Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas, by Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, The University of Arizona Press, 2014, 288 pages with nine color illustrations, $35.00 paperback. Electronic edition available.
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.
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