02/12/2009 3:35 PM EST
Indigenous challenges: Language, culture
Part 2 of 4
Challenges for Indigenous Migrants in the United States
Indigenous Mexicans have been forced to leave their countries in search of survival on the economic, educational, healthcare, cultural, and human levels. This has been mostly positive in the economic area, but not in the area of human rights. As migrants, Mexicans, and Indigenous people, we face huge challenges:
Being part of México where we learned to speak Spanish, and living in the United States where the dominant language is English. Moreover, discrimination in both countries against those of us who maintain our own languages is contributing to the quick disappearance of Indigenous languages. The role of Indigenous migrant organizations has been vital in trying to overcome this.
Living in a xenophobic country, unsure of itself, where the dominant culture is a white vision that totally ignores the rich, multicultural composition it contains. They tell us about assimilation, adapting to their way of thinking and living. We have to hold on to our millenarian identity while learning Spanish and English.
We are managing to hold on to our tequio, our good customs and habits, our cultural festivals, traditional medicinal practices, medicinal and edible plants—which we have primarily in the states like California—and to our organizations.
Remittances will no longer arrive in Oaxaca in the same large quantities as they used to, not because of the economic crisis in the United States, but because many families are establishing themselves in their own homes. This is not good because it will reduce the amount of money in circulation, and worse still, there will no longer be communitarian development within Indigenous groups.
Authentic and fair development must come from Indigenous communities, and must be planned, implemented, and directed by Indigenous people, as in the role developed by the Frente Indígena de Organizaciones Binacionales (FIOB).
We must keep our organizations independent and autonomous from the government, political parties, and religions, and reject the corporatism that holds back the development of Indigenous peoples and communities.
Before moving on to the historic federal elections, I must mention the historic migrants' mobilizations that began on Mar. 6, 2006 in Washington, DC and spread to Chicago, Los Angeles, and many other cities. They were repeated in April and May with hundreds, thousands, and millions of migrants in the streets of small and large cities.
The mobilizations had two main objectives: firstly, to bring down by these means the antihuman proposal of the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (HR 4437), which would criminalize all migrants and families, whether their migratory status was in order or not. Secondly, we demanded comprehensive integral legalization based on family unity and a path to citizenship.
We managed to bring HR 4437 down and we obliged federal senators and members of Congress to work on various proposals of migratory reform that had been debated and rejected by many migrants' organizations and that never became law. These were the most important achievements of these migrants' actions, which strengthened our organizations and forged a new generation of leadership.
After that, in cities across the United States, the chant was strong and clear: "Today we march, tomorrow we vote," looking ahead to this year's federal election. We shifted strategy and began to call on permanent residents who could become citizens to do so quickly and register to vote.
To ignore or forget these actions is to completely reject the contribution of migrants and our organizations to social and political change in this country. The victory of the Democrats in the presidential elections is due in part to these marches, citizen status, the registering of voters, and the Latino mass vote. We were able to help end the disastrous continuum of the last eight years.
This is how Obama won the presidency of the United States, a man who represents the Afro-American community, who has suffered discrimination because of the color of his skin, as have Indigenous people and all the Latin American, Asian, and Caribbean migrants among others. Obama is a multiethnic and multicultural figure; he represents all of us so-called "minorities."
Rufino Domínguez-Santos is director of the Binational Center for Oaxacan Indigenous Development and a collaborator with the Americas Program. This article was presented to the Mexican Congress's event on migration on Nov. 25, 2008. Translated for the Americas Program by Nalina Eggert.