Diego Rivera and the Thanksgiving Story

Posted: 12/08/2011 in Europe, Immigration, Mexico, Uncategorized, United States, Violence

I’ve been asked several times recently to explain the story of Thanksgiving. Of course, the people asking are my Mexican peers, not American 3rd graders… So, I tell it with lots of disclaimers.

Well, the holiday was only institutionalized 200-years after the supposed event.

But, it’s about the first English pilgrims to America suffering incredible hardship… And then the Natives show up and teach them how to farm and give them food…

Of course, it doesn’t acknowledge any of the anti-Native treachery or conflict in our history.

So, they had a big feast to celebrate their survival and give thanks to their god and they invited the Natives and everyone ate a lot…

Which for then, probably meant that everyone got something to eat. Not that they put themselves into a food coma in front of the ballgame.

Amazingly, Mexicans have a painted history of this early colonial period in the slightly more southern Americas in their Palacio Nacional –done by the master, Diego Rivera. It is not one bit saccharine or glamorous. Rivera may have sweetened Native culture a bit, but he is raw and honest about the human cost of conquest. This would be like having a wall-sized mural of the 1622 Virginia Colony Massacre juxtaposed with the Trail of Tears in the White House.

Pre-Columbian society as imagined by Rivera.

Spanish conquest and the twisted, sickly Spaniards enslaving and murdering the Natives in their quest for gold.

I explored the Palacio Nacional a little more thoroughly with my guests and walked through the portrait gallery for the first time. Mexicans have stunning portraits of Aztec kings hung next to Spanish dictators and Mexican revolutionaries. The portrait of Emiliano Zapata is striking (Vincente Fox, on the other hand, should ask for a do-over while he has the chance).

So, in more than a few cases, you have portraits of the people who killed and overthrew the people in the potraits next to them. That blew my mind. There’s a certain honesty there about history that I think we’ve come not to expect in the United States, but that we should be striving for.

When we’re able to talk honestly about ourselves, where we’ve come from and what’ve we learned, only then, I think, are we truly able to move forward.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. julie says:

    Ah…honesty…a person’s truth is their perspective…

    A hard working, proud to be an American, elderly man comments on not understanding the hatred of different cultures in different countries and the horrible fallout from such hatred – unlike the USA he says, where different people live peaceably, side by side…

    What about slavery, the treatment of the Native Americans, the civil rights movements, the KKK, bigotry, hate crimes, etc, etc…

    Someone is asked if their family is close – oh yes comes the immediate reply though the dysfunction is apparent, apparently not by all…

    If people cannot do the right thing by members of their own families…if people will see only what they want to see…how will doing the right thing ever become second nature to us?

  2. […] Yet another stunning and blatant critique of Mexico’s complex and fractured history from Rivera. There is simultaneously so much pride and shame and pain in this piece. The chairs are a thoughtful addition because it takes a few long moments to let it all soak in. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s