What’s in the Flag? Indigeneity, the Nation, and the State in Mexico



On August 13, 2023, Elis Mendoza was kind enough to bring Léopold to the third annual National Assembly for Water and Life organized by Indigenous activists in Atlapulco, Xochimilco, in the southern periphery of Mexico City. In his quality of outsider, Léopold was surprised to find the Mexican flag being given space in the Assembly, seemingly in contradiction to the Indigenous struggle against settler colonialism and extractivism. But what are the interstices between the nation and the state? The following text by Elis is her response to Léopold’s question.

Funambulist Beltran Garcia
An elder from the pueblos originarios from Mexico City leads a ceremony to bless the Assembly. / Photo by Sergio Beltrán-García.

We are at the National Assembly for Water and Life. An old man wearing an oversized Mexican hat and an ostentatious Mexican flag, makes his way towards the front of the assembly in a ceremonious gesture. Behind him follow a series of flags and banners representing different Indigenous nations and pueblos originarios, a term that some Indigenous communities in Mexico have adopted as a claim of their longer history in which the existence of the Mexican state occupies only a small moment and that, as recognized by the state, affords them certain rights.

This assembly is convocated by original nations for whom the defense of water is not only key to their survival, but an intrinsic part of their way to be on and with the land.

As such, it might appear contradictory to see a Mexican flag here. After all, the conveners make it very clear that what they are opposing is the extractivist nature of the Mexican state that has become a place of insurmountable capitalist violence where life, whether that of those defending the land (Indigenous communities, activists, farmers, women), species on the verge of extinction or protected forests, has become an obstacle to the never-ending development plans that have transformed everything into consumable merchandise.