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Revista Interamericana de Bibliografía (RIB)
Número: 2
Título: 1998


In a country where the majority of the population is Indian and the economic and political elites have exploited, abused, and massacred them since the first Spanish contact, how do Guatemalan historians depict the indigenous influence in their country? How does Guatemala deal with its Indians? The vehicle through which Guatemalans address these issues is indigenismo. Indigenismo is the academic, intellectual, literary, and social interest in indigenous people and culture by mostly non-Indian academics. The Guatemalan establishment never has recognized the Indians as a fully capable and independent community deserving of autonomy. Explaining the role of the Indians is a challenge for Guatemalan writers; however, the indigenous population must be accounted for in the formation of Guatemalan national identity. In this paper I will focus on the twentieth century and argue that even those who have recognized the inherent value, positive attributes, and potential of the indigenous population tend to be paternalistic and argue for assimilation into mainstream society which inherently implies a loss of indigenous culture. Integration has become indigenismo’s common denominator.1 Contemporary writers such as Julio Castellanos Cambranes incorporate the Indians into mainstream society by including them in the wider category of campesinos rather than as their own entity.2 Other Marxist historians attempt to place the Indians within the broader category of proletariats. Indigenous scholars have argued for a recognition and revaluation of Maya culture, history, and identity as an autonomous and equal unit. However, historically indigenismo in Guatemala has favored the assimilation of the Indians into national society and disregarded the value and importance of their culture and civilization.

In Guatemala, where so much of its history, culture, society and population is derived from indigenous roots, indigenismo is an issue that continues to be debated. It is important to know where the “problem of the Indian” originated and where it is headed. While most Guatemalan historians of the twentieth century glorify the pre-Columbian indigenous groups, few believe the coeval Maya are worthy of equality. They delegitimize these groups by making them part of the past and denying their contemporaneous importance, value, and rights. In effect, the Indians are part of everyone’s past but no one’s present.

The first modern Guatemalan historian to analyze in depth the problem of the Indian was Antonio Batres Jáuregui in his book Los Indios, su historia y su civilización published in 1894. This study won a contest organized by the Ministry of Public Education in Guatemala to commemorate the 400 year anniversary of the “discovery” of America. The present government of President José Maria Reina Barrios (1892-1898) expressed interest, at least publicly, in understanding and developing nineteenth century liberal indigenismo. The goal of the contest was to elaborate on the importance of the aboriginal population and to elicit ideas on how to improve their condition. Batres concluded that the government needed to form an institute to protect the Indians.3 He is the first Guatemalan historian to develop more elaborately the idea of integration of the Indian into the nation.

Batres studied in Guatemala and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before going on to study law. After graduation he traveled for two years in the United States and Europe, a trip that reinforced his academic and literary spirit. In his career he held different public offices from judge and congressional representative to diplomat, in addition to being a prolific writer.4 However, despite his extensive education and travels, his view toward the Indians continued to reflect that of the Spanish crown during the colonial era: one of protecting the Indians, not recognizing them as equals.5 Batres Jáuregui added to the nineteenth century debate between the Liberals and Conservatives about the “question of the Indian,” in which the Liberals were exploitative while the conservatives took a more paternalistic attitude toward the Indians. Batres Jáuregui reflected the Conservatives’ point of view in a period of liberal dominance.

The colonial idea of protecting the Indians strongly influenced Batres. He did not want to blame the heroic Spanish for the destruction of the indigenous race. However, he recognized that the “conquerors” and their subsequent generations imposed misery and exploitation upon the indigenous people as well as ignored and abused the laws the Spanish crown passed to protect the Indians. He argued that the indigenous “race” had lost its preconquest brilliance and any hope or desire for liberty. They had abandoned themselves and for this reason he referred to them as a “race without breath.”6

Batres took a philanthropic approach aimed at “civilizing” this lost race. However, the goal of civilizing the Indians was not simply in the spirit of justice. Patriotic interests were also at stake because allowing the indigenous people to form a state within a state would only perpetuate their separation and motives of hate against other groups. More importantly, isolated communities hinder the material, political, and intellectual development of a nation. He argued that a country could not progress if the majority of the population was still made up of, “men that live more backwards now then they did in the first centuries . . . even today . . . they are regressing and have lost their spirit to move forward.”7 He viewed the isolation of the Indians as a hindrance to the development of Guatemala.

Batres wanted to incorporate the Indians into mainstream society. He recommended abolishing communal property and enforcing private ownership, attacking the abjection of their caciques (leaders), teaching them Spanish, improving their agricultural methods and technology, and forcing them to pay taxes so they would be more productive members of the country. These were more Liberal ideas reflecting the Conservative tendency by this time to accept more Liberal thought. Batres respected their unique culture and recognized the differences among them. He acknowledged that each indigenous group had its own language, not simply a dialect. However, he believed that these different languages were part of the problem and should be subordinated in favor of Spanish. He believed that future generations would progress by parting with their traditions and customs, seeking better education, getting jobs, and becoming more like ladinos (non-Indian Guatemalans).8 Batres stated, “One must try to moralize them, they will not lose in customs what they gain in material progress.”9

According to Batres, the Indians were backwards and lacked the natural impulses to work and improve their condition. He believed the Indians to be lazy and indolent, and cited drunkenness as their biggest vice. The ignorance of the Indians impeded their “civilization,” so education was the key to their progress. Batres argued that a school to train indigenous teachers was indispensable so they could learn Spanish and other important aspects of education and pass them on to their people. He believed that the government must remove the moral and material obstacles impeding the Indians’ progress. He also recognized that the ladinos treated the Indians poorly because they thought themselves to be superior. As a result, he recommended the organization of a special department to protect the Indians. The goal was to protect, educate, and incorporate the indigenous population into the national culture because a community of Indians living isolated from society hindered the advancement of Guatemala.10 Batres displayed a paternalistic attitude towards the Indians, and believed they could progress if wholeheartedly integrated into the country.

Despite writing an entire book on the Indians, he failed to define the Indian. He talked about the Indians as a separate entity who lived in misery. Batres did not consider them Guatemalan citizens. To be accepted as Guatemalans the Indians had to stop being Indians and integrate into national society.

Batres Jáuregui was also the first president of the Sociedad de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala (Society of Geography and History of Guatemala) founded at the University of San Carlos on May 10, 1923.11 Adrián Recinos, Virgilio Rodríguez Beteta, and José Antonio Villacorta Calderón were among the founders of the Sociedad. This institution enjoyed a privileged position in its field of studies both on the national and international level. The majority of the articles about the Indians in the Anales of the Sociedad focused on archeology and precolombian civilizations.12 While discovering more about Guatemala’s indigenous past was the main goal, the founders did not respect the contemporary Indians. These men shared a common theme in their dialogue on the indigenous population: the Indians would have to give up their traits and characteristics to become Guatemalans and for the country to progress. The Sociedad periodically held contests that awarded the essay that best demonstrated the utility and advantages of the Indian population. In general, the consensus was that the best thing for the Indian would be to dress, speak, and act like ladinos.13 They all wrote with the future in mind, arguing that the Indian had yet to be incorporated into society. When they ceased to be Indians they would be productive and beneficial members of society.

