Culture

Indigenous Photographer Diego Huerta’s Photos Of Oaxaca’s Indigenous People Celebrates Their Beauty

Diego Huerta is an Austin-based photographer on a mission to photograph all of the indigenous populations throughout Mexico. His photos are giving people an intimate and sincere look at the lives of the people who have long called Mexico their home. July is a special time in Oaxaca for the indigenous community. The month marks Guelaguetza, a month-long celebration in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca highlighting the indigenous people and their contributions to Mexican culture. In honor of Guelaguetza, here are photos by Huerta taken in Oaxaca showing the vibrant and mesmerizing indigenous community.

Photographer Diego Huerta is capturing the wonder and majesty of Mexico’s indigenous communities.

Courtesy of Diego Huerta Studio

Huerta wants to give people a true sense of what indigenous communities look like. There is something about seeing the communities people talk about instead of just reading about them.

“Nowadays the information that we have about the native peoples in Mexico is only numbers and statistics,” Huerta told mitú. “There’s no photographic documentation of each of the towns, we don’t know where they are, we don’t know how they live, we don’t know how they look.”

Huerta earns the trust of the communities and gets intimate photos that show the beauty within these communities.

Courtesy of Diego Huerta Studios

Huerta doesn’t just walk into these spaces with his camera snapping. The photographer makes his presence and intentions known to earn their trust and the chance to document their existence.

“Whenever I come to an indigenous village, the first thing I do is talk to people, be interested in knowing how they live, be simply a human talking with another human,” Huerta says. “Then I tell them what I do and I ask them to be able to portray them, which in most cases they say yes.”

Huerta has spent years documenting Oaxaca and absorbing the culture in the southern Mexican state.

Courtesy of Diego Huerta Studios

“I have spent six years traveling through Oaxaca, and every year people knew my work more, which made things easier for me because it was the same people who invited me to their villages to portray them,” Huerta says.

As someone who has experienced the incredible celebration of Guelaguetza, Huerta has one thing to say.

Courtesy of Diego Huerta Studios

Guelaguetza is more than a celebration tied to a specific time of year.

“To live the Guelaguetza is to start living,” Huerta proclaims.” There are so many emotions to see the eight regions of the State of Oaxaca gathered in the same place that you don’t need to be Mexican to get excited, it’s simply a wonderful and unique world that’s lived there.”

It is crucial to document and capture images of the indigenous communities for several reasons.

Courtesy of Diego Huerta Studios

Huerta believes that there is value in capturing proof of the indigenous communities to preserve our own history. These are the people who lived on these lands first and are therefore the basis for the people now inhabiting the land.

He wants to make sure that everyone who sees his images understands the greatness of human beings.

Courtesy of Diego Huerta Studios

Huerta explains that getting people to see the greatness of human beings is the main objective of his indigenous photo series. By understanding the greatness of people and the indigenous communities, Huerta says that will lead to us understanding ourselves.

Huerta’s work within Mexico’s indigenous communities has endeared him to the very people he set out to document.

Courtesy of Diego Huerta Studios

“On my last trip to the State of Sonora with the Yaqui people, I felt that I was already part of them,” Huerta recalls. “It was difficult to be accepted but after three years they saw me as someone they trusted and that made me feel very special.”

READ: Diego Huerta Is Capturing The Most Amazing Photos Of Indigenous Mexicans

El Mencho’s Cartel Killed 14 Mexican Police Officers In An Ambush Against President Lopez Obrador

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El Mencho’s Cartel Killed 14 Mexican Police Officers In An Ambush Against President Lopez Obrador

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Minutes after Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador told reporters that his new approach to curb cartel violence is working, Mexico’s fast-growing threat, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), killed 14 police officers and set their cars on fire during a deadly ambush. The police convoy was passing through El Aguaje, a small town in the state of Michoacan, to serve a warrant when 20 armed vehicles ambushed the officers. Fourteen officers were declared dead and another nine were injured.

“You can’t fight fire with fire. You can’t fight violence with violence … you have to fight evil by doing good.” Obrador said at a news conference on Monday morning. While Obrador, a year into his term, continued to speak about how his new policy is affecting change, police officers were calling for backup. “I’m dying,” one officer barely blurted on his radio, according to audio recordings of police scanners at the time.

