¡Soy Xicano Indígena!:
A Difficult Love Letter to Our Interdependent Struggles
To the pueblo Xican@,
To the detribalized, the de-Indigenized, the un-rooted, the landless, and the displaced,
To all oppressed, colonized, racialized, and marginalized people across Abya Yala,
To the re-connecting, re-claiming, and re-affirming of humanity among the above peoples,
I was born in a hospital in Bellflower, California in late 1995, two years after the insurgent uprisings of the Maya pueblos of Chiapas, México. The world I was born into was a time of Indigenous resistance. It was also a time where an emerging Indigenous consciousness across Turtle Island respected the land as sacred, our Mother, and was in dire need for defending. I was raised in South Gate, California by mi familia mexicana that extended across generations, a family that made me who I am today. I am the third generation in the United States, part of my family’s diaspora, situated on Indigenous lands that face settler violence as well as oppositional anti-capitalist resistance. This is a letter from a Xicano Punk from Southeast Los Angeles, where the whites fled and the working-class Mexicanos, Centroamericanos entered and built community. I am a visitor to these lands of the Tongva Nation, lands where I was raised and eventually found my sacred purpose through Indigenous ceremony. This is a love letter to our interdependent struggles. From a de-Indianized, detribalized urban Native Punk, I write to all of you in these times of confusion; and in the words of our Xicana Elders, I (w)rite to remember.
I want to start by addressing the pain, the trauma, and the intergenerational susto that all Indigenous peoples have faced on this continent. This historical legacy is due to European imperialism, colonialism, and ongoing coloniality that produces structures of power and settler colonialism. These colonial systems bleed across the land, beyond national territorial boundaries of settler societies, into the spaces of the dispossessed and “landless.” I want to situate our point of departure to 1492, the Gregorian year that marks the logics of de-humanization. Firstly, I want us to understand that the language of “Indigenous” is a post-modern response to the (settler) colonial situation and I want to remind us that European logics for dehumanization began with the racialization and the stratification of “Indigenized” people (Roberto D. Hernandez, personal communication). Those “Indigenized” Indigenous people on this continent were considered non-Human because they had no souls, and their Humanity would be debated and continue to be contested til this day. Before 1492, the people of this continent, of this hemisphere, were people who organized societies and relationships under their own logic, knowledge systems, and worldview (i.e. cosmovision) which many still do. These ancestors before 1492 lived life according to their emergence, their own histories, and their relationships to one another through commerce, migration, conflict, and the organization of knowledge. The arrival of Columbus, the subsequent invasion by the Spanish, and the other following European imperialists, demarcates a logic that has persisted for the last 525 years. This is the logic of colonialism and its production of structures of power are continuously practiced till this very day, dehumanizing non-white, non-western, non-European people.
Racialization happened very differently throughout the continent, and it is needless to say that I cannot provide a comprehensive overview that will do justice to the complicated notions of race and racial formations over time. The erection of Nueva España signaled a colonial situation with España as the colonial metropole. What most people forget is that the 300-year long colonialism by Nueva España was extensive and expansive and dominated much of Mesoamerica and the Caribbean, as well as parts of South America. The racial logics of this socio-historical colonial system was based by the sistema de castas. This racial system was a biological whitening by the mixture between the supposed races of the Indian, the Spanish, and the African. The mixed-raced people of these colonial territories were sub-Human unless they continued to gain access to whiteness through the mixture with Spanish men or women. The anti-Blackness of this system always considered African mixture with animality and part of the lower rungs of Spanish society. These compartmentalizations of racial identities have persisted after the colonial administration left upon “Mexican” independence through the emergent coloniality racial system of colorism that maintained anti-Blackness and anti-Indianness.
Casta (coded here as the mixed-race) and Indigenous intellectuals were also participants in the construction of the nation-state we know today as Mexico. There is no argument that Christianized (Catholic) Mexica, Tlaxcalteca, P’urhépecha, Zapoteca, and other Indigenous elites of Mesoamerica assisted in building the structures of power that still exist today. This is also not to say that the working poor casta and Indigenous people of Mexico were not directly affected by this coloniality of power. What I want to highlight here is that, unfortunately, our own ancestors contributed to the power systems we see today albeit it has changed over time and space. 1821 was the abolishment of the sistema de castas under the newly formed Mexico, yet its colonial/racial subjects were still ascribed racial difference by color. The turn of the 20th century with the Mexican Revolution enhanced the racial logic of Mexico to consider all colonial/racial subjects as mixed people, i.e. the rise of the ideology of mestizaje. This effort to Mexicanize the colonized and racialized peoples of Mexico is a wound that that has not healed itself.
