Our Sacred Maíz is Our Mother

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A 1598 engraving by Theodor de Bry depicting a Spaniard supposedly feeding Indigenous children to his dogs. 

We started class today examining the image above, one popularized by Bartolomé de las Casas’s A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, a text that recounted the cruelty of Spanish conquistadors among the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, including the militarized tactics of conquest. The image above demonstrates the use of canines as weapons. We analyzed the image, noting the positions of figures in the image, with the clothed figure in the front (noting the similarity in dress to what we’ve seen of Shakespeare) holding the two children and feeding their carcasses to dogs.

Several of us felt disturbed by the image, noting how the image represents the dehumanization of Indigenous people in the Americas. We spoke about dispossession and how weapons became tools of this. We had to think about what this meant further, dispossession. We can speak of theft, and no doubt that is a reasonable way to consider the notion. But further, dispossession is a calculated approach of theft through “legitimate” means. We can see this in what gets called “imminent domain” across New York City. To illustrate this, consider this lot next to Citi Field in Queens.

An example of immanent domain for “development” in Queens. From Blogging Mets in 2013 about the developer’s plan to build a casino on the spot.

To relate further, and since this image is from the 16th century and dispossession, we looked to the 21st century to see how Indigenous people are still being dispossessed of their lands, and the types of weapons waged against them.


From Democracy Now! on the Standing Rock uprising and the Indigenous Water Protectors.

The discussion of the Dakota Access Pipeline gave us insight into how the uprising was a fight for rights, principally the fight for water, and how folks described that “water is life.” This of course links to Profe Rodríguez’s arguments about the sanctity of corn for Indigenous peoples. Also, as Catherine noted, at 1:02 in the video, we see one of the water protectors holding a corncob. The responses to folks in the class are down below, as we were writing comments/notes while watching the above video.

With that intro, we turned to Profe Rodríguez’s Our Sacred Maíz is Our Mother and his exploration of Indigeneity through maíz-based cultures of the Americas. We began by first discussing the figure of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent.

Quetzalcoatl, from a site exploring his legend.

We broke down the words making up his name, “quetzal” and “coatl” which describe a feathered serpent. In the prologue to Our Sacred Maíz is Our Mother, Rodríguez begins with a story about how Quetzalcoatl sought food for humans, of his creation, and how corn came to human hands.

At the dawn of the Fifth Sun, after Creator couple, Quilzatli and Quetzalcoatl, created humans, many thousands of years ago, they soon realized that the humans needed to eat.

So, Quetzalcoatl–bringer of civilization–is put in charge of bringing food to the people. Walking along, Quetzalcoatl notices red ants carrying kernels of corn. Quetzalcoatl asks one of them: “What is that on your back?”

“Cintli,” one replies. “Maíz It is our sustenance.”

“Where did you get it?”

The ant hesitates. At that, Quetzalcoatl tells the ant that the newly created humans need food. The ant still refuses. “The people will die without food,” Quetzalcoatl pleads. Reluctantly, the ant points toward Tonalcatepetl–a nearby mountain–also called the Mountain of Sustenance.

“Follow me.”

[. . .]

When they arrive, the ant informs Quetzalcoatl that the only way into the mountain is through a small opening. At that, Quetzalcoatl transforms into a small black ant. Once inside the mountain, Quetzalcoatl sees the maíz and takes it, proceeding to bring it to the “Lords” in Tamoanchan.

There, they approve of it as food for the people. (xviii)

The story is where Rodríguez draws inspiration for his book, honoring Indigenous knowledges, stories, and genius. The story of maíz becomes the story of people and central to their ways of being in the world and the relationships they develop through food, dance, story, poetry, and religion.

As we read through Chapter 1 of the book, which is a literature review that gives us the decolonial methodology and background reading, we ended class with the documentary Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan Rodríguez made, which illustrates many of the themes in the book.

There are some responses below to what we thought about the first few minutes of the film.

Before we left, though, I wanted to bring things back to Standing Rock. Below is a danza performance in solidarity with the Protectors, the gente de maíz coming together to honor one another and shared oppression.

Finally, a related story to class from a week ago. Here’s another representation of the “lazy Mexican” figure, this time in Detroit. Check out the coverage from Latino Rebels to see how the Mexican community came together to speak back to the image.





7 thoughts on “Our Sacred Maíz is Our Mother

  1. Despite the fact that there are people protesting it looks like the construction workers are ignoring them. One thing I found shocking is the people (men, women, and children) went over the wire fence. The workers are using dogs and security trucks against the protestors. They are using the dogs to bite the protestors. The workers themselves are even forcing protestors down on the ground and even using such extreme measures such as pepper spray or mace. What is most shocking to me is that these workers are doing these things and denying them despite the evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There goes the dogs. Men women and childre. more “security”. secutrity lying about spraying and allowing dogs to bite people. the dogs seemed to be trained to really kill, the way they were pacing around. the people actually came togteher and were able to force security out. water is life. how different tribes came together.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. – implying that only doing this for money
    – so many people protesting
    – women takes her child over the fence- while the bulldozers are still going, brings up the
    question of a safety over making a statement? Endangering child?
    – fighting from people- seems like a very dangerous environment
    – pepper sprayed by the construction company workers
    – dogs attacking- using dogs to scare and attack protestors (like in the picture)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. -They just have a boundary for the protestors to be on the other side but the construction people are still working although it’s dangerous
    -Someone threw someone down
    -There’s a lot of fighting and chaos
    -Why do the construction workers have pepper spray or dogs in the first place? It shows they’re prepared.
    -The ‘anti-protestors’ can’t even control their own dogs
    -What would happen if they were to attack/ kill the dogs set on them?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The protesters (“protectors”) in the Democracy Now! video repeatedly chant the phrase, “We’re not leaving!” There is so much emotion from them. The bulldozing men (in hard hats) kept quiet. they responded with pepper spray instead of words.

    “Water is life”. This is an important phrase that pops up a few times in this video. Once, on a sign. And again during the man’s interview toward the end of the clip.

    Side note: When there was a shot of the protesters on the outside of the fence, I noticed a woman holding a half-eaten cob of corn.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The video starts off with the woman yelling about getting money from somewhere else at the workers which shows how Americans monetize everything. They use dogs and horses as fear mechanisms which is a video representation of the picture we saw.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The fact that dogs are still being used the same way as the Spaniards did in that engraving from 1598 speaks to how anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism has always existed, and continues to exist. What those security forces were doing at Standing Rock, what happened in Ferguson, what happened throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s, as well as the prison and military-industrial complex that prevails in this country is all interconnected, and serves as the legacy of what is being portrayed in that engraving: Violence against people of color.

    Liked by 1 person

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