The Three Faces of October 12 and all that follows: Thanksgiving & Remembrance, Epic Discovery, and Racial Origins

One way of looking at October 12 is that it celebrates beginnings, the “inception” of everything: October 12, 1492, Columbus’ arrival on Watling/San Salvador Island in the Bahamas was “inception” of the colonization and conquest of North and South America—the beginnings of the modern world, in short.  October 12 as “Thanksgiving Day” marks the end of summer and the inception of winter, as a bountiful harvest is taken into storage.  October 12 in the United States is basically the beginning of the series of Fall holidays that culminates with Christmas and New Years—there is some celebration of food and heritage, but mostly a mindless obsession with American Football.  October 12 in Mexico reflects back a bit to Columbus, but is really about the events of 29 years later, when Tenochtitlan & Tlatelolco, the greatest centers of Aztec Civilization, finally fell to Hernan Cortes and became the center of the Empire of the New Spain, as it happened this lasted for exactly 300 years, until August 1821 when the last Spanish Viceroy (as it happened, a liberal Irishman named Don Juan O’Donoju e O’Rian) surrendered Viceregal Power to Agustin Iturbide and a new albeit short-lived Mexican Empire.

In Canada, October 12, is called “Thanksgiving Day.”  I suppose historically it was actually modeled on or parallel to the American Thanksgiving because it is a harvest festival, celebrated (five-six weeks earlier owing to the shorter growing season at high latitutdes).  In rural areas like Fort MacLeod in Alberta (birthplace of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), which I once visited around this time of year, the majority population Anglo-Canadians celebrate by bringing pumpkins and squash and corn up to the Anglican (Church of England/Episcopal) Church altars on Sunday in rural small-town Churches whose walls commemorate with plaques the locally-born fallen heroes of Great Britain’s many wars in which Canadians served alongside millions of other good subjects of the Imperial Crown—while it was still imperial.   Canada hardly existed before Victoria became Empress of India and the country has observed fairly strict neutrality since George VI gave up the Crown of India, but still lost 500 men in Korea and 152 in Afghanistan, having entirely avoided involvement in Vietnam and only allowing “advisors” in Iraq.   But the profusion of poppies on November 11 and the crowded pews at the Cathedral of New Westminster confirm Canadian cultural memory and identity with the United Kingdom and her Wars of 1867-1947 in an incomparable manner: really, no cultural observance in the United States commemorates any historical event or matter of Anglo-American memory and identity the way that Canada celebrates the paired autumnal holidays October 12 and November 11 every year.  These holidays are genuinely meaningful to a large proportion of the Canadian people, and even in cosmopolitan hubs such as Vancouver, the crimson poppies are everywhere and Members of Parliament really do go make their rounds to local Churches to remember the heroes of a world which, for all practical purposes, has vanished. As a descendant of Anglo-Saxon society, I always find this season in Canada to be both emotionally satisfying and intellectually rewarding as food for memory and identity, but somewhat discouraging as it has so little to say about the future.

By contrast, Columbus Day in the United States is almost a bad joke.  Why yes, the same fall colors are used in store decorations as in Canada, and in fact, the banks and federal courts do all close, but the holiday is generally so completely forgotten that everyone goes to the banks regardless, having forgotten that it’s a holiday at all.  And any association between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving is lost far out of proportion to the days and weeks of difference between November 11 and the final Thursday in November.   And hardly anybody in the United States Remembers Veterans Day, November 11 at all…. No one wears poppies except for maybe a dozen or so British and Canadian tourists.  And recently, both Columbus Day and Thanksgiving have come under criticism in some bilious quarters for celebrating the extermination of the American Indian.  American amnesia and lack of identity is almost as complete on these days as is Canadian memory and identity.   It is, and has been throughout my life, a kind of embarrassment to belong to this American culture which possesses so little self-awareness, either of its history or its presence or its future.

