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IBEROAMERICAN POLITICS: Bolivar, Zapata and Vasconcelos

Many messages have been received from Mexicans expressing regret that such "unWAIS" language was used in a message from a "Zapatista" which I posted to exemplify the attitude of the "Zapatistas" at Stanford and elsewhere. No more such messages will be posted. The use of the term reflects the "ista" mentality (-ian in the US, as in "Jeffersonian"), a mentality which Spanish America inherited from Spain, where the Cid, the alleged hero of the Reconquest, was the original caudillo (leader). Spanish American politics has been characterized by cult of a personality, the most conspicuous case being Simon Bolivar. Labels like Bolivarian can mean different things. When I named "Bolivar House" it was because he supported parliamentary democracy. Then it came to mean conservative. Some years ago it was adopted by the leftist revolutionary. The use of the term Bolivarian by the Colombian FARC is similar to the use of Zapatista in Mexico.

The term Zapatista means different things. Linda Nyquist, who has devoted much of her life helping the rural poor in Mexico, views him as a symbol of the desperate destitute, but the Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos is no Zapata. Here are two gringo views. Stephen Schwartz protests:

"The days when most Mexicans were desperately trying to survive ended years ago. Mexico has a large and growing middle class, not a large and growing pseudo-Zapatista movement. I say pseudo because, as a Spanish journalist noted, the original Zapata was a hard son of the people who learned to read and write as a late teenager, while "subcomandante Marcos" speaks English with a university accent -- and the same latter individual has in fact spent a great deal of time travelling abroad eating and chatting in fancy cafes. The Mexican left is corrupt, semifascist, and engages in a form of internal ideological imperialism that consists of painting its fellow citizens as poorer and more wretched and desperate than they are, in order to maintain the myths that sustain their influence and authority abroad."

Tim Brown says "So in Jose Hernandez's view, the archtypically bourgeois Sebastian Guillen, as the son of rich Veracruz merchants, excuse me, Sub-Comandante Marcos, the alleged commander of the Zapatista Front, is representative of the Mexican people? Does that mean then that all real Mexicans are, just like him, former students at the Sorbonne with additional studies in Germany who take their vacations on the French Riviera? That being so, I guess the life-long Mexican Marxist revolutionaries and supporters of the Zapatista Front with whom I met intensively last month in Mexico City weren't real Mexicans after all since, even as they cheerfully regaled me with denunciations of the Yanqui Imperialistas as Enemies of Humanity. They very much preferred doing so over dinner at places like La Casa de Los Azulejos and the Circulo del Sureste. True, not the cream of DF restaurants, but not bad either".

Leaders are not always of the same class as the people they claim to represent. Bolivar made a speech proclaiming "I too am an Indian!" He was not, but it won him support among the real Indians. Bernardo Naranjo thinks José Vasconcelos should be the symbol of Mexico in Stanford, and that therefore Zapata Huse should be renamed Vasconcelos House. An excellent idea, since he visited me in Stanford, and wrote an admiring account of it. Mexicans at Stanford should adopt Bernardo's idea and petition the administration to change the name of Zapata House. Berhardo points out that Vasconcelos is recognized as the most important educator in the history of Mexico. He founded the Ministry of Education and was president of the National University. He was a philosopher and a humanist He claimed that Mexicans were spiritual, and he invented UNAM's slogan "Por mi raza hablará el espíritu" (The spirit will speak through my race). He presumably would have been President of Mexico but for massive electoral fraud.

Bernardo says that a proposal to change the name of Zapata House should offer a viable alternative. Well I did propose one. I suggested it be changed to Espinosa House in honor of Aurelio Espinosa, who came from a poor mountain village in northern New Mexico and ended up as a professor of Stanford, where he developed the Spanish Department and established the well-known journal Hispania. Since he was known only to specialists, the Stanford Administration received just a few letters of support. If the Mexicans at Stanford adopted Bernardo's proposal, such massive support might move the administration to give the house a much more appropriate name.

Ronald Hilton - 12/15/00