After 50 years of being published for the first time, 29 Spanish editions and have been published in 15 languages, Vision de los Vencidos (Viewpoint of the Defeated) has become the most emblematic work of historian Miguel Leon Portilla, a compilation of anonymous indigenous testimonies of characters that witnessed the Spanish overpower.
In June 25th 2009, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) awarded Leon Portilla with its greatest distinction, the Eagle Warrior, a sculpture that represents a Mexica fighter, presented to academics and researchers that had made important contributions to Mexican history. During the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Viewpoint of the Defeated, Alfonso de Maria y Campos, INAH general director, handed over the sculpture to Miguel Leon Portilla, who announced that Otomi language edition is being prepared.
Alfonso de Maria declared that within the frame of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Institute, indigenous language files are being prepared to apply for the Cultural Heritage List Inscription, such as Pirekua, a traditional Purepecha chant, which hopefully will be part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intangible Cultural heritage List in 2010. Miguel Leon expressed: “We are a land of books, amoxtlalpan, because there were many of them before Europeans arrived, and it was here where the first printing press of America was established, and where hundreds of works were published in indigenous languages”. The author declared that this should be as well a land of readers, “language is the inventory of a culture; to know our cultural legacy is to know human hood. When Mexicans overcome philias and phobias we will become more Mexican than ever, being aware of all we have to learn from indigenous peoples”.
At the event attended by Fernando Serrano Magallon, National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA) Cultural and Artistic Secretary, Cristina Ramos, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Humanities coordinator, Luis Fernando Lara Ramos, president of the National College, and INAH emeritus professor Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, the archaeologist mentioned the different editions of the book. “It has been digitalized, traduced to 15 languages including Japanese, Serbo-Croatian and Catalan, being the most relevant the Otomi edition, still in preparation” mentioned Matos, and asked the historian to edit Vision de los Vencidos in Nahuatl. Miguel Leon Portilla answered that regarding Nahuatl language, hard work is being conducted to unify criteria and concepts, and as soon as a glossary is ready, the edition expected by 2,000 Nahuatl speakers can be prepared.
Published in 1959, Viewpoint of the Defeated became the most popular volume edited by UNAM. It is a compilation of testimonies of the Conquest from the viewpoint of the natural dwellers of this country. Before this text, only chronicles of Spanish men like Diaz del Castillo and Hernan Cortes were known. “Where is the indigenous version? We needed the description of the naturals, a chronicle that transmitted the other conquest history”, declared Leon Portilla at the Torres Bodet Auditorium of the National Museum of Anthropology.
Wenceslao Herrera, officer of the Deputies Chamber Commission of Indigenous Affairs, thanked Leon Portilla in Nahuatl for his defense of indigenous heritage, and handed him a present handcrafted in Olinala, Guerrero.
As thousand of Mexicans, Miguel Leon Portilla knew the Prehispanic city of Teotihuacan when he was a child. His uncle, archaeologist Manuel Gamio, became his mentor and gave him lessons that he would not forget: “It is good to be interested in the dead indigenous, but take care of the living, too”.
The historian, emeritus researcher of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) received an acknowledgment from Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “Viewpoint of the Defeated” first edition. This distinction adds up to other presented by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) which celebrates in 2009 the 70th anniversary of its creation, including its greatest award, the Eagle Warrior.
Accompanied by relatives, friends, colleagues and admirers, Miguel Leon recalled why he decided as his preceptor Angel Maria Garibay, to compile and traduce the Nahuatl texts that incarnated the feeling of the oppressed. “The conquest is a delicate theme for Mexicans, and I think we need to grow up parting from this material. We need to define ourselves, because anyway, Hernan Cortes is already dead”, stated Leon Portilla. “We descend from that violent encounter. Garibay and I decided to write about the other face of the Conquest. Vision de los Vencidos gathers indigenous testimonies that complement texts written by Hernan Cortes and Bernal Diaz del Castillo.”
Leon Portilla declared that history only exists in the present, in the time of the writer and the reader, and he remarked oppression is an actual issue. In one of his most recent books, “Original Peoples and Globalization”, he makes an interesting reflection: “The defeated, the indigenous peoples, are already waking up and certainly have a lot to teach us about other way of living, a life based on respect to bio-cultural issues and coexistence”.
Miguel Leon shared with Eduardo Matos Moctezuma anecdotes about Manuel Gamio, who set the bases of Mexican anthropology, parting from an interdisciplinary team and always aware of the social function. Manuel Gamio propelled in the 1920’s decade the delivery of breakfast for children at schools around Teotihuacan Archaeological Site, as well as obsidian handcrafts’ production. “My uncle leaded explorations at La Ciudadela and Quetzalcoatl Temple, but he also was interested in Teotihuacan Colonial past and its contemporary population. He decided to help and revitalize obsidian craftsmanship in the zone”.
The ceremony at Teotihuacan was attended by Gloria Artis, INAH national coordinator of Anthropology, Salvador Guillem, INAH national coordinator of Archaeology, Carlos Serrano, director of UNAM Institute of Anthropological Investigations, among colleagues and archaeologists.