- Performance in the Zócalo: Constructing History, Race, and Identity in Mexico’s Central Square from the Colonial Era to the Present by Ana Martínez
El Zócalo in Mexico City is today one of the most important and contested public spaces in the nation. During the demonstrations against femicide and gender violence that took place in March 2020—which led to the erection of steel walls around the National Palace—, the plaza became once again the “architectural and performative palimpsest” (1), the history of which Ana Martínez traces from Conquest to neoliberalism. The theatre of mestizo modernity-coloniality that is the Zócalo has recently been the space of symbolic inclusion of Mexico’s indigenous peoples in the Inauguration Ceremony of December 2, 2018, and the Día de los Muertos mega-altars of November 2019. And yet, it remains the space in which the political and social regime constructed out of coloniality reinforces the exclusion of sexual, gendered, and racialized minorities. The disavowal of gender and racial violence as integral to the modern nation-state project, materialized in the steel walls and armed guards, reveals the displacement, privatization, and exploitation that Mexico’s indigenous people have experienced since 1519.
Grounded in an understanding of indigenous and “Indian” as politically significant (and not essential) categories of identity, Martínez’s book traces the events and strategies that have constructed the Zócalo as a complex weaving of at least three distinct spatialities. From the material (brick and mortar) to the conceptual representations that reveal more of who is making them than of the space itself, to the lived events that undermine or reinforce politically dominant ideologies, the plaza is the space where the structural continuity of coloniality into the mestizo-nation is materialized, performed, and monumentalized. Martínez meticulously presents the various processes of displacement of indigenous peoples silenced in the centralization of the “indigenous” made symbol by the colonial and republican regimes.
Covering the five centuries of this plaza, Martínez presents key strategies, events, and performances that allow for a more complex understanding of the “Indian question” (4). The indigenous craftsmanship and labor that underpins the plaza underlines the subversive potential of this contested space. In parallel, the history of the creation of the plaza as a stage for historical memory through specific religious, political, and social events from the colonial Viceroyalty of New Spain, the Republic, and the post-Revolutionary state provides a nuanced understanding of a contemporary Mexican society still defining itself around the mestizo identity. Concretely, I highlight how Martínez’s analysis expands the studies on the casta system by focusing on how it was spatialized in the Zócalo and how this spatialization provided the social structures for liberalism as it materialized in practices of policing and criminalizing. In this analysis, Martínez’s reading of the Zócalo as a kind of border space where populations mingle and come together is highly enriching, revealing [End Page 255] the dark side of the monumentalization processes that shape the plaza/nation today. Overall, this study is key to understanding the performative practices that attempt to subvert the regimes of coloniality (e.g., the EZLN marches) and reappropriate the space of the nation towards a plurality that acknowledges the histories of violence while constructing other nations and other worlds.