So go south of the Rio Grande, south of Tucson, south of Calexico and San Diego, and we come to the third original member of NAFTA, the third country occupying the Continent of North America—the third component of some future “North American Union” which some folks believe was already agreed to, planned and is slowly being imposed by a secret agreement signed in Waco, Texas while no one else was looking.  Mexico’s October 12 is really a matter of governmental propaganda, ruling elite ideology, and has no deep-seated resonance in popular culture.  There is no “Thanksgiving” in Mexico, nor any Armistice Day or Veterans Day celebrated on November 11 because Mexico never really participated in either World War until the very last days when it was obvious which side was winning.  But the reverse side of the coin of the racial tensions underlying critical studies of Thanksgiving  and Columbus day in the US is celebrated in Mexico—where October 12 is “Dia de la Raza.”  Most folks from outside Mexico would have no idea what race this could possibly be: but it is the “Meztizo” Race.  Ironically there was a “Metis” race in Canada, a mixture of French and Indian—exactly analogous to (and at least on the French side partly homologous with) the Creoles, Acadians, or “Cajuns” in Louisiana, from whom I am at least in some part descended though my maternal grandmother Helen who raised me—but while the “Metis” had political importance for a while in the 19th century, in essence they were never sufficiently numerous really to shape the cultural heritage of North America north of the 49th parallel….

But the Mestizo Race of Mexico is in fact the majority race.   Pure white creoles (mostly of Spanish descent) can be found, amounting perhaps to 5%-10% of the population, generously defined, while in some areas culturally, linguistically, and racially isolated populations of Maya, Zapotec, Aztec (Nahuatl) and Mixtec peoples, heirs to the great pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mesoamerica, can still be found, but even in Yucatan and Chiapas, where the Maya population is strongest, the “pure” native American population nowhere exceeds 50% by more than a very few points.  In some quarters, the struggle to develop a cultural identity for the “Mestizo” Race of Mexico has been associated with the so-called Tlatelolco movement, which was brutally repressed by the (Creole, pure white) President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz in 1968 and his equally creole-white Secretary of the Interior Luis Echeverria Alvarez (who succeeded Diaz Ordaz as President in 1970, and later gained international fame for denouncing Israel as imperialist, Zionism as Racism, and permitting the Palestinian Liberation Organization to open a quasi-consular diplomatic mission in Mexico City).

The “suburb” or barrio of Tlatelolco was the last holdout of Aztec resistance to the Spanish Conquest in Mexico City in 1521.  The “race” celebrated by October 12 in Mexico, and enshrined in the Texas & California based Mexican-American political party called “La Raza Unida” (“Volkische Einheit”—“the United Race”), is the Meztizo Race, described as born at Tlatelolco in a commemorative plaque which is as much an intended rewriting of history as it could ever be considered true:

“On the 13th of August in 1521, heroically defended by [Last Aztec Emperor] Cuauhtemoc, Tlatelolco fell to the power of Hernan Cortes.   This was neither a triumph nor a defeat, but the painful birth of the Mixed Race which is the Mexico of Today.”

So in Canada, the days of October 12-November 11 each year are dedicated to nostalgic reminiscences of the glorious British Past.  In the United States, Columbus Day-Thanksgiving is the Fall Holiday-Pre-Christmas shopping season, ending in an orgiastic feast at the end of November in which American football is better remembered than Squanto or Massasoit or that first poor harvest at Plymouth Plantation which preceded the political organization Anglo-Canada and the British Empire by about 247 years.  The American people have little memory or even historical interest in anything.  They are/We are a nation of congenital analgesiacs assisted through all unwanted incursions of memory by drugs and booze and TV news sufficient to wipe the consciousness of a Plato or Socrates clean to a blank slate.   In Mexico there is at least some reconciliation of the Epic Discovery of Columbus and the imperialism of Hernan Cortes and others, which within a mere 30 years of 1492 had erased from the map and all but obliterated one of the greatest and most distinctive empires of all history—that of the Tenochca-Mexica, from the annals of history with the reality of racial and cultural mixture.

Tlatelolco is today identified to tourists as the Plaza of the Three Cultures—because there are the Aztec ruins side-by-side with a magnificent Spanish-Colonial Monastery at which Spanish and Nahuatl elites and intellectuals debated the relative virtues of their histories and gods for the first 30-50 years after the Conquest, and finally there are skyscrapers of the modern city of Mexico.   The government of Mexico is to be applauded for its attempt to reconstruct a valid ideological vision which recognizes the accomplishments of all three cultures, and which endeavors to maintain both memory and desire in the hearts of its people. The reality of modern Mexico is actually a fairly gruesome concatenation of memory and conflicting desires for wealth, identity, and acceptance.  One may well ask: Is the Mexican model of Tlatelolco the world of the future?

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