An email from a friend alerted me to the presence of a BBC reporter who did a piece on Merida which focused entirely on the ‘storm in a teacup’ surrounding the statues of the Franciscos de Montejo which were recently unveiled on the Paseo de Montejo, Merida’s wide, Champs Elysees -style boulevard. The interview with a Yucatecan anthropologist, which can be heard here, covers the unfavorable reaction that the statues have received from some sectors. It seems to me that if the BBC was doing their GeoQuiz on Merida, there are about a gazillion other things to talk about, but the statues were the topic of this segment.
In my humble and unschooled opinion, the statues simply put a face to the name that is present on the avenue, a local beer, and of course the Casa Montejo, now a Banamex bank and once their base and home in the city’s Plaza Grande. Undoubtedly, their contribution to the city, besides drawing up the initial plans for how the newly formed capital should be laid out and grow, included a lot of exploitation of and violence against, the existing Mayan indian population. I don’t feel that the statues glorify the Montejo clan, as the history of the Yucatan is taught, to some degree, in every elementary, secondary and high school in the state and so most people are aware of the atrocities perpetrated by the conquistadores.
On the other hand, there is a statue, much larger and more dramatic to be sure, to one of the great Mayan indian warriors, Jacinto Canek, on an avenue that bears his name as well. The difference in the two statues and where they are located may be a subtle clue to the underlying sentiments that prevail in the Yucatan today. The Montejos are on Merida’s most spectacular avenue, where turn of the century mansions line the street and pedestrians stroll under giant shady trees on wide sidewalks; the Jacinto Canek avenue is a noisy, commercial and thoroughly unattractive street, notorious for being the home of the shabbiest strip clubs and where the sidewalk is broken and populated each night by transvestite prostitutes.
Racism is alive and well in the Yucatan – but never talked about – and perhaps the Montejos statues contribution will be a renewed discussion on the lingering effects of that fateful moment in history, over 500 hundred years ago, when the cultures of the old world clashed with those of the new.