Así el mestizo se encuentra con el indio. Indios who speak Spanish and are detribalized are viewed as no longer Indian, because they are not identifiably culturally pure/pre-modern/static. To remain Indio one must be unchanged and unchanging. Therefore, most Meso-American indigenous people are classified and self identify as mestizos. As de-tribalized peoples cross landscapes, mestizo nationals are moving out of and into different sets of linguistic realities, empowered and disempowered discourses; most of these realities are hostile, and some of them unwilling or unable to hear. For many de-tribalized peoples there seems to be no choice but to become a nationality. “Are you Indian?” “No, I'm Mexican.”
― Reid Gómez (Navajo)
These words, these words are for the lost ones. They are for those “lost in a world of confusion,” in a world that seeks their death, their erasure, their non-being. These words, they belong to those who are trapped between illegitimate territorial boundaries; those rigid, fluid lines that bleed and produce border consciousness. These words are for the displaced, the detribalized, the “mixed-race,” “mixed-blooded” people. These words reverberate for those they call “los mestizos” of México. These words, well, by now you should have a picture: these words are for los Mexicanos desindianizado. I write for them, for us, for our future generations of de-Indianized pueblos. I write to them and I affirm their experience and existence. What experience? The experience of being torn from your mother; ripped from your home; your ombligo (umbilical cord) buried by Spanish colonizers, lost to you, your family and your ancestors. This is the history of the last 500 years of México. No, it is not a beautiful syncretism; and yes, this is about power, desire, and the nuances of colonialist structures. I ask, what is a hemispheric Indigenous consciousness in the 21st century? But we first ask, who are we? And through this question, we collectively think through history, power, ancestors, and spirit. We move through the complexities of imposed identities, and, in the end, we arrive at our question -- the question at the heart of this stream of writing.
Se dice que estamos mezclados, que somos mestizos.
1519 in the lands of Anahuac (Turtle Island) began la edad de la resistencia de los pueblos indígenas. This date is particular to Mesoamerica, and we can trace back Indigenous resistance to European domination to 1492. The goals of the savage empires of the “western, civilized” world were extractive in logic and would later organize under the principles of colonialism. Yet the destructive metropole of colonialism did not last and would see the end of its reign with the birth of independence movements across Abya Yala (the continent). Of course, this is not true of the entire continent as settler colonial states emerged, as is seen with the United States and Canada. México, Central America, and the Carribean would see different manifestations of westernized governance such as the 20th-century conception of the nation-state. It is also not shocking that European-descent peoples, groups, and organizations (i.e. the clergy) would “assist” Indigenous struggles in these parts of what I call Latinized Abya Yala, what is commonly termed Latin America. What remains in question is why these nation-states, organized after 20th-century independence movements from their colonial metropoles (i.e. España and Portuguesa), are still run by European-descent elites. Yet, let us back up a moment. Who are the People of Latinized Abya Yala?
Se dice que no somos humanos. Sí, aquí; en los Estados Unidos a donde emigraron mis abuelos. Aquí, en el otro lado de la muerte.
El sistema de castas was the racial order and hierarchy of those colonial states dominated by España and Portuguesa. This system of “castas” separated people according to the racial mixture that then decided your location in the social order within the colonial state. This way of social organization would persist for years to come, and, for example, by the time of “Mexican” independence from España, the system of “castas” would be abolished as a juridical and geopolitical system of racial categorization. Yet, the wounds of Spanish colonization would not disappear from Indigenous lands and territories such as México. Racism in terms of racial mixture, in proximity to “Indianness” and Blackness, persisted in the socio-political and cultural fabric. Criollos, those of “pure” Spanish-descent,” remained and enjoyed the privileges of being in proximity to whiteness and being defined as those who were “blancos” (white). Because many, now known as Mexicanos, were biologically mixed, the racist structures of color affected Indigenous people, their lifeways, and their homeland. The aftermath of the Mexican Revolution was a powerful blow to Mexicanos who were facing harsh changes stemming from the forces of modernity/coloniality. The Mexican nation-state as it was being formed relied on state ideologies such as mestizaje (mixture) to assimilate Indigenous Mexicans into the modernizing social sphere of the state. This was a practice of Mexicanizing the Indian, not of Indianizing the Mexican. Thus, we return back to the notion of los Mexicanos desindianizado and how coloniality of being was able to rupture Indigenous identity among los pueblos indígenas of Mesoamérica. De-Indianization worked at removing Indigenous collective identity for a national identity (i.e. Mexican) and assimilating those who were de-Indianized into the “mestizo” nation. Mestizaje operated ideologically to sooth this modernizing transition, but at the same time, it was not a material reality for all Indigenous Mexicans. The uneven development and building of the nation-state of México created los dos Méxicos: the imagined México and México profundo (Bonfil Batalla, 1996). These two Méxicos were different in the following ways: one was the modernizing nation-state that functioned through the coloniality of power, and the other, well the other was the “deep” México of Indigenous Mexicans.
