It has been over two months since 43 Mexican students were taken by police in the town of Iguala, and allegedly handed over to drug cartel members, never to be heard of again. This is only the latest in a series of human rights abuses and shows of blatant government corruption that have occurred in the last few years, but it is the first to generate this kind of global response.
Breaking free of the passivity and indifference that had for the most part characterized Mexican society, Mexicans from all socioeconomic backgrounds have taken to the streets, protesting the situation, and demanding President Enrique Pena Nieto's resignation --a resignation that is unlikely to occur and that, in actuality, would do little more than act as a symbolic gesture. Mexicans often make the mistake of believing that if we just have one great leader -- the next Charlemagne -- our problems will finally be solved, but reality is far more complex. If we hope to truly address the rampant corruption and lack of accountability that has plagued Mexican politics, we first have to acknowledge the self-defeatist attitude and deep social divides that have existed in the country since its inception.
Five hundred years ago, Hernan Cortes landed on Mexican soil, bringing with him Spanish soldiers, unheard-of diseases, and a new system of racial segregation. He took on a lover, the controversial Malintzin, famously called "La Malinche," to aid him in translating and gaining the favor of the local people. "Malinche" has since become an iconic figure in Mexican culture, synonymous with betrayal. The term "Malinchismo" has become a colloquial term that embodies our inherited tendency to reject our own culture in favor of that which is foreign.
The "Malinchista" admires Americans and Europeans, and will tell you stories of how his great-great grandparents were from Spain, as if that somehow makes him Spanish. The "Malinchista" rejects his Mexican identity, and strives to be more like a "cosmopolitan" Londoner or New Yorker. The "Malinchista" looks down upon Mexico with disdain, lamenting how the insecurity, the corruption and outrageous violence are of our own making. The "Malinchista" views Mexican culture as lazy, uneducated and inherently corrupt; failing to realize how in adopting this attitude, he is perpetuating those same stereotypes.
It is this prevailing, anti-Mexican attitude that has inhibited our advancement. The cancer of "Malinchismo" has kept us from uniting and speaking out against the atrocities that have been occurring for years. We instead have had a Mexico where racial divides hinder progress. A Mexico where corruption and impunity are the rule of law. A Mexico that has failed to acknowledge that the root causes of the violent situation we live in are not just the government, and not just the drug cartels, but also a people that have failed to demand what we deserve from our government, because we have bought into the belief that we cannot do better. We have bought into the belief that as a culture we are somehow inferior.
Mexican corruption does not begin and end with the government's involvement with the drug cartels. It begins with the architect who bribes the government employee into giving him a building permit. It begins with the drunk driver who gives money to the transit officer to get out of paying a fine. It begins with the average citizen accepting theft from her elected representatives as an unchangeable reality instead of the outrageous criminal act that it is. Mexican corruption is a societal problem that will only end once we let go of the notion that this is just how Mexicans are, and embrace the reality that we are capable of so much more.
The awakening that Mexico is experiencing, and the protests taking place all over the country following Ayotzinapa, highlight the fact that the change Mexico needs must start from the bottom. The protests are important not because of their desired outcome -- to replace Pena Nieto -- but because through the act of protesting, Mexicans are finally freeing themselves of the cancer of "Malinchismo". Through these protests, the people are saying: We are tired. We want change. We deserve better. If anything is going to finally change Mexico, it will be this civilian participation: the collective empowerment of the people.
A few days ago I learned about "Marcha Tamaulipas-Mexico Por la Paz", a group of activists that are walking from the state of Tamaulipas (one of the most narco-ravaged in the nation), all the way to the Presidential Mansion, in the hopes of showing the government that through peace and unity, Mexico can be saved. And people are joining. People are cheering. People are watching. If Mexico is to get past its current crisis, it will be thanks to people like this. Change will not occur because of a new president coming in to save the day. Change cannot trickle down from the upper echelons of political governance, it must come from the bottom. This is not a battle to be fought by the next great leader; this is a battle to be fought by everyone.