As first responders arrived on the scene, they found handwritten messages, signed “CJNG.”

Credit: @AlertaGDL / Twitter

Families of the victims are angry that their loved ones weren’t more heavily armed to defend themselves against the thirty gunmen who attacked the police convoy from behind. One day after the attack, a memorial service became a town hall of sorts. Grieving family members shouted at Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles, “Like sheep to the slaughter!” 

Five families refused to allow the coffins of their loved ones to be present in the company of those they feel were responsible for the deaths: the officials who didn’t adequately arm the police to defend themselves. 

Obrador’s strategy to end cartel violence is two-fold: end corruption and provide resources to poverty-stricken regions.

Credit: lopezobrador / Instagram

“We are going to continue with our strategy,” López Obrador later said. “For us it is very important for there to be well-being, that peace with justice can be achieved … and also avoiding that authorities mix with crime.” Experts think Obrador’s strategy is smart for long-term success in stabilizing Mexico. Still, in the short-term, murders have only increased in Mexico. Last year, a record number of 29,000 murders were recorded, and 2019 may just break that record.

Falko Ernst, a Mexican analyst for the International Crisis Group, says Michoacán will continue to be “deep narco-war territory” until the state develops a strategy to de-signify the land.

Credit: @falko_ernst / Twitter

In a Twitter thread, Ernst recalled the decades-long history of cartel conflict in a small, rural village called El Aguaje. It “sits on a key overland road connecting the Hot Land region with the Sierra Madre, and was once a stronghold of the Milenio Cartel, big-time coke runners in the ’90s/early 2000s,” Ernst tweeted. At the time, a young Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, who would later become “El Mencho” and the boss of CJNG, was a member of the Milenio cartel. 

Ernst was there in 2011 when Milenio drug lords were dragged out of their mansions and executed. “La Familia” then took over the town, until it split into two conflicting gangs. That’s when El Mencho broke away to form the Jalisco (or CJNG) cartel.

Now, El Mencho, personally ousted by La Familia, is warring for their territory, leaving civilians in the crossfire.

Credit: lopezobrador / Instagram

El Mencho lived in the U.S. at one point, without papers, and served three years in prison for selling drugs stateside. As soon as he was released in 1997, he was deported to Mexico, where he went on to serve on the Jalisco state police force. For some reason, he left the force to join the Milenio cartel. El Mencho was born just a few miles away from El Aguaje. Now, he’s leading CJNG to reclaim what they think belongs to them–la puebla del Aguaje. 

The DEA has dubbed El Mencho one of their “most wanted,” and has offered a $10 million bounty for his arrest.

“El Chapo was violent, but El Mencho has taken it to a new level,” the lead DEA agent told Univision.

Credit: @KonnieMoments1 / Twitter

“Decapitations, dissolving bodies in acid, public executions, ripping out the heart, killing women and children, bombings against people. It happens almost every day,” DEA agent Kyle Mori told Univision. “El Chapo was violent, but El Mencho has taken it to a new level.” 

In August, CJNG hung nine bodies from a bridge in Uruapan, Michoacán, and hung up a large banner that read, “Lovely people. Carry on with your day.” Ten other bodies were dumped on the road nearby.

READ: Mexico Is Reeling After A Massive Gun Battle Over The Capture Of El Chapo’s Son

New Study Finds Taíno DNA Is Still Present Despite Paper Genocide Perpetrated By European Colonizers

Culture

New Study Finds Taíno DNA Is Still Present Despite Paper Genocide Perpetrated By European Colonizers

robertpairman / daka_manicatonaru / Instagram

The island now named Puerto Rico was once home to between 30 and 70 thousand people collectively known as Taíno. They all descended from various ethnic groups that settled on the island as far back in history as 3,000 B.C. In the 15th century, after the colonizers arrived, the official story was that a century of conquistadores wiped any trace of these indigenous peoples. They were thought to be extinct —or so said the official recordings.

A DNA study last year found that 61 percent of all Puerto Ricans and roughly a third of Cubans and Dominicans have Native American mitochondrial DNA.

