Criticizing Chican@ Studies is Allowed + Valid

The story I wrote—How the Chican@ Discourse Silences Indigenous Peoples from Mexico + Central Americans—was not received well by many Chican@s who continue to hold on to past patriarchal, anti-black, homophobic Chican@ discourses and scholarly work. Yes the Chican@ movement has fought for Chican@ rights and that was not being denied in the article. Yes the Chican@ movement has led to more opportunities (including at the university level) for many Chican@s and that was not questioned in the article I wrote. I acknowledge that I serve as a graduate assistant for a Chican@ class, because as graduate students that is sometimes the classes we are given to teach, some of us do not have a choice especially when trying to pay your tuition, but that does not mean I cannot critique what I engage in teaching or researching. In this class, my students who for the majority have identified as Chican@s have been more critical in the conversations we have had in class and have acknowledged how the Chican@ discourses has silenced and oppressed women, LGBTQ community, and Afo-Mexican@s, who ‘til this day face patriarchal, homophobic, and anti-black narratives.

I think it is important to criticize the fields and narratives we praise if we are really trying to be inclusive of those who have been silenced or oppressed within this system. If I did not criticize the fields I engaged or immersed myself in, I will be amplifying by teaching their oppressive narratives that continue to silence certain groups. For instance, my field environmental sciences, is a colonial and oppressive narrative that continues to dismiss indigenous knowledge systems and tribal science because they are not researched or proven with long data sets. The environmental sciences continue to praise western European men of the founders of many branches while ignoring the contributions indigenous civilizations did in the past. Yet, I am receiving degrees in these fields, but I do not remain silent against these oppressive narratives. My dissertation work aims to indigenize restoration paradigms and frameworks that continue to hold onto western values that are making many conservation efforts fail. This is because they do not hold a holistic lens. Therefore, mentioning how I teach Chican@ studies as a non-Chicana is continuing to play in the colonial narrative that as students or instructors, we must accept fields for what they are and teach, without ever criticizing them.

If this was the case, we will still be silenced in many fields. However, little by little we are receiving acknowledgements and a voice in some fields because of the work many scholars of color have contributed to by not remaining silent just because society and academia tells them to accept fields of study and discourses as they are.

What has played a determining factor in me not engaging in many rebuttals is the patriarchy that has risen as a result of stating, “There is a difference between being indigenous and indigenous descendants.” Yes, Mexico has a lot of people who have a native or indigenous ancestor, but if we no longer have close ties to our communities or languages or traditions, are we really indigenous? My phenotype has been attacked because I am “lighter” or not as a “Dark” to fit the stereotype many Chican@s have of what an indigenous person looks like. It is ironic that I am questioned for being too light, yet my partner is questioned for being black or “too dark” for being indigenous. It is as though we can only fit one image of what a stereotypical person looks like in order to be indigenous. If you are lighter you are not indigenous according to them, But also if you are black, you are not neither. Colonized much? It is hard to make comparisons of my skin color to the same prejudices my partner faces a a black native, but it is to point out how stereotypical certain people are of what an indigenous person looks like.

A lot of indigenous women are the ones speaking up against how the Chican@ movement and discourse silences indigenous peoples of Mexico by claiming this homogeneity that all Mexicans are indigenous, when some of us are descendants. Yet, these same indigenous women are facing patriarchal comments that are silencing them. We are being told we are misinterpreting comments when in reality, we are being silenced because we are not valued as much as men in the patriarchal narrative Chican@ studies derives and grounds itself in. We are also questioned if we are indigenous because like I mentioned before, we are not fitting their stereotype of what an indigenous person should look like. To go back and mention that we are not “pure blood” or “100% native” is a colonized notion. Yes my parents and siblings would fit their stereotype of what an indigenous person looks like, but I am lighter and I acknowledge that because in itself is a privilege. Trying to use blood quantum in itself is oppressive and still does not make many Chican@s indigenous, but indigenous descendants.

My key take aways are:

  1. We have a right to criticize discourses that we teach or associate ourselves with. I continue to do this with the field I am receiving letters behind my name for—environmental sciences.
  2. Trying to invalidate someone’s points because they do not look like the stereotype of an indigenous person you have is not going to get any responses or direct communication. People who do this should not expect myself or any other indigenous person to engage with them.
  3. If you are called out, you can jump on your patriarchal bandwagon, but remember indigenous women stand in solidarity and yes you will be called out for being patriarchal–even if you deny it. It is clear that if a lot of women called me patriarchal as a man, I should reflect on that right?
  4. Indigenous peoples of Mexico + Central America have the right to call people out who claim to be indigenous when they are indigenous descendants, no matter how much you feel you fit the stereotypical phenotype of an indigenous person.