Protection and liberty for the Indians were common themes among these writers. Rodríguez, writing in the 1920s, also proposed that the ethnic problem must be addressed in favor of the Indians for the country to progress. He praised the Indians for their “Homeric resistance” to the Spanish invasion, but laments the process of debasement and impoverishment they suffered, once again paying homage to the ancient Maya but not recognizing their contemporary descendants as a praiseworthy population.14 He argued that Indians must be transformed not through absolute liberty, but rather through a protective system that would slowly lead to liberty. After three hundred years of forced labor and slavery the Indians could not simply enter into a position of freedom because their characteristics and traits would not permit them to make this transition. Speaking their indigenous languages was detrimental. The Indians would have to attend ladino schools to eradicate Spanish illiteracy. The Indians could be elevated slowly to the level of the ladinos, but to achieve this position they must give up their Indian identity. Blood mixing would also bring social unification and more homogeneity to the nation. Rodríguez claimed that racial and social cohesiveness was a basic principle for all large and prosperous nations.15 He concluded:

To resolve the biggest problems of national prosperity, it is necessary to think in terms of the ethnic problem, and that it is a problem of gradual education, protection and liberty that must be developed in favor of the Indian, something that has never been attended to even since Independence.16

Rodríguez believed that the development of Guatemala was contingent upon incorporating the Indian into the national culture.

While integration continued to be the central theme, the regime of Jorge Ubico (1931-44), with his official historian and Minister of Education, José Antonio Villacorta Calderón, marked a new phase of indigenismo in Guatemala. For the first time, entire books were dedicated to discovering more about the pre-contact lives of the Indians. Villacorta claimed that it was the work of American archeology since the turn of the century, and the studies about the ancient indigenous races in Central America that inspired his generation to write about and record the precolumbian history of Guatemala. Mexican indigenismo and the writings of Justo Sierra impacted Villacorta. The fact that other countries were examining their indigenous past inspired Guatemalans to do the same.17

Villacorta and his colleagues translated and published original indigenous manuscripts, such as Popol-Vuh, Memorial de Tecpán-Atitlán, and Códices Mayas. In addition, Villacorta wrote the Prehistoria e historia antigua de Guatemala, the first of his three-volume history of Guatemala. The principal objective behind these books was to highlight the traditions of Guatemala, particularly their precolumbian history. Villacorta wanted to create a Guatemalan national heritage. He believed the most important aspect of this work to be understanding why the Indians had not advanced as they should have in their culture, and why they had developed such an inferiority complex. He wanted to help the indigenous people recover the “soul” of their race that had been lost in nearly four and a half decades of suffering and ignorance.18 Much like Batres, Villacorta espoused philanthropical motives in his studies.

Adrián Recinos was another historian writing in the early twentieth century who worked with indigenous documents. He compiled a collection of rare Maya manuscripts and translated them into Spanish so that others could learn from the wealth of knowledge the indigenous population possessed.19 In his study of the Popol-Vuh he recognized the K’iche’ Indians as a remarkable people.20 He argued that the aboriginal groups of Guatemala had reached the highest level of civilization in the central new world and their documentation provided a valuable heritage of American aboriginal thought.21 For example, the Kaqchikels were a marvelous and brilliant civilization that survived various centuries and the Anales de los Cakchiqueles was an important contribution to Guatemalan history.22 He emphasized the importance of studying these documents to understand Guatemala’s history, and proposed that these documents were not just regional or group specific histories; rather, they reflected the Maya community in general.23 Recinos failed to distinguish between the different indigenous groups within Guatemala and claimed that their languages were merely dialects of the Maya language.24 Recinos acknowledged the rich Maya culture and tradition inherent in Guatemalan history, but he failed to study the indigenous groups as individual entities and he separated these positive characteristics from the Indians of his era.

Recinos did not recognize the coeval indigenous inhabitants as valuable assets to Guatemala. In 1913, he published a book on the department of Huehuetenango, an area heavily populated by Indians; however, he failed to discuss their cultural traits when describing the culture of Huehuetenango, except for some of the uses of traditional medicine. Recinos wrote about some general aspects of the Indians of Huehuetenango. He believed the Indians to be good workers but not trustworthy. He recognized that exploitation since the Spanish contact had made them victims and had implanted in their consciousness the idea that the ladinos would always abuse them. He argued that their religious faith and superstition dominated them and prevented them from progressing.25 Their other main downfall was alcohol. He stated, “Aguardiente is the ruin of the Indian . . . and is the vice that has destroyed communities like a cancer.”26 Recinos made a clear distinction between the highly advanced civilizations of the precontact era and the degraded twentieth-century Indians.

These historians recognized the Maya as the ancestors of the people of Guatemala and this generation of writers wanted to know everything that concerned their glorious past; however, they separated this past from their current reality. Villacorta stressed that these works were not intended to impose ideas or prejudices, rather simply to present the truth. These works highlighted the many successes and achievements of Maya civilization, such as the admirable archeological sites, the ability to calculate the revolutions of Mars and Venus as well as predict eclipses, the accurate calendar, and their ability to grasp the concept of zero. Villacorta eulogized the accomplishments of these precolumbian populations.27 In one of his books Villacorta quoted an article in The Times Picayune of New York that described him as, “Overcoming the opposition of uncivilized Indians . . . to discover the history of their ancestors.”28 He clearly distinguished between the glorified Indians of precolombian times and his fellow inhabitants.

While the greatness of the spirit of the Maya lived on, according to Villacorta, Guatemalans were not Mayan; rather, they were a mix of Maya and Iberian descent. This mestizaje (race mixing) created a new ethnic identity and an unmistakable nationality. He acknowledged the value of the multiple ethnicities in Guatemala and took this mixture a step further in his school textbook in arguing that immigration would foster improvement.29 Villacorta taught:

The flow of immigration of healthy elements that quickly assimilate into the general masses will contribute to perfect however possible the ethnography of the nation affirming more each time the Guatemalans’ love of land and labor.30

He believed that encouraging immigration was vital to Guatemala’s development, because the nation could not progress with the pure Indian populations. He recognized that the Indians outnumbered the mestizos, valued their labor, especially in producing agricultural products, and credited them with creating many of the riches of the country; however, he failed to see them as intellectual, political, economic or social equals.

In the cultural section of his history textbook, Villacorta did not mention the Indians. When he wrote historically about the Indians, he only referred to their precolombian civilization and separated it from the rest of Guatemalan history.31 Therefore, according to Villacorta, Indians since the time of the conquest were not important factors in Guatemala’s history and did not need to be addressed. As a result, the effort to form a sense of nationhood through the schools left no room for the indigenous population to maintain its distinct culture and identity.

Bartres Jáuregui, Villacorta, Recinos, and Rodríguez Beteta did not consider the Indians Guatemalans. These historians envisioned a future when the Indians would be fused into society and only then respected as full citizens. They would not consider the Indians equals until they gave up their “indianness.” While these ladino intellectuals respected the ancient civilizations, they treated the contemporaneous Indians as a separate entity who would not be accepted into Guatemalan society until they parted with their language, dress, customs, and traditions, and assimilated into the national society.

