INDIGENOUS PEOPLES DAY:
AFFIRMING SELF-DETERMINATION IN 21ST CENTURY (A REFLECTION)
On August 30th, I was in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México when I heard about Semillas Community School at Los Angeles City Hall. They were danzando Danza Azteka in the middle of the city hall, with peoples surrounding them and partaking in sacred ceremony. There were youth, adults, and elders dancing to the beat of the huehuetl (grandfather drum), shaking their sonajas, and stepping each foot with a prayer. The sight of such an event and protest for Indigenous Peoples Day astounded me; Abolish Columbus Day became a reality in the City of Los Angeles.
It has been a long and arduous struggle, some 525 years, for Indigenous peoples in this hemisphere to be recognized, but we must know that it isn’t the end. When I travelled to Chiapas to study under Inés Hernández-Avila, profesora of Native American Studies at UC Davis, I was learning from Maya Indigenous peoples who faced a similar struggle for life and autonomy.
The Tsotsil and Tseltal Pueblos I learned from was a powerful and reflective time in my own life as I navigated what it meant to be Indigenous. But this wasn’t an easy experience when many of my peers at the time faced issues of identity when questioned about their Indigeneity. This questioning did not come from the Maya Pueblos, which many didn’t question us and reaffirmed our journey of re-connection, but it stemmed from our fellow students who told us otherwise. When I saw the news of Indigenous Peoples Day, I knew that the complex question of identity was further complicated when student-danzantes from Semillas Community School were at the forefront of this gathering.
When the Los Angeles City Council passed the proposition of abolishing Columbus Day, it marked a new perspective and recognition of Indigenous peoples. Historically, this conversation has been ongoing ever since the beginning of colonization and will continue under settler colonialism of this hemisphere. And we are beginning to see beyond Indigenous issues in the US, and with these student-danzantes we see a disruption of what it means to be Indigenous.
The emergence and resurgence of peoples identifying with their original Pueblos is a profound consciousness in today’s political climate. Although it is nothing new—the Chicano Movement, for example, had many peoples advocating for Indigenous consciousness, as well as the American Indian Movement including Xican@s in their activism—we are seeing an exponential and more public discourse and conversation surrounding Indigeneity.
Months after the vote to approve of Indigenous Peoples Day, the UCLA American Indian Studies Center announced their celebration for such an accomplishment. So on October 9th, the center hosted the Indigenous Peoples Day celebration at the Fowler Museum. The event consisted of Indigenous elders, singers, dancers, and drummers to celebrate the rich and impactful culture that was and continues to thrive after conquest.
A significant aspect of this event was in the invitation for Semillas Community Schools to have a Danza ceremony in honor of their work and labor in organizing for Indigenous Peoples Day. This was significant duly to the slow and tremendous work these Indigenous communities are committing for coalitional organizing. The history of the US-Mexico border and the relations Indigenous people from both sides have had is a painful but healing process, that has undergone immense work, as we once again are recognizing ourselves as relatives. I and a few of my peers at UCLA were invited to attend and dance with Semillas Community Schools in an act of solidarity.
As we gathered at the break of dawn, with the smell of copal in the air, we patiently waited at the bottom of Janss Steps. I was there with Danza Temachtia Quetzalcoatl, a Danza círculo from Sylmar, and as we began danzando with the students it was a beautiful moment for my community and I. This was an act of self-determination; these students would speak from their hearts what this day would represent, something they held dear to them and their families. As a self-identified Xicano-P’urhépecha, it is important we are recognizing and affirming our traditional and ancestral ways that we have been disconnected from. All these students knew themselves as Indigenous, and in that act of self-recognition there is self-determination.
Although a celebration of a day does no justice to the immense injustices european and western colonialism has inflicted on this hemisphere, it brings us a day closer toward liberation for the next seven generations. Indigenous Peoples Day will always remain a day of reflection and imaginings for a liberated future.
Kristian Emiliano Vasquez
Collective member of Xicana Tiahui.
Here we post our writings of thoughts we have, essays we have written, poetry, social commentary, news reports, polemics, and other kinds of writing. 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.