"After all, to be “Latin” is to be hip, sexy, and perhaps most importantly, modern. But to be Indigenous is to be backwards, uneducated, and trapped in the past. Our indigenous cultural inheritance is viewed as a liability – an unwanted reminder of where we come from. Who wants to be a dirty Indian when you can be a spicy Latin, right?"
Although I do not personally agree with all of Kurly Tlapoyawa’s points, the epigraph above spoke volumes to what the current conversation in social media and Latinx spaces is undertaking.
The “Latinx” identity stems from the political project of Latinidad; it is one that is used as a pan-ethnic categorization. A good friend at UCLA told me about “Latinx” twitter and it's bashing/critiques on Indigenous Xican@s. At first, I wanted to believe that it was a phase in the 21st century and would vanish from social memory: but I was wrong, and that conversation has a history. Twitter and Instagram handles from all over the US constantly talk and discuss “Latinx” politics and identity. Social media has especially exploded with “critical” perspectives on the Xican@ community who are self-recognizing themselves as Indigenous. The critique is a simple one, and I would posit that it supports the colonial regulation of Indigeneity. Not only have these one-sided dialogues resounded echoes of coloniality and its power to erase Indigeneity, they are deficit in aim and scope.
Let us not forget that the word “Chicano” is diverse across space and time and has no solid or homogenous definition. This is a common misappropriation and misunderstanding of “Chicano.” Ever since the Chicano Movement of the 1960s-70s, this identity has taken its own path by different communities: and at its core, it is a self-ascribed identity rooted in community-based politics that is free from rigid ethnic affiliations such as Mexican-American.
It is common for people today to mistakenly perceive “Chicano” as just Mexican-origin people in the US Southwest and not know the efforts to perceive it as a hemispheric Indigenous political identity situated in the US. Not only that, no conversation really tackles “Chicano” and its journey across space and time and how not just people of Mexican-descent have embraced the philosophy of Chicanismo.
But this article is not focused on the dead-end of identity politics of Chicano identity, it is about Latinidad’s persistence in upholding coloniality. Social media has been a very conflicting virtual space where all peoples who have access engage in knowledge production and consumption. With that said, dominant voices for “Latinx” people have engaged the topic of Xican@ Indigeneity: how our claims to being Indigenous are problematic.
Although we can interrogate the validity and credibility of such arguments and claims, there is no use for that. “Latinx” is predicated in the erasure of Indigenous-descent peoples of Latin America. Latinidad’s political project is one of inclusivity and pan-ethnic identity. I would argue that this is mostly based on one language, Spanish. Here lies the problematic: Latinidad has issues that needs unpacking, that needs critique, and that needs reevaluation on its overwhelming subjugation of Indigenous people.
One of my questions that I have always asked is, how do we understand and define “Indigenous” and “Indigeneity?” For these people who embrace themselves as the colonial subjects of western colonization, we as a people are no longer Indigenous if we have no affiliation and have been disconnected to our original Pueblos. This idea in itself falls short of a strong critique and analysis of Indigenous and detribalized Indigenous peoples of Abya Yala (i.e. the Americas). It fails to understand the importance of history, of colonial and nation-state policy, of language, and of how a peoples survive the anti-Indigenous tactics of colonization.
I have no doubts many of these “Latinx” people are Indigenous themselves, but their own self-determination to recognize that is halted by identity politics. Many Indigenous people struggle for this self-determination. It’s not new and it’s not unique to “Latin America.” Urban and/or “mixed-blood” Indigenous people have had these same sentiments in the US or Canada. For Xican@s, we aren’t the only ones reclaiming, recovering, and resurging as (detribalized) Indigenous peoples of Abya Yala. Forced migration, deracination, western education, and nation-state ideology have impacted all Indigenous peoples on this continent. “Latinx” emerges as another tool of affiliation to modern labels that suggests a new peoples in a modern world.
Settler colonialism has played a distinct angle in these discussions where our claims as being Indigenous are also akin and tied to being settlers in the US, mainly rooted in topics of Aztlan. This has no real consideration to what power is in the US and relegates settler colonialism as a metaphor. What we aren’t talking about is how Latinidad in itself is a political project guided by the logics of settler colonialism. Not only does it reinforce the idea of supplanting Indigenous people, it also perpetuates the logics of whiteness and white supremacy.
This might be a strong critique, but it isn’t new and it has its roots since the Chicano Movement. During those times in el Movimiento it was compared to Hispanic. Are we just changing our language? What is Latinidad’s long-term goals in regards to Indigenous sovereignty and autonomy? What positionality does Latinidad hold in Indigenous decolonization?
“Latinx” social media has become a very interesting place, and I would say that at times it can be a very violent place when the policing of identity takes place. It also detracts from conversations that address power at structural and nation-state levels, whereas the focus has been the critique of a People.
Xican@s are being criticized for engaging in Indigenous ceremonies, organizing with Elders in the US Southwest, and doing the work that leads toward liberatory aims. “Latinx” social media in turn is “critically critiquing” Xican@s in these efforts of returning to Mother Earth and the Cosmos, who are respecting the Indigenous peoples of the lands we are visitors to, and who are rejecting the colonial politics of recognition.
We know that we aren’t all Mexika, and many of us are starting to identify with our Pueblo; and we know Aztlan is not the US Southwest that we need to reclaim for Mexico, i.e. the reconquista. On the contrary, we understand the Mexican state as a nation-state upheld by white supremacy and the power of coloniality. We know that ALL nation-states on Abya Yala are illegitimate and that they need to repatriate ALL land back to Indigenous peoples. Our return to our ancestors and our sacred paths does not need backlash when the “Latinx” community imposes their terms and conditions on all of Latin America and to those who migrate into the US.
I hope to highlight in the future what Xican@s are doing in the community that doesn’t focus and centralize identity politics and the agenda of Latinidad. I think that on the ground there is a larger conversation happening on Indigenous resurgence and what it means to work with other Indigenous communities. It is our duty to bring these conversations from the ground up; let this be the call to our responsibility to the community. Latinidad and its discontents must be reconsidered.
Kristian Emiliano Vasquez
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.