The idea of nationhood was a heatedly debated issue after the overthrow of Ubico in 1944. The goal quickly became to unite the country for the progress of Guatemala and all its citizens. The new democratic governments of José Arévalo (1944-50) and Jacobo Arbenz (1950-54) acknowledged the Indians as human beings. However, the main goal continued to be that of integrating them into national society. Article 83 of the 1945 Constitution stated:

It is declared in the national unity and interest, the development of political integration for the economic, social and cultural improvement of the indigenous groups. To this effect, laws, regulations and special dispositions for the indigenous groups may be dictated which contemplate their needs, conditions, practices, uses and customs.32

The government developed institutions, legislation, and programs specifically to benefit and protect the Indians. Jorge Skinner-Klee wrote a book focusing solely on legislation that addressed the Indian issue.33 He discovered 87 legislative acts dealing specifically with the Indians between 1824 and 1954. While the book offers no analysis, it documents the governmental recognition of the importance of addressing the Indian issue in Guatemala. Despite this legislation, no one defined the Indian in the new laws or the 1945 Constitution. The 1950 population census offered a set of criteria for defining the Indians, which stated that the cultural characteristics of the Indian in addition to language included: type of food consumed, clothing, footwear (or lack thereof), and housing structure.34 Nevertheless, the Indian was clearly one of the main concerns of the new administration. In addition to providing better access to health care and education, the government passed a land reform law to return land to the Indians.35 For the first time, the living Indians became the focus of attention for the government instead of just an afterthought.

The “Indian problem” was debated intensely at the Constitutional Assembly of 1945. The debate ranged from arguments stating, “The best Indian is that that does not exist,”36 to those recognizing that the Indian represented two-thirds of the population and that action must be taken to ameliorate their condition. Clemente Marroquín Rojas led the debate by raising the concern of eliminating the problem of dualism in Guatemala. He suggested, “We have to orientalize the ladinos or westernize the Indians to avoid the conflict of two cultures in such a small country.”37 He referred to the success that the Indigenous Institute of México enjoyed through the development of rural boarding schools for Indians that took the child away from the influence of the tribe. He pointed out that only the most backward countries of America were made up of Indians: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico, while others such as Chile, Brazil, and Uruguay did not have this problem.38 Other debaters such as Reyes Cardona supported Marroquín’s views, adding that developing or maintaining indigenous languages was a naive and romantic idea, it would be better to speak a live, not a dead language. Marroquín Rojas considered the indigenous culture to be extinct and impossible to revive. He said, “The Indian has to be made into a new man, incorporated into the universal culture and not a pariah stuck to the cultural formulas of a thousand years ago.”39

Author and supporter of democracy, Miguel Angel Asturias, also stressed the importance of cultural and political assimilation to improve Guatemala. He recognized that an improvement in the education, nutrition, and working condition was necessary to improve the plight of the Indians. However, he argued that the Indians could only truly improve if the state incorporated them into the non-Indian society through miscegenation, but at the same time he expressed concern that mingling ladino and Indian blood threatened the “vigorous blood” necessary for the progress of Guatemala.40

In opposition to eliminating the culture of the Indians, David Vela, a journalist who studied many aspects of the culture, traditions, and customs of different indigenous groups in Guatemala, championed the value and importance of the indigenous groups.41 He said, “This is not about imposing an oriental culture, but rather fortifying the existing aboriginal tribes.”42 Jorge García Granados also supported this view pointing out that other countries such as Russia and Belgium had coexisted with different cultures. He said,

A bilingual Indian should exist—should read books in their own language, have their own art, religion and all should be taught their language. There is no need to disorient them because that is why they continue to hate the white man.43

García Granados argued that maintaining indigenous language and culture was valid and could be beneficial to ladinos. He also clarified that the United States was not successful because it had no Indians, rather it had no Indians because it eradicated them, but it was successful for other reasons.44 Carlos Manuel Pellecer also believed in the importance of the role of the Indian in Guatemala. He supported the education of the Indian. He insisted, “Guatemala is still not a nation and to move towards that we should go by the way of the Indian.”45 This group of revolutionaries believed that the Indians were an integral part of Guatemala and should be respected as equal citizens.

Marroquín Rojas defended his position saying that he was not asking for the disappearance of the Indian, but rather that the Indians not continue to be relegated to their position of slavery and servitude that their customs perpetuated. He respected their unique qualities and talents; however, he insisted that they be converted to “superb and capable” Guatemalans.46

While all the debaters respected the Indians to some degree, most wanted to force them to assimilate into Guatemalan society. One feisty exchange made this clear as one debater emotionally claimed he was a “legitimate Indian,” another quickly retorted, “Then where are your feathers and loincloth?” To which the first quickly responded, “In my Buick 945.”47 Those calling for the incorporation of the Indian into national society won the debate and integration soon became the goal of the new democratic government.48

After the Ubico regime, the period (1944-54) was characterized by increased expression of political action by the indigenous people, a greater concern for the welfare of the Indians on the part of government officials, and the recognition that indigenous culture was an important factor in the modern culture of the country.49 The goal of aiding the Indians was written into the 1945 Constitution. Antonio Goubaud Carrera highlighted a number of positive aspects that came out of these efforts: improved living and working conditions, better education, and progressive changes in indigenous communities. He recognized that other countries, such as México and Peru, were experiencing the same problems in trying to determine what attributes should be used to determine ethnicity and the function of indigenous groups within their countries. Similarly, the United States was struggling to find a place for its African American population. The African American experience in the United States influenced Goubaud, and he drew analogies of their experience to the plight of the Indians in his own country.50 Goubaud, studying anthropology in the United States, found that most anthropological works written on Guatemala were by North Americans.51 He realized the need to address the Indian problem more openly and, more importantly, to respect them as human beings.

Goubaud and Flavio Rojas Lima were among the first generation of Guatemalan anthropologists to be trained in the United States; both studied at the University of Chicago. In addition to their exposure to new ideas and methods, they read many Mexican authors. This Mexican scholarship affected their approach to the Indian problem, much as it had their compatriots in the constitutional debates. They respected the Indians, but like their predecessors of the 1920s and 1930s they continued to view the indigenous population as being apart from that of the ladino society.52 They wanted these two distinct cultures to merge to form a national identity.53 Goubaud was one of the founders of Guatemalan indigenismo; for the first time someone was dealing with the reality of Guatemala’s two cultures and proposing ways to address the issue. Having a similar background, Rojas Lima followed along the same lines as Goubaud, but took indigenismo further as we will see later. The influence of both the United States’ anthropological training and the Mexican indigenismo ideas impacted Guatemalan indigenismo through these two men.

This new approach toward indigenismo was not a break with the past; rather, it incorporated the ideas of previous historians along with new currents of thought. For example, while Batres views were paternalistic, some of his recommendations were endorsed and implemented about fifty years after his writing with the formation of the Instituto Nacional Indigenista Guatemalteca on August 28, 1945. The founders of the Instituto were so concerned with blending the Indians into society that they ignored the fundamental bases of indigenismo that the International Indigenist Congress in Pátzcuaro established in 1940. The International Congress argued the need for “integrating” the indigenous populations but without eliminating their unique aspects.54 The Instituto in Guatemala was not as interested in maintaining the local Indian culture.

