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Then on Now?

by sanmigueltimes
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Often on tours or the lecture circuit folks ask “When was it better – when the indigenous ruled or after the Spanish conquest?”

That’s a loaded question if only because there is no easy answer.  The politically correct answer is to honor the indigenous, however, that’s tough to do.  They were often violent with human sacrifice and cannibalism the norm.

Now, that’s not to imply it was all butterflies and rainbows once the area became conquered starting the Inquisition centuries (1520 to 1820).  Catholic Spaniards had their own gruesome murders and customs.  With the exception of Mel Brooks, no one can find humor in the Inquisition.

Recently I read a 1990s book by an Irish-American priest whose whole point is how Mexico was better off under the Spanish than the country has been since freedom from Spain.  Now there’s a point of view I’ve never heard uttered.

The author’s perspective was Spain (aka the Inquisition, though he never once called it that) brought civility, culture and the one true faith to Mexico.  I am the first to promote that if the Inquisition brought any gifts here it was health care and education.  That’s why most hospitals and schools are still named for saints or Jesus’ mother.

Mexico remains a Catholic country by culture if not conviction, and there are advantages to being primarily a one faith country.  Namely most citizens have similar views on ethics, morality and death which pervade everything, even traffic.  Why wear a seatbelt if the worse that can happen is you go home to God that much sooner?  Hence driving here is a giant game of Chicken.

On the other hand, once again, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies following freedom from Spain.  Yes, the Inquisition was finally over and the caste system removed, in theory.  In reality, like the history of slavery in the US, it still permeates today.  Watch any telenova to see the heroine be blonde and light skinned while the evil Alexis Carrington-type of character with be dark haired and skinned.

For your average Mexican life didn’t change much with freedom from Spain and on came the revolutions and parade of presidents that were assassinated, replaced and assassinated yet again.  Not to mention the French bopped in to rule for 3 bloody years that resulted in nothing more positive than one of Bette Davis’ 1930s movies, Juarez, playing the doomed monarch’s mentally unstable wife.

Then a century following freedom from Spain came the war providing a separation of Church and State plus the reappropriation of Church real estate.  For example, that is why Belle Artes is an art center today and no longer a convent for cloistered nuns.

The American priest feels modern history ignores the martyrs or those killed fighting for the Church’s side.  Hard to ignore here in San Miguel de Allende as many of today’s citizens had a grandfather that served for the Church.  The Church lost and those men often lived out their lives hidden in the tunnels under town fed daily by their spouses.

Still, taking in the good and the bad following freedom from Spain, being released from a racist, foreign colonial power can hardly be viewed as a bad thing.

by Joseph Toone

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