The World Didn’t End, But the U.S.’s Arrogant Disregard for Mexico Should

The Maya solstice represents a hopeful new cosmological beginning—and that ought to mean an end to our tiresome arrogance and indifference toward the world south of the border.

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Jorge Dan Lopez / Reuters

A man arranges pre-Hispanic symbols and the Guatemalan flag before the pre-Hispanic mass of "Segunda Conexion" (Second Connection) to commemorate the 13th bak'tun, an epoch lasting roughly 400 years, outside the Chi Ixim church in Tactic, Alta Verapaz region, Dec. 20, 2012.

I once took a Classics professor friend of mine, a real Hellenophile, to the majestic Maya ruins of Palenque in southern Mexico. I wanted him to see why the Maya, thanks to their advanced astronomy, mathematics and cosmology, are considered the Greeks of the New World. As we entered the Palace there, my friend stopped, surprised, and said, “Corbel arches!” That’s the kind of precocious architecture you find at famous ancient Greek sites like Mycenae—and seeing it at Palenque made him acknowledge that maybe the Greeks could be considered the Maya of the Old World.

Today, Dec. 21, we’re all standing under those Corbel arches, celebrating one of civilization’s more sublime accomplishments, the Maya calendar. The 2012 winter solstice marks the end of a 5,125-year creation cycle and the hopeful start of another—and not the apocalyptic end that so many wing nuts rave about. (That comes next month, when our wing nuts in Washington send us over the fiscal cliff.) Understandably, this Maya milestone is a source of Latin American and especially Mexican and Mesoamerican pride. As teacher Jaime Escalante tells the Mexican-American kids he turns into calculus wizards in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver: “Did you know that neither the Greeks nor the Romans were capable of using the concept of zero? It was your ancestors, the Mayas, who first contemplated it…True story.”

(MORE: Not So Apocalypto: What the Mayan Calendar Tells Us About Latin America In 2012)

But, unfortunately, most Americans ignore that record and focus on the doomsday nonsense that a crowd of pseudo-scholars has tied to the Maya calculations. It’s part and parcel of the western world’s condescending approach to pre-Columbian society—typified by the popular canard that if the Maya did rival the Greeks in any arena, then space aliens must have shown them how. It also reflects the maddening American disregard, if not disdain, for Mexico and Latin America, which persists even today as Escalante’s now grown-up Chicano students and the rest of the Latino community prove their political clout. So since today is all about new beginnings—and since Mexico itself is endeavoring a fresh start right now—we also ought to consider an overhaul of the tiresomely arrogant and indifferent way we look at the world south of the border.

The U.S., especially our foreign policy and media elite, gets a perverse superiority kick out of dismissing Canada and Mexico, but especially Mexico, in ways that other world powers, like Germany, would seldom snub their neighbors today. Even the Houston Chronicle, a newspaper serving a city whose population is 45% Mexican-American, and where Mexico is the No. 1 trade partner, just closed its Mexico City bureau. This despite the newsworthy fact that in Mexico—after a decade, its first as a modern democracy, that was marred by horrific drug war carnage and anemic economic growth—new President Enrique Peña Nieto took office this month promising to repair those daunting problems and restore the country’s flagging self-esteem.

(PHOTOS: The End of the World: For the Maya, It May Already Be Here)

If anything, today should remind us that Mexico—the world’s 14th largest economy and our third largest trading partner, a giant of 112 million people with whom we share a 2,000-mile-long border—matters. So if I were Peña Nieto, I’d hype the Maya mania not just as a symbolic reboot for Mexico, but as one for jaded U.S.-Mexico relations as well. OK, he should tell Washington, I’ll modernize Mexico’s dysfunctional law enforcement. In the spirit of a new baktun (Maya era), I’ll even order the release of former U.S. Marine Jon Hammar, who’s languishing in a Matamoros prison after his controversial August arrest for bringing into Mexico a hunting rifle for which he claimed he had proper documents. What you can do, Peña Nieto should add, is confront the reckless U.S. gun laws which, when they’re not making it easier for monsters to massacre your school children, make it easier for smugglers to supply our monstrous drug cartels with assault weapons.

