The Resistance


 Illustration of the Popul Vuh by Diego Riveria

Remember us after we are gone. Don’t forget us. Conjure up our faces and our words. Our image will be as a tear in the hearts of those who want to remember us.
~Sacred Mayan Prayer, Popul Vuh
The invasion of this hemisphere was not a single event or a series of events of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The invasion and destruction have been constant for five hundred years. Christopher Columbus, Hernando Cortes, Francisco Pizarro, Pedro Alvarado, the Puritans, and other invaders instituted economic and political structures whose legacies still destroy land and people today.

Where once fleets of Spanish galleons transgressed seas loaded with armored soldiers carrying arquebuses and cannon, now U.S. Marines, rapid deployment forces, and CIA covert activities trespass across borders in order to carry out the will of the powerful. Where once the settlers came with horses and dynamite ripping out trees for plantations and roads for gold mines, now multinationals come to the Amazon rainforest with bulldozers and dynamite to clear away ancient trees for huge livestock plantations and roads for gold miners. Where once French, English, and Spanish traders carried human beings into labor slavery, now multinational traders carry factories to Mexico and Central America, delivering workers into virtual wage salary. Where once the invaders came with the requerimientosigned by Pope and King giving the native people an ultimatum: submit or be destroyed; now world lending institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank come armed with new requirements: submit your economic system to suit the world’s dominant countries or you will receive no new loans and your ravished economies will be destroyed. These new requirements sound much like the old patterns of extracting wealth: institute lower wages, increase exports, import technology and expertise from Europe and the United States, and then pay back the loans at exorbitant rates of interest.

Christopher Columbus planted the first sugar cane, instituting both forced labor to work the huge plantations and an export-based economy that made huge profits for a few white Europeans. Today cane cutters in the Dominican Republic and coffee pickers in Central American receive starvation wages while a few wealthy landowners and huge multinational corporations control the land and reap the profits. All of this is the legacy of invasion.
The first invaders said they were bringing God and civilization. In fact, what they brought was feudalism, deadly microbes, slavery, and lust for wealth. Within five hundred years the invaders annihilated whole tribes, killed millions of Africans, destroyed communal lands, eradicated whole species of plant and animal life, and melted sacred art and religious symbols into bullion. They ripped open the veins of Latin America, extracting blood from its people and gold and silver from its mountains.
Yet if invasion has been constant, the resistance to that invasion has also been ceaseless. From the shores of Africa to the Caribbean islands, from the Andean mountains and Guatemalan highlands to the Western plains, people have refused to submit to injustice and have struggled to preserve their culture and dignity. At times it was individual resistance—a runaway slave, a refusal to name co-conspirators, a revival of an outlawed cultural ritual. At other times it was highly organized resistance involving tens of thousands of people, such as the struggle for the independence of Haiti, Pontiac’s Confederacy, the Araucanian resistance, and the Mexican Revolution of 1910. More often than not, however, it was episodic and decentralized. Individuals or small bands of rebels decided to strike for freedom, or peasants organized to reclaim their land. From the first slave ships where Africans mutinied to capture the ship to tin miners striking in Bolivia and university students protesting in Mexico City, every generation since 1492 has resisted the invasion.

It would be impossible to document every act of resistance. For one thing, much of that record has been lost, since history is most often written by the conquerors. White Europeans have, for the most part, written the history of this hemisphere. The words of U.S. history texts used in schools show the perspective. As one textbook summarizes: Columbus’s voyage in search of a western route to Asia ended the isolation of American cultures and brought two worlds together.” Those are clearly not the words of an indigenous survivor of the decimation wrought by the European invaders.

The selections in this chapter follow major periods or patterns of resistance.


African American Resistance

Nat Turner Rebellion
African resistance began in Africa, continued on board the slave ships, and then resumed upon touching the shore of the land the Europeans called America. The African American resistance communities formed in the inaccessible areas of this hemisphere by runaway slaves is a testament to the courage and ingenuity of men and women struggling for freedom at any cost. African American resistance has been constant and multi-leveled. American resistance has been constant and multi-leveled. The selections try to show that variety and tenacity, from the anonymous woman rebel on the slave ship “Robert” to the women of Montgomery, Alabama, who were the power behind the successful bus boycott that ignited the civil rights movement; from the Jamaican resistance leader Nanny to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
See additional sources at:


Indigenous Resistance, North and South

The indigenous population, after an initial welcome to the Europeans, began a defense of their lives and land that continues today. We have selected some of the more heroic and successful of those efforts, including the great Araucanian resistance that defeated the Spaniards for three hundred years, keeping their lands in what is now southern Chile from colonization. But even when the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Apache nations succumbed to military firepower, a spirit of resistance could not be extinguished. Eighty years after the supposed final battle of the “Indian Wars,” a new native militancy rose up at Wounded Knee, the very site of that last battle, successfully challenging white domination and igniting a new sense of dignity and honor among native peoples.

In the Andean region that is now Peru and Bolivia, the eighteenth century was a time of upheaval marked by small and great rebellions. We introduce some of the leaders, including Juan Santos Atahualpa, Tupace Amaru II, and Micaela Bastidas.

In the nineteenth century it was Mexico’s turn, as the country erupted in 142 recorded village riots and revolts involving campesinos demanding land and justice. These rebellions that first lead to Mexican independence in the early part of the nineteenth century culminated with the Mexican Revolution at the dawn of the twentieth.

See additional sources at:
Tupac Amaru, The Life, Times, and Execution of the Last Inca


Central American Resistance

In the Twentieth century our attention turns to Central America, where modern-day rebels taking the names of past 
heroes continued the struggle for land and justice.  Throughout the Guatemalan highlands and Salvadoran mountains, 
communities of resistance continued the struggle that begun over five hundred years ago.


See additional sources at:


Resistance Today

One example among many is the struggle to save the rainforest of Brazil. All of the elements of the first invasion are being re-enacted there. Its final fate has become important to the whole world as scientists are realizing the sustaining effect that the world’s largest forest has on the ecosphere. Who wins that struggle may well determine the fate of the whole earth.The selections that follow try to inspire hope; demonstrate that courage was not the sole domain of men or famous leaders; give voice to the anonymous bands of rebels whose names are lost to us, but whose deeds remain; and show that defeat of the rebels has never been final, but has only served to push history to the next state where resistance emerges once again. Whatever measure of liberty or civil rights that we enjoy today was, in large part, won by these rebels.We have certainly inherited the winds of destruction, but we are also free to claim the legacy of resistance. Untold people have been killed but multitudes have risen up to take their places.


Pre-Reading Strategies

American Revolutions and Resistance

Quickly brainstorm a list of events and people that come to mind when you think of revolution in the Americas. Discuss in a group or individually write about your present knowledge of resistance and revolution. Review what you learned in school about revolutionaries in the United States, in Latin America, and among “minorities” on this continent. Or you might sketch a timeline to indicate any revolutions or rebellions you can remember and when they happened.


The Three R’s: Resistance, Revolt and Revolution

Consider why it is that individuals or groups “resist.” Brainstorm occasions when you or your group would resist. Consider the following questions?

  • What would be your rationale for resisting?
  • How would you go about planning your resistance?
  • What form would your resistance take?
  • What might be some differences, if any, between resistance and spontaneous revolts?
  • What is the connection between revolt and revolution?


African American Resisters

The introduction to this section of the book which follows, states, “The invasion of this hemisphere was not a single event or a series of events of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. The invasion and destructionhas been constant for over five hundred years.” So has been the history of resistance by indigenous people of the Americas and African Americans who were forcibly transported to these shores.

Although they have not been portrayed prominently in traditional history, African Americans have nonetheless played a significant role throughout the history of the Americas. Below are names mentioned in this part of the book. Review the names and list as many facts about each person or group that you have learned from conventional history. Some names may be new to you. After completing the reading of this section of the book, return to this exercise and review the names again, listing facts for each.After doing this exercise, reflect on/discuss the following:

  • How many of these individuals appear in traditional textbooks?
  • How is your understanding o history altered when you read about people such as these who have been significant in resistance and yet have never been recognized for their involvement in history?
  • Why may many of us not have heard of these significant persons in American history?
Joseph Cinque Toussaint L’Ouverture François Macandal
Jean-Jacques Dessalines Mary Church Terrell Maroons
Frederick Douglas Tomba Madison Washington
W.E.D. DuBois Nathaniel Turner Ida B. Wells
Henry Highland Garnet Denmark Vesey


Parallel Timelines

As you read through this entire chapter, develop parallel chronologies of resistance in different parts of the Americas (African American and Caribbean resistance, indigenous resistance throughout the Americas, and the more recent Central American/Mexican resistance). Against these three parallel timelines develop a fourth timeline of the events and periods of American history typically covered in American history classes. Use these timelines to organize your awareness of movements and issues in American history and world history.

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