Xuxa Says Let’s Play Indian

Xuxa is a Brazilian TV presenter, film actress, businesswoman, and famous singer in both languages – Spanish and Portuguese – in Latin America. She was best known for her children’s song Ilaire in the early 1990s – the first song I heard as a toddler in my crib. Ilaire is an easy sing-along pop tune that inspires people of all ages to clap, twirl, and jump to the catchy rhythm.

In 1988, Xuxa produced a song titled Let’s Play Indian. It was the second or third song I listened to as a child – and one that stayed with me for ages. The song goes like this:

“Vamos a jugar a los indios pero sin armas con qué pelear.
Vente para mi tribu, yo soy cacique, tú eres mi igual.

Let’s play Indians but without weapons to fight with.
Come to my tribe, I’m the chief, and you’re my equal.

Indio hacer barullo, indio tener orgullo,
píntate la cara que la danza va a empezar

Indian makes war noises, Indian takes pride
Paint your face the dance is about to start.

Tomo mi arco y flecha y mi canoa, voy a pescar.
Luego junto a la hoguera comer del fruto que el campo da

I take my bow and arrow and my canoe, I‘m going fishing.
Then, by the bonfire, we eat the food the land produces.

Indio hacer barullo, indio tener orgullo,
indio ser tranquilo mas también sabe pelear.

Indian makes war noises, Indian takes pride
Paint your face the dance is about to start.

El indio ya no lucha ya no hace guerra, guerra,
el indio fue un día dueño de esta tierra, tierra.

The Indian does not fight, the Indian does not go to war,
the Indian used to be owner of THIS land.

Indio quedó solito, indio ser muy buenito,
indio querer tan solo estar en paz…

The Indian stayed alone, The Indian is very good,
The Indian wants to be alone …

Let’s play Indians, kids/ let’s teach the world to respect them/because Indians are our brothers, too.”

I listen to this song again and I shake my head at the war noises she made, the stereotypes she perpetuated, and the nostalgic message she sang about the “good” Indian “who does not fight” and “who used to be owner of THIS land.”

When I was a kid, I remember children made “Indian” war noises to this song in my living room. They painted their faces like “Indians” and wore headdresses like “Indians.” They played bow and arrow like “Indians” and performed a round dance like “Indians.” The parents thought it was funny as they took pictures of us “playing Indians.” If I ever saw this picture, I can only imagine a dozen of kids with “Indian costumes” – including the “real Indians” – my cousins and me.

What was Xuxa thinking when she sang this song holding an Amazonian Indigenous child’s hand on stage in the early 1990s?

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Was she well-intentioned with her message? Was she trying to save the Amazon from deforestation with “Indians who want to live in peace”? Was she mocking Indigenous culture by wearing the headdress?

I once thought of Indians as a group of people in the past. I thought of them as “savages” because they “painted their bodies” and went fishing. Because they “used” to be the owner of this land. Because to me, they did not exist anymore in 1992 when she said the very same lines.

Children get the message pretty clearly. Indians are goodie two-shoes. They do not fight back. They go fishing in their canoes. They paint their bodies and make war noises. Even the title of the song suggest an innocent mockery of some sort.

As children grow older, the initial stereotype gets reinforced with Halloween “Indian” costumes and football mascot teams like the Washington R****. They hear if from their family about “savage Indians.” They hear negative stereotypes about their people and this, believe it or not, is a leading factor to cultural genocide in Indigenous communities. Today, the Natabuela Indigenous community (Ecuador) experiences loss of language, tradition, and clothing in the new generation. The kids feel embarrassed and ashamed to be “Indios” so they integrate with the national identity: mestizo.

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According to Michael Friedman, a clinical psychologist, he states in his recent article about NBA banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, “Scientific research suggests that the consequences of racism go way beyond political correctness and are significant public health concerns for affected communities. Studies of African-Americans demonstrate that exposure to racist events causes unhealthy physiological responses, such as increased blood pressure. Native American mascots for sport teams can cause lower self-esteem and lower mood among Native American adolescents and young adults.”

I mean, do we ever “play Pilgrim”? Do we play “Hindu”? Do we play “Jewish”? Do we play “African?” Or better yet, do we promote a national song that encourages kids of all backgrounds to play “Pilgrim, Hindu, Jewish, and African” and recount their respective sad stories? Of course not. Because it hurts the children just like Michael Friedman said.