Or bring up immigration. Yes, he could tell the Beltway, I’ll finally challenge the leviathan business monopolies that worsen Mexico’s inexcusable poverty, which in turn prods so many Mexicans to seek work in the U.S. And then you can finally get serious about fixing your tragically laughable immigration system, which demonizes the low-wage indocumentados your businesses desperately need and hire at will, but which scorns workable guest worker programs and other commonsense solutions. Either way, he might add, if my presidency fails, you can expect a new wave of illegal immigration, as well as worsened narco-violence at your doorstep and a weaker market for the $224 billion worth of goods the U.S. exported to Mexico last year—which, by the way, was 75% more than you exported to China and represents 15% of your global total.

(MORE: End of the World? Not for the Maya of Belize)

Better yet, mention the Hispanic voters, especially the Mexican-Americans who make up more than 60% of that bloc, who may have swung a U.S. presidential election last month. Mention the Republican Party, whose xenophobic posture toward Mexico and Latinos helped it notch a pathetic 27% of the Hispanic presidential vote.

As smart Republicans like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush try to point out to the GOP, Latinos have a stronger bond with their countries of origin than most immigrant groups do. Dissing Mexico and Central America, the Mesoamerica that was home to classical Maya civilization, doesn’t exactly charm that burgeoning U.S. demographic. Especially not on this day, when Latinos contemplate the fact that their ancient ancestors were capable of contemplating things the Greeks couldn’t. True story.

MORE: Cinematic Visions of the Apocalypse

186 comments
mrbomb13
mrbomb13

This article is nothing more than hyper-partisan, liberal-concocted, bombastic drivel at its finest.

A truly shameful piece of writing for a respected news source.  Shame, shame, shame...

PancrasioSombra
PancrasioSombra

If things were that easy to do. How about getting rid of corruption in Mexico? Any president can promise anything (that is what politicians do!) but I believe we cannot change people already here with a given level of formation (education, culture, beliefs, etc). So, Can you un-corrupt a corrupt person? Can you un-murder a murderer? Well, let's take it down a notch: can you un-addict a drug addict? Some people can, cost people can't!

I know that the relations between the U.S. and, not only Mexico, but the rest of Latin America have always been on the stereotype that the U.S. is an example to follow for the rest of the world. I can see some things we can learn from the U.S. but at the same time I can see other things I do not like about the "American way." I guess I believe we cannot take what we see at face value. I do not wanna get into that kind of conversation here but I just wanted to mention that I did read this article and, again, I find it lacking.

UncleBill
UncleBill

Is it US arrogance or US ignorance? Any American who hasn't visited the mighty city of Teotihuacan and its twin pyramids, which lie  60 miles from Mexico City, has missed out on one of the great cultural treasures of the Americas. And as for hotels, the USA with its carbon-copy corporate pre-fabs has nothing to compete with spending the weekend in a 500 year old hacienda lined with Imperial palms. These ancient solid stone fortifications line the highways of Mexico and are available to tourists at  prices as low as $60 per night. So, for Americans who are full of pride as they watch their HDTVs in the laboratory cleanliness of their engineered suburbs, they should consider the possibility that they are in a grand state of ignorance!

x1
x1

Dissing is not a word: it's a contraction which could be construed to mean disrespecting, disavowing, disassembling, disemboweling, etc. Whether Mayans were first to use the concept of zero or not, they did invent its usage independently of other civilizations.

Perfettamenta
Perfettamenta

I know that the concept of Zero was first contemplated by the ancient Egyptian . Roman & Greeks never didn't use it.

FinTastic
FinTastic

"Did you know that neither the Greeks nor the Romans were capable of using the concept of zero? It was your ancestors, the Mayas, who first contemplated it…True story."


I think the concept of zero was invented by ancient vedic Aryans of India.


yasminsahra
yasminsahra

I'm pretty sure the concept of the zero was first contemplated in India.....and I don't think people focusing on the apocalyptic aspect of the Mayan calendar has anything to do with disdain for Mexican culture, people are just obsessed with finding "THE END," remember Y2K?  

ZoltanNewaza
ZoltanNewaza

Tim you have no idea when it comes to politics, but of course feel free to make an ass of yourself!

aceanderson
aceanderson

Just because Edgar James Olmos says something in a movie doesn't make it true.  They Mayans were not the first to contemplate zero.  Using a movie as historical reference is comical.  Moreover, stating that the Mayan's contemplated something that even the Greeks didn't (while true) further misleads readers to believe that the Mayans discovered zero.  Very irresponsible and deceitful reporting from Time's Miami and Latin America Bureau chief.

foreignformula
foreignformula

@TimPadgett2 To clarify, I was only speaking of arrogant disregard. Take that, society!

ziua
ziua

ya cause La Reconquista and La Raza have so much respect for America , hence why they admit they wanna turn it back over to Mexico the very country that has caused millions of people to leave so they could feed their families. Respect is a two way street basically this article is a attempt to stereotype America for its Stereotypes about latino cultures.

foreignformula
foreignformula

@TimPadgett2 @TIMEWorld I especially enjoy the title, which effectively reflects the long line of critical comments one may improve from.

TimO'Donnell
TimO'Donnell

  This guy is not representative of most of the hispanic folks I know. Most Mexican immigrants will tell you damn straight that even after all the hardships they endure life is better here than where they came from. That even in the middle of a long and terrible recession here in the U.S., that has me grumbling to anyone that will listen, there is still even now more opportunity to better oneself here in the U.S. than from where they came from. Most of the Mexican/hispanic immigrant folks that I meet on pretty much a daily basis are of course proud of there Mexican heritage. But they are also very proud to be here in the USA. Most of the Mexican immigrants that I speak with on a daily basis have an attitude such that they can laugh at the follies in the leadership of there own country as well as many people here can laugh about the follies of our leadership. His (author) name is Tim Padgett. Sounds more like a beeding heart American than a " Let's roll up our sleeves and work and make some money" Mexican immigrant.

somerville
somerville

There is a reason I have a disregard for the culture of the Toltecs, the Mayans and the Aztecs and that is human sacrifice. While there is a legend that the Toltec priest king Topiltzin forbid human sacrifice during his reign, the mesoamerican cultures didn't take it to heart and I can truly believe that the arrival of the Spanish was a judgment on bloodthirsty Mayan and Aztec religion. 

 I disagree with those who say the common people didn't benefit from it, because though the Conquistadors were typical colonialists in many ways, they brought Christianity to the common people. It is better that the people of Mexico and Central America pray the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary in honor of  Christ than pray to dark entities that wanted innocent blood.


Keep in mind that the majority of sacrifices to the war god were not adult male captives but young boys. The Mayan and Aztec priests would inflict as much pain as possible and then practiced cannibalism. Therefore, I cannot honor Mayan mathematics or architecture because of it was put to the use of a religion that was as horrific as the Sandy Hook massacre, but on a daily basis.

Also, the Conquistadors weren't responsible for the spread of diseases among the isolated Amerindians because even their best "doctors" couldn't save them. Only when nature took it's course and disease resistance spread. The plague decimated one third of Europe's population the first time it showed up, and probably an equally large number in Central Asia where it originated. Smallpox similarly decimated the Americas.


I've been amused at the New Age and UFO believers and their theories of aliens, but don't use that as evidence of a disrespect for Mexico. The same believers in ancient astronauts use the same arguments for the pyramids and European megalithic cultures. It's not that they have a disrespect for Mexico, it's that they have a disrespect for the abilities of humanity as a whole.


Though I believe that there were once fallen "watchers" that oppressed humanity, they were not aliens. Their offspring continue to exist as the demons of folklore; but folklore happens. Evil is not just the pseudoscientific racial theories of Nazis or the disregard for the teachings of Christ in the Bible evidenced by the Inquisition and witch hunters. Evil exists wherever it can gain a foothold and it gained a foothold in Toltec, Mayan and Aztec religion just as it did in Carthaginian religion a thousand years before. 


