I recently read the book "Seeing Indians -A Study of Race, Nation, and Power in El Salvador" (published 2005, University of New Mexico Press) by Virginia Q. Tilley. In writing about this book, I want readers to know that I will have some Spanish in this article, so it will be helpful for them to know Spanish.
I learned a great deal in reading Tilley's book. Her book has information about international influences in El Salvador, ie. writers from Mexico and other countries, organizations like UNESCO, etc. Concerning the writers, Tilley goes into detail how they have emphasized "mestizaje" over Indigenous communities and how eventually the general Salvadoran population has come to believe that Indians no longer exist in El Salvador. I want to mention that Tilley's research and presentation is good, however as a person of Salvadoran descent, growing up I was not exposed to the notion that there are no Indians left in the country of my parents.
Tilley says that writers having a different point of view have been marginalized. One writer which she does not mention in her book is Miguel Angel Espino. In his book "Mitología de Cuzcatlan" [first edition 1919] he states the following: "...demostrado está, somos indios. De los cinco litros que tenemos, una copa de sangre española canta en nosotros; la demas fibra es americana... Tan vasta población [de los indígenas] fue bien capaz de absorber la poca sangre española. La poca herencia blanca que nos quedó no implicaba iguales rutas. La españolización de América fue un mito; el resultado de eso lo veo yo en el movimiento libertario del continente. América no marchó con España, sencillamente, por la heterogeneidad de tendencias, de fines, de orientaciones, en dos palabras, de almas."
I also want to state my observation on a comment by Tilley. On page 226 Tilley makes reference to Salvadoran historian Rudolfo Baron Castro's book "La Población de El Salvador." Tilley describes "...one image from two photos representing his [Baron Castro's] contemporary national ideal, offered under the title "Young creoles of El Salvador."" This author (Cader) met Baron Castro many years ago and he assisted me in my own research. I have two editions of his book, his first 1942 edition and his 2002 edition. In neither of these editions can it be seen that Baron Castro is presenting the young creoles as a contemporary national ideal. The pages around these photographs concern birth rates, death rates, and births out of wedlock.
Tilley, however, presents the predicament of El Salvador's Indians well, -with respect to how they have had to deal with international and domestic influences. Two of these tendencies originated in the Mexican writers Manuel Gamio and Jose Vasconcelos. Salvadoran Indians have also had to deal with the international paradigm that has been given to the country -that of the Guatemalan Mayan Indians, etc. Tilley in addition mentions that the Guatemalan Indigenous movement has had Mayan intellectuals as leaders, whereas the Salvadoran one was disadvantaged by not having Indigenous intellectuals.
With respect to the two Mexican writers, Tilley states, "Thus in the writings of these two prominent theorists, Gamio and Vasconcelos, we see examples of two versions of mestizaje, both deploying ideas of racial mixing yet grounded antithetical precepts. Gamio's indo-mestizaje called for (at least rhetorical) celebration of Indian blood as a dignified element of the national racial stock, and set the terms for celebrating or at least accepting indigenous communities as politically innocuous ethnic groups. Vasconcelo's latino-mestizaje disparaged and rejected Indians, admitting them into la Raza only on terms of their effective ethnic disappearance through complete assimilation to latino norms. Indo-mestizaje was rooted in biological and anthropological theories of race, rejecting racism in the interest of justice, social welfare, and national unity. Latino-mestizaje was rooted in a global geostrategic competition with the Anglo-Saxons, adopting racist thoughts while rejecting internal racial division. Both doctrines took their political urgency from an understanding that racial fusion was essential to the integration of Latin American states, and that the unassimilated Indian was a drag on Latin America's racial-cultural competition with the Saxon United States. But one made some ideological room for indigenous peoples as living ethnic communities; the other did not. Both models played out in the mestizaje that took hold in El Salvador."
Concerning Indigenous peoples and "The Left", Tilley comments on page 226, "In the 1960's and 1970's, indigenous issues seemed briefly to have been absorbed by leftist classed-based movements, as indigenous communities allied with (or were said to have allied with) leftist popular or guerilla movements. The more explicitly Marxist movements deliberately contributed to this impression, as they tended to claim representative authority over an ethnically undifferentiated "peasantry" or "masses" and to dismiss specifically indigenous-ethnic concerns (like dress, language, and cosmology) as false consciousness or colonial vestiges, mere impediments to class solidarity... But over the years, many leftist alliances had begun to ring hallow to indigenous communities."
In the book "Seeing Indians," other authors (such as the Salvadoran Alberto Masferrer), historical events, and issues are presented. One such episode is the 1932 massacre of Indians in Western El Salvador which is detailed and analyzed in a chapter. Thus many different things can be learned from this book, I have only mentioned some of the major themes so that others can get an idea of what "Seeing Indians" is about. I highly recommend this book for those interested in El Salvador's history and its Indigenous communities, -and for those interested in Latin America in general.
Notes for the two photographs, each one in a separate attachment:
1) Painting depicting a religious procession in honor of the Virgin Mary during the month of May in the Indigenous town of Panchimalco near the capital of San Salvador. Participants in this procession carry large palm leaves that are decorated with flowers. Painting by Lucía Cañas.
2) Photograph of stylized Mayan artwork that I purchased in El Salvador in 1978. The artist that painted these designs told me that he got his ideas from drawings that can be found in editions of the Popol Vuh (a Mayan cosmology book).