Imagine a national song that tells the sad story of the holocaust and encourages children to play “Jewish”? Or a national song that tells the sad story of slavery and encourages children to play “African?”

That’s what happened to two-year-old Santy and thousands of Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous children who listened to this song. His cousins and friends played “Indian” around him when he was a kid. He thought “Indians” were a people of the past with no culture, no history, no narrative, and no accomplishments. He walked in school with the label Latino/Mestizo on his forehead and sat in front of TVs where his Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous people took the role of maids/servants in telenovelas. He learned “Indians” needed saving from Jesus in Catholic workshops and classes.

He had no idea he carried Indigenous blood, Indigenous culture, Indigenous oral tradition, Indigenous language, Indigenous festivities, Indigenous spirituality, and Indigenous heritage because media, religion, and society made him believe that his ancestors were cowards and his relatives were not “Indians.”

This confusion was imposed on his people for decades – along with other colonial tactics to distance them from their “Indianness” in Ecuador.

It all started with the children’s song “Let’s Play Indian.”

What are your thoughts?

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Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Butterfly Story

When I was in Ecuador, my cousins and I played soccer in the backyard. I saw my Tia Flor leave the house and wait for the bus in the corner. She was going back to the commune. As she waited, I asked her to tell me a story. “Okay Santisimo,” she said with a smile. “I will tell you the Butterfly Story.”

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Back in the day, when your family used to live in the commune, your grandmother came all the way from the United States to pay us a visit that summer afternoon. I think your mother was still a child – a playful child, indeed. Your grandmother walked on the beach. She visited the forest. She visited the relatives. She was happy back home.

One afternoon, she was walking on a road that led her to your great grandmother’s house – but she let out a sudden scream.

The cousins, the aunts, the uncles, and the grandmothers peeped out of their windows and saw the poor child frozen like a statue.

“What happened, young lady?” the aunts asked.

“There’s a snake on the road, help,” she replied in fear.

They called for your great-grandmother and your great-great-grandmother to come to your grandmother’s aid. One of them carried an iron pot. The other carried her faith and love.  Your great-great grandmother wore a long braid that stretched to her waist. She wore thick-framed glasses that made her eyes look fierce like a jaguar.

“What is this yelling about?” she asked my grandmother in her angry voice.

“The snake…the snake…” your grandmother whispered pointing at the creature.

Your grandmothers worked together to remove the snake out of the road safe and sound. They chanted words. Like they called the spirits of the other world. Like the words themselves moved the plants. Like the words called the thunder.

And the snake swerved to the grandmothers. It crawled right into the pot.

The village prayed. Your mother played with her cousins in the forest. The sky grew darker. The day got cooler. The Chawis chirped more than ever.

Your great-great grandmother and your great-grandmother shook the pot together and prayed in that language. That calling of the spirits. That thunder shock. That rolling of the waves.  That gust of wind. That…that…and then – poof!

Your great-great grandmother opened the pot and a giant butterfly flew in the sky.

“That’s why you do not kill a snake,” your great-great grandmother said. “Because who knows if you end up killing your own ancestors who might have reincarnated as a snake in this life.”

Butterfly story

Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Antonio Mocho: Machismo and Masculinity in Ecuador

“Good morning Angela, how’s your day so far?” Rosa asks – the owner of a local store.

“It’s all right,” Angela says in whispers. She glances over her shoulders. “Have you seen Antonio around?”

Rosa shakes her head as she hands the grocery bags to Angela.

Is everything okay?” Rosa asks suspiciously. Angela wears sunglasses on a cloudy day.

Angela politely chuckles. She grabs the grocery bags and turns around.

Rosa stops her and removes the sunglasses. She gasps, “Did Antonio Mocho hit you?”

“No!” Angela exclaims covering her bruise. “It was an accident. I -uh- hit my face on the wall.”

“Stop lying, Angela,” Maria says in a fury. She pulls Angela in the store.

“But I can’t,” Angela says. “He means well. He needs me. He needs his wife.”