The first director of the Instituto was Goubaud who wrote Indigenismo en Guatemala. Goubaud clearly wanted to incorporate the Indians and he was not especially fond of the term indigenismo. He said:

The word ‘indigenismo’ has no real meaning more than that of the ‘sociology’ of those countries whose indigenous population has not assimilated the general aspects of western civilization as effectively as they should have . . . indigenismo is the manifestation, the symptom of determined social malaise.55

He believed that the incorporation of the Indians was essential to developing a more modern and progressive state. Goubaud argued that since colonial times the goal of indigenismo has been the protection of the Indians, but the goal of the Instituto was not only to integrate and acculturate the Indians for the good of the country, but to do so in such a way that would benefit the Indians. His intent was to realize a national homogeneity, so he aspired to a multidimensional integration of the people for a more holistic creation of cultural values. Homogeneity would be achieved through education, providing economic opportunities such as loans to encourage native industries, and ultimately, agrarian reform to provide political opportunities. The Instituto studied and offered solutions to indigenous problems.56

In addition to the Instituto, the government established the Seminario de Integración Social to further investigate the process of national integration. According to Goubaud, one of the goals of the Instituto was to develop themes and theories of the indigenous culture. Consequently, universities developed anthropology as a major field of study. In 1949, the first edition of the Instituto’s journal, Antropología y historia de Guatemala, appeared and provided more insight and awareness of the unique and vast indigenous culture in Guatemala.57 Clearly a greater awareness and respect for the Indians’ traditions and lifestyle was beginning to develop; however, integration continued to be the solution to the problem of achieving the modernization of Guatemala.

Goubaud realized that the many differences of the indigenous characteristics gave them a sense of solidarity within their own municipalities seldom found elsewhere. The Indians were not a homogenous group; rather, there were multiple cultures and diverse groups that made up the Indian population of Guatemala. These dissimilarities included language, dress, economic systems, social and religious organization and, of course, physical differences. Under Goubaud’s tutelage the Instituto published 253 monographs about different indigenous communities in Guatemala. He termed these variances a “cultural mosaic” and wanted to synthesize them into the national identity.58 He was the first to recognize the diverse characteristics among the Indian groups and realize that the challenge of incorporation was greater than simply integrating a homogenous indigenous group.

The indigenous people had been adapting their culture since the Spanish arrived, but in evaluating the situation since the commencement of the Instituto’s activities, Goubaud argued that in just four years the Indians were conforming better to the national culture than at any other period since the conquest. He noted that the Indians were expressing more interest in politics, working under better conditions, increasing their education and literacy as well as eliminating some of the traditions that prevented them from progressing.59 He believed the effort by the new government was already bearing fruit.

Goubaud noted that race was the least important factor in defining the Indians because the color of one’s skin or hair had nothing to do with their intelligence. He proposed, “(Guatemala) could arrive at a social solidarity between their ethnic groups much quicker than other countries where race is a factor that separates men into antagonistic groups.”60 Unfortunately, history would prove him wrong.

Consistent with efforts to develop a national heritage, intellectuals attempted to form a Guatemalan sense of nationhood out of its independence. Guatemala did not gain its independence through a battle, rather it simply won independence by default. As a result, historians set about trying to discover different pro-independence movements in Guatemala to show how its citizens played an important role in its independence. Villacorta highlighted the elite’s involvement in the independence movements, but certainly others were involved. A group called the Círculo de Joaquín Pardo formed to examine these different movements. Pardo examined the different heroes of the independence period.61 Another member, Héctor Humberto Samayoa Guevara, examined the role of artisans in the Independence movement of Guatemala.62 However, J. Daniel Contreras was the first historian to acknowledge the role of the indigenous people in the independence movements.63 These men were attempting to form a sense of identity and nationalism around which all Guatemalans could unite and be proud. Contreras deemed that the Indian was an important part of this process.

Contreras’ book on indigenous rebellions stated that the failure of ladinos to see the positive aspects of the indigenous race emanated from their fear of the Indians. Unlike other Guatemalan historians, he recognized the importance of the indigenous rebellions in the Independence movement. He argued that it was difficult for the ladinos to admit that the Indians were fighting for the same causes because they hated and feared the Indians. Contreras asserted that the ladino and Indian populations were two distinct nations. As a result, Indian revolts were not viewed as “a national sickness that should be cured in its roots, but rather simply as Indian uprisings that should be put out for the good of the economy of the country.”64 Contreras lamented that the Indians’ reality did not change after Independence. They continued to be a means of labor for the ruling classes who never considered them full citizens. He concluded that Indian leaders should also be figured in Guatemala’s gallery of heroes.65 Contreras recognized the Indians as important actors in Guatemala’s history since the conquest, something most other Guatemalan historians were as yet unable to reconcile. He also realized they were cognitive beings able to form their own opinions, ideas, and demands, and manifest these expressions in different ways. A greater respect for the indigenous population was developing with the democratic revolution in 1945.

However, one of the results of the success of the government’s assimilation program to promote economic development was that indigenous social structures and communities experienced increased pressure and change that in many cases resulted in a loss of Indian qualities and property. In general, the indigenous people lost more land and autonomy under the liberal rule of Arbenz and Arevalo than under the reign of dictators. Consequently, authoritarian leaders in Guatemala, who by western standards seem to be repressive, actually reign over periods during which Indian culture is more stable and resistant as it is encapsulated.66

At the same time the Democratic Revolution had a significant impact on historians and their perspective of Guatemalan history. One historian, Ernesto Chinchilla Aguilar, claimed that 1945 was the year that Guatemala initiated “professional” history studies.67 While the majority of Chinchilla’s work on the colonial period emphasized the Spanish role and downplayed the Indians as mere subjects,68 he recognized the possibility for a more significant role for the Indians in contemporary Guatemala. He raised the question of whether or not it would be possible to study Guatemala’s history from the Indians’ point of view. He also wondered whether the Indians could lend continuity and meaning to the historical life of Guatemala.69 While he did not present a hopeful outlook to these questions, at least he opened them for debate.

Chinchilla argued that his country was the crucible of mestizaje with a strong indigenous flavor. He said the Indians have been and are a preponderant factor in the political, economic, social, cultural, and artistic life of Guatemala. However, he used the term “artesania” in referring to indigenous works, thereby downplaying their significance and value as real art. Chinchilla opined, “The indigenous theme has reached its legitimate horizons . . . and constitutes the most important source of poetic, musical, and textile inspiration . . . and for our country to express its status.”70 Unfortunately, Chinchilla failed to address the indigenous theme in terms of human rights or social status for the Indians.

After the fall of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, the enthusiasm and commitment to indigenismo disappeared. The military government of Carlos Castillo Armas was less concerned with the question of the Indian and initiated more violent relations.71 Beginning in the late 1960s through the 1980s, the Indians’ situation became even more desperate as military governments increasingly encroached upon their land and implemented genocidal campaigns.72 The Indians were once again simply a labor source to be exploited or exterminated by the elites and the military.

Severo Martínez Peláez recognized this exploitative relationship and took a Marxist approach to his analysis of the Indians in Guatemala. He argued that the problem of the Indian had its roots in the oppression of the indigenous people dating back to the colonial creation of economic and social structures for Spanish domination. In 1973, after returning from studies in Spain, he completed his most famous work, La Patria del criollo in which he criticized the historic exploitation by elites. In 1978, the government exiled him to Mexico, where Mexican ideas strongly influenced his views on indigenismo.73

Furthermore, Peruvian Carlos Mariátegui’s writings influenced him. Martínez Peláez credited Mariátegui with being the first to recognize that the Indian problem was a class problem. Martínez Peláez said that a “socialist indigenismo” was a contradiction in terms and he feared that socialism might be perverted to dominate the Indians within the revolutionary process. Mariátegui also made this distinction and insisted on being called a socialist and not an indigenist. Martínez Peláez distinguished between the urban worker whom he defined as a proletariat and the Indian campesino whom he defined as a serf.74 The goal was to unite these two groups to foment change in the social and economic relations of the country.

