Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mexico’s People Education and Religion

Politeness and courtesy are as a rule characteristics of the intelligent and middle classes of the people of Mexico, and are also observable in intercourse with the humbler ranks of the masses. They have heretofore looked upon Americans as being hardly more than semi-civilized. Those with whom they have been most brought in contact have been reckless and adventurous frontiersmen, drovers, Texans, cow boys, often individuals who have left their homes in the Northern or Middle States with the stigma of crime upon them. The inference they have drawn from contact with such representatives of our population has been but natural. If Mexicans travel abroad, they generally do so in Europe, sailing from Vera Cruz, and they know comparatively little of us socially. It is equally true that we have been in the habit of regarding the Mexicans in much the same light. This mutual feeling is born of ignorance, and the nearer relation into which the two countries are now brought by means of the excellent system of railroads is rapidly dispelling the misconception on both sides of the Rio Grande. The masses, especially the peons, are far more illiterate than in this country, and are easily led by the higher intelligence of the few; nor have the Mexicans yet shown much real progress in the purpose of promoting general education, though incipient steps have been taken in that direction in most of their cities, affording substantial proof of the progressive tendencies of the nation. We heard in the city of Mexico of free night schools being organized, designed for the improvement of adults.
A division of the populace into castes rules here almost as imperiously as it does in India, and it will require generations of close contact with a more cultured and democratic people before these servile ideas can be obliterated. Though we hear little or nothing said about this matter, yet to an observant eye it has daily and hourly demonstration. The native Indians of Mexico are of a different race from their employers. Originally conquered and enslaved by the Spaniards, though they have since been emancipated by law, they are still kept in a quasi condition of peonage by superior wit and finesse. The proprietor of a large hacienda, who owns land, say ten miles square, manages, by advancing money to them, to keep the neighboring people in his debt. They are compelled by necessity to purchase their domestic articles of consumption from the nearest available supply, which is the storehouse of the hacienda. Here they must pay the price which is demanded, let it be never so unreasonable. This arrangement is all against the peon, and all in favor of the employer. The lesser party to such a system is pretty sure to be cheated right and left, especially as the estate is nearly always administered by an agent and not by the owner himself. There are some notable exceptions to this, but these only prove the rule. So long as the employés owe the proprietor money, they are bound by law to remain in his service. Wages are so low--say from twenty-five to thirty-five cents per day--that were the natives of a thrifty, ambitious, and provident disposition, which is by no means the case, they could not save a dollar towards their pecuniary emancipation. The laboring classes seem to have no idea of economy or of providing for the morrow. Food, coarse food, and amusement for the present hour, that is all they desire, and is all about which they seriously concern themselves. The next score of years, while they will probably do much for the country as regards commercial and intellectual improvement, will prove fatal in a degree to the picturesqueness which now renders Mexico so attractive. Radical progress in one direction must needs be destructive in another, and while some of the allurements of her strong individuality will disappear, her moral and physical status will be greatly improved. Her ragged, half-naked people will don proper attire, sacrificing the gaudy colors which now make every out-door scene kaleidoscopic; a modern grain thresher will take the place of weary animals plodding in a circle, treading out the grain; half-clad women at the fountains will disappear, and iron pipes will convey water for domestic use to the place of consumption. The awkward branch of crooked wood now used to turn the soil will be replaced by the modern plough, and reaping machines will relieve the weary backs of men, women, and children, who slowly grub beneath a burning sun through the broad grain fields. Irrigating streams will be made to flow by their own gravitation, while the wooden bucket and well-sweep will become idle and useless. Still, we are not among those who see only a bright side for the future of the republic, nor do we believe so confidently as some writers in her great natural resources. They are abundant, but not so very exceptional as enthusiasts would have us believe. Aside from the production of silver, which all must admit to be inexhaustible, she has very little to boast of. It is doubtful if any other equal area in the world possesses larger deposits of the precious metals, or has already yielded to man more bountifully of them. We have seen it asserted by careful and experienced writers, that one half of all the silver now in use among the nations originally came from Mexico. Her real and permanent progress is inevitable; but it will be very gradual, coming not through her rich mines of gold and silver, but by the growth of her agricultural and manufacturing interests; and if in a score of years she can assume a position of respect and importance in the line of nations, it is all that can reasonably be expected. If Mexico can but advance in progressive ideas as rapidly during the next ten years as she has done during the decade just past, the period we have named will be abbreviated, and her condition will amount to a moral revolution.
Our sister republic has yet to accomplish two special and important objects: first, the suppression of the secret and malign influence of the Roman Catholic priesthood; and, secondly, the promotion of education among the masses. Since the separation of church and state, in 1857, education has made slow but steady advances. Most of the states have adopted the system of compulsory education, penalties being affixed to non-compliance with the law, and rewards decreed for those who voluntarily observe the same. Though shorn of so large a degree of its temporal powers, the church is still secretly active in its machinations for evil. The vast army of non-producing, indolent priests is active in one direction, namely, that for the suppression of all intelligent progress, and the complete subjugation of the common people through superstition and ignorance. A realization of the condition of affairs may be had from the following circumstance related to us by a responsible American resident. It must be remembered that the wheat, which in some well-irrigated districts is the principal product, is threshed by means of piling it up on the hard clay soil, and driving goats, sheep, and burros over it. These animals trudge round and round, with weary limbs, knee deep in the straw, for hours together, urged forward by whips in the hands of men and boys, and thus the grain is separated from the stalks. Of course the product threshed out in this manner is contaminated with animal filth of all sorts. An enterprising American witnessed this primitive process not long since, and on returning to his northern home resolved to take back with him to Mexico a modern threshing machine; and being more desirous to introduce it for the benefit of the people than to make any money out of the operation, he offered the machine at cost price. A native farmer was induced to put one on trial, when it was at once found that it not only took the place of a dozen men and boys, but also of twice that number of animals. This was not all; the machine performed the work in less than one quarter of the time required to do the same amount of work by the old method, besides rendering the grain in a perfectly clear condition. This would seem to be entirely satisfactory, and was so until it got to the ears of the priests. They came upon the ground to see the machine work, and were amazed. This would not answer, according to their ideas; from their standpoint it was a dangerous innovation. What might it not lead to! They therefore declared that the devil was in the machine, and absolutely forbade the peons to work with it! Their threats and warnings frightened their ignorant, servile parishioners out of their wits. The machine was accordingly shipped north of the Rio Grande, whence it came, to prevent the natives from destroying it, and cattle still tread out the grain, which they render dirty and unfit for food, except in the most populous centres, where modern machinery is being gradually introduced.
"The clogging influence of the Romish Church," says Hon. John H. Rice, "upon civilization and progress are seen in its opposition to the education and elevation of the common people; in its intolerant warfare against freedom of conscience, and all other forms of religious worship, frequently displayed in persecutions, and sometimes in personal injuries; and in its stolid opposition to the onward march of development and improvement, unless directed to its own advantage."

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