It’s always worth being reminded that the real Americans inhabited this continent long before the Europeans arrived.
Tim Padgett writes: 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 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.”
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. [Continue reading…]