Some might call what is happening on Turtle Island prophesy, whereas others will simply say that given the continent’s demographics, it was only a matter of time that the centuries-old process of de-Indigenization would begin to be challenged and reversed, commencing a process of re-Indigenization or the Indigenization of the Américas. This process is envisioned as bringing about peace, dignity and justice for all the peoples of the continent – the earth, actually, as opposed to a demographic horse race.
One of those challenges is taking place in Colorado where Vivian Delgado has recently achieved a long overdue de-colonial blow to that de-Indigenization process. Up until a few weeks ago, her birth certificate had her listed as white. After successfully petitioning the state’s Office of Vital Records, she is now listed as Indigenous Mexican Yaqui and Indigenous Mexican Puebloan.
For some, this is heresy. Yet, de-Indigenization has never been an accidental by-product of colonialism: On top of land theft, it is the historic project by Euro-Americans to destroy thousands of years of aboriginal thought, culture, history, memory, language and spirituality on this continent. Part of this has included treating Indigenous peoples as less than human, and wherever possible, defining, Hispanicizing, Anglocizing or Westernizing them out of existence.
Some began that sacred count in 1990 when Indigenous peoples gathered in Quito, Ecuador to press for the end of 500 years of dehumanization. Others began it when the Zapatistas rose up in 1994 in Chiapas, México… or with the 2006 election of Evo Morales of Bolivia, becoming the continent’s first Indigenous president since the 19th century. Others note that European colonization did not terminate that sacred count; it simply submerged it.
For Neanderthal bigots, Mexicans are either subhuman Indians or mongrels. For them, the mere presence of [brown] Mexicans is a reminder of a failed and unfinished Indigenous extermination project. For others, Mexicans reclaiming their indigeneity is a reminder of another unfinished project: Manifest Destiny; the irreversible civilization, modernization and Christianization of the Américas. (That’s why for many, the only modern solution is deportation).
The significance of Delgado’s victory is huge, with the potential to be emulated by millions, thus accelerating the re-Indigenization of Turtle Island (despite the historic U.S.-led effort at the UN to deny the ratification of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).
In the past, due to a desire to escape segregation, forced removal, slavery or even extermination – millions of native peoples across the continent were forced to accept Western/Christian identities (non-Indigenous mestizo, and in some cases, white identities). While a different era, some of those discriminatory legacies remain. That’s why many Mexicans (Central and South Americans also) here have begun to challenge the practice of automatically designating them as white, on both birth and death certificates, notes Rocky Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who sees these practices as ethnocide, helped organize a “Free the Spirit Day” forum in Denver recently that spurred on many others to also petition a change in their birth certificates (Two others have thus far been successful).
The forum, Delgado says, was an “historical attempt to address our sovereignty in this country… I believe as in the case of Indigenous Mexicans that our race was constructed by assimilation policy supported and enforced by the church and state. Race in this context can also be de-constructed and corrected.”
For example, many Mexicans, due to de-Indigenization policies (reducciones), do not have tribal identities. Yet, that does not make them white, says Delgado, author of: “You’re not Indian; You’re Mexican.” “To automatically assume that Mexicans are white, is a violation of their human rights at birth.” They can still correct their certificates. Being part of maize-based cultures, they should [have the option to] identify as “Indigenous Mexican.”
She believes that this issue is in part tied to [denial of] land grant rights. Aware of the contentiousness of such a claim, she is undaunted: “Our culture is land-based, and we retain our foods and traditional medicines. It’s an inheritance that belongs to our children.”
Then there’s the U.S. Census. Due to de-Indigenization policies, racism and shame, it has in recent decades facilitated and counted people of Mexican, Central and South American origin as white. The bureau, however, supposedly no longer imposes identities – yet nowadays, it is nonsensically dividing up the entire nation into Hispanic and non-Hispanic categories. By design or default, Hispanics continue to be tallied as a white population. To be seen is if the bureau will stand in the way of that sacred count… in 2010.
Roberto Rodríguez can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com.
© 2007 Column of the Américas