And if anyone says I must have a disregard for European Cathedrals because of the Inquisition, it's not the same argument. The Inquisition was not representative of Catholicism any more than the witch hunts were not representative of Protestantism. No version of humanity is based on the murder of others, but as the Akedah teaches that God does not demand human sacrifices in the Hebrew Bible, so too do Christians look to Jesus, as God incarnate, as the one time sacrifice once for all of humanity in all times and all places. 


I believe that truly good Mayans who never knew Christ will be in heaven along with innumerable multitudes of humanity, I believe the wicked men who followed evil spirits in their bloodthirsty religion will be separated from God for all eternity. By their works you shall know them!

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

ZWarrior86
ZWarrior86

I dont understand how we as  Americans can point at the drug violence in mexico and criticize.  DO they think that every soldier firing at enemies in the middle east is doing itfor the good of the country? NO they are not, they are providing for their family by killing and then they come home and suffer from ptsD BECAUSE they know they are killing for money.  ITS the same thing as the drug war except Americans have the guise of doing it for the good of the nation.  its a big hypocrisy.


BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

What the heck does Mexico and Latin America have to do with the Mayan "culture"?? Mexico and most of Latin America cares less about it's "native", pre-Conquistador, population than this article claim's the GOP does. It's more than a little irritating for these people to chastise the US for our behavior to them, when they treat there own countrymen with savage disregard. The self-righteous hypocrisy of these sorts of articles ... to say it makes me mad is an understatement. Start treating your own with respect and THEN come to us and complain.

HollyWilsonPregler
HollyWilsonPregler

I refuse to fully read any article that starts with "most Americans". Did you take a poll? You already lost me with your ignorance.

MissWasserman
MissWasserman

@TIME @TIMEWorld Jon Hammar was released yesterday evening.

MuslimReformer
MuslimReformer

@TIME @TIMEWorld And the Horn will be blown; and at once from the graves to their Lord they will hasten.Chapter 36 verse 51 (Quran)

eh
eh

"Latinos contemplate things that the Greeks couldn't"? Cultural grandiosity. Latinos did not invent zero- and the Greeks got it from India anyway, not even trying to claim they invented it. Mayans were among several cultures that conceptualized zero. Recognize all of history, not just the part that make you feel that your race is the "legitimate superior" of others. Latino pride in America is the real arrogance, most times, while many milk the system and disdain citizens that can't slip through all the laws like they do, claiming any status they fell like to get whatever they want.

poncho_sierra
poncho_sierra

@TimPadgett2 @TIMEWorld Maya culture is more Guatemalan than Mexican ;)

diegoantonio09
diegoantonio09

@TimPadgett2 So contradicting. Article is on ignorance SOTB yet the pic features the Guatemalan flag, a country which you don't even mention

DrGoreZombie
DrGoreZombie

@TIME @TIMEWorld Thats stupid shiy,then we the world should ignore gringos cause hollywood made panic about "Maya Apocalypse"

supamonkey77
supamonkey77

Aww, don't feel sad. Americans tend to ignore all the achievements of Asians as well. From the great civilizations of India and China to the near east. To them all is Europe Europe Europe. By the way the concept of zero and the decimal was, I think, first developed by the Indians. Mayans' development was independent of course.

engravedhistory
engravedhistory

@TIME @TIMEWorld It isn't madness. Even the Mayans themselves do not believe in the intrusion of the Apocalypse. It is Media Madness.

gpe_ram
gpe_ram

@mexicofer @time Pobres gringos pendejos ellos se la creyerón mas, que hasta peliculas hicierón.