In Ecuador, alcoholism and domestic violence go hand-in-hand in Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. In Cuenca, a group of researchers led a case study that states “alcohol misuse is the root problem of Indigenous households.” Husbands beat their wives and kids, waste money, lose their jobs, and are never present at home.

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Antonio Mocho is an illustration of this reality in Ecuador. Antonio Mocho drinks every night. He beats his wife. He does it again the next day. The next week. The next month. Angela puts up with it because this is the only life she knows – to be his wife.

But who’s Antonio Mocho?

Antonio Mocho is a traditional song originally sung in Kichwa (the Quechua dialect spoken in Ecuador) and currently performed by various folklore groups in Ecuador. Antonio Mocho is also a popular tune played by orchestra bands, technocumbia artists, and last but not least, sanjuanito – a music genre that gave rise to the traditional song on a national and international scale.

According to Land of Winds, sanjuanito and san juan are two genres of Ecuador that are closely related to each other – probably originating in Otavalo, Imbabura. However, san juan belongs to indigenous communities whereas sanjuanito belongs to highland mestizo communities –  a music that is also accessible to cities, mestizos, afro-Ecuadorians, Southern Colombians and Northern Peruvians.

It is the “national rhythm of Ecuador.” Sanjuanitos promotes Indigenous culture, oral tradition, and Kichwa pride in our communities. It becomes a “safe space” where Ecuadorians express their “Indianness” without getting criticized by the society.

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I want to highlight that sanjuanito also provides an opportunity to tell our stories. Its lyrics include love, breakups, nostalgia, one-way trip, farm work, and Ecuadorian landscapes. It also speaks of important festivals, legendary figures, and communal support of ex-pat Ecuadorians in the US and Europe. Popular songs like Nuca Llacta, Caraway, Curiquingue, and Cantando Se Alegre are examples of Ecuadorian Indigenous songs fused with sanjuanito elements to promote national pride and storytelling.

It is also said that the origins of sanjuanito (currently in debate) “would be a pre-Incan rhythm which would have suffered many influences, adaptations, and style combinations through the centuries. Such a rhythm is to be frequently found in the repertoire of many Andean musical groups of Ecuador, much to the delight of an audience that enjoys this music as much as their ancestors probably did centuries ago.”

Back to Antonio Mocho, we will see how sanjuanito transforms this character from an alcoholic husband to an adoring lover. The transformation seems to be a collective re-interpretation of Antonio Mocho and re-defining effort of Ecuadorian masculinity in modern-day society. In the original song, the stanzas state:

Antonio Mocho machaska yallikun/ Rosa Milapa ishtankupi machashka/ warmita makankapa yallikum

Antonio Mocho is drinking his night away/ he is getting drunk at Rosa Mila’s store/ he beats his wife when he gets home.

Jose Mono machashka harkakun/Alcalde kani nishpa nin pawakun/ warmita makashpalla kawsakun

Jose Mono, drunk, is halting/ I’m governor he says jumping/ beating his wife is how he lives

Chucha, karaju nishpa washaman yallikun/ warmita makankapak yallikun

Chucha carajo he says behind his back/ he beats his wife when he gets home.

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Sadly, the song reflects the reality that many Indigenous communities deal with in terms of alcoholism and domestic violence. As previously mentioned by Land of Winds, the new adaptation suffers a transformation process that downplays his alcoholism and portrays him as an adoring lover. This gives a new personality to Antonio Mocho – a man who chases women and who has a chance to show his loving side – for the new generation in the early 90s. Ximena, Ecuadorian singer, describes Antonio Mocho as a handsome Indigenous man who is set to conquer her heart.

“Ven a verme en la manana guambrito/ yo te espero en mi ventana bonito/ me escapare calladito guambrito/ y nos vamos de parranda bonito/ ay para darte mi carino guambrito/ y adorarte a mi lindo bonito/ porque eres mi consetido guambrito/ porque eres mi preferido bonito.”

Meet me in the morning, my young man/ I’ll wait for you by my window, my handsome man /we’ll quietly escape, my young man / and we’ll go party, my handsome man / oh I”ll you give my affection, my young man/ and I’ll adore you, my handsome man/ because you’re my spoiled one, young  man/ because you’re my favorite one, handsome man.

However, in Maria de los Angeles’ case, another Ecuadorian singer, she tells a different story of Antonio Mocho in early 2000. She begs him to stay by her side. Without his love, she does not know what to do with her life. In this interpretation, Maria loves Antonio with all her heart, and there is no mention of domestic violence or alcoholism in the song. She recounts Antonio Mocho as follows:

“Anda diciendo por ahi que ya no estas/que te hayas ido y que jamas tu volveras/y me dejas padeciendo por tu amor/no te vayas de mi lado por favor.”

“They’re saying you’re not here / that you’re gone and you’ll never come back / and you let me suffer for your love / please do not leave me here alone.”

Los Canaris Band speak about Antonio Mocho in their sanjuanito melody, too. They describe him as a dangerous fellow – “ten cuidado con el Antonio Mocho – que ese esta peligroso ya vean.” They encourage people to dance around him, to do the round dance, and to observe him dancing with precaution. In this case, Indigenous people perceive Antonio Mocho as a “dangerous fellow” which can indicate hostility.

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In summary, Antonio Mocho is going through a dramatic character transformation based on Ecuadorians re-interpretation in the past two decades. He used to be an abusive alcoholic husband, but now he is a handsome man, a lover, or still a “dangerous” fellow. These characteristic traits reflect a national attempt to re-negotiate his role as an Ecuadorian man in modern-day society. What do Ecuadorians want to see in Antonio Mocho? What do they expect of him? What do they want to see in other Ecuadorian men?

Even though Antonio Mocho is a catchy tune, it follows the sanjuanito element of nostalgia, melancholy, and love. Sanjuanito provides a national space where Ecuadorians can collectively transform his story, among others, into a positive message for society. Antonio Mocho slowly but steadily leaves his abusive life of alcoholism and domestic violence and enters a new phase that reflects hope in recovery, healing, and inspiration for young men.

My paternal family have their Antonios but the new generation is the first to break the machista cycle for the first time.  I think it has to do with the fact that my cousins and I were exposed to a diverse pool of cultures, expectations, beliefs, and opinions outside of Ecuador. We met people who respected their families and showered them with affection and love. We met men who protected their women and mentored their kids.

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It’s like all of a sudden we woke up from a trance and realized that machismo is not okay in our family. We had to do something about it. We knew machismo destroyed family circles and interrupted childhood development. We made a conscience decisoin to break the intergenerational abusive cycle and start a clean slate.

We also had a second wake-up call when we “discovered” that Antonio Mocho is a sanjuanito song rooted Indigenous elements to tell a national story. One of us said, “Ecuadorians kept their Indio tradition alive after all these years to tell our stories.”

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I know in my heart that 1) sanjuanito will continue to flourish in the future and 2) Antonio Mocho will transform again to hopefully become a role model for young men in Ecuadorian society. Antonio Mocho will inspire youth to treat each other with respect and love and to rise from alcoholism, machismo, domestic violence, and other forms of abuse that destroy us as people in the world.

Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fighting Stereotypes: “But She Looks So Indian, Too Bad”

A family friend gave birth to a newborn a few days ago. Everyone gathered around the baby and played with the her soft hands, her button nose, and her tiny feet. People cooed and made funny noises to the baby. The people commented on her features.

“She’s as tiny as the aunts – now that’s a trait!” Everyone giggles.

“She got her abuelita’s nose. Who would’ve thought?” Everyone laughs. The abuelita gently smiles. She asks someone to bring her the baby.

“But she is so Indian, too bad. She would’ve looked better if she were as light as her father.” Everyone sighs. Even the grandmother.

Hold up!

Are you hearing what I’m hearing?

“But she is so Indian, too bad.”

I asked a bit annoyed, “What do you mean ‘too bad’?”

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“She is tipica, you know. Super brown and chola hair. Plus she was born in the USA.” Then, she turns to the great-aunts with a question. “In our family, we have Spanish blood. Blue eyes. Thin nose. Light skin. But I wonder why this baby is so brown in the first place?”

They sigh again as if this precious gift of life FAILED to inherit the most “beautiful” physical trait: the White features.

 My mother darted the DON’T-YOU-START look. It was not the right time and place to discuss such matters. But I thought about the times my very own family used to say things like this to us – to the new generation.