- Abuela, quien somos?
- Ay mijito... pues, somos P’urhépecha.
- Quien son ellos?
- Ellos? Ellos, nosotros, somos un pueblo más fuerte mijito.
- Pero, no somos mexicanos?
Indigenismo, as a colonial tool of preserving national “treasures,” relegated Mesoamerican Indigenous civilization, knowledge, and People as iterations of the past. This state-sanctioned apparatus of Indigenous erasure works two-fold: de-rooting Indigenous people from the land and a complex attempt of mestizo-izing/modernizing México. Campesinos became proletarianized thus mestizo but are and remain Indigenous people. What is at work here are the processes of nation-state logics, that of modernity/coloniality, that calls for the drive of Eurocentric, westernized epistemes and material forces (i.e. architecture) that supplant Indigenous life, worldviews, and land. What they don’t tell us is that their project of coloniality, that of these Latinized nation-states of Abya Yala, are projects of Indigenous death, both figuratively and literally. Pueblos indígenas y originarios become defined and perceived as outside modernity, as outside civilization. Pueblos become sites of regulation as the Latinized nation-states enforce a strict code and requirement for Indigeneity, not so different from the United States and Canada. Traje, lenguaje, y costumbre become the markers of Indianness, and implicitly so does your skin color, your location, and your class status. This brings us to the misconception that all “mestizos” are Spanish and Indigenous descent. While this holds true for many, this leaves out the African diaspora and those “mestizos” who are of African descent. Yes, Indigenous Mexicans mixed with others from outside Abya Yala, including inter-tribally with those from across Abya Yala. Yet, “mestizo” after the 20th century did not only denote race but one’s socio-political location that included their racialized identity. It signified those outside of the “Indian” and who were assimilating into the Mexican state, or any other Latinized nation-state, coerced or not.
El Chicano no se nace, se hace.
Cultural nationalist Chicanos declared in 1969, after the eruptions of ‘68, their “Plan Espiritual de Aztlan.” This militant and nationalist approach to the politics Mexican origin peoples should adopt within the US mirrored the self-determination, national liberation movements across the globe. La Cruzada por la Justicia organized the first Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado where the draft of “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan” came forth as a collective manifesto. Alurista, a Chicano poet, provoked a powerful image that Chicanos were Native; one, because of their ancestors who descended from those “northern territories,” and two, because they were a “bronze people.” Aztlan became a metaphor for the spiritual nation of Chicanos who resided in the US, and that they should, as a “union of free pueblos” organize through a Chicano nationalist liberation struggle. Before we move together in this line of Chican@ history, I find it appropriate to locate and nuance Chican@ people, a commonly misunderstood People. Firstly, I want to situate Chican@ history and people through a long durée to understand Chican@ origins. Many, and this is a point of contention, pinpoint the emergence of Chican@ people to 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The logic is that the Mexicans who remained in the Southwest were now Chican@. They place the origin of Chican@s here because as newly “Mexican Americans” they were new people with a border culture, and neither from there nor here. While this perspective holds true for those of Mexican descent and their experiences after 1848, this I would argue is not an origin of Chican@ people. Taking a look at the long durée I underscored for the history of Indigenous Mexicans, we see different logics being employed and that clash with each other. What I am referring to here is that of the U-S///Mexico border (Hernández, 2018). The interwoven logics of settler colonialism and the coloniality of power operated at the border and arguably informs the nation-state projects throughout North Abya Yala. Indigenous peoples at those sites of the border faced the violence and power of the “borderlands” (Anzaldúa, 1987). Mexican origin Indigenous/”mestizo” people became only Mexican in the US, deracinated from the racial logics of México. I place the origin of Chican@ people in the gritos for a Chicanismo of 1969, especially propelled forward by those self-identified groups that articulated Chicanismo as a political philosophy and ideology. I say this because not all Mexican Americans are “Chican@s.” More provocatively, I would argue, Chican@s don’t have to be of Mexican origin. We see these sentiments from organizations such as the Chicano Higher Education Coordinating Committee and El Movimiento Chican@ de Aztlan. Chicanismo is a political, cultural, and social worldview that seeks the liberation of Indigenous people and the self-determination of a People against the oppression of the US government, settler colonialism, and capitalism. Chicanismo is a call to autonomy, a call for freedom, and a call to sovereignty for Indigenous people. I maintain this position while recognizing the failures and complexities of iterations that did stem from many Chican@ radical groups. But what People have not made mistakes in their struggle for life against the “civilization of death” (Hernández, 2018, personal communications)?
This land was Mexican once
was Indian always
And will be again.