Many are pointing to the racism that exists among people in Mexico who have anti-Indian sentiments toward those “Indianized” communities who organize themselves as pueblos indígenas through usos y costrumbres. These critiques conclude that this racism that stems from “mestizo” society is constituent of their positionality as non-Indigenous people. On the contrary, racism and colorism are a production from a racial hierarchy based on race and racial formations, not Indigeneity. We must unpack what we mean by “mestizo” in this context and its use among Mexicanos in academia. For one, “mestizo” is a term given to people who are not recognized under the framework of pueblos indígenas. Mestizo pueblos are those that are considered assimilated into the Mexican state, thus not actually Indigenous. This idea stems from the “Indianization” of Indigenous people of Mexico; the idea of “the Indian” and the “modern Mexican.” This is an anti-Indianism that forces Indigenous Mexicanos of all tribal origins to reject their supposed non-Humanity as Indigenous toward the Human “mestizo.” What gets taken for granted in this dehumanizing equation is that these “mestizos” are now non-Indigenous. No longer is the “mestizo” considered solely a mixed race person of Spanish and Indian blood but is now a modern subject, a modernized Mexican. This is the logic of mestizaje and its powerful anti-Indianism that works toward whiteness, yet we as a people will always remain in the eyes of coloniality as colonial/racial subjects. I argue that we are still Indigenous, but that these systems of power are so ingrained into our socio-political fabric that it weaves itself into our consciousness and makes us believe that we are not connected. This is why racism persists and why “mestizos” are called outsiders (i.e. coyomeh, kaxlanes).
When American Indians are anti-Mexican (coded as anti-Indian) this is also lateral and symbolic violence that is deep-rooted in the structures of white supremacy. We cannot ignore that race is a powerful tool imposed onto us that needless to say forces many to identify with the colonizer and white, settler society. But do these investments in whiteness negate Indigeneity? Do they negate our relationships to land? It goes without saying that many light-skinned, white passing Native people in the US and Canada have faced their own insecurities as Native people because they can be mistaken for Anglo or Francophone. Their mixture and miscegenation have become a nameless rift in North America, where notions of Indigeneity are debated by ideas of blood quantum and being from the reserve/reservation (i.e. the questioning and policing of urban Native people). Still, It is no question that Indian Country has not fully addressed the anti-Blackness and colorism of their own respected communities and relationships to others outside of it. These issues in Indian Country must be engaged with, and our hemispheric analysis must be considered as we collectively work through these difficult conversations that may seemingly be invisible.
Let us not forget our Black African relatives who were stripped from their lands and were forced to articulate that feeling of home on this hemisphere. Blackness in this essentially anti-Human world constructed by Euromodernity and white supremacist domination requires new analyses from our own communities that are non-Black. How are we to build with the diverse Black community, in this anti-Black world, who may also be Afro-Indigenous?
This is our legacy of pain, trauma, and intergenerational susto. It is our pain because it confuses us. It is our trauma because our grandparents no longer want to speak of it. It is our intergenerational susto because it frightens us and because it sparks fear in what our future may hold. Scholars call “mestizos” reclaiming their Indigeneity as “mestizo mourning.” I implore us to think about what it means to no longer mourn and to assert ourselves in such a way that not only recognizes the communities affected by anti-Indianness but also recognizes the need to shift our paradigms that resists our coloniality of being, knowledge, and truth. This is a joint effort that has been ongoing since the 1960s but is marginalized in the dominant discourse. There is a need for re-defining the subject of the “Indigenous” that considers all colonial experiences with an eye for history, subjectification, and power. The arguments that maintain privilege as a factor for one’s non-Indigeneity, or maybe even non-Blackness, is a great way for communities to fight each other. I posit that our intersectional lens must not subscribe to oppression olympics, yet to also recognize that all our differences are important to think about in our interdependent struggles.
I want us to differentiate between the concept of “the Indian” and what we term as Indigeneity, to also not conflate Indigeneity with affiliation to specific nations, pueblos, tribes, or other terms that Indigenous people consciously organized themselves as. Whereas “the Indian” is a concept of the colonial situation, Indigeneity is our connection to the lands we emerge from, how we articulate it, and our ancestral rootedness to where we are from. This is why so many Xican@s are attempting to re-shift and complicate notions of Indigeneity as outside of the performance of Indianness in our conceptions of who is Indigenous.
I affirm myself as Xicano Indígena because I want to transcend the facticity of our life that was imposed on us through westernized, European logic. I affirm the Indígena because I am self-determining for myself that I am Indigenous to the land my ancestors emerged and where my family has connected to for the last 500 years. My biological mixture does not negate my connection to my ancestral home. My transforming cultural system of knowledge does not negate my connection to my land. My displacement and being in the Mexican diaspora, de-rooted from my homeland, does not negate my Indigeneity to the land, and the land will remember me as a distant relative now on Tongva land. We collectively need to work beyond the framework of authenticity -- of authentic experiences that pervade notions of what it means to be Indigenous. We have an imperative of going beyond European modernity to situate ourselves through our own calendars, our own value-systems, and to recognize the westernized perspectives and methodologies that lead us to have our unproductive inter- and intra-community conflicts. I assert Xicano Indígena because no one can strip me of my self-determination and re-connection to my ancestral cosmovision and to me connecting back to my ombligo.
