous people and the poor. His request for apologies on behalf of indigenous people came two months after Spain's prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, visited Mexico.
But critics argue that his request is political theater and that it distracts from ongoing harms against indigenous communities in Mexico.
“The indigenous people need to be seen and heard from within Mexico. There’s still a lot of racism against indigenous people by Mexican nationals themselves, me not being one of them," said Andrew Rodriguez, a dual U.S. and Mexican citizen who works at a gas station in Chula Vista.
He said Mexicans continue to use derogatory terms to refer to people with darker skin, such as "chapulín," or locust. As a result of this racism in Mexico, indigenous people often live in poverty, with little opportunity for upward mobility.
"They're rarely portrayed in movies. And when they are, they're portrayed as dumbed-down versions," Rodriguez said. "If you ever seen an ad for makeup (in Mexico), it's very light-skinned people, usually blonde hair and blue eyes."
The president of Mexico has supported industrial projects opposed by indigenous groups, such as the Tren Maya, or Maya Train. Some of those developments have been linked to the killings of indigenous activists such as journalist Samir Flores last month.
“What he’s doing on the ground now with regards to indigenous communities is actually quite devastating," said Roberto Hernández, a Chicano Studies professor at San Diego State University and author of Coloniality of the US-Mexico Border.
He said the call for Spain to apologize is "important symbolically at some level," but that López Obrador has repeatedly bypassed the National Indigenous Congress, led by María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, known as Marichuy.
Hernández is helping to organize a visit from Marichuy to the U.S., possibly to San Diego, where she plans to strengthen relationships with indigenous populations in the U.S. such as the Kumeyaay, and immigrants from Oaxaca and other parts of Mexico. He said the President of Mexico likes to play the role of savior of the indigenous people without actually taking their desires into consideration.
"He's inserting himself as spokesperson, when they have a spokesperson; Marichuy," he said.
Still, many people think it’s appropriate to acknowledge the horrors of the past.
On Twitter, many border residents praised Mexico's President for his requests for apologies: "We as mestizos owe apologies to our indigenous brothers," said the user @melissamejia20. Another user, @LomeliBlanca, said: "It would be healthy. No reparation is being requested, only an apology." And user @trejo_danny said: "If you really think about it, they should (apologize). Same applies to the Kumeyaay people."
The Pope has previously apologized for crimes against indigenous peoples as a result of colonialism. But Spain said it doesn’t intend to apologize. Officials responded with anger, saying they "completely reject" the idea of apologizing.
The San Diego-based Kumeyaay educator Stan Rodriguez said it's disturbing that Spain is so reluctant to acknowledge its past mistakes: "It's a travesty of justice. It's hypocrisy ... Millions of people died as a result of these Conquests. I wouldn't even call it Conquest. I'm gonna call it genocide. Because that's what it was."