Not A Lost People: the indigenous people of Mexico by Evelin Arredondo

Deep in the center of Mexico lies the vibrant city of Guanajuato where the people invite you in with a warm smile and a lively welcoming. Beyond Salamanca, Mexico lies the Cuatro de Altamira rancho. You can tell on the drive into the ranch that the people don’t have much and many make a living off of agriculture, but despite the humble surroundings there’s a spirit in the air that makes you feel so free. Kids run up the Cerro to reach La tiendita de Maria that rests at the peak of the enormous hill in order to buy candy and fried chips with salsa and spices. You hear the horses’ hooves clack on the dirt road and you can’t help but to turn around and face the men coming back from La Sequia. Exhaustion decorates their bodies and their sombreros help shield their faces from the setting sun. The cattle are rounded back onto the fields with the help of El Capitan- our trusty dog. Uncle Sol opens the green gates for the cattle and horses while the working men make their way into the adobe kitchen. My abuelita gives them hearty servings of chicken flautas with fresh queso, salsa roja and of course, a cold glass bottle of Coca-Cola. 

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This essay continues from my personal journal to interviews and provides a brief glimpse into the anger that the indigenous people of Mexico hold. Their pain was apparent during the interviews I conducted via Skype, Facebook Messenger, and over the phone. They go into depth about the horrific and overlooked genocide of their people, struggles within the community, and their fight to keep the wick on their culture burning.

© Gabriel Saldana – Indigenous Mexicans

I contacted Cuetlachtli, a family friend, to enlighten us on a few topics. My first question to him was about the fiery debate on what to call the millions of Mexican people that reside in North American lands. “Hispanic” or “Latino/a” is commonly used, but to the surprise of many people… both terms are incorrect. Well, those two terms aren’t actually incorrect if you’re speaking in regards to Europeans. Latinos are people from southern Europe and the term Hispanic is used to describe people or things from Spain. According to the indigenous communities, the correct term for our people is Nican Tlaca. Nican Tlaca is a word from Nahuatl language that means “we the people here”. It’s wrong for indigenous people to be wrongfully addressed as Europeans because we’re not. The terms “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” are umbrella terms that erase hundreds of cultures and languages. Cuetlachtli proceeded to scold me for using the word “North America” during my interview because “I should know better”. Anahuac would be the appropriate term to use when addressing the land from “Canada” all the way down to “South America” and “Alaska”; Other indigenous communities, primarily the ones in the “United States” refer to “North America” as Turtle Island.

The topic of proper terms spiraled into a conversation about the Spanish language. Spanish is Mexico’s national language and pretty much everyone in Mexico can speak it fluently. However, the language wasn’t introduced into Mexico until 1519 when the Spanish Conquistadors led by Hernan Cortes invaded Mexican land. The language didn’t catch on immediately; It wasn’t until the next century when the transition into the Spanish language started happening. Oddly enough, a lot of Spanish words are similar to Nahuatl words. For example, avocado in Spanish is aguacate and avocado in Nahuatl is ahuacatl. You pronounce them the same way, but they’re written differently. Despite colonization, there are still 62 indigenous languages that are alive and thriving.

Eighty-eight percent of people in Mexico identify with Roman Catholicism; Majority of people with Mexican descent have found a way to practice Catholicism while incorporating indigenous beliefs like Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). However, many people in indigenous communities reject the religion because of the genocide it ensued. They view Catholicism as a part of colonialism. Christianity has been a catalyst to humanity’s greatest atrocities. They see this religion as an accomplice in the genocide of 95% of our people. Catholic practitioners demonize these people because they choose not to worship a God, that in their experience, has been nothing but cruel to them. I could sense the anger and pain in Nezahualcoyotl’s voice. I asked if violence was the key to dealing with the oppressors and to my surprise he shook his head “no”. He explained that if we introduce violence to people lacking Nican Tlaca knowledge then they will fight without knowing the reason for their rightful anger.