Both of my grandmothers acted like they were on top of the world when they lived in New York City – the American dream. Their Ecuadorian families respected them for their courage to face a new life and a new culture. Therefore, both families assumed my grandmothers had tons of money with their new acquired social status as las americana.
My paternal grandmother wore her hair pineapple style. It was even the pineapple color: blonde. She was a tall and robust woman. She wore Macy’s high quality dresses, a gold watch, and pearl necklaces – even when she was at home all day. She made sure she walked like a Hollywood star in her neighborhood – and people respected her.

So one day, I asked her out of curiosity, “Mamí, who are our ancestors?” She took care of 8 kids at the time, including me, so my question came out as absurd.

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“We’re Ecuadorians, my love. We come from the Spanish Barrera family. It is said that a long time ago, when Ecuador was still a colony, the Spanish Barrera started a new life there – like us in New York City. The father figure owned a hacienda. He had three daughters, one of which was your Great-great-great Grandma Eva. Well, she was a writer, a poet, and a novelist. Her writing got published in many newspapers in Ecuador. But that’s a whole other story. Eva fell in love with the overseer of her hacienda. He was poor like the rest of them, and her father didn’t like that because they met in secret.”

“The father gave Eva an ultimatum – either she goes with her lover or she stays with the family. She chose to leave with the overseer, rode their horse, and started a new life elsewhere. She married the man, but she lost her inheritance – something we could all make use of nowadays.”

One of my cousins shattered the plates in the kitchen. She left me with more questions.

Later that day, I found her sitting next to the window. She stared at the kids playing basketball in the streets and young mothers talking to their husbands in the park. She could see the birds fly over the trees. She felt the sun shine her face.

“Abuelita, so what happened to them?” I asked with a chipmunk’s voice in the background.

“Who?” She was caught off guard. “What are you talking about?”

“Eva and her husband,” I said shrugging.

“Yes, yes, Santísimo,” she said recollecting her thoughts. She positioned herself to face me even though the sun shone her cheek. Her pineapple hair looked white with the reflection.
“Eva and her lover left the hacienda and rode through the forest, the hills, the rivers, and the mountains. Many day later, they finally arrived to Guayaquil. This is where they started their new family. This is where their kids grew up to be healthy and strong. This is where they had their grandchildren.”

“Then came a day when Eva got sick and was sent to a private clinic. A doctor checked her health, prescribed her medicine, and talked to her husband about possible cure. Ay Santísmo, you should’ve seen their reaction when the doctor looked through her records and asked, ‘You’re Eva from the Molestina family?’ She nodded. ‘Tía, I’m your nephew. We’ve been looking for you all these years.’ So the story goes, they talked for weeks until the day she died. She did not get to see her family, but she sure died knowing that at least she was able to reconnect with somebody.”

“Wow,” I tell her. “What about the lover?”

“We don’t know much of his story. What’s important is he married a woman of high class – we have Spanish blood!” She emphasized. Then I look closer at her pineapple hair and like the fruit itself she had hints of black hair.

Years later, I did my independent research in addition to my college work to find out about Eva’s husband. I read books to learn more on Ecuadorian history. I searched online to track the Molestina family. I pulled scholarly articles from JSTOR about haciendas, colonial Ecuador, slaves, etc.. I did not find his name, but I found a story that spoke on behalf of people like him – whose stories were left in the forgotten.

In colonial Ecuador, haciendas expropriated Indigenous people from their land. Indigenous people were forced to work as slaves. They were baptized into their master’s surname, and took his culture, his religion, and his tradition.

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There was the Casta, too – a system that categorized people according to racial backgrounds. The Casta included the following: the Peninsulares (the Spanish); the Criollos (Spanish-born in the colonies); the mestizos (mixed-Spanish/Indigenous); mulattos (mixed-Spanish/African); Indios (Indigenous); and Black (Africans), and a set of ridiculous hybrids based on blood quantum (sambo, cholo, castizo, etc.). The system encouraged the separation of thought process, behavior, expectation, and stereotype associated with each racial category – which, in turn, empowered the elite and suppressed the discriminated.

The general logic: The lighter your skin, the better your socio-economic position in a white-mestizo colonial society.

