In current struggles for self-determination and liberation, Indigenous peoples have been at the forefront of identifying and battling settler colonialism everywhere. Especially within the U.S., Indigenous people have fought for their freedom; for those in the academy it has been a fight surrounding knowledge production and resources.
Indigenous students and student-organizers on university campuses have actively been those who defend and articulate the liberation of Indigenous peoples. In this political climate filled with anti-Blackness, attacks on Trans-people, the subjugation of Queerness, and racial capitalism, all upheld and supported by white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy, and settler colonialism, struggles and imperatives for liberation are more than necessary.
Through interviews with three self-identified Xican@ UCLA students throughout November 2017, I was able to gather insightful and impactful perspectives and worldviews in our current predicament. I hope that through these students we can begin to realize and tangibly organize around imperatives for liberation. We stand at important intersections of multiple struggles that must recognize each other if we as a people are to disentangle the logics of settler colonialism. Centering Xican@ students, I also hope to have bridged the radical Indigenous thought being produced by such student revolutionaries in our heated times.
Liberation and Re-Indigenization: “When do we want it? NOW!”
Joel is second-year transfer student in both American Indian Studies and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. Born in Ixcateopan de Cuauhtemoc, Guerrero, Mexico, he was later raised in San Bernardino, California. As a self-identified Xicano-Nahua, Joel told of his work surrounding Undocumented people and the notion of legality within settler nation-states. A member of a new student organization called the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front (ECLF), his work also is focused on the re-Indigenization of the Americas hemispherically. Resounding a pan-Indigenous approach of many Native American organizations, such as the American Indian Movement and the Peace and Dignity Journeys, ECLF was a way for Joel to expand on understandings of Indigeneity. He is also a podcaster for our project Xicana Tiahui!.
Joel was asked what being politically Xicano meant to him and he told of his work being rooted in the community and re-Indigenization. “Xicano” is for him a stepping stone toward the reclamation and reawakening of our Indigenous identities while challenging structures of power. His energy carried a powerful sense of place, identity, and future; Joel embodied a passion for his community and the students he works with at UCLA.
For Joel, liberation is “multi-faceted and looks different for everyone,” him mentioning the struggles of many communities such as people loving who they want and people reclaiming their ancestral, traditional lands. He expanded by saying, “Liberation looks like a world without borders, a world centered around feminine energy, and a world centered around Indigenous people; and that includes all my relations in the Latinx community who are disconnected.”
As an Undocumented person, Joel perceived a world where national identities were not at the forefront of our peoplehood. Instead, he urges us to think about how those identities are tied to settler colonialism and thus not liberating for the people. Liberation was decolonization, of completely dismantling the structural powers imposed by white settlers.
The future, for Joel, was Indigenous.
Healing the Spirit: Indigenous Sovereignty as Liberation
Maritza is a second-year transfer student in American Indian Studies and Chicana/o Studies major at UCLA. Born in Los Angeles, California but raised in Anaheim, she entered UCLA as a film major with a background of organizing youth from back home. Her mother coming from the lands of Huitzuco, Mexico and her father from Trujillo, Peru, Maritza is a self-identified Xicana-Nahua-Quechua. Working for MEChA de UCLA’s retention project, MEChA Calmecac, she is motivated by the work that this student-run project enacts to ensure the retention of Raza students at UCLA. She plans curriculum and facilitates a class called MEChA Internship, under the the component MEChA Coatequitl, where she is able to guide students into the historical memory of activism, revolutionary struggle, and Indigenous epistemologies of both the Chicano Movement and MEChA de UCLA historically. She is able to to facilitate a class with reflection, knowledge, action, and transformation by engaging a pedagogy of the Nahui Ollin (or four movements).
Maritza is also a podcaster for our project Xicana Tiahui! and a member of the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front, both aiming to address Xican@ Indigeneity in the community and being places where Indigenous revolutionary dialogue is ignited. She spoke of this new organization’s name, the ECLF, being inspired by the “Native story of the Quechua peoples and their understanding when we...the Indigenous of this continent unite, the power that there is in that.” It is an organization for Indigenous Xican@ students, and all Indigenous students; one that is still new and forming.
