Don’t Be Fooled: Latino = Indigenous

Indian Country Today

Don’t Be Fooled: Latino = Indigenous

Late last night, my father and I talked about how the ethnic term Latino mislabels Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous people from Mexico, Ecuador, Puerto Rico, etc. For a long time, we believed Latino and Hispanic correctly defined the Spanish-speaking mixed-Indigenous and Indigenous people in Latin America.

As we crossed the George Washington Bridge, I wondered, Why is this so? I mean it’s true. We do speak Spanish and we practice Spanish culture. But we also come from a land that is still governed by our Indigenous relatives. I thought hard about how to politely counter argue his belief. His opinion. His Latino identity.

“So I guess this means Filipinos are Hispanics or Latinos, too, right?” I said. “Think about it, they have Spanish names. They speak Spanish. They probably dance to Spanish music, too.”

He laughed at me. He said, “They are Asians, though. You can’t confuse their race with Spanish.”

“Exactly, so why are we the only ones considered Latino or Hispanic? Some of us are Indigenous, right? Think about it, papa. We are Guayakos and Manabítas. We come from family clans that stretch back for thousands of years of Indigenous tradition.”

“Well..” he stammers. “I would say, we’re Ecuatorianos.”

Latino or Hispanic is a term coined by the United States to identify Spanish-speaking people coming from south of Mexico. The reality is Spanish-speaking people from Latin America come from a variety of racial and cultural backgrounds. We are like a rainbow.

However, since 2011, Latinos or Hispanics now start to identify as Native American, census shows. Even the New York Times features their article on the cultural change and perspective of Indigenous identity among mestizos, mulattos, and Indigenous people.

Also, Latino comes from the root word Latin which corresponds to the nations that used to form the Roman Empire: Spain, Portugal, Romania, Italy, and France. According to El Boricua, “ The word Hispania thus refers to the people and culture of the Iberian peninsula, Spain in particular. The term Hispano (Hispanic) later was used in referring to Spain and its subsequent New World – New Spain, conquered territories which covers most of Latino America.” The white-mestizo society or descendants of Spanish relatives can claim these labels to themselves.

But Latino is not a person who only looks Mexican and speaks Spanish. Many of us come from mixed-Indigenous heritage and some of us are Indigenous, too. For example, Ecuador is home to 30+ Indigenous nations and a home to 8 million descendants of the Quitu-Shyri and Spanish ancestry. It’s also home to 1 million Euro-Ecuadorians and 1.3 million Afro-Ecuadorians. However, the 8 millions Ecuadorian mestizos form part of the rainbow colors of the Indigenous race mixed with the Spanish and the African cultures. In Ecuador, we say “tenemos la pinta ecuatoriana” (we have the Ecuadorian look) because some of us are brown, have black hair, and some, more than others, inherit the Atahualpa face, our last Tawantinsuyu King in 1535. We also dance to merengue and reggaeton, but we blast to Indian music and do the round dance, stomp the floor, swing the skirts, and chirp like the Curiquingue and Quinde birds.

Ecuadorians make up the majority of mixed-Indigenous and Indigenous population, among other groups like Afro-Ecuadorians and Euro-Ecuadorians, who re-invent a fusion of all cultures, languages, and religions, yet preserve their Indigenous ethnicity, traditions, and roots simultaneously.

The Idle No More Movement is an excellent example of how Indigenous people in North America unite to stand up and fight for their culture, land, and identity against a people who think it’s okay to walk over Indigenous people with mascot names and Halloween Indian costumes. I also think the Idle No More Movement should include Indigenous people and mixed-Indigenous people from Spanish-speaking nations as an effort to collaborate, unite, and support one Indigenous people across both continents.

Do we call an African-American a Britannic because he or she speaks English? Do we call an Arab an Amish because he or she looks white? Why don’t we call Euro-Americans “mixed” or “mestizos” because they also have Irish, Italian, German, African, and Indigenous blood, some more than others? However, there is no debate about our differences. We come from different nations, backgrounds, religions, cultures, and so forth. But the key point is to co-exist in peace and respect each other. The principle is to not step on people’s sacred space without asking their permission. The Indigenous space has been repeatedly trespassed and disrespected in the Americas.

I can only speak of what I‘ve seen in Ecuador. In Ecuador, the label Mestizo provides an opportunity for Indigenous people to climb the social ladder. In order for them to not be hated, insulted, harmed, put down, ashamed, physically assaulted, and to some extent, massacred in ethnic and cultural genocides, the ethnic label “mestizo” provides a convenient strategy to avoid all of the aforementioned complications. However, Indigenous people should not feel obliged to make the switch from Indigenous to Mestizo because of the shame with their Indigenous identity. Their culture is as beautiful as that of the African-American, European-American,and Asian-American.