The Casta perpetuated for many generations after the colonial era. Actually, we ARE living the same system where identifying as a Mestizo is much more convenient than identifying as an Indigenous or as Mulatto. The worst part is the Casta is in everyone’s mind in Latin America. The future of your kids depend on who you marry, who you socialize with, and who you work for. If you look “Indio” or” cholo,” society will encourage you – through media, politics, and costumbres – to marry a white-person to strengthen your socio-economic position in the future. For those who prefer not to mix, Indigenous people have the option to abandon their traditional clothing, their braids, and their language, and in their place, wear Western clothing, comb their hair, and speak Spanish fluently.  Therefore, they can pass as mestizos.

This is the narrative of mixed-Indigenous and Indigenous people when it comes to culture, politics, and land sovereignty in relations to blood quantum and ethnic labels. The Casta empowers the elite and the lighter-mestizo and castigates the brown-mestizo, Indigenous people, mulattos, and Afro-Ecuadorians.

“But she is so Indian, too bad.”

The Casta also perpetuates stereotypes associated with Indianess. For example, why do we have shows like La India Maria or La Paisana Jacinta that portray Indigenous women as “stupid” and “brutes” – often ridiculed by urban mestizos? When I was little, my entire family watched La India Maria and laughed at her “Indianness” in urban spaces where she was always corrected by the society. Why do we say un “indio civilizado” versus un “indio salvaje”? What does that even mean? Sometimes, I think there is no difference between the both. It just empowers the civilized – the one who assimilated, the one who adapted, and the one who was colonized – to disenfranchise the savage – the one who wore plumes, the one who worshiped rocks, and the one who walked naked in the forest.

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“Don’t be Indian.”

This is a common phrase used in Latin America to correct a person who does something “stupid.” Once again, this phrase incorrectly protrays Indigenous people as uneducated – unless they assimilate.

“Eres Cholo” or “Vos es Longo”

In Ecuador, a lot of people use “cholo” and “longo” to discriminate Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous people. In the Ecuadorian context, “un cholo” is associated with stupidity and backwardness. In Guayaquil, “un cholo” is a person from el campo. “Un cholo” is a person with strong Indigenous features and super moreno skin. “Un cholo” is a wannabe mestizo who tries to fit in dominant urban society.

In Quito, “un longo” is a person from rural Andean towns. “Un longo” is a person with existing Indigenous ties to his or her current place of origin. “Un longo” is a wannabe-white.

Both serve to put down a people who might be proud of their Indigenous roots, but feel the need to cover up their cholo-ness and longo-ness under the mestizo label.”Cholo” and “longo” is equivalent to “indio” and “stupid.” Who wants to identify as such in the social context? In family settings? In the census?

I was recently corrected by a reader that the Ecuadorian government does provide an opportunity for Ecuadorians to identify as “Indigenous” in the census. I want to give a shout out to the person who brought this to my attention. Perhaps I was not clear with what I wanted to say so I will elaborate here. The Ecuadorian government allows the following options: White, Mestizo, Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio – the latter is a new addition to the mixed (Blanco, Indigenous, and Afro) population in the Ecuadorian Coast. However, the real challenge is how does the census get to the people? Are they accessible or inaccessible to ethnic groups in various locations? Is the government still excluding other ethnic labels that we do not know of?

In my article, recently published in Indian Country Today Network Media, I mention that Comuneros in Santa Elena Peninsula had the following option to identity as such: Blanco, Mulatto, and Mestizo (please consider the aforementioned correction in the last paragraph which includes all ethnic labels since 2010).  What I meant to say was their specific ethnic label was not included in the census. In this article, Comuneros from Chanduy district complain the following:

In Santa Elena, the Comuneros want to identity as Cholos. And they complain that their ethnic label is not included in the census.

Comuneros feel the ethnic label Mestizo does NOT correctly identify their cultural history, tradition, and people. Comuneros are in the process of re-claiming their Wankavilka roots to protect their lands and cultures from expropriation. In their opinion, “Cholo” becomes a tool that empowers them and separates them from the Indigenous and Mestizo space for various of reasons. In my oral tradition, my family says we come Indigenous ancestors, but we identify as Comuneros today.

