Although anthropologists and census takers classify them according to language groups (such as Huichol, Náhuatl, and Cora), indígenas generally identify themselves as residents of a particular locality rather than by language or ethnic grouping. And although, as a group, they are referred to as indígenas, individuals are generally uncomfortable being labeled as such.
While the mestizos are the emergent self-conscious majority class, the indígenas, as during colonial times, remain the invisible people of Mexico. They are politically conservative, socially traditional, and tied to the land. On market day, the typical indígena family might make the trip into town. They bag tomatoes, squash, or peppers, and tie up a few chickens or a pig. The rickety country bus will often be full and the mestizo driver may wave them away, giving preference to his friends, leaving them to trudge stoically along the road.
Their lot, nevertheless, has been slowly improving. Indígena families now almost always have access to a local school and a clinic. Improved health has led to a large increase in their population. Official census figures, however, are probably low. Indígenas are traditionally suspicious of government people, and census takers, however conscientious, seldom speak the local language.
Recent figures, however, indicate that 8 percent of Mexicans are indígenas—that is, they speak one of Mexico’s 50-odd native languages. Of these, a quarter speak no Spanish at all. These fractions are changing only slowly. Many indígenas prefer the old ways. If present trends continue, the year 2019, 500 years after the Spanish arrival, will mark the return of the Mexican indigenous population to the preconquest level of 20 million.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition