Indigenous people have resisted colonialism in many ways - holding fast to traditional foods, like maíz, performing ancestral dances and songs, and passing legends from generation to generation.
According to a legend told by elders throughout Nahuatl-speaking regions of Mexico, corn - maíz in Spanish and cintli in Nahuatl - has been a dietary staple for thousands of years. The how and why of this development has been passed from generation to generation, and, as recounted in Roberto Contli Rodriguez's Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother, goes something like this: Shortly after the Creator couple, Quilaztli and Quetzalcoatl, formed human beings, they realized that their invention could not survive without eating. "Quetzalcoatl - bringer of civilization - was put in charge of bringing food to the people. Walking along," Rodriguez writes, "Quetzalcoatl noticed red ants carrying kernels of corn. Quetzalcoatl asked one of them, 'What is that on your back?'
'Cintli,' one replied. 'It is our sustenance.'"
Quetzalcoatl had further questions, but the ant was leery about revealing too much. Still, Quetzalcoatl persisted, explaining that without nutrients, humans would perish. "Reluctantly," Rodriguez reports, "the ant pointed toward Tonalcatepetl - a nearby mountain - also called The Mountain of Sustenance," and ultimately led Quetzalcoatl to this revered place. Later, after the Lords of Tamoanchan gave their blessing to maíz, corn became indispensable to many of the earth's people.
Throughout the text, Rodriguez tells other stories to illustrate the centrality of maíz in contemporary Mexican and Central American life, whether people are living in the United States or further south. "Maíz is who you are, who we are," he was told time and again as he did his research. "We not only eat maíz; we are maíz."
Indeed, some of the creation stories Rodriguez tells involve attempts to fashion sentient beings from amber, mud and wood. It was only during the final attempt, we're told - when the Creators used corn - that the effort succeeded. Not only that, as people evolved and began to cultivate maíz, they discovered its connection to "various phenomena caused by the sun, moon and universe," among them the concept of time. This, Rodriguez writes, led to the development of a calendar and an understanding of seasons and weather.
I recently attended an international "Justice Begins With Seeds"
Biosafety Alliance conference in Portland, Oregon. It was both
eye-opening and jarring and it was also very focused: opposition to
trade agreements and laws that permit genetic modification and GMO
foods, while promoting food choice - in particular, safe organic and
Among the 40 presenters were people with biological and scientific
backgrounds, educators, attorneys, human rights activists and organic
farmers. What they all had in common was that they possess a wealth of
information and have a desire to protect the word's sacred seeds from
the transgenic, multinational corporations of the world, such as
Monsanto, Dow and Dupont.
To be truthful, the information presented at the conference was
actually very depressing with an aura of doomsday about it, particularly
with respect to what has been happening to our food supply over the
past generation. At the same time, there were no signs of defeatism, as
generally everyone is part of this movement to counter the efforts of
these extralegal corporations - corporations that virtually write their
own laws exempting themselves from environmental, labor, safety and
human rights laws and regulations. While this has always been the case,
with the advent of transgenics, what these corporations are doing rises
to the level of crimes against nature and crimes against humanity, along
with crimes against the earth herself.
I had been invited to this conference because the organizers felt that the message of my forthcoming book: Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother (University of Arizona Press), was a message that fit the theme of the conference.
Official-unofficial... what's the difference... I will forever remember that it was at Mexicayotl where I presented my book for 1st time in public.
THE ANTS OF QUETZALCOATL: Today I unveiled my book, "Our Sacred Maiz is our Mother" at Mexicayotl Academy in Tucson. Well... it wasn't an actual unveiling (that's Oct 12 - Indigenous Peoples Day) but what it was is, I taught 1st graders, and 2nd and 3rd graders, about the Nahuatl creation story of Maiz: "Quetzalcoatl, the ants and the Gift of maiz." After teaching it to them, they extemporaneously performed it. It was awesome... In the actual story, the ants refuse to give Quetzalcoatl the maiz. At Mexicayotl, several students played Quetzalcoatl... trying to convince the ants to give the maiz to the humans.
* Excuse the rushed message.. Was not expecting book to be released til Nov 6, but it is already out.
Our Sacred Maíz is our Mother: Indigeneity and belonging in the Americas
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
I’ve written or edited several books in my life and each of them have been special, especially since most were banned by Tucson’s school district during the state’s infamous battle in Arizona to eliminate Raza Studies, However, this one, Our Sacred Maíz is our Mother, released early by the University of Arizona Press, seems to be a little more special. Perhaps it is so because it speaks to a topic that recognizes no borders and connects peoples from across this continent, and it is a story that arguably goes back some 7,000 years.
The actual title of this book is Nin Tonantzin Non Centeotl. Translated, it means – Nuestro Maíz sagrado es Nuestra Madre – Our Sacred Maíz is our Mother. Only the English appears on the front cover. However, Nin Tonantzin Non Centeotl does appear on the title page, along with the names of 9 Indigenous elders or teachers who contributed maíz origin/creation/migration stories from throughout Abya Yala, Cemanahuac or Pacha Mama – from throughout the continent: Veronica Castillo Hernandez, Maestra Angelbertha Cobb, Luz Maria de la Torre, Paula Domingo Olivares, Tata Cuaxtle Felix Evodio, Maria Molina Vai Sevoi, Francisco Pos, Irma Tzirin Scoop and Alicia Seyler.