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This indigenous community advocates peaceful re-education of us Nican Tlaca and of other people, including Europeans. They preach about the importance of consuming our cultural foods only. One of the mothers, her name is Ocelotl, says that cooking a pot of beans from scratch is a small revolutionary act. She warned us about the health dangers that result from adopting the traditional American diet and then she proceeds to boast about the 102-year-old lady that lives up the hill to prove her point. The traditional diet of Mexicans living in poverty consists of fresh vegetables and fruit grown in their own land, pulque (a beverage that comes from the maguey plant), homemade corn tortillas, beans, and grains. The most favored dish among their community are the tamales, but my personal favorite is the simple, staple dish of refried beans with red salsa and flour tortillas.
FLAUTAS (ROLLED TORTILLAS WITH CHICKEN INSIDE), RICE, BEANS, ENCHILADAS

In “A New Mexican Nationalism? Indigenous Rights, Constitutional Reform And The Conflicting Meanings of Multiculturalism” by Guillermo De La Peña, when the invaders arrived in Mexico, they saw the opportunity to create an identity for themselves. “The creoles had become parasitic” (De La Peña 280) because they stole land and created an enslavement system. Our Mexican ancestors were allowed to live on the land, but only if they worked on it. If there was a woman in the family, the master/owner would rape her in order to “purify the race”. The people with mixed blood would soon be known as Mestizos. The mixed lineage, destruction of our history, and the forceful ownership of our land was the start of centuries of poverty, exclusion, and oppression for indigenous people. Those struggles made it difficult for them to “provide a solid basis for national identity” (De La Peña 280), thus resulting in the exclusion of wealth, education, healthcare, and opportunity. The Mestizo population quickly became the majority and took the lead in building what is now Mexico.

The Spanish invasion imposed new standards for native people. Majority of the people shown in Mexican media have fair skin and European features because Mexico favors lighter skin as a result of colonization. They know that fair skin equates to status, wealth, and access to quality education. I never noticed the resentment towards my siblings and I from my cousin until my trip last year when I witnessed her getting treated poorly by the same sales associate that was kind to me. This interview was the perfect opportunity to bring up that event. I asked her how she felt about the people with lighter skin in our community. My cousin expressed her frustration about us not being completely capable of understanding the pain of being indigenous because we will never have to experience the same level of discrimination that she does. I reflected on what she said and I actually started to notice the differences between us. I’m capable of obtaining more opportunities for the advancement of my education and career compared to her. Colorism has created a huge wealth gap in Mexico. The higher you climb up the wealth ladder, the fairer the skin gets. Mexico will never be the progressive country it can be if we don’t change the inequality that has been imposed on non-white indigenous people.

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A white-passing child chosen to be in a celebration instead of a child with indigenous features

This particular indigenous community has radical views and has often called themselves extremists. Their goal is to enlighten the people of Mexico and people of Mexican heritage and reclaim Anahuac. Our ancestors had thriving civilizations without the help of the Europeans. We had remarkable accomplishments in astrology, architecture, literature, engineering, medicine, art, and writing then they invaded and burned down all of our efforts. Our once rich and thriving cities were left in rubble and ruins then they proceeded to force our ancestors to assimilate and stripped them of their culture. Indigenous communities have the highest substance abuse and suicide rates in America. The Unites States has a holiday that honors the day when colonizers came to Anahuac. Christopher Columbus is idolized instead of being shown for who he really was- a murderer, rapist, and thief. Some progressive states have changed Columbus day to Indigenous People Day and that’s the kind of change that fuels indigenous people to keep fighting for the acknowledgment of their history. The lack of respect for Natives is still apparent in this day and age. In fact, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe from North Dakota, members of other tribes, and activists have started the largest Native American protest of this era. The United States government is taking control of Native lands and forcing members to allow the construction of oil pipelines. Oil, gold, and riches are the things drove the Conquistadors to murder and steal from our ancestors and this feels like history is repeating itself.

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over 100 police officers armed with military equipment trying to remove peaceful protestors

Texas, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming were a part of Mexico up until the 1848 treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This treaty ended the Mexican war and gave the people living in the area the option to become citizens of the United States or move to Mexico. Almost all decided to stay because this was their homeland, so the treaty stated that they would receive all the rights of American citizens. However, the U.S. started bringing white settlers into the newly acquired land and the original inhabitants soon became second-class citizens. On the other hand, the people who moved to Mexico because of the treaty had to return to their homelands in the U.S. because a revolution was happening in Mexico. Organizations like LULAC came up with strategies to help the returning Mexican people assimilate to Anglo culture. The exploitation of our people, the violence, the racism, the alarming rates of dead Chicano veterans, the lack of educational resources, and the lack of political representation ignited the Chicano Movement. According to “The Chicano Movement: Paths to Power” by Jose Angel Gutierrez, the movement was started by the children of the first Mexican-Americans. Chicanos didn’t want to assimilate because they feared losing their already deteriorating culture. They were proud of their indigenous roots. The land Mexico lost to the U.S. was unofficially renamed Aztlan by Chicanos as a way to give it back its Aztec identity. Change occurred due to the brilliant strategies implemented by the Chicano Movement. They revolted, held protests and demonstrations, started becoming more politically involved, and they built alliances between other minority movements. The movement created one of the largest protest in United States history. The word Chicano gives Mexican-American people an identity. Chicano means knowing you’re a Mestizo and you have blood of the Conquistadors and blood of the Aztecs running through your veins. It gives a home to people like me- people who don’t fully belong in indigenous tribes and are rejected by their white peers. People like me aren’t from here or there.