― Gloria Anzaldúa (Chicana)
I affirm early Chican@ struggles as Indigenous because at the heart of these struggles they were an Indigenous revolt against Anglo-European domination, and remain so today albeit different. Early Chican@ articulations of identity centered the colonial conceptions of “mestizo,” bronze, Raza, and Mexican Americanness. This was, I believe, a process that many Mexican origin people faced as they experienced an Anglo-European landscape and a distant México that was also undergoing its own national state project. But here at this point in history, we are able to understand the resistance of a People who did away with nation-states, national identities, and self-determined for themselves who they were in the face of settler colonialism in the US. Chican@s participated in a decolonial project that sought a movement against power, one that shrugged off the colonial imposition of defining who they were and where they were going. Chican@s were re-connecting as a diverse colonized group in the US to their Indigenous roots and ancestry, wherever they might be. Chicanismo, then, was an attempt to re-think one’s positionality in contrast to the power structures that denied your humanity and dehumanized you in all facets of social life. Chican@ is not a new people in the sense of being separate and distinct, but instead, can be understood as a new people through the logic of articulating a new liberation consciousness, a new anti-colonial worldview. Chican@ identity, as it changed and evolved over time (the last 50 years) and space (across regions, geographies), is an expanding assemblage of Chicanismo. “Chican@” signaled a transgression to the coloniality of being/truth; it overcame westernized logics that demanded a solidarity with the displaced, the detribalized, the diaspora, and colonized, oppressed people of the hemisphere and the world. Chicanismo rejected colonial regulation of Indigeneity and set at the forefront the structures of power that plagued our diverse communities. As we re-think this history, this consciousness, we are still pushing against master narratives that make misunderstood the Chican@ people.
Aztlan will save the world eventually…
― Aztlan Underground
Xican@s emerged, I believe, as militants, healers, danzantes, professors, students, organizers, and freedom fighters who intentionally sought an equilibrium with the cosmos. As internationalists, Xican@s, with the spirit of their ancestors and Elders, struggled for human and Indigenous rights. Xican@s transcended the past iterations of Chicanismo and abolished its perceived boundaries thus attempting to bridge and build beyond narrow, dominant conceptions of Chicanismo. As a culmination of, and an extension to the growing Xican@ consciousness, a re-connection to ancestral knowledge-systems was taking root and momentum. The “X” was a return to our ombligo and asked those who self-determined themselves as Xican@ to resurge a connection to Mother Earth and the cosmos. The last 20 years have seen these developments and growing worldviews. What is taking form is the re-imagining of Nation and Peoplehood, and ultimately the hemispheric Indigenous consciousness across Abya Yala. And here we arrive at the core and decolonial spirit of these words: what is the Xican@ Nation today? It is unclear what it is if we remain trapped in identity politics; more so if we are trapped between nation-state territorial boundaries and nationalities. A proposal: the Xican@ Nation is an inter-tribal, decentralized alliance, federation, coalition, and People (Luna, 2014). I assert its Peoplehood for one reason: Chicanismo’s decolonial drive and desire for a re-humanization of the de-humanized. It is a Peoplehood because many detribalized, de-Indianized, "landless" peoples may claim Xican@ as their Indigenous identity, their People, their heterogeneous community. And if Indigenous ancestry, Tribe, Nation, and pueblo is known, Xican@ gives a name to a politic, an ethos, and a consciousness. I trace this articulation of a Xican@ Nation to the spirit of Aztlan. Aztlan is an ideological and spiritual conception that was first iterated by American Indian scholar Jack D. Forbes (Powhatan-Renapé/Delaware-Lenape) in 1967. To quote Chican@ Studies professor Roberto D. Hernandez, “Aztlan belongs to no flag or map, Aztlan is a return to our various and diverse ombligos, to our ancestral teachings and languages, to our spiritual, connected, non-compartmentalized, sacred selves.” Aztlan is not a cartography, geography, land, nor place. Aztlan is a spirit of Indigenous resurgence. Aztlan is a return to sacred relations, connections, and Indigenous knowledge. Aztlan is a Native oral story of migration and origin. Aztlan is a disentanglement with colonial, capitalist, and power systems/logic of westernized de-humanizing global projects. Aztlan is hemispheric, global Indigenous consciousness. It may indeed be the key for our People to be free.
To the Eagle and the Condor prayer, our sacred relations, and to the cosmos.
These words, these words are from decolonial love.
Kristian Emiliano Vásquez
Indígena Scribes is our writing side-project parallel to our overarching podcast of Xicana Tiahui. Here we post our writings of thoughts we have, essays we have written, poetry, social commentary, news reports, polemics, and our zine periodical available for purchase. We hold it valuable to our hearts the written word in the spirit of the huehuetlahtolli, and we aspire to be intellectually on point as well as accessible to our gente from the barrio to the academy.