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by Erika Robles
Friday, Jan. 20, 2006 at 9:00 AM
Indians are often not allowed to do the easier plant packing work; ostensibly because they are "too short" to reach the vegetables to sort and pick them. Migrant farm workers in the south have been subjected to discriminatory police brutality. These people claim that police specifically target them for abuse. Reports indicate that the police target those with "markers" of being Indian, such as skin color and height.
Although we constantly complain about the increasing racism, discrimination and poverty that Hispanics face in the USA, Indigenous Mexicans suffer the same problems in Mexico.
In a nation devoted to celebrating its Indian heritage, the terrible irony is that Indians are despised. "Don't behave like an Indian," are common sentences heard among the white mestizo (person of mixed race or blood, specifically a person of mixed European and Indian) and the criollo (direct Spanish descendants) families. The Indians are despised for their physical appearance, their poverty, and their language. Racism enters every criollo and mestizo family, defining the value and the place of the children according to their color. The darkest one may become the outsider, while the fair-skinned one is a prize.
In Mexico, two different worlds exist, the world of the white and rich population and the world of the indigenous. The Indians have been excluded from the privileges that the white population in Mexico have. They have been abused, attacked, neglected and forgotten during the last 100 years.
Today, the indigenous population continues to face systematic discrimination in the public and private sectors, and remains largely outside the country's political and economic mainstream. Extreme poverty disproportionately affects indigenous segments of the population, particularly in the province of Chiapas, where conflict between a national liberation movement and authorities has raged since 1994.
Language barriers preclude meaningful participation of indigenous peoples in the public education system. Most Indians do not speak Spanish; nevertheless, Spanish is the language that has been assigned in the Education System. As a result, for the non-Spanish-speaking people, education is often essentially unavailable. The illiteracy rate among indigenous peoples in Mexico is six times the national average. Spanish illiteracy particularly disadvantages indigenous peoples in the political process, as ballots and voter information are only available in Spanish. If citizens of Mexico cannot read or understand Spanish, they are not able to cast their votes.
In addition, Indians' inability to speak Spanish means that they face widespread employment discrimination in Spanish-speaking areas. Indians are also over represented in low-income jobs; 40 per cent of migrant farm workers in the country are Indian. Even among menial jobs, employment discrimination persists. For example, one report indicates that Indians are often not allowed to do the easier plant packing work; ostensibly because they are "too short" to reach the vegetables to sort and pick them. Migrant farm workers in the south have been subjected to discriminatory police brutality. These people claim that police specifically target them for abuse. Reports indicate that the police target those with "markers" of being Indian, such as skin color and height.
The vast concentrations of wealth among the white (9% of the population, according o the CIA Factbook) ruling class contrasted with extreme poverty among the darkest citizens are the proof that racial and class discrimination exists in Mexico. The official and his peers in the business and intellectual elites of the nation tend to be white (there are exceptions, but they are becoming scarcer), well educated, and well traveled abroad.
Although this is happening right before their eyes, the white population in Mexico (the most powerful one) refuses to acknowledge it or even address it openly. They refuse to notice the skin color and height differences between the rulers and the ruled in Mexico.
The current government has made an effort to bring the issue of indigenous rights closer to the forefront of the country's agenda, but it still maintains that racial discrimination does not exist in Mexico. While they acknowledge that indigenous people suffer debilitating and disproportionate social, cultural, and economic hardships, it contends that racial discrimination is not the cause of such poverty, but rather that the poverty itself is the cause of discrimination.
We aren't going to be able to take all the appropriate measures to ensure equal and impartial treatment before the law for all people, until we recognize that racism perpetuates the economic, social, and political marginalization of indigenous peoples.
Unfortunately, racism is a fact of life in Mexico, one that costs lives. But the struggle goes on, for the dead are only dead if they are forgotten. Let's not forget about them
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