Each of the ancestral stories they wrote, or relate, is a treasure unto itself, each from a different people or pueblo from throughout the continent. The same thing applies to the artwork; each one is also a priceless treasure, depicting maíz in a most special way. The artists include: Laura V. Rodriguez, Tanya Alvarez, Grecia Ramirez, Paz Zamora, Pola Lopez, Mario Torero and Veronica Castillo Hernandez.
Already, I have been asked what the primary message of the book is. Each person will take away something different, but for me, my simple answer is that the title and front cover say it all: Nin Tonantzin Non Centeotl – Our Sacred Maíz is our Mother. For some, no further explanation is required.
The message resonates because it comes from somewhere profound… from a place of ancestors. Its message is: We are people of maíz. This is where we come from. This is what we are made of. This is who we are. Most Indigenous peoples form maíz–based cultures instinctively understand this message.
If you are reading this without seeing, or not having seen, the image, the front cover is a genuine amoxtli or codex unto itself, painted by Laura V. Rodriguez. It tells the ancient Nahua story of Maíz from the oral tradition and recorded in the Chimalpopoca Codex – of the ants of Quetzalcoatl – and how it is that humans received the maíz. Truly, the imagery and message are both stunning. Again, it is a story, one of many ancient stories actually, that is thousands of years old, stories that were initially suppressed during the colonial era, but now are back, not as part of an extinct culture, but as part of living cultures that exist throughout the continent, including in what is today the United States.
More than that, there is a specific message for peoples of the Americas that have been de-Indigenized, disconnected and severed from their traditions, languages and stories: despite 522 years of European presence, most remain connected to maiz culture. In particular, this applies to peoples with Mexican and Central American and Andean origins that live in the United States. And thus the message: Okichike Ka Centeotzintli or “Made from Sacred Maiz.” After all, many if not most of the peoples from these communities eat maíz (tortillas), beans and chile, virtually on a daily basis. Along with squash and cactus, these foods are Indigenous to this continent.
This is not the message brown children receive in school. It is not the message they receive in the media and it is not the message they receive from government institutions.
The message in the book is that they are not foreigners, that they are not aliens and that contrary to what the U.S. Census bureau promotes, that they are not white. Instead, the message is that they are children of maíz – part of Indigenous cultures on this continent that are many, many thousands of years old.
In effect, this message was banned during the colonial era… and also in present-day Arizona… the whole country, actually. This message, in effect, was made illegal (HB 2281) by politicians who think that only Greco-Roman culture should be taught in U.S. schools. Maíz culture is the story of this continent… though in reality, it is one of the great stories of this continent (salmon, buffalo). These cultures produced not simply civilizations, but also produced values and ethos such as In Lak Ech -Tu eres mi otro yo and Panche Be – To seek the root of the truth. And it is precisely these and related values that were continually attacked during that battle to destroy Raza Studies.
But just as knowledge cannot be destroyed, neither can values and ethos be destroyed. Yes, a program was shut down, but that is temporary.
Another part of the message for this continent is, in Nahuatl: non kuahuitl cintli in tlaneplantla: the maiz tree is the center of the universe. The related message is that for those reasons, it is everyone’s responsibility to protect maiz from the multinational transgenic corporations that have literally stolen and hijacked our sacred sustenance. And it is not just the maíz that they have stolen and desecrated; they have done this or are attempting to do this to all of our crops…not just the sacred foods of this continent, but of the entire world. Because indeed we are what we eat, exposure to highly toxic (pesticides and herbicides) and genetically modified foods is highly dangerous, not simply to human beings and all life, but to the entire planet.
More than part of a de-colonial process, writing this book is part of an affirmation that as human beings, we are sacred because our mother is sacred… and on this continent, maíz is our mother.
This book is a compilation of elder or ancestral knowledge from throughout the continent, and as noted, it contains the simplest of messages, contained in both the front cover and the title.
The simple idea of this book was to counter-act… actually this book is not meant to counter anything. It is meant to affirm the thousands-of-years maíz–based cultures – to affirm that we are Indigenous to this continent – and to assert our full humanity, along with our full human rights, this in a society that brands us as illegitimate, unwelcome and nowadays illegal.
As Indigenous peoples continue to affirm: We cannot be illegal on our own continent. And yet more than that, the simple message of the humble maíz is that there is no such thing as an illegal human being anywhere. That is the primary message of the book.
BOOK IN HAND: Nin Tonantzin Non Centeotl - Monday 9/15/2014 Our Sacred Maiz is our Mother (University of Arizona Press). Dedicated to my father
and mother, both who passed on to spirit world in Jan 2011 (my father)
and this past June (my mother). They would have been proud. And they
A publisher has asked me to compile my writings from the past 42 years... However, I have proposed simply the past 7 years, since I moved to Arizona. I am to choose my favorite writings to be published as collected works -- as a reader. If you have any favorites that you have ever read or taught from, please write me at: XColumn@gmail.com Most of what I have written the past 7 years has been as Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez. Prior to receiving my PhD, I did not include "Dr. Cintli" as part of my name. At the initial stage, I am free to suggest and design it in any manner I choose... from columns to academic articles etc. Of course, my maiz book (http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/Books/bid2497.htm) is almost out (mid-October), plus I continue work on the Smiling Brown project... so this is kind of cool to be working on this at this time. Thanks in advance, write me at: XColumn@gmail.com