In Santa Elena, Ecuador, we identify as Indigenous people. We go by “cholo comunero," and some, more than others, by “Wankavilka” to emphasize their ethnicity. The Ecuadorian government sends us a census that provides three options: white, black, and Mestizo. We are forced to put mestizo even though in our hearts we know we are Indigenous to our ancestral lands and cultures, but this mislabel affects new generations of youth who start to distance themselves from their Indigenous heritage and encourage outsiders to expropriate our lands because we do not “voluntarily” identify as Indigenous. (Original Source in Spanish). Therefore, in this case, the mestizo concept does not equally glorify two cultures, but only the dominant European one. It serves to disenfranchise Indigenous people in Latin America. In a parallel comparison, there are Latinos, (Indigenous Spanish-speaking people from tribal nations in Latin America who migrate to the United States), who do not want to identify as Latinos and Mestizos but are forced to because it’s the only option.

Appropriating a local tribe that is not yours is also NOT the respectful manner to go about this either. However, US census should provide an ethnic label that speaks for Mexican, Central, and South American Indigenous people. This also gives an opportunity for mixed-Indigenous people to learn from their culture via Indigenous groups in United States settings. Because as mixed-Indigenous people from Spanish-speaking nations, we have a right to learn about our Indigenous past that includes everything before 1492. Our nations started way before the colonial contact.

Imagine what would happen if mixed-Indigenous or Indigenous Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Peruvians, Bolivians, among other Spanish-speaking nations re-identify with their Indigenous roots, how would that cause a chain reaction in Latin America and how would that redefine our culture, our history, and our thought process?

Comments (126)
No. 1-44
demzeo
demzeo

This is such garbage. While “Hispanic” is a term with origins in the US census! “Latino” was coined by the French with intent to create an identity more favorable for imperialism back in the day. But beyond that, the author is unclear as to what constitutes Native identity and status. It is insufficient to say that having ancestry equates a person to being Native, or else we’re back to Elizabeth Warren’s BS. Let’s be clear, diasporic Latinxs, Chicanxs, and even mestizxs in Latin America are NOT Native. The belief that indigeneity comes from ancestry, where percentages of raciality matter is some Eurocentric, colonization garbage. Latinxs have become so assimilated into manifestations of whiteness throughout these centuries that is is inconceivable anybody would accept Indigenous claims like that. Indigenous status comes from significantly more than racist blood quantum associations. This article only serves to further a conversation about self-indigenization that marginalizes Natives, dilutes Native issues, and colonizes Native spaces, all of which are dangerous to Native communities. Please take your Nican Tlaca aspirations elsewhere.

44 Replies

demzeo
demzeo

I find it very interesting that you use a Latina to describe appropriation of Native spaces, and I invite you to educate yourself on how Native populations and many Latinxs criticized AOC’s words. I never said anything about how Latinx struggles are separate, different, or opposing in any way to Native issues; I agree, in many cases, they are similar. What I will reiterate is that an increasing number or Native scholars and activists are holding Chicanismo and Latinidad accountable for continuously diluting Native issues by inserting themselves into a dialogue that isn’t theirs to claim. There is a fundamental difference between Latinxs being native born to the continent, and Natives whose continent it is. As Latinxs, we cannot claim indigenous status simply by ancestry, because we’ve assimilated into versions of whiteness that continue to reproduce oppression onto Native communities. This is an empirical, statistical, identifiable fact, regardless of whether it manifests in the United States or in my native Mexico, or all the way to Chile. There are very real reasons why Latin American countries have departments, organizations, and agencies devoted to Indigenous communities that are equitable and not meant for dominant populations—because Latinxs and Natives are different. I write this as a Mexican immigrant to the United States who used to adhere to the same kind of things that “this is my land.” Except it’s not; Latinxs can still be settlers to still existent Native people.

MamaMimi
MamaMimi

Except much of what you stated is actually opinion and not fact. The fact is that not all NA tribes view things as cut and dry as you apparently do (or claim a handful of scholars do) because they understand that the Latinx claim of being indigenous is part of that struggle to reclaim spaces and fight against the colonization that was forced upon their ancestors. Example: I started to write a novel and approached the tribe it was based on before doing so. They had no problem with me writing it, viewing me as extended kin despite the fact I'm not part of their tribe. Too, I have never personally met any NA to judge others because the government refuses to recognize them. They most certainly do not discriminate when I'm at marches and rallies, fighting for land and water rights. I have actually been invited to speak (though I turned down the opportunity). Again, all this only serves to show that there is no authority as to who may claim their roots. So perhaps you, too, could be invited to educate yourself on the fact that there are as many different narratives as there are Latinx, and not all can fit into one box. You may claim yourself as a Mexican immigrant. That is fine. I don't know your story. It isn't my position to say anyway. However, you cannot rightfully speak for everyone else either. I was born Taina and will die as such regardless of how much the government wishes to say my people are extinct. I will continue to learn the broken language we inherited, the language I'm sure OUR scholars will one day fully restore. I will continue to include our gods in my regular worship. I will keep on fighting for federal recognition and, more importantly, I welcome other Taino descendents to do likewise... including those who previously "assimilated into versions of whiteness" they now wish to reject.

