Roberto Lovato: Mel Gibson Is Wrong about Who the Violent Americans Are





[Roberto Lovato is a Los Angeles-based writer.]

After watching Mel Gibson's controversial film Apocalypto, I left the theater pondering the history of racism, pillage and apocalyptic war through my own blood and family history. Gibson, I concluded, would have been more accurate, his film more resonant, had he used another group of people, another culture – certainly not the Maya -- to depict his vision of the Apocalyse.

Like many Central Americans born and categorized as mestizos (mixed Indian and Spanish blood), I watched Apocalypto as someone who consciously revered the Maya and other indigenous groups while subconsciously prohibiting himself any real identification with them.

As a boy, my parents gave me a leather case with a picture of an Indian from the region now known as El Salvador (the Savior). But I heard my father call people he considered ugly" cara de indio" (Indian face). For many of us--mestizo and non-mestizo alike--it's always been easier to identify with the Christian culture depicted in Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ than with the Maya culture in Apocalypto.

The fundamental problem with Apocalypto's depiction of Maya culture is that, in a procrustean manner, it imposes violence and an apocalyptic world view on the wrong people. In fact, UC Riverside archaeologist Zachary X. Hruby wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle:"There exists no archaeological, historic or ethnohistoric data to suggest that any such mass sacrifices -- numbering in the thousands, or even hundreds -- took place in the Maya world."

Instead, Gibson should have looked for apocalyptic war and culture in the off-screen history of our Catholic, mestizo, and indigenous families in the Americas.

He could have done his homework about how Salvadoran culture sanctions my father's use of" cara de indio" as a way to call someone 'ugly.' I never understood the deeper reasons for such racist remarks until my father told me what happened when he was a ten-year-old boy who climbed trees in 1932. That year, my father saw military men kill hundreds of Indians in what historians call"La Matanza" or the Killing. More than 30,000 mostly Indian peasants in El Salvador were slaughtered on the order of General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, a theosophist military dictator who used radio broadcasts to justify his actions by sowing apocalyptic fear. Most of the killing my father witnessed took place not far from where the fictional killing fields of Apocalypto take place. Until I asked him about it, my father remained quiet about La Matanza for more than 65 years. The fear of Indians and apocalyptic war he learned while climbing trees as a boy stayed with him and spilled onto his kids through what some psychologists call"intergenerational trauma."

It saddens me that the first big screen depiction of the inspired and inspiring culture of the Maya is this fatally inaccurate and very controversial film.



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