“Those are not real Indians,” he said to them. “There are no real Indians here. Only mestizos.”
During the Wars of Independence and the turbulent years that followed the establishment of the Republic of Mexico many young criollo intellectuals and proponents of independence tried to envision what the new nation might become. Simón Tadeo Ortiz y Ayala was one such dreamer. Born in Mascota, Jalisco to an important merchant family, he left for study in Europe in 1809 just before the first uprisings against the Spanish crown began. When he attempted to return to Mexico to support the revolution he was refused permission to leave Spain. He would not be denied though and sailed in secret to the United States, hoping to make his way south through Texas.
The failure of Hidalgo’s revolution forced him to a life of wandering, from New Orleans to Buenos Aires and Nueva Granada, then to England and Spain, presenting himself as an agent of a revolutionary government. He did what he could in these places to advance his cause and when the wars were at last over in 1821 he returned to a new nation. He dedicated himself to building it, imagining an ordered world, shaped by the ideals of the Enlightenment. What he found was a tumultuous political situation and a country ravaged by more than a decade of war.
He dedicated himself to bringing his imagined community to realization, writing treatises on the subject and becoming an advocate for the colonization of the states of Texas and Veracruz. Those projects encountered numerous difficulties. Settlers arrived during the spring and summer when yellow fever was prevalent, the agent in charge of arranging settlers betrayed him, and he was accused by the government of corruption and incompetence.
On his way to New York to meet incoming colonists he succumbed to cholera aboard the vessel the Spark.
The grass had been trimmed around the headstone, so he turned to the weeds sprouting from the mound of upturned earth that had still not settled all these weeks later. That, as with everything else these days, would take time. There were two names on the gravestone, and beneath those names two birthdates. Only one had the second date marking the end of a lifetime. The sky above, a prairie sky, never quite vanishing in the distance.
He was in a reflective mood as he drove home from the cemetery, the windows rolled down and the smell of the fields coming in. Before he would have gone on his own to do a job like this, but now he preferred company. He talked about how his father had gotten sick and he had quit school in grade nine to take over the farm. When the war had come he had not gone, as everyone else his age had, and he could recall the stares of neighbors as they wondered why this healthy young man had been given his exemption. It was a difficult time, but he kept the farm going, even after his father died, only to have to give it up when his brother returned with the war over. He married not long after and started his own.
“I never did go very far in life,” he said, “Just across the road.”