In addition to espousing revolutionary change, one of Martínez Peláez’s most important contributions to indigenismo in Guatemala was that he was the first author to define the Indian. He said the Indian was a product of the colonial regime and remained subordinated as post-Independence Liberal governments continued to use forced labor. Even when the Indians broke free from the bonds of forced labor in 1945, the salary they earned was not enough to escape from their economic status. He argued that when the Ten Years of Spring government abolished forced labor in 1945 there was no reason to use the label Indian because it was forced labor that made the Indians. However, he realized that mental changes came about more slowly than economic changes so the Indians continued to think of themselves in their colonial servitude context. Martínez Peláez advocated teaching the Indians their history to bring about a transformation.75 The Indians, he said, should not write their own history. He compared the Indians writing their own history to sick people diagnosing their own illness. He concluded, “Oppression made the Indian” and conserved him as such, therefore the Indian was a colonial phenomena.76 According to Martínez Peláez the Indians of Guatemala bore little resemblance to their prehispanic native ancestors as the colonization made them. Pedro Alvarado never saw an Indian, Martínez Peláez claimed, because he died before the colonial structure formed the Indians.77

Martínez Peláez believed that there was no reason to preserve indigenous culture because it was not truly their culture, it was imposed upon them, and, more importantly, it was a culture of poverty and misery.78 He said, “(The Indians) do not know where they are going or what their social and ethnic position is; they do not possess their own definition.”79 Only by parting with their culture could the Indians develop into free thinking people who could be productive and beneficial members of society. He said that one should not be interested in the culture of the Indians, but rather in the “real man” that is the Indian who is capable of much more than their imposed culture implies.

He insisted that the maintenance of culture and language only served to aid the oppressive classes. Even though speaking their native tongue expressed solidarity with their past and a sense of resistance, paradoxically it also served to keep them isolated and easier to control. He believed that the study of the Indians on a cultural level represented a superficial methodological position.80

According to Martínez Peláez, race was not inherent to the definition of the Indian because one could abandon their “indianness” and change their race. He said, “Race has never been even an element of the definition of the Indian.”81 Many were racially native but not considered Indians and vice versa, like those who were socially Indians but racially mestizos. In Guatemala, racial discrimination was an ideological phenomenon, while social discrimination was the true reality because if the Indians shed their colonial characteristics they could improve their social status. He believed that in their position in society the Indians had no future.82 Martínez Peláez wanted the Indians to break free from these bonds.

Marxist doctrine argued that the Indians needed to transform into proletariats and free men to break out of their colonial servanthood. Martínez Peláez recognized that the Indians had revolted historically when they felt oppressed by their own Indian nobles or ladino owners and bosses. He stated, “The disappearance of the servitude and oppression has to cause the transformation of the Indian into something different.”83 Martínez Peláez believed that the Indian should play an important role in the development of Guatemalan society and therefore it was imperative to understand historically how the Spanish formed the Indians so they could reconcile this process with themselves.84 The Indians must be made aware of their history and reality.

Martínez Peláez wanted, “(The Indians) to understand that the struggle is not between Indians and non-Indians, rather between the exploited and the exploiters,” but he also realized, “It is difficult work to make them understand this. The work of true revolutionaries.”85 He recognized the potential of the Indians and envisioned that they could be used to bring about a Marxist revolution. Despite his rhetoric, Martínez Peláez continued to use the Indians as a means to an end, much like the pattern that had developed since the Spanish invasion.

In direct opposition to Martínez Peláez, Carlos Guzmán Bockler argued that it was incorrect to classify the Indians solely as the oppressed class. He made the distinction that there was a bourgeois Indian class within the indigenous population, thereby showing that not all Indians were victims of the capitalist system.86 However, he did not deny the colonial influence in Guatemala and warned of its manipulation. He said, “Indigenismo constitutes the ideology of the dominant class in a country with a colonial structure.”87

Guzmán’s strongest influence came from his extended study in France and he was most aligned with the Mexican indigenista school of thought. He asserted that the Indians were not creations of colonial society. While there were many abuses and injustices during the colonial era, this system did not create the Indians; rather, the Indians existed as a separate society that simply incorporated some aspects of the colonization, such as Catholicism, into their culture, but never completely conceded or abandoned their ways. Guzmán argued that the Marxist interpretation of indigenismo in Guatemala was too simplistic. He did not disagree that the colonists attempted to depersonalize and proletarianize the Indians, but rather stopped short of viewing the Indians as a colonial product. He emphasized their maintenance of much of their traditional culture and lifestyle.88

He saw an examination of all factors as necessary to understanding the indigenous reality. Guzmán stated, “For official history to be true it must examine all aspects of the interactions between the two actors.”89 Guzmán criticized official history for failing to explain why the Indians remained the majority of the population and how they were reclaiming a position of social importance that they had supposedly lost five centuries ago. Official histories did not credit the Indians for maintaining their traits such as language, religion, social cohesion, and their symbolism in dress and dance. He cited language as being especially important in their perception of the world and life, and its ability to transmit education. Through their language they preserved their basic principles and beliefs. Instead of considering themselves “ladinizado,” they affirmed their identity through their traditions and history. In the face of tremendous adversity, the indigenous people have a strategy of resistance to neutralize the colonizer and only ceded the less important aspects of their culture.90 He asserted, “The indigenous population was dominated but never conquered.”91 Guzmán insisted that the Indian culture and heritage was still alive in Guatemala.

The Indians’ efforts to save their culture were more successful than their attempts to protect their land. They lost much of their land due to encroachment and violence. The increased repression and violence beginning in the late 1960s, culminated in the worst postcolonial crisis the indigenous people have faced. However, according to Guzmán, instead of caving in to this pressure the Indians created their own space, “Protecting their collective memory and maintaining their historic identity which permits them now to sustain the key to their future.”92 He admired the Indians for sustaining their own group personality and reaffirming their unbreakable collective perception and perpetuation. Their inclusion in society does not mean they are campesinos or proletariats, they have maintained their indigenous identity distinct from those labels.93

Guzmán recognized the importance of both respecting and understanding the culture and lifestyles of the indigenous population as well as recording their history. If everyone accepted these assumptions, then Guatemalans would be able to participate in the elaboration of their history, a history in which all social actors had space that they could effectively occupy. Scholars could best interpret their actions through the study of these interrelationships. Guzmán pointed out the irony that non-Indians have written most of the historical and anthropological studies of the indigenous population. He stressed the importance of publishing texts from indigenous political thinkers because their messages arose from their communities. They attacked the western aggression and at the same time affirmed their own positions with rigor and strength. He pointed to the indigenous movement in the Andean countries as an example and expressed the need to widen and deepen these studies in Guatemala.94 He concluded, “All these sources (indigenous and ladino) can recuperate the historical thread which consequently will lead us toward the formal elaboration of a true collective memory of a more dignified history.”95

One of the few Guatemalan indigenous authors to whom Guzmán referred was Antonio Pop Caal, a writer who strongly affirmed the indigenous language, culture and other traditional traits. Pop Caal insisted that to know and write about the Indian one must speak the language, understand their spirituality, and the reality in which they lived. He argued that most writers and artists who attempted to express the Indians’ lives were ignorant of these qualities and therefore could not represent the Indians. For example, he insisted that the Indians only adopted from Christianity what interested them and adapted it to their way of thinking.96 The Maya were able to adapt to their environment and maintain their culture.

