On June 24 2021, a ship called La Montaña arrived at the port of Vigo, Spain, which had set sail two months earlier from the Mexican port of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, to make the reverse path that the European conquerors did five centuries ago. The group of four women, two men and a transgender person who was traveling in it will begin months a journey full of symbolism that will take them through various cities and towns throughout Europe and which will be joined by many other Zapatistas who are arriving in Europe. One of the highlights will take place at the European Meeting of Fights to be held in Madrid on August 13, when exactly 500 years have passed since the entry of the conqueror Hernán Cortés into the city of Tenochtitlan.
500 years ago the Spanish conquest of America began to erase the Nature cults and community traditions of pre-Columbian peoples with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other. Also in that year, 1521, Emperor Charles V crushed the rebellion of the Castilian communities, destroying the communal traditions that remained in his own home. The Empire imposed itself on the peasant communities, both on one side and the other of the Atlantic.
The same imperial symbols of the Bible and the sword have continued to resonate to this day. When Jeanine Añez, for example, proclaimed herself president of Bolivia, she appeared on television with the bible and the army “blessed by Jesus” defending Catholic Hispanity from the “attack” of indigenous pagan cults. The Spanish far right has also released a speech in recent years that speaks of the empire, the army and a visceral hatred of everything that smells of ecology. The bible and the army against “Pachamamista paganism,” the same discourse on both sides of the Atlantic.
History has already shown us very well that behind this defense of the Bible there is usually nothing of spirituality or evangelical charity; what there is, is the temptation of “earthly power”, to which the Catholic Church has been so fond. And we also know that it is not the Hispanic culture or the science that is in danger due to the rise of these “Pachamamista superstitions”, but the extraction of gold, silver, crops, and natural resources of America. The love of the land (with or without Pachamamism cults) and peasant communities have always hindered extractivism.
As an inhabitant of this long-suffering Castilian plateau, and daughter, granddaughter and great-great-granddaughter of Spaniards as far as memory can remember (a common genetic poverty in these lands of the “Emptied Spain”) there is something that outrages me about all that discourse: that they are always using Hispanic culture to justify their interests and their businesses. And I say theirs, and not my, because almost every time the Spanish empire is invoked it is done to defend the interests of a few, very few.
The Spanish empire was a curious one, capable of exploiting both its own peasants and Native Americans. It arose almost as much on the basis of dispossessing the Mayan or Andean communities as on the basis of domesticating the Castilian, Andalusian or Galician peasantry. That is why it is not strange that it has strong detractors among the Spanish, although that has always scandalized the Hispanic right so much.
Nor is it strange that Castilian society, when it has wanted to wake up from the deep stagnation in which it has been plunged for centuries, has resorted to the symbol of the Communards defeated in 1521, when community traditions were sacrificed so that the Empire could feed its armies and build its ships and its cathedrals … on both sides of the Atlantic.
That is why I would like to convey to the Zapatista comrades who in these months are making the reverse journey of the Empire my most resounding support for their initiative and my firm repudiation of the terrible legacies that the Spanish conquest left in their nations. And I do this not only out of solidarity or altruism but because of the awareness that empires are not desirable. If something has made the history of Castile clear, it is that the empires not only leave terrible inheritances to the conquered peoples, they also leave very meager benefits and much oppression to the peoples from which the conquerors come.
But I would like to do it without recriminations or regrets, because I believe that we have greatly abused the feeling of guilt when it comes to judging the Spanish empire and that has only served to tie us in the eternal wheel of hurt pride. It must be recognized that the Spanish empire has left us a cultural legacy as valuable as that of any other human empire, including the Americans. But this does not prevent us from resoundingly rejecting other heritages, such as the racism that for centuries has cornered the culture, spirituality and language of the original peoples of America or the landowning oligarchies who were direct heirs of colonialism.
We are fortunate that the American peoples have been able to respond to European colonialism with an immense dignity that allows them to approach Europe 500 years later armed only with the word and defending life. Let us hope that this dignity is a seed that allows the Pachamamas and the American and European communities to heal from all the attacks suffered by the Empires. Because if something has become clear this century, it is that we need many more Pachamamas than Empires on both sides of the Atlantic.
Published originally in Mother Pelican.