- Juan Gregorio Palechor: The Story of My Life by Myriam Jimeno
“I consider myself a person who thinks first,” the full-time indigenous activist Juan Gregorio Palechor tells Myriam Jimeno. “First I look at where the problem is and where the deception is. Then I speak and I provide leadership by my teaching. When my time comes, I will pass, but the world keeps going on. But you have to point things in the right direction so they don’t go backward. If they’d taught me something I would’ve been able to do more. That’s my grievance with the government; that’s the anger of Palechor” (p. 161). [End Page 154]
This book is the up-close and lively account of Palechor’s face-to-face experiences in Colombia during much of the twentieth century. He engages in national politics and in 1971 becomes a central figure in the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC). Too much deception (engaño), and not enough education are key experiences in his life. Palechor acts on what he sees. Expecting much of the people of his society, he feels deceived and humiliated, time after time. He expects “a government that would give indigenous people their rights along with those of the campesinos, workers and students” (pp. 148–149).
Palechor engages his society, time and again. The problems he perceives are the fault of individuals, mainly politicians, manipulative men who engage in “politiquería,” a wonderfully rich and deeply meaningful term. “I am very dissatisfied with the way they talk, the speeches they give to the least educated groups, the way they make a lot of promises” (p. 156). It is the racism of individuals more so than race itself that is at the center of Palechor’s outlook. “But it is a race of people, a family tradition. Because that old guy, what’s his name? Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera; he was president for several terms and so people had to believe in his descendent, Víctor Mosquera Chaux. Nothing at all … And it is something that will never change as long as he lives. Like a cat toying with a mouse” (p. 157). If he is angry, Palechor says, it is against this man. He is disillusioned by others.
His father sends him and his siblings to school. Palechor does likewise with his, sacrificing deeply together with his wife to do so. He complains that the teachers are incompetent and that there is too much talk of religion. The society should do better. He refers briefly to recovering past indigenous traditions, largely lost, with one reference to herbal medicines coming across as a proposed social alternative. People should be taught more about family planning, for example. “I know there’s a lot of ignorance talking about the direct contact between men and women. People aren’t educated. We aren’t educated, and that’s why there’s a lot of family, because we are not educated in any sense and because there’s this lack of education among lovers” (p. 155).
Palechor’s life is compelling. Jimeno addresses its historical contexts, the difficulty of maintaining an ethnic identity, the complexities of writing a life history, and the literature on diversity and ethnic pluralism. She asks, “Are the dilemmas of pluralism intrinsic to the structure of the modern nation-state” (p. 39)? Juan Gregorio Palechor would respond empirically. “First I look at where the problem is and where the deception is. Then I speak and I provide leadership by my teaching.” He wants indigenous people to be included in Colombian society.
Does Palechor think that he is superior to the “gentlemen,” to the “doctores” and the intellectuals of his society? He knows he is more responsible than they are, and smarter than many of them. As a child he read and did not play. But perhaps it is only at one point that he casts others collectively in a lower...