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In Santa Elena, comuneros identify as Cholos because it closely describes their existence as an ethnic group that acculturates from one era to the other -pulling a rich history of 12,000 year-old-Indigenous culture and including new cultural elements to their Comunero identity. “Indigenous” to them means a group of people who maintain their traditional clothing, roots, language, and land since the beginning of time.

Cholos live in their ancestral land and maintain their Indigenous culture, but they adapt to new clothing and language in order to keep up with global technology and better use of communal economy.  I’m a Comunero from my mother’s side. I speak English fluently and acculturate American elements as part of my identity. But I also pull Spanish, Kichwa, Huancavilca, and Sumpa cultures with me – and this does not make me any less Indigenous.

The ethnic label “Cholo” is not in the Ecuadorian census – which means they have two options: Mestizos or Indigenous. They oblige-voluntary identify as Mestizo – a blanket term that covers up discrimination and encourages assimilation of all ethnic groups regardless of their historical origins, colonial trauma, and ethnic traditions. They do not feel comfortable identifying as Indigenous because some, more than others, believe they are not Indigenous as the Tsa’chilas, Kayambi, or Shuar Nations, to name just a few. Also, they get backlash from Indigenous communities because Comuneros do not “look” Indigenous, and by this, they mean Comuneros do not wear traditional clothing or speak their Native tongue. In Silvia Alvarez’s research, however, Comuneros are the most “Indio” in the Ecuadorian coast and Andes regions. In fact, they are full blood Indigenous people who possess a half a million hectares which makes them the largest ethnic group in Ecuador.

The mestizo concept does not equally glorify two cultures. The dominant Euro-centric culture overpowers the Indigenous one – providing an opportunity for discrimination with words like “cholo” and “longo,” land expropriation, and much more. In this case, ethnic Comuneros with “mestizo” label become an invisible ethnic group in the Ecuadorian coast – a total of 200,000 plus people – at risk of losing their lands.  Large corporations expropriate them from their ancestral land due to the mislabeling since 1982.

Comuneros demonstrate that language is key to empower a people. Cholo is a negative term in Latin America, but Comuneros transformed it into a positive label for self-identification.

This goes to all of us – not just Indigenous people in the Americas. Have you ever wonder how one word can impact another person’s self-esteem? Have you asked yourself what the word originally means? Let’s take a look at how we can raise awareness in our communities.

I hear kids in school say “that’s gay” when they really mean to say “that sucks” or “too bad.” Using the word “gay” hurt a large group of people who identify as queer, gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender, and serves to reinforce negative connotations and stereotypes with the word. The original meaning is “joyful” and “happy.” The word “gay”  can negatively impact a person’s self-esteem when used incorrectly.

In Ecuador, the Tsa’chilas People had a reputation based on the “one word” every Ecuadorian used: Los Colorados. They were called “colorados” because of the red taint on their hair, but the Tsa’chilas collectively felt it was offensive to their people, their history, and their youth. The red means salvation to them. It saved them from an epidemic disease that hit their region centuries ago. They wear it in honor of the sacred medicine. Even though it’s part of their identity, they feel it does not correctly identify them. The Tsa’chilas pushed for national recognition of their true name. Now, they are referred to as Tsa’chilas, not Colorados – thanks to raising awareness.

Even using simple phrases like “the lighter, the better” can be damaging to those who do not have light skin color. They feel ugly and out of place . Instead of celebrating diversity, only one color rules them all. Like in the movie Precious, she sees herself as WHITE in the mirror – a reality that many people of color sometimes try to live up to.

The next time I see a baby that is too brown or too  cholo-looking, I will raise awareness by asking people “Why would you use x word to describe x situation?” Think about it – just by asking you can change the world one step at a time.

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Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

I’m Coming Out, Yo Soy Enchaquirado, That Means “Two-Spirit” Where I Come From

I wake up in a dream. It takes me to the sea. I spread my body like a starfish right on the beach. Chawis fly across the sky. Crabs glow red under the hot sun. Then – I hear someone whistle in the distance.

I get up and walk towards the sea and my feet sink in the warm shores. I wait for his boat to get closer. I wave with suspiros and he waves back with a smile. He dives into the water like a dolphin and swims towards me. Mi Cholo Guapo. My fisherman. My Lover – He hugs me.

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In my culture, dreams tell us