De-inigenizing the Continent
Latinos very often come together to fight for its dignity and human rights
Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Commenting on the annual Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, Texas Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez recently wrote: "The problem is -- our community does not have a lot to celebrate."
Published on LatinoLA: October 7, 2004
As evidence, Rodriguez, also the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, cited high unemployment and low health insurance rates, falling wages, a widening educational gap, an immigration crisis, worsening relations with Latin America and extremist scapegoat politics. He could have also thrown in living in the nation's most polluted communities -- and his analysis could also apply to people of color as a whole.
Yet, because Latinos have always contributed to the development and defense of this nation -- "that is a reason to celebrate," he concluded.
Indeed. Dwelling on the negative helps no one. But to be oblivious to the actual conditions of a community -- by limiting celebration to the annual trotting out of Hispanic celebrities -- borders on tragicomical. What should be celebrated (at a time when the continent marks its independence from colonialism) -- or who should be honored -- are those individuals who've dedicated their lives to fighting for human rights. They're everywhere.
Up against unprecedented hostility, we see undocumented students fasting nationwide to pass the bipartisan-supported DREAM Act that would allow them to affordably continue their higher education. We now see labor unions embrace immigrants (the Justice for Janitors campaign), rather than scapegoat them. Similarly, we see farm workers leading the fight against toxic food contamination. We see human rights activists struggle daily against governmental policies that intentionally cause hundreds of migrants to die yearly in the inhospitable desert. In Arizona, they also battle against the viciously anti-immigrant Proposition 200. Also, women on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border have risen up against the slaughter -- with impunity -- of young women in Juarez, Mexico. And family members of soldiers who've died in Iraq are fighting to bring about worldwide peace and justice. Despite government officials actively suppressing this year's vote (especially against African Americans, American Indians and new citizens), we see unprecedented nationwide voter registration drives to ensure that everyone's vote counts.
These human rights activitists don't dwell on the negative. They fight against it.
Throughout the Americas we see similar efforts, and most of these battles (for hundreds of years) include dispossessed indigenous, African and mestizo-mulatto peoples fighting together for their human rights.
Incidentally, Rep. Rodriguez subsequently noted that the Hispanicization of this continent began with Columbus. Technically, that's correct, though unstated is that Hispanicization (and then later Anglicization and Americanization) was actually a program to physically and culturally "de-indigenize" the continent and its peoples.
This also points to the reason why "Hispanic" to describe "Hispanics-Latinos" is troublesome. The term acknowledges European hegemony but ignores the fact that most peoples under this rubric in this country are primarily indigenous-based and rooted to maize-based cultures on this continent. This means their heritage here actually begins many thousands of years prior to Columbus. It's something that should be celebrated, not obscured nor remanded to the past.
Not ironically, the new National Museum of the American Indian recognizes this, though not everyone else does. Recently, an invitation for us to speak at a Hispanic Heritage event in Wisconsin was withdrawn because they deemed our work more appropriate for Native American History month. Indeed, we do have an indigenous identity (as opposed to an alien one), yet debates over labels aside, we too are part of this community of 40 million. It is made up of many communities and peoples. This is the legacy we've inherited. This heritage also includes roots to all corners of the globe -- to Asia, Africa and Europe. While it's a rich mixture, for some, it's a cause of shame because this society continues to promote the myth and "virtues" of purity.
Such beliefs are what cause battles over government and corporate-imposed identities. But in the end, this community -- however loosely connected -- very often comes together to fight for its dignity and human rights.
Such is the case with the ongoing attempts by Wal-Mart to desecrate the ancient grounds of Teotihuacan, Mexico. Already, a similar effort by Wal-Mart was recently halted in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Putting such a store within eyesight of the Teokalli (pyramid) of the Sun -- which is of huge symbolic and spiritual significance to the nation -- threatens to once again wake up that long-suppressed indigenous identity within the entire nation, if not the continent. If not, as human rights activists warn, two golden arches may soon be gracing the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.
(c) Universal Press Syndicate 2004
Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez:
The writers can be reached at XColumn@aol.com