VictoriaStyne
VictoriaStyne

@TIME @TIMEWorld they have never stated the world was going to explode, make research before talking shit, u morons

WeRnotMars
WeRnotMars

@TIME @TIMEWorld in any case, the Marine is free , did Pena Nieto and the Maya's have something to do w/it-the cosmos may never know

Chucky8881
Chucky8881

@TIME @TIMEWorld I cant believe these doomsday predictions even get aired! No one on this planet can predict such a thing #crockofshit

skelekitten
skelekitten

So you can disrespect all of Mexico because a percentage of Mexicans immigrate to the U.S.?  Do you realize that your comment is ignorant and insulting because you are speaking for the majority?  Not every Mexican has immigrated to the U.S.  By you putting everyone in the same criteria, you are stereotyping and being prejudice.  Why do you feel the need to hate?  There are injustices with healthcare, but are you going to be prejudicial towards all Mexicans because you've been in a situation in which you felt was unfair compared to the benefits Mexicans get?

You can match all these descriptions to many Mexicans, but are you really going to convince someone that these descriptions will match every Hispanic?  @greetjack You're either an ignorant redneck that led a troubled life that caused you to compare yourself to others all the time making you an overall jealous person.  Jealous of  all Mexicans? 

P.S.  I'm Hispanic with the last name Rodriguez, and I actually do have respect for the US culture because I bothered going to school and learned some grammar and English unlike you.  Oh, and my parents took a plane here, legally.   

DavidLevi30
DavidLevi30

@x1 just as Harold explained I am impressed that anybody able to make $8424 in four weeks on the network.

tigre
tigre

@TimO'Donnell Tim you need to get cultivated, have you EVER been in Mexico? 

JGMS
JGMS

@somerville I'm a historian from MX who has a Ph.D. from and teaches in an American Univ., and for the most part I agree with your points. It does not take away from the accomplishments of the Mayans (or even Aztecs, though they were certainly much more bloody and imperialistic) to say what is true: they were a stone age people with a cosmology everybody today should find abhorrent because of human sacrifice. You cannot wish that away. Period. But I'll be the first to acknowledge their immense achievements. And you are also right about the Conquistadors. While of course horrific violence accompanied the Conquest... has there EVER been a conquest that did not involve violence? Indians in central Mexico flocked to the Spanish side because of the Aztec's state-sponsored terror. As for the Mayas and sacrifice, yes, nowhere near the level of the Aztecs, but they did practice it, and you cannot whitewash that. What I do find off-putting is using Christianism as a tool of historical analysis. Keep your history and religion separate my friend, otherwise you are falling into the same trap you are accusing the Native elites of doing. I believe an objective historical analysis would mostly support your views, but mixing in the Christianism is wrong and wrong-headed.

SamHarris
SamHarris

@somerville Really? I suggest you read about Kulkulkan who is a legend to the Maya. He tried to stop the sacrifices. He was most likely a real man at one point in history. The mayan mathematics has nothing to do with their sacrifice why you even put the two together is beyond me. They didn't sacrifice on a massive scale the way the Aztecs did. Please you're ignorance is showing. They are my ancestors and they had and did some good things in their life. European countries have horrible history as well as torturing and murdering so it isn't just the mayans. I really wish people would look at the world as a whole and not just a specific tribe of indians because some have done much worse seriously.

LuisR.SaavǝdraRomán
LuisR.SaavǝdraRomán

@somerville That's like saying, I don't respect Christianity because of all the killings that were carried "In name of God" during the Crusades or the Inquisition. 

tigre
tigre

@poncho_sierra why do you say, because most of 90 % of guatemala was maya territory? you are indeed ignorant.

MexicoFER
MexicoFER

@gpe_ram hasta TIME aboga por nosotros

JimEHenson
JimEHenson

@skelekitten Written on the walls of what is modern day Iraq,some 3000 years before Christ is the story of the Anunnaki,They show carved in stone a depiction of four guys standing,Two are wearing eagle helmets,two are working on the flower bush,Look carefully at the arms they are wearing watches,the eagles have mechanically assisted legs,I know it gets worse,the two working on the bush well thats double helix dna  and the story goes they are altering it.research Google Images you will see and if your smart youll know the story  

JimEHenson
JimEHenson

@skelekitten You just used the word REDNECK that makes you, by your own words A bigot racist.Yes it does,think about that ,and when you know the difference.Ya cant toss crap without it getting on ya. Smily face

tigre
tigre

@skelekitten  I thought you said you took a rubber raft by the river between matamoros and brownsville....

