Mexicans, The People Of The Corn

In Mexico, there is a legend that says that before Quetzalcoatl arrived, the Aztecs only ate the animals they could hunt as well as insects and roots. However, no one enjoyed the food completely, they felt that something was missing.

Besides, the situation got worse when the animals no longer appeared and the plants stopped growing. Then, despite the efforts of the people, the meals became more tasteless and sad.

However, there was a rumor that, among the mountains, there was a plant with golden and luminous fruits that could feed them forever. Some daredevils ventured out to try to get it, but it was impossible.

After several attempts, the people begged the gods for help. Those entities answered their call but not all their strength was enough to cross the mountains. Then, Quetzalcoatl found out, and, as he loved men, he became a little ant to be able to cross a narrow and dangerous path but when he returned to the Aztecs he gave them the precious golden seed. From that moment on, his people cultivated native corn with care and dedication. And, since then, the corn not only transformed forever the Mexica gastronomy (Mexican cuisine includes over 600 corn dishes) but, over time, it became an indispensable and characteristic part of their identity.

The yellow corn commonly found within the US pales as compared to the shapes, sizes, and colors of the native corn varieties cultivated by the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The ears of native corn may range from a couple of inches to a foot long, in colors that include white, red, yellow, blue, and black. Some varieties even have an assortment of colors on one ear.

In Mexico, native corn isn’t just a commodity. It’s a cultural issue. Corn is inextricably tied to the quotidian lives of the peasants and indigenous peoples of Mexico. Because of the essential grain, it shapes daily meals, and it’s growing cycle influences the timing of festivals. The image and shape of maize could be a ubiquitous component of architecture and crafts. Spiritually, physically, and economically, corn sustains indigenous peoples. During tough economic times or within the face of natural disasters, families will produce more maize to feed themselves.

NAFTA has allowed the Mexican market to be flooded with imported corn from the US, the overwhelming majority of which is genetically modified. So, this is often seen not as a trade issue but as a threat to national heritage.

Unlike other corn, including hybrid and genetically modified corn, Mexican native corn is grown solely using traditional agricultural methods. There are over 60 sorts of corn developed with traditional and indigenous agricultural methods that are now considered by the law as an area of Mexico’s national heritage.

To affect the threat to native corn, the Tzotzil people formed the Mother Seeds in Resistance project. Mother Seeds is based in an autonomous indigenous school within the Chiapas highlands. There the community is identifying seeds to be preserved and preparing them to be frozen (for preservation, the moisture content within the seeds must be below 6 percent; otherwise the water inside the seeds will freeze then burst the cell membranes, destroying them).

Community members of all ages are involved within the identification process, and it’s become a channel through which young are learning from their elders.