Indigeneity in and of itself is not a political statement when its use is meant for exclusion and reifies problematic western ideas of territoriality. For example, at the recent National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), my partner Maritza and I did a workshop about Zines and their power for political organizing. After the workshop, an SJP organizer from Montreal, Canada approached us and asked us how to deal with a certain situation. At their university in Montreal, a Zionist was given a seat as part of a student commission for Indigenous people, amongst other First Nations students. This organizing principle of Indigeneity is highly contentious and demonstrates the reasons why we need to reevaluate how we organize for liberation. Zionists in recent years have been appropriating the language of settler colonial studies to legitimize their nation-state of “Israel” (Occupied Palestine). These Zionists claim Indigeneity to Palestine that justifies their presence and occupation of ancestral Palestinian Arab lands. I could go on about this, but the point here is that some Indigenous, First Nations students in Montreal are aligning themselves with settler colonizers in Palestine. And this wasn’t the first instance we encountered where Native students delegitimized the Palestinian struggle.
When will we recognize the structures of power, knowledge, being, and truth that impose themselves onto our people? Maybe instead of focusing on when people “become” non-Native, we can do the work of understanding when we collectively lost our memory of ourselves as a People, detached from a land-based Peoplehood, not a people of a nationality. De-Indianized people reclaiming their humanity and their Indigenous identities are not “mestizos” becoming Native “again.” They have always been Indigenous and not unlike other disconnected people over time where they realize where and who they come from do they understand themselves in relation to the long history of colonialism. No, not all “Latinxs” are Indigenous, much like how not all “Americans” are Natives. There are many European-descent “Latinxs,” and Latinidad arguably is a project of white supremacy. But, what I also want to point to is how de-Indianized Mexicanos (“mestizos”) and Centroamericanos (“ladinos”) who re-connect aren’t the same as those pueblos who practice their traditions and languages. This is the reality of the conditions of anti-Indianism, where Indigenous people who are understood as Indigenous are ostracized from the dominant society. But this difference should not dictate notions of Indigeneity especially when it works to reify the concept of “the Indian” as the only real and authentic Indigenous person.
Lastly, I want to demonstrate the work being done by Xican@s by way of illustrating my own personal experience in this struggle and decentralized movement. As a Xicano Indígena, I have been able to co-create a space and organization that operates through an intertribal analysis of relating and that situates itself as political and community oriented. Being inspired by the work of the Peace and Dignity Journeys and Runs since the 1990s, grounded in the prayer for the reunification of the Eagle and the Condor, I assisted in the creation and building for the solidarity amongst North and South Indigenous people. We named our movement and solidarity work as the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front. Inspired by Third World feminisms, Black Liberation organizing, Zapatista-Maya struggles, Chican@ re-humanization work, and radical Indigenous decolonial movements across the world, we situate ourselves as a radically different Native organization in light of these developments and movements toward collective freedom against white supremacy.
Our work is slow but on the rise to contest dominant notions of what it means to organize beyond the binaries constructed by European anthropology. We do not police what it means to be Indigenous. We honor all those who are non-federally recognized, disenrolled, urban, disconnected, detribalized and displaced. We also do not organize under the principle of being Indigenous, rather, we organize under various principles of relating to one another that is political. What I mean by this is that we don’t organize as students only because we are Indigenous, but instead we organize because we have a different vision for the world that means liberation and not absorption into or relationships with oppressive nation-states. We are collectively tired of hearing the language of inclusion, equality, and sovereignty. Instead, we fight for Indigenous, Black, and oppressed lives in order to unite us all in harmony to expel European domination of the world. Our intersectional approach allows us to develop nuanced ideas about gender, sexuality, class, and social location. We are collectively attempting to build a new analysis of our current era that represents a wide intersectional approach and considers the social location of all our people in struggle.
I’ve sat in meetings where Lakota, Luiseño, Zapoteco, Quechua, Nahua, P’uréhpecha, Tuscarora, Nawat-Pipil, Wixarika, Kickapoo, Palestinian, and Xican@ people have come together as relatives and where Indigenous identity politics were left at the door. Why? Because as students we are imagining a world where many worlds fit, where we organize in harmony as relatives fighting against the civilization of death, where we do not subscribe ourselves to petty squabbles on social media, where we are co-building a new world in the unstable structures left to us by our collective history. Indigenous ceremonies, as a Mexica ceremonial danzante, have shown me that in this struggle for life, joy, and collective freedom we have to work through difficult conversations, to work through long histories of resentment, but we do it because we are all related and because Mother Earth depends on it. Our work is interdependent. Our lives are connected. This growing, globalized, capitalist world will destroy us in our lifetime if we are channeling our energies in hateful ways. The Earth is responding to the ills and imposed death by capitalism, by European modalities of relating to life. Our love for this world and each other must break this future of death.
I am not saying that decolonial love alone will save us. What I am saying is that we need to reimagine a new way of relating to one another that is not simply tied to colonial histories or power relations. This is precisely why I affirm myself as Xicano Indígena because, in dialogue with close friends and peers, the driving trend is to be anything but Xican@ Indigenous.
From the Westside of Los Angeles, the place that I string these words together, where I have the privilege to study, dialogue, and participate in academia, I see the imperative for all of us to do better in our organizing, our activism, and our cultures amongst each other. In the spirit of the radical struggle sparked in 1968, we must come to realize our interdependent struggle as a people in dire need for a new world, for a decolonial horizon.
Noxtin nomekayotzin. To all my relations.
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.