Pop Caal attributed many of Guatemala’s problems to foreign dominance. This dependency on foreign countries resulted in a constant crisis in Guatemala. Three distinct periods can be differentiated beginning with the colonial period when Spain extracted wealth and resources, followed by the independence period characterized by internal colonization and exploitation of the Indians, and finally the modern period where Guatemala continues to be dependent on the world market and foreign investors divest profits from the country. Ladino domination began in the colonial period and since then the Indians and poor have produced the nation’s wealth that has subsequently been diverted into foreign hands. One of the reasons for the ladinos’ need to dominate another group was their inability to control their own destiny and break free from foreign domination, leading not only to an economic need to produce but also to a psychological need to dominate someone. According to Pop Caal this domination was manifested in three ways: agrarian exploitation through taking away Indian land and forcing labor; political domination through the military, legislation, administration, and education; and ideological domination through a mental justification of the need to “pacify” the Indians. The ladinos feared the Indians so they looked for ways to pulverize them. He even cited social programs such as family planning as attempts to reduce their race. If Indians did not change their dress and language, they could not partake in public education, social services, or many jobs. However, Pop Caal asserted that the Indians historically resisted this domination and preserved their dignity. They resisted the “ladinization” that had been imposed upon them in different ways.97 Pop Caal’s account exhibits the strength of the indigenous people and culture.

Pop Caal asserted that the Indians did not want to cede their identity. The true Indians maintained their language, dress, religion and other factors. He stated, “There is no problem with the Indian.”98 He disagreed with Martínez Peláez, arguing that the unequal social relations in Guatemala emanated from racial discrimination. He argued that ladinos, not the Indians, attempted to cover up racial discrimination. Ladinos believed they were superior to the Indians. Pop Caal asserted that the ladinos had no identity. They were born out of the violence of the conquest and colonization, they violated Indian women, their political organizations served foreigners, their legislation copied foreign codes, and they imported systems of education. According to Pop Caal, the Indians did not want to be ladinos, not only because ladinos represent mediocrity, but also because the Indians believed in their own worth, value, and future. Guatemala had an indigenous majority and even though the government was dominated by ladinos, the indigenous population was progressing and growing in their consciousness of their identity.99 The Indians have many valuable attributes to contribute to Guatemala and its sense of national identity. Pop Caal argued that racial discrimination on the part of the ladinos prevented a more unified national identity.

Racial or ethnic discrimination was often the excuse for violence against the indigenous population in Guatemala. Ricardo Falla, a Jesuit priest and anthropologist who studied in the US, tried to bring many of military’s genocidal atrocities against the Indians to the attention of the public by writing about the numerous massacres of Indian villages. Falla wanted to bring justice and human rights to Guatemala. He depicted how the army turned indigenous people against themselves through forced conscription and indoctrination. He argued that the army and the government represented a “fountain of death” for the Indians.100 Falla said that from this violence evolved a consolidation of people who were resisting authorities to protect their indigenous identities. They resisted to survive ethnically and his work is an annunciation of life in which he pays tribute to the indigenous population of Guatemala.101

The army tried to eliminate the indigenous population by destroying entire villages and forcing those who survived into exile. They attempted to squeeze the life out of the indigenous population by conscripting Indians into the army which then carried out genocidal raids. However, this bloodshed was the seed of human solidarity that knew no bounds or limitations.102 Falla asserted that the sorrow that came out of these tragedies gave way to solidarity and love and inspired people to fight for their lives.103 One witness speaking of the destruction of crops and people said, “One dies, but more are already on their way . . . The army cut the banana trees to the ground, but new sprouts sprang up . . . More appear. That’s what will happen to us—one dies, but more are on their way.”104 Falla respected the Indians for their perseverance and ability to unite and fight against the oppressive forces in Guatemala.

Like Guzmán, Falla refuted Martínez Peláez’s argument that the Indians were products of the oppressive colonial structures. Falla stated that the Indians did not want to be lumped into a campesino categorization, but to remain themselves. He cited the existence of store owners, small businessmen, and merchants who have not stopped being Indians as proof of the diverse socio-economic levels within indigenous communities. Many benefited from their relationship with capitalism. There were different social classes within the indigenous communities, but this social stratification did not make them less Indian. He denied that oppression made the Indian.105

In contrast, Falla recognized a strong sense of identity and pride inherent within the indigenous population. He described the internal and external refugees to show how their suffering gave way to solidarity. Falla demonstrated how they reached to God and their religion to give them strength. After the ladinos had persecuted them for so long the Indians developed a strong faith to unite them in an effort to defend their culture and lives. He argued that the tragedies gave way to a new society that encompassed four major aspects: a strengthening of community life, increased political action, strengthening of a national consensus among indigenous people, and an assimilation of the suffering caused by repression.106

The violence, as well as an increased involvement in the capitalist market system, brought some changes and a loss of the indigenous culture. However, Falla argued these changes did not imply a complete loss of culture; rather a “new way of being Indian.” Their status as refugees only strengthened their national consensus and they adopted a new identity as refugees. They identified with Guatemala as a nation, not just as an indigenous ethnic group. Many of the refugees came from different language and cultural groups but they were able to unite despite these differences and work and live together.107 The Indians integrated into society to a certain degree but did not give up their traditional cultural traits to do so.

Falla acknowledged that outside forces influenced the Indians. He described how the involvement of Catholic Action, a Catholic group working in different communities, challenged and changed some of the traditional ideals and beliefs. One example of this effect was in the structure of the cofradía system. Catholic Action encouraged people to explore a more charismatic, personal, and direct experience with prayer and move away from the group prayer characteristic of the cofradía system. This push toward a more personal encounter with God diluted the power of the traditional cofradía and community leaders as they were no longer necessary to relate to God. This assault on the cofradía system was perhaps the most violent change in the indigenous culture and social structure. Falla realized that this loss of culture could be debilitating, however this conversion could also be viewed as strengthening indigenous culture. They might lose some of their cultural signals, but they could claim others as their own and for some Indians conversion affirmed their indigenous identity. A new way of being Indian was emerging. He claimed that a new period had developed since Goubaud and the Ten Years of Spring, characterized by a superior level of articulation in the communities and made up of individuals who did not renounce their identities to adapt to the national society.108 He argued that inculturation could take place without a loss of culture or acculturation.

