The formerly known as ‘Día de la Raza’ in Mexico today seeks to vindicate ethnic diversity in a commemoration not without controversy for the removal of the statue of Christopher Columbus and the decision to replace it with the figure of an indigenous woman given the position of groups that claim that space in memory of women victims of violence.
The controversial date of October 12 in Mexico, formerly known as ‘Race Day’ and taught in elementary schools as the ‘discovery of America’, is officially from this year the ‘Day of the multicultural nation’.
A) Yes it was approved by the Mexican Congress and it was published by the Executive on November 19, 2020 in order to “motivate the knowledge, recognition, appreciation and promotion of the multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual wealth that characterizes Mexico.”
And this year the commemoration is involved in a controversy over a monument: the statue of the Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus, who since 1977 stood in a roundabout on Paseo de la Reforma, the most emblematic avenue of the country’s capital and which has been removed from that place to which you will never return.
In its place, the figure of an indigenous woman will be installed, whose design will be selected by the Committee for Monuments and Artistic Works in Public Spaces of Mexico City.
The decision has caused controversy among those who support the measure, with the argument that the pre-Hispanic root should be vindicated and stop worshiping the colonizers, and those who question whether they want to erase the past, the historical heritage, and deny that other root. from which the Mexicans come.
Former President Felipe Calderón questioned that removing the monument to Columbus, an artistic and historical heritage, “is a crime” and a “robbery of Mexico City”, and that it seems “arbitrary” because the public was not even consulted.
The Columbus monument is part of the artistic and historical heritage of Mexico. Removing it, mutilating it, is a crime. In other words, they are stealing it from CDMX, its inhabitants and all Mexicans. It is not bad that they put a statue where they want, but they do not steal! https://t.co/1HqoAdH1OO
– Felipe Calderón (@FelipeCalderon) September 7, 2021
In contrast, historian Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, wife of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, welcomed the measure to remove the statue of Colón from Paseo de la Reforma and relocate it in Parque América, to the west of the City, in the Polanco neighborhood. , one of the highest capital gains.
“This 2021, so symbolic because of the events that are being remembered, is also an invitation to reflect: I insist, let’s decolonize history.”
“’Discover America’ is to affirm that such land was hidden, covered, hidden. Whoever finds it, in the colonizing logic, makes it live. No! America was not hidden (say, under water), covered (say, undergrowth), hidden (say, buried). The American continent existed, it had a life of its own and many civilizations with great knowledge of architecture, astronomy, agriculture, culture and the arts flourished in it (…) ”, posted Gutiérrez, honorary president of the Advisory Council of the National Coordination of Historical and Cultural Memory of Mexico.
Historian Úrsula Camba warns in an interview with France 24 that decolonial studies have gained a lot of strength from the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States.
“The problem with this is that the North American discourse has been imported by applying it to a reality that is inappropriate. The colonization of the American peoples in the north of the continent was a very different experience from the territories colonized by Spain and Portugal and this imported discourse does not explain the Mexican reality ”, reflects the academic, a specialist in New Spain.
Tlali, the failed substitute sculpture
On the pedestal of the roundabout where the statue of Columbus stood, the government of Mexico City announced that a sculpture would be installed that exalts the indigenous woman. The work was commissioned to the artist Pedro Reyes, who conceived it as Tlali (“land” in Nahuatl).
“Tlali is this sculpture thought as an allegory to the earth, it is a stone structure that takes the appearance of the colossal head, which is a contribution of the Olmecs to universal culture,” Reyes explained in an interview with the EFE agency.
“I sought to incorporate symbolisms and elements that made reference to the feminine, powerful and ancestral aspect. But with an indigenous physiognomy to realize that we must learn from the relationship that native peoples have with the land ”, revealed the author.
However, Tlali’s announcement caused such controversy that the capital’s government determined to back down. The complaints came from different sectors, with arguments such as the lack of coherence between the name (in Nahuatl) and the appearance (Olmec), or that it was a non-indigenous man designing an indigenous woman.
The president of the capital, Claudia Sheinbaum, said that it will be the Committee of Monuments and Artistic Works in Public Spaces that decides which sculpture of an indigenous woman – in that case there is no going back – will be the one that will occupy the space that housed the effigy of Columbus.
In Camba’s opinion, it is good to seek to vindicate the role of women in history, but he questions that this review of the past is intended from a vision that becomes a soliloquy.
“I do not think that a substitution of symbols should be made, I believe that the sky is wide and everyone fits, and rather than dividing or reprimanding it would be better to integrate in a conciliatory speech, and not to set ourselves up as judges of the past from the comfort of an armchair”, comments.
Feminists decide to fill the void
In the midst of the controversy over Tlali and while the statue of Columbus is rehabilitated by specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History, members of feminist collectives decided to seize that gazebo and placed on the pedestal a wooden figure with the silhouette of a woman with fist raised.
On September 25, 2021, after having intervened the site, they renamed it “Glorieta de las Mujeres que Lucha” and with spray paint they wrote, on the fences that surround the base of the statue, the names of dozens of victims of femicide and disappearance. They demand that this space be dedicated to women who have been victims in this country.
The capital authorities responded that the site had been granted to indigenous women and called on feminists to consider this right, which, in addition, they won it by presenting signatures in support of that cause.
“When we planned this action, we were clear that there was a decision that an indigenous woman should be appointed. But the city government imposed a project (…) the government is always very good with the flag of ‘the indigenous’ but in reality there is no difference in treatment of indigenous women and women in general, ”she indicates in an interview with France 24, a member of the Antimonumenta Collective, who participates in the taking of this space and requests to reserve her identity.
The source points out that it is no longer the time to impose and that monuments in public places should have popular acceptance and adds that its intention is for this space to be recognized as a memory of the struggle of women for Justice, a struggle that – points out – this The government insists on not wanting to see and on presenting it as part of the adversaries’ attempts to go against it.
“That is why the names are written so that they see that the victims do exist and that they stop wanting to erase something so painful for many people,” says the woman.
Beyond the wooden figure, which is symbolic and they know that it will not last, the intention is that this space be recognized for the women’s struggle, because “it is not folklore. This government had the opportunity to do something worthy and did not do it, they are the ones who disrespected indigenous women with that proposal of a man, an artist who is not related to social and political reality and who is very well in the galleries, but the street is something else ”.
In this sense, the activist points out that this review of the history and discourse of decolonization has to come from the people and the people who have suffered oppression and not from power, “because power chooses, for example, to defend what 500 years ago and go to fight with a king –in allusion to the dispute between Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the King of Spain over the idea of apologizing for the abuses of the Conquest– and not look at the oppression of the indigenous people of the present ” .
Thus, the commemoration of October 12 this year in Mexico will be lived in a context of controversy and in a juncture of review of the past regarding the 500 years of the Conquest and not free of conflicts with the indigenous people of the present, such as the discrepancy of the communities related to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) that for three years have raised their voices against the “neocolonial” projects carried out by the current Government, such as the Mayan Train and the trans-isthmic corridor.