Credit: @NatGeo / Twitter

It was a common belief —until now— that Puerto Rico’s indigenous Taíno people were exterminated shortly after the Spanish conquista took place in 1511. “[The indigenous people] show the most singular loving behavior… and are gentle and always laughing,” Columbus recorded. Conquistador Diego Velázquez’s arrival in 1511 would change that forever. Those Taíno who had never before been put to the sword or worked to death fell victim to smallpox, influenza, and measles. The diseases from Europe presented a biological attack the native people could not survive. Within 100 years of Columbus’ landfall, virtually the entire indigenous population – heavily concentrated in the fertile lowlands of eastern Cuba – had perished. Yet contrary to popular belief, Taíno bloodlines, identity, and customs were never completely extinguished.

The overall population of the Taíno people fell dramatically after being submitted to forced relocations, starvation, disease, and slavery. Colonizers killed off the population during the savage and brutal conquest of the New World. They even removed them from censuses. “Christian converts”, “Wives of colonists” and “other” were some of the categories they were put into. These official records and other colonial documents have reinforced the narrative that the indigenous peoples were completely extinguished. 

The tribe’s supposed extinction was a ‘paper genocide,’ according to experts.

Credit: audrey_has_tea / Instagram

Recently, people from all over the Caribbean have spoken out to National Geographic, declaring that they identify as Taíno and that their people survive to this day. Chief Jorge Baracutei Estevez, the head of the Taíno organization Huguayagua, describes the historical wipe-out of the tribe’s existence as a ‘paper genocide.’

According to Estevez, people were made to disappear on paper: “The 1787 census in Puerto Rico lists 2,300 pure Indians in the population, but on the next census, in 1802, not a single Indian is listed,” Estevez writes. “Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Spaniards who were reluctant to free their Indian slaves simply reclassified them as African on the census, Estevez writes.”

“We’re told our past is a thing that went extinct,” says Maria Nieves-Colón, an anthropological geneticist at Arizona State University, told The Atlantic.

Credit: higuayagua / Instagram

Growing up in Puerto Rico, the story was different. Her friends and neighbors would share oral histories about traditions that were passed down to them from Native ancestors, who must somehow have survived to share these customs. Over the past 10 years, Nieves-Colón has been working to collect tiny fragments of DNA from ancient remains. From three archaeological sites on the island, she and her colleagues acquired 124 skeletal remains, which all dated between A.D. 500 and 1300. They then searched teeth, bones, and dental plaque for genetic fragments—a difficult task, since DNA breaks down quickly and readily in tropical conditions.

Nieves-Colón was able to confirm through genetic research, that pre-Columbian populations share DNA sequences with modern-day Puerto Ricans. 

Credit: guaisaguey / Instagram

Her team managed to completely decipher the mitochondrial genomes from 45 precontact people, and partial nuclear genomes from two of them. These sequences confirmed that indigenous Puerto Ricans were strongly connected to Amazonian groups from Venezuela and Colombia, and likely originated from that region. They also contained genetic evidence connecting pre-colonial populations with modern ones.

Modern-day Taínos have fought to correct the historical record and claim their identity.

Credit: wearetaino / Instagram

“Through marriage certificates, baptismal records and a scant few census reports, I was able to identify a few family members (in the mid-1700s) who were officially ‘identified’ as Negro one year, but categorized as ‘Indio’ just a few years prior,” Maritza Luz Feliciano Potter told National Geographic. “While I don’t deny my European or African ancestry, I deeply feel it’s long due that my family relearns, remembers, and reclaims our birthrights as Indigenous Boricuas [Puerto Ricans]. We Are Taíno! We are still here!,” she continued. The modern-day Taino have fought to correct the historical record by lobbying for accurate census categories that allow them to be counted.

This research provides the first concrete proof that indigenous ancestry in the Caribbean has survived to the present day.   

Credit: caona_choreto / Instagram

“This shows that there really are ties to populations that are indigenous to the island, and survived through colonization, and are present in modern peoples,” researcher Benn Torres told National Geographic. “This is something that some people have said all along, based on their oral histories and other ways of knowing.”

READ: Ecuador Was In Chaos After Massive Protests But The Government Has Reached A Deal With These Indigenous Activists