"Official" History by Rodolfo Stavenhagen



[00:00:00] The theme of propaganda is very controversial and polemical; things may, in any given moment, be perceived as propagandistic or not. In terms of history, the historiography which has been done traditionally in Latin America has been a history written by the “winners,” a history written by members of dominant groups—the “official” story. This one sees clearly if one reads textbooks used to teach history to children, adolescents, and even at the college level. This history is fundamentally a history “from above.” It utilizes official sources to develop an official vision of the history of our countries. This is an exclusionary vision of indigenous peoples, exclusionary of their struggles. Many times it is a discriminatory history, which characterizes the indigenous people as enemies of the state or nation, as primitives and savages who need to be pacified, civilized, etc.

In the face of this, in the march for recognition of indigenous rights is the challenge to review history, to critique this “official” history, and to procure an alternative history—a history which reflects not just the point of view of the conqueror but also of the conquered, a history of the underdog. This is difficult because often this type of history conflates with memory, because it is oral memory, memory transmitted from generation to generation. It often doesn’t have physical “official” documentation and must be reconstructed through new archaeological and ethnohistorical methodologies using sources that haven’t been seen or accepted before. For example, official historians use military, police, or governmental archives, and there they encounter the points of view of the state—of the forces of order. But there they don’t find the testimony of those who suffered or those who raised arms against the “latifundistas” [great landowners] or against the army or the police, etc.

The Necessity of an Alternative History

[02:59:00] Here in Mexico, there is also a very serious problem with writing a new history—in the way the new history responds or doesn’t to the canons of those who teach in the universities, to “objective” or “neutral” history, to history based on sources, or the way this history reifies or vindicates cultural positions which are—why not say it?—ideological positions. History is rewritten every generation, but the subject of history is rewritten as well. We still don’t have an authentic history of indigenous communities in Latin America. What we have are histories of countries, of states, and the states themselves are artificial constructions created after the colonial period by governing elites. But those same indigenous peoples still don’t have their own histories. I don’t wish to discuss the differences among history, memory, and propaganda because, regarding this, there is much debate and no consensus. But I do make a call for the need to rewrite this unsatisfactory “official” history, and for the need to construct an alternative history of subordinated communities—that is, of indigenous communities.