demzeo
demzeo

Self-indigenization is among the most dangerous conditions by whichever Latinxs, or literally anybody else, can attempt to appropriate Native space because it involves activities, thinking, and realignment of identity that is not sanctioned by a pan-Native philosophy. I am not advocating for Latinxs to abandon awareness of our indigeneity or reject attempts to connect with it. I am simply restating the positions held by several Natives that that behavior needs to not be taken for granted. If your experience with Natives has been successful in your terms of kinship and belonging, I congratulate you. But that acknowledgement is not universal among Natives and other ethnic groups and Latinxs must be aware of that, instead of operating under the assumption of open-armed welcomings. I bring up my own identity as an example to illustrate how many Latinxs have lost connection to Indigenous ancestors, through and because of the assimilation into whiteness in Latin America, which extends into Chicanx populations in the USA. Our countries have violent histories against Natives and Native identitification to observable points where the modern Latinx is not the same as the contemporary Native. I’m all in favor of rejecting Eurocentric, white supremacist labels, but that needs to be conditional with how Native identity is extended, and that can only be extended by Native groups, nobody else, or else it becomes appropriation and a reproduction of genocide considering the praxis of Native identification. I would encourage you to read M. Bianet Castellanos’ “Introduction: Settler Colonialism in Latin America,” (it’s only 4 pages) for a better, more academic understanding of what I’m referring to when I say both Latinx and Native academics are increasingly determining differences between Latinxs and Natives, and to contextualize why things like Neo-Mexica, Neo-Taíno, Nican Tlaca, Chicanismo, and Mechista doctrines are harmful to Native causes and sovereignty.

cassiereds
cassiereds

I’m going to interject here due to the amount of notifications I get about this article lol. I’m full blooded Navajo and married to a full blooded Shoshone man for background. We do not extend our tribal recognition to Latinos because they do not share our historical struggle. My Navajo lands are being settled by both white people and by Latinos. when Latinos say they deserve the same recognition of sovereignty that we do, it hurts us because Latinos colonized our land the same way. If Latinos want to learn about their Native American roots they are welcome to, but that does not make them Native American at all. Why would I welcome a white person who was a fourth Navajo, for example, into my nation? @demzeo is right in saying blood quantum is not enough for Latinos to “be” Indigenous. We consider tribal status and identity along many more things than just ancestry, which is always unreliable anyways. The issue with Latinos claiming to be indigenous is that they will claim it without doing anything to help us. They won’t go to standing rock with us. They are unaware about how our women go missing more than anyone. Latinos do not hold our spiritual, cultural or tribal traditions, or fight for our issues in the same context so there’s enough reason there to hold Latinos accountable. Many Latinos only shed their identity and call themselves by a tribal one and think it’s good enough. But it isn’t! It’s literally a genocide of our people all over again by those with privilege. If Latinos are not fighting for Native American sovereignty, which means returning ALL countries in the Western Hemisphere to Native American owners, then Latinos are not fighting alongside us at all

Rey12
Rey12

If you're a Mexican with 100 native american blood and only speak Spanish, how is that your fault or make you any less Native American? How are you suppose to be proud and fight with Native Americans, about something you know nothing about, but then when you want to you are told you're not native american because its just blood. Maybe they are not the "whiteness" as you say but a product of it.

demzeo
demzeo

Once again, you're defining Native status by reducing it to blood quantum in your first sentence, which has been thoroughly understood as being an insufficient marker to claim Indigenous affiliation. Why do we, as Mexicans who have ancestral Indigenous blood and who have assimilated into mestizaje, get to decide who is Indigenous when there are literal, real, tangible Indigenous communities who are fighting for liberation? If blood quantum is insufficient, it is not up to non-Natives to decide that it is.

cassiereds
cassiereds

Why do you feel the need to tell Native Americans like me that we need to be more accommodating to Mexicans when Mexicans also enslaved and killed us? Also I will add that if a person has 100% Indigenous blood, they would never identify as Mexican because Mexican is a settler identity and not a native one.