1Meh19
1Meh19

@skelekitten Who's disrespecting Mexico in the first place? We let its people come here, take jobs, live off our welfare system and breed American citizens like cats. All without a green card. Sounds like we're treating Mexicans better than we treat our own citizens!

greetjack
greetjack

Oh by the way, You just stereotyped rednecks! How do you know all rednecks do not like Mexicans? I am sort of a redneck but I have a doctorate degree in International Management so I have done a hell of a lot of research on foreign corruption and cultures and I have paid the Federal-es off several times due to bogus reasons for stopping me in my vehicle. Another typical example of the average Mexican mentality to screw the gringo and the US out of money. I have about a dozen Hispanic friends that were born in the US and they have basically the same opinion which also helps substantiate my comments. Sorry facts are facts. The day a Mexican elected official actually worries about the rights of an American white man I may change my mind!

greetjack
greetjack

@skelekitten  

Actually stereotyping is perfectly valid (people don't like it because it appears rude but you have to take the emotions out of the equation) if you have a valid statistical sample and there is certainly enough of them in the US to make a valid statistical sample of the whole population. The US government makes decisions all day long about the population opinion on smaller samples and are usually right!

TimO'Donnell
TimO'Donnell

@tigre @TimO'Donnell  Ive been all over Mexico. Copper Canyon to Durango. Espinazo del diablo to Vera Cruz. Chetumal to Chiapas, Culiacan to Merida.    And I know hundreds of immigrants here in the U.S who have come from Mexico. Been to two quinceneras in the last month and a half. How bout you mr. gato?

JGMS
JGMS

@SamHarris @somerville I agree with your sentiments, but the way you are going about this is awfully defensive... thus undermining your very points. If you are Mexican or Guatemalan, then you may or not be a DNA "descendant" of the Mayas, but most likely also of the Spaniards. We are a mestizo nations, not Indians, and we should celebrate AND condemn the excesses of both of our heritage cultures. Spaniards had some really nasty aspects to their culture... but to pretend the Indians lived in some sort of Eden before the Conquest is absolute BS. Human sacrifice is abhorrent, and I find it very condescending the attitude of "Oh, they really believed in their culture/gods, therefore human sacrifice has some sort of transcendental meaning" BS. Killing innocents in the name of religion is as abhorrent for the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, or Mesoamerican pre-Columbian sacrifice. They are ALL religious nuts trying to cow people into obedience. A distortion of ALL the sentiments of true religions, I may add.

zero
zero

@1Meh19 @skelekitten  That's really uncalled for. It's always this stupid mentality that people have "They where a jerk"  so "i'm going to be a jerk too" mentality. 


The whole world would benefit more if they got a long with their neighbors and helped each other. 


coloradobob1976
coloradobob1976

@greetjack @skelekitten OUR government is usually right about what American population opinions are? Do they use the same pollsters as America's Top Forty? Surely you can see the results around you, and your and your ilk letting the government make decisions based on THAT?  

tigre
tigre

@TimO'Donnell @tigre Yes Mr. Perro,  this doesn't mean anything,  just cause you visited or been to 2 quinceañeras didn't give you a full understanding of the Mexican way of dealing with life. visiting is one thing,  living the daily life in Mexico and  getting to the root or deep culture is another. casual interaction will never suffice to understand one's way of living/thinking.    YOU'VE BEEN TO SOME OF  MOST DESOLATE AREAS IN MEXICO! 

SamHarris
SamHarris

@JGMS @SamHarris @somerville I never said it was trascendent. My dna says I am native as I definitely did a dna test to find it out. A lot of illusions have cost people their lives not just in mesoamerica. The witch trials in europe is horrible and disgusting example, causing so much fear and travesty that the church did because they believed they were so pious about god. DISGUSTING! It doesn't matter what country or what culture all have done horrible things. I am mexican and I am proud of both my heritages. However I didn't say I was proud of the human sacrifice, that is one thing I was not nor have I ever been proud of but we need to look at this world as a whole and know that every culture has done terrible things in the name of religion, whether native or not.