For the Nahuatl Indians, 500 Years Of Solid Resistance

MEXICO. PORTRAITS of a NEW WORLD SYMBOL

'THE quincentenary of Christopher Columbus?" snaps Eustaquio Celestino Solis. "He marks the start of 500 years of resistance by my people."

Mr. Celestino hails from Xalitla, a small village populated by Nahuatl Indians near Mexcala in the Balsas River valley of central Mexico. His people been here since 1250, even before the Aztecs.

They're noted as one of the few tribes in Mexico that have profitably interacted with the outside world (selling masks, bark paintings, and ceramics) while preserving their culture.

Most still speak the tongue of their ancestors.

By threatening to shut down commerce on the Balsas River in the mid-1500s, they were one of the few indigenous groups that successfully resisted attempts by the Spanish Conquistadors to herd them into reservations.

Now, the towns of the region have banded together to fight a national dam project, a superhighway stretching from Mexico City to Acapulco, and oil exploration by Petroleos Mexicanos, all of which threaten their lands and their way of life.

A researcher at the Mexican Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology, Celestino admits many Nahuatls don't know who Columbus is or what he represents.

Nonetheless, "professional members of the community are participating in the hemispheric indigenous Council of 500 Years of Resistance," he says.

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