On liberation she stated: “Liberation is tied to land, is tied to spirit, and to be able to assert who you are.” It means to “reassert that we are Indigenous to this land,” and that this is where it starts: to be sure of who you are in order to know how to move forward. Acknowledging liberation as becoming in today's discourse almost a buzzword, Maritza focuses on recentering the pain it can and will represent when it is embraced. “A lot of folks that use it [liberation] kind of go back into…a reformative mentality and I don’t know if that’s what’s really going to liberate us.”
“I think that being in the institution, or going through this institution, will not liberate you. I can never do that.” The community thus becomes a focal point of organizing and where our efforts and energies should be directed. It is bottom-up that we rise, with the people, or we shall remain within the confines of racial capitalism forever upholding and perpetuating its sustainability. “Having those conversations [of liberation] there [in the community] is the most important and helpful.”
Finishing with insightful and powerful words, Maritza left with this: “Liberation to me can look like a world where our peoples, Raza peoples...don’t have to be fearing deportation.” This is “because they are Native to this land where nation-states don’t exist. We get to govern ourselves, our education, get to learn about our history. It [liberation] looks like dismantling this institution and being able to share knowledge freely throughout spaces. It looks like connecting to the land and being able to know...plants.” This is so “that our future generations will not have to go through any of that.” Hope is what guides this revolutionary work and its future.
“We must envision a better world as Indigenous peoples.”
Liberación Indígena: Xicanismo as Contesting Coloniality
An Ethnomusicology student, Ramón is a second-year non-traditional transfer student whose hometown is El Sereno, California. His family ties and bloodlines are from Jalisco, Mexico. At UCLA, he is a member of the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front and is a student-worker for the Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP) under the Academic Advancement Program (AAP). He is also involved in Mariachi de Uclatlán and the Nahuatl Club. In CCCP, Ramón is an active participant in organizing Men of Color cohorts for community college students. He is interested in healing practices and decolonization within the scope of masculinity.
As a self-identified Xicano, he explained to me the complexities behind this identity and how it is an active identity. “Xicanismo is a cultural thing,” him referring to the ways that he is not American nor Mexican when understanding the nation-state and culture of these two distinct places. “It’s political. It’s politicized. Just as any other identity is. But where as Hispanic and Latino and Mexican-American; those are passive in the sense that...they subscribe to already predetermined labels imposed by somebody else.” Xican@, for him, was not the same in the idea that they stemmed from the community who took it upon themselves to formulate their own identity. The assertion of one’s self-determination is an initial act of a liberation praxis.
Speaking on what it means to be Indígena, he unpacked the notions of latinidad and hispanidad as playing tribute to eurocentrism. “Why pay homage to what is paid homage to on the daily?” To assert being Indígena is to contest the nation-state’s recognition of Indigeneity, where he points Xican@ identity has always done. “In asserting that Indigenous identity not only are you trying to grab root but also acknowledging the ancestors who have been historically marginalized.”
Ramón spoke of the hard challenges of doing the work he does while being a student at UCLA, pointing to the activities he wants to engage versus what is necessitated of him. When asked what was liberation to him and how we can work towards it he identified a complicated question. “Liberation is when you don’t have to ask for liberation anymore. That’s when you reach it.” But it also was not that simple, when and how can we measure liberation? How we can work toward it is firstly identifying the problems we face that necessitate a vision of liberation. “We must acknowledge inequality and a need for it [liberation].” Liberation, as complicated as it is, must be realized with the parallel identification for its existence.
He left with a strong statement we must all listen to: “Native peoples matter...we are living on Native land.”
The “Smoky Mirror” of Our Liberation
Tezcatlipoca from its Nahuatl root signifies a “smoky mirror.” Stemming from a Xican@ Indigenous epistemology, Tezcatlipoca is a process of reflection of the self, community, and cosmos. Although these UCLA students do not speak for the larger Xican@ Nation, their perspective sheds light on fundamental and present issues at hand. Indigenous students are leading and centering their politics on the future of Indigenous peoples. Liberation and its contours is a much needed discussion in heated times such as the present one. Our “smoky mirror” in disillusioning times must dissipate for the survival of Mother Earth and all our relations.
Noxtin nomecayotzin. Tlazokamati.
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.