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I interviewed my Chicana friend and a member of the Brown Berets ( an organization in California that was prominent in the Chicano Movement). My friend’s name is Melanie, she’s Mexican and Salvadoran. I asked her to tell me what the Chicano Movement meant to her. She said “that the movement fights for people of Mexican descent to get equal access/equal opportunities and contributes to the erasure of negative stereotypes”. All first generation children are aware or the hardships endured by their parents she feels that as a first generation woman she has to “deal with the consequences that has historically made it impossible for our people to succeed”.  We all have our reasons for supporting the movement, so I asked her what her reasons were. She said that she wants “justice for all who deserve it”. She plans on becoming an immigration lawyer because “our sociopathic government purposely instills fear in people”. She believes that “nothing will change without a revolution”. We also started talking about the phrase “If you kick immigrants out, who will work the fields?” People of all ethnicities have said this in one form or another- even our own people. Statements like these are regressive because it normalizes the notion that all Mexicans/South Americans are only good for cheap labor. I wanted a deeper insight on the movement, so I contacted a Brown Berets member on Facebook. I asked her how did the emergence of this movement affect Mexican-Americans in terms of identity. She gave me the most through paragraph in the world, but a couple of sentences stood out to me the most. She explained that our people were without a unifying central cause. We are made to feel foreigners in our land despite having our presence here prior to Anglo American colonialism. She said that “it was only as Chicanos that we busted doors open”. I questioned her about the creation of the word “Chicana/o” and “Xicana/o”. She told me that “it derived from the word Mesheeca”. Mesheeca was the way our ancestors pronounced Mexico. The letter “x” makes the “sh” sound in Nahuatl language, so some people spell Chicano with an “X” to be more authentic.

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The brown berets

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Brown berets practicing second amendment right

Brown berets in formation

The Mexica Movement is a liberation movement that has recently started in southern California by Olin Tezcatlipoca. I couldn’t get an interview with him, but I managed to interview Naui, a supporter of this movement. I asked him why we couldn’t just get over the past and conform to the new way of life. He sternly replied that the “European criminal invasions, killings, massacres, and outright ethnocide that killed 95% of our population can’t be swept under the carpet.” I then proceeded to ask him if he thought that the actions of the invaders from centuries ago still has a negative effect in our community. He made it clear to me that the massacre of our people allowed for the theft of our wealth of resources which is what unjustifiably enriched Europeans on our continent. Our people live in poverty while the recipients of colonization live a life that appears to be filled with privilege.

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The idea to completely decolonize your lifestyle and your way of thinking seems far-fetched, but to these people it feels like an obligation to plant seeds of truth in the mind of anyone willing to listen and learn the true history. They feel that they have to think drastic thoughts and take drastic actions in order to achieve the change they envision. Nezahualcoyotl says that we are all one people separated by imaginary borders. They want to stop being treated like foreigners on their own land. The ignorance of our people is a deep scar. We’re blind to our own identity because we’ve never been taught our true history in school. They teach us the oppressor’s history and make us idolize them. They make us feel love for America, but are quick to tell us we don’t belong here.

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                                          The white-washing of indigenous people

Works Cited

De la Peña, Guillermo. “A New Mexican Nationalism? Indigenous Rights, Constitutional Reform And The Conflicting Meanings of Multiculturalism” Nations & Nationalism, 12.2, 2006, pp. 279-302. Academic Search Complete, lscsproxy.lonestar.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cpid&custid=s1088435&db=a9h&AN=20287355&site=ehost-live

Gutiérrez, José Ángel. “The Chicano Movement: Paths To Power.” Social Studies, 102.1, 2011, pp.25-32. Academic Search Complete, lscsproxy.lonestar.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cpid&custid=s1088435&db=a9h&AN=56851754&site=ehost-live

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Not A Lost People: the indigenous people of Mexico by Evelin Arredondo

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