How the Chican@ Discourse Silences Indigenous Peoples from Mexico + Central Americans

This is the first time I teach Chican@ studies as a graduate assistant. I had only taken one Chican@ studies course in my undergrad at UC Berkeley and it was related to art in the LGBTQ community, not the common themes and topics embedded in the Chican@ discourse. I always avoided Chican@ studies because it is a pedagogy that teaches Mexicans that they are indigenous, while ignoring to mention that there is a difference between being indigenous and indigenous descendants. It also ignores to mention that there are tribes and indigenous communities still fighting for their equity, lives, and inclusion in Mexico. In the first week of class, students were introduced to the statement that Mexican genealogy claims that all Mexicans are indigenous. This ignores that mestiz@s also have colonial genealogy — rooted in Spain and other European countries. Yes, I understand that Mexico has a long history of colonization and as a result of the violent assimilation practices enacted on people, there are some who lost their indigenous roots. However, what makes an individual indigenous is more complex than a simple genetic test or ancestry. Many Native American and Indigenous scholars + activists advocate that being indigenous is more than a genetic test, as it is also related to cultural customs, traditions, language, etc. There is a different between claiming to be indigenous and actually having an indigenous community or tribe that claims you.

I have witnessed how the Chican@ discourse has silenced and oppressed indigenous peoples of Mexico (my family & myself). Therefore, I will not serve to further this oppressive narrative. Since Chican@s advocate that there are also indigenous, they feel as though they can take up spaces catered and meant for indigenous peoples and speak as though they are. There is a difference between first-hand & lived experiences. We continue to be oppressed, murdered, harassed, and raped in Mexico as indigenous peoples so there is definitely no longing to reclaim indigeneity in Mexico, but across the Mexican border and in the United States, the Chican@ movement wants to reclaim their indigeneity to benefit their advances in scholarship, research, activism, etc.

I have lost family because they were indigenous, so while I understand the longing for those who are Chican@ and are trying to reconnect to their ancestral roots, this will not bring my family back. Therefore, I do not let this longing move me at all. This longing does not erase what we continue to live through in Mexico. A current and prime example of the oppression we continue to face is the treatment and hatred Yalitza Aparicio has faced for becoming the first indigenous woman to be nominated for an Oscar and portraying a role in an award-worthy movie, Roma. Her success has brought to light the continued racism indigenous peoples face in Mexico. From being called a pinche india to being out casted by Mexican actors and actresses to prevent her from becoming an award winner, this is the continued discrimination indigenous peoples face.

Recently, I have lost an uncle who was an advocate and activist in my community. It shocks how quickly Chican@ professors utilize indigenous activists’ death and work to discuss in class and advance the Chican@ narrative. However, by doing so they are failing to bring to light how Chican@s are part of the problem as they don’t use the discourse or their privilege to dismantle the discrimination, harm, violence, murders, etc. that indigenous peoples continue to face in Mexico. She is not the first example on how Chican@ professors, scholars, etc. have co-opted an indigenous activist’s work to advance their narrative. Like Yalitza, a lot of Mexicans are going to take pride if she wins an Oscar, while ignoring the racism she has encountered as an indigenous woman.

When it is time for indigenous peoples to talk or speak, remove yourself from that discourse or conversation. Acknowledge the tribes and indigenous communities that still exist. I continue to be silenced by Chican@s who claim they are indigenous so they think they can take up that space designed for indigenous peoples. They get insulted when I tell them that there is a difference between being indigenous and indigenous descendants. It is as though everyone wants some indigeneity to claim, without having to face the threats and violence that comes from it.

I have been told that I need to continue having these conversations with Chican@s as though I am here to be an indigenous woman and teach them for free. As a result, I have told them that I am not using my energy or efforts to try to teach them of the difference between being indigenous and indigenous descendants, as my time and effort is more important for my community. If they are also not willing to understand where I come from, there is no point in working with them neither.

​ Teaching this course has allowed me to realize that Chican@ studies is not for an indigenous woman like me. I also have indigenous roots to Central America as my father is Ch’orti’. He was forced as a child soldier and when I brought up the issues, harms, rape, murder, violence, etc. that Central Americans face in Mexico, Chican@ students had a hard time understanding this or acknowledging the privilege they have for being Mexican of indigenous and Spanish descendancy — mestiz@s. Chican@s don’t like to acknowledge how Central Americans are mistreated in Mexico — sometimes far worse than the treatment they receive in the US as they are raped, murdered, etc. Chican@s need to acknowledge this in order to stop silencing indigenous peoples from Central America. When I had the discussion in my class and I asked students if Central American children being placed in cages was a Chican@ issue, one of the student said yes. Their belief was that because Chican@s are also indigenous, that because the Central Americans placed in cages are also indigenous, that this indigeneity in common is what makes it a Chican@ issue. I DISAGREE completely, and it is hard to convey this to students without making them feel as though they have been silenced. Central Americans face harm in Mexico because most of them are indigenous and Mexico already has this anti-indigenous narrative. Yes some of it is due and as a result of internal colonialism but this does not justify making this a Chican@ issue. The Chican@ issue is not addressing that Central Americans are mistreated in Mexico. Until Chican@s can begin to decolonize this narrative, it is a field or discourse I will not associate myself with any more.

Binnizá (Zapotec) & Ch’orti’ Mayab | Indigenous Scientist & Scholar | Indigenizing the Environmental Discourse

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