The Indians who integrated socially and culturally benefitted from access to higher levels of power, however the question was whether or not they could resist complete ladinization. Falla cited the indigenous movement in Guatemala and their political party, FIN (Frente de Integración Nacional) as an important catalyst in maintaining their own identity while adapting well enough to integrate into the political, social and economic systems in Guatemala. Their identity was contingent upon rescuing and dignifying their symbols while developing a system of communication with the ladinos.109 Falla explained how the influence of the hemispheric movement for indigenous people and the revaluing of minority identifications and cultures through socio-anthropological literature and universities encouraged more Indians to work to maintain their identity. He proposed amplifying national and international unification for ethnic revitalization and encouraged Indian integration into society when it contributed to a valuing of the indigenous culture. It was also essential to make free elections possible, as well as other real alternatives and openings for change. But he also warned that ethnic identity and organizations could be used to mask the repression of human liberty. The equality of all groups should take priority over protecting or giving special attention to certain groups.110 Falla pointed out the danger in losing sight of the main goal of equality and human rights in trying to defend indigenous cultures. He truly appreciated and respected the indigenous culture, values and society and, as a result, he highlighted these positive attributes and denounced the government and military in their efforts to extinguish Guatemala’s indigenous people and culture.

Another contemporary author who emphasized the oppression and exploitation against indigenous peoples was Julio Castellanos Cambranes. However, unlike Falla, he did not distinguish the indigenous people, he included them in the category of campesinos. In some of his works he did not mention the Indians at all.111 Even in areas where he did write about aboriginal communities, he quickly reverted back to describing the campesino’s life.112 Martínez Peláez and Marxism influenced Castellanos who studied at the Karl Marx Institute in Leipzig, Germany. He envisioned Guatemala’s problem of national identity as class-, not race- or ethnically-, oriented.

Castellanos examined history from the perspective of class domination, oppression and exploitation. He pointed out that class exploitation was also evident in the precolumbian societies. Castellanos argued that the high Maya culture fell because of “campesino uprisings.” The Guatemalan campesino produced, but did not enjoy, the wealth. He described the plight of the campesinos losing their land and becoming impoverished because they did not have enough land to support themselves, when this situation more accurately described the specific reality of the indigenous population.113

Castellanos believed that one should look at history to resolve problems. He stressed that Guatemalans should write and research their own history, not allow others to interpret their history for them. The system of unequal land distribution had been a problem that developed both as a result of and prior to the conquest. He traced some of the challenges the indigenous people face today back to the societal structure in place before the Spanish arrived. While Castellanos revealed many positive aspects of Mayan society and culture, he also implied that they fed into the same system that oppressed them.114 Castellanos recognized many valuable and positive aspects of the indigenous people and culture, but also implied that through integration they should remain part of a system in which they have always been involved. Castellanos attempted to form a more united sense of national identity by not distinguishing between the Indian and ladino populations.

National unity was also the goal of Flavio Rojas Lima, however, he believed that it could be achieved through respecting and preserving the indigenous populations. He argued for a plural-ethnic state.115 Like Goubaud, Rojas studied at the University of Chicago where he read writers such as Comte, Durkheim, Ginsburg, and Weber. He argued that ethnic differentiation was not racist because it was more than biological, it was a cultural designation. Adopting Weber’s terminology he made the distinction between social classes not race. Rojas categorized four different types of Guatemalans: Indians, mestizos, blacks and whites. He recognized over 20 different groups within the Indians’ category. He validated the possibility that two distinct modes of life and thinking could exist within one country.116 The Indians made up over half of the population and he agreed with Mariátegui that the Indians were the true “supporters of the nation.”117 Rojas recognized the historical and current importance of the indigenous population and believed they could be incorporated into the national society without giving up their local traditions and culture.

Rojas stated that the integration of its indigenous population would be for the betterment of Guatemala. However, integration did not necessarily imply an immediate disappearance of its ethnic groups, but rather developing a sense of harmony and equilibrium between them. Therefore, the goal was not to “indigenizar” or “ladinizar” people, but to achieve a synthesis that respected the equal existence and unity of distinct sociocultural groups. One important aspect of this unity was that resources and opportunities would be guaranteed indiscriminately for all inhabitants. Rojas recognized that the unequal distribution of national goods and benefits provoked the major conflicts between the ladino and indigenous populations. Two different societies made Guatemala unstable so the two must be united. Unification did not mean a disappearance of identity or immediate homogenization because no one culture was better than another.118 Rojas noted, “General development of the country may be slower and more costly if it attends to a preferential leveling of indigenous living conditions, but it is more humane and can avoid major pains in the future.”119 Everyone must be involved for Guatemala to develop as a nation. Unfortunately, while Rojas represented a more progressive stance, he presented a veiled assimilation that continued to favor the world view of the ladinos.

For nearly 500 years ladino domination has failed to eliminate the indigenous population, culture or identity. The Indians have always been important contributors to the national economy, and the national culture also contains many indigenous influences like art, literature, language, customs, and diet. In addition, over 50 percent of the population speaks an indigenous language. The Indians are a fundamental part of the reality of Guatemalan society. However, the dominant classes write history and do not include the Indians. In his writings Rojas wanted to correct this exclusion and write a history from the Indians’ perspective and present their many achievements, symbols, and heroes from Tecum Uman to Rigoberta Menchú. He recognized the validity and vitality of their people by presenting their collective memory, traditions, customs, ideas, beliefs, and values.120 Rojas believed presenting the Indians’ history was the first step to achieving their social, economic, and political equality.

Rojas noted that Indian consciousness was rising and he advocated a revaluation of their culture, identity, and place in history and society. Indian consciousness and politicization did not entail armed confrontation or civil war. It simply displayed the desire on the part of the indigenous population to participate in national life and political debate, and partake of the opportunities and social benefits of this participation.121 Rojas emphasized, “It is necessary to recognize and accept the identity of each community, which implies the construction of a new social, economic and political order.”122 He recognized that this transformation would not be easy as Guatemalan society was not prepared for these changes, but it should be implemented to avoid bigger ethnic problems in the future. There must be diversity in unity. He concluded:

Recognizing the rights of the Indian majority in Guatemala in the fields of politics, culture, education, etc., is the least that can be expected for the future, and this is the challenge put forth by the Indians themselves . . . There will be obstacles . . . but they should give space to a new reality of a heterogeneous society, plural-ethnic, where the peaceful and rational coexistence can gradually supersede in the collective conduct.123

Rojas argued that the Indians’ increased involvement in civil society demanded a response to their actions and respect for their culture and people. He hoped that through mutual understanding, these two distinct populations could coexist in peace and form a more unified, modern, and successful nation. Rojas transformed indigenismo in Guatemala from integration and elimination of the Indians’ culture and identity to integration and respect and preservation of the indigenous population.

A significant, and perhaps the most valuable, contribution to indigenismo has been the introduction of Maya writers to the dialogue. These Maya academics argue for a pluri-ethnic state as opposed to integration or assimilation. Leading Maya scholar, Demetrio Cojtí Cuxil, clearly outlines the problem,

Guatemala is a multinational society administered by a state. Critical analyses of the ethnic-political reality and of the concrete functioning of nationality inevitably lead to the same conclusion: there are various nations because there are various ethnic identities. Consequently there cannot exist a nation-state. Within the multiple communities that comprise Guatemalan society there is one that controls the state and utilizes it to guarantee its hegemony over the others, stifling cultural evolution and survival. This is the Ladino community, which subjugates, through the state, the Maya ethnicities. This is done because the state functions as a colonial state (and not as a multinational state) and the Ladino community functions as the governing ethnicity.124

Cojtí recognizes that the ladino culture has dominated the indigenous culture and defined itself as the national culture. He argues that the nation-state should reflect the ethnic reality of the country. As a result, he attempts to lay a foundation where the Maya demands (territorial, political, economic, cultural, linguistic, judicial, and social) for equality can be voiced and incorporated into the state.125 He notes that the Maya culture has survived 500 years of politics of genocide and ethnocide. The Maya will no longer accept the imposition of a ladino nationality. He states, “The time when non-indigenous writers speak for ‘those without a voice’ is over, we are assuming the responsibility of our own socio-political projects . . . We are alive!”126 The increase of Maya writers provides an indispensable contribution to indigenismo.

Cojtí Cuxil also made important progress by defining the Indians. He states,

[Indians] possess our own race, religion, language, and traditions and are united by an identity of race, religion, language, and tradition in a feeling of solidarity, with the goal of preserving our traditions, maintaining our religion, securing the education of our children in accordance with the spirit and traditions of our race.127

Another Maya scholar, Raxche’, agrees with Cojtí’s definition and argues that anyone who works to conserve and recover the Maya world view that propitiates harmonic coexistence with nature and the fundamental roots of Maya culture is Maya. Interestingly, Raxche’ also highlights the same qualities of the Maya that Villacorta referred to, such as their calendar and ability to grasp the concept of zero, in praising the achievements of the precontact Maya. Raxche’ concludes that the Mayan are anyone who identify themselves as Maya and fight to revitalize their culture.128

Raxche’ criticizes both the assimilationist and integrationist approach to development in Guatemala for ignoring the survival, development, and florescence of Maya culture and people. He advocates a pluralist approach that emphasizes the coexistence and mutual enrichment of a culturally diverse people. This approach would promote each culture’s own resources such as social organization, technology, world view, and language to protect the cultural identity of each population. The cultural and linguistic domination of the ladinos would disappear and there no longer would be a single national culture. Raxche’ referred to this new state as ethnic democracy. However, he concedes that while some NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are adhering to this appreciation of cultural diversity and opting for more pluralistic models of development, and legislation concerning the Indians has improved since Skinner Klee’s study, the Guatemala state refuses to implement these reforms. Like Cojtí, he asserts that the Maya have maintained their culture and identity for 500 years and now all they ask for is pluralistic development and a true democracy.129

This goal of equality is also the motivation behind Victor Racancoj’s work, a Mayan academic who focuses on precolonial Maya communities. He argues that the official histories omit the reality of the indigenous societies and concentrate on the arrival of the Spanish invaders. The objective of his work is to present an understanding of the true history of the Maya with the intent to construct a state in which different communities and cultures can live together peacefully with mutual respect. He criticizes the use of foreign concepts and theories to explain Maya history, structures, and development. He argues that the social science theories of other civilizations fail to grasp the meanings and characteristics of the Maya. Racancoj points out that the Maya world view and cooperative systems are key elements in their history and must be implemented in their continuing development. He advocates discarding foreign interpretations that fail to relate to their problems and reality and analyzing their past, present, and future from their perspective, thereby presenting and implementing the Maya interpretation for a development model using their own world view.130 The most logical people to address the issues of Maya culture, history, and development are the Maya themselves.

Forming a sense of nationhood always has been a challenge in Guatemala where between sixty and eighty percent of the population is indigenous.131 The indigenous population is distinct in language, dress, customs and lifestyle from that of the ladino society. Furthermore, the indigenous population itself is quite diverse and not necessarily united. Historically, ladino Guatemalans have attempted to erase their indigenous culture believing it has impaired development. The “problem of the Indian” gained more attention in the twentieth century as a result of an increased international awareness of the Indian issue and the Guatemalans’ sense of urgency to modernize their country.

The common theme has been integrating the Indians into the national political, economic, and social structure. However, differences lay in how this integration would take place, through assimilation and a loss of indigenous characteristics or through incorporation that respected the indigenous culture and created a place for it. Batres Jáuregui, Villacorta, and the generation of the 1920s and 1930s characterized the Indians as a separate entity that needed to transform and leave their indigenous traits behind to integrate into society. There was an attempt to glorify their indigenous past prior to the Spanish invasion, but they did not recognize the positive attributes in the present indigenous population. These historians praised the precolombian civilizations and wrote about them with pride, but also made a clear distinction between that civilization and the contemporary “uncivilized” Indians who must conform to ladino society for their good and the advancement of Guatemala.

While the democratic government that ruled from 1945 to 1954, continued to pursue the goal of integration, there was an increased respect for their indigenous population and an effort to reveal their role and importance in history since the Spanish invasion. The indigenismo movement in Mexico strongly influenced Guatemalan historians during this period. However, even though this generation recognized the unique value of the indigenous population, the main goal was to teach them Spanish and integrate them into the national economy in a more productive way. In their attempt to form a more united nation the first concern was ensuring that everyone could function in the ladino society. Assimilation was the means to this end, thereby striving for equality, but not respecting the distinctive and inherent value of the Indians.

When Castillo Armas overthrew Arbenz, his government suppressed the efforts to bring about the equality of the Indian. About twenty years later Martínez Peláez presented a new analysis of the Indian problem that once again denied any attempt or need to preserve their culture. He argued that the Indian was a product of Spanish oppression and exploitation and therefore their culture was not their own. He argued for a mobilization of the proletarian class, both Indian and non-Indian, to break free from the oppressive system that kept them locked in their marginalized social and economic positions. Other Marxist historians, such as Castellanos Cambranes, also agreed with this analysis and lumped the Indians into the campesino class, thereby denying their distinct heritage and identity.

However, recently Guatemalan authors have refuted this argument and recognized the uniqueness and inherent value in the indigenous populations. Not only do they recognize the many distinctions but they also advocate protecting and developing them in an effort to amalgamate the Indians into national society. They do not deny that Spanish rule has influenced the indigenous population, but they assert that the Indians have adapted to these incursions and incorporated them into their own systems of beliefs and lifestyles according to what they accepted as valid. Furthermore, ladinos have incorporated indigenous symbols and traits as their own, such as the pride they take in Tikal as a symbol of the glorious Maya civilization, and the fact that one day a year all children wear indigenous clothing to school. While both the ladino and Maya populations are adopting each others symbols, they have different cognitive meanings for these symbols. Ideally, the two populations could come to a common ground where they can coexist, progress together, and respect each other’s unique identity. Rojas Lima argued for the development of a pluri-ethnic state where Guatemala could develop a sense of nationhood that would be all-inclusive, and indigenous writers such as Cojtí emphasize the need to respect and meet the demands of equality put forth by the Maya.

Indigenismo has always been characterized by integration and domination, but as pluricultural/multi-lingualism gains acceptance, Indians become authors of their histories, ethnographers of their culture, subjects as well as objects of study, indigenismo becomes a truly Guatemalan transethnic endeavor. Scholars at the Universidad Del Valle and the Universidad de San Carlos, which takes a more Marxist approach, support the notion of a pluri-ethnic state. The Latin American Social Sciences Faculty (FLACSO) evinces this trend at the national and international level. Indigenous writers whose opinions and ideas have been more assertively voiced in the last ten to fifteen years, also support this orientation. They are demanding the right to express their culture, history, and development through their own equally viable world view. While the forces supporting a society that views all populations and cultures as inherently equal and valuable are still in the minority, there is hope that this trend toward more peaceful relations and mutual respect among all Guatemalans will continue to grow.