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Chamula Welcome

March 16, 1986

The article, "A Hamlet in Foothills Is Mexico 1,000 Years Ago" by M. Booth Gathings (Feb. 23) brought back recollections of a visit there 15 years ago. My husband was an officer in the Mexican navy. We reached San Juan Chamula in the back of a flatbed truck, riding with Indians returning from work in San Juan Cristobal. We walked around the village square with the Indians staring at us. We headed for the church pictured in the article and entered its darkened interior. It contained no benches and men and women were worshiping on separate sides of the building.

About halfway to the altar we were surrounded by a group of men. In a mixed dialect of Spanish and their Chamula language they demanded to know what we wanted and who had given us permission to enter. My husband replied in Spanish that we were unaware that we needed permission and we merely wanted to "know the church." We were told we were not welcome and to leave at once.

We strode rapidly out, followed by the group. Once outside, the villagers milled around us, talking among themselves about us. Trying to appear calm, we began to walk out of the village toward the city, about eight miles away. We were followed at a distance, but dared not look back. It was a frightening experience.

No one knew we were there that day, not family, friends or anyone in town. We later learned from a Chamula Indian in town that several years before our visit some outsiders had stolen valuable icons from the church, one of the reasons why we had been so unwelcome.

ANNE HURST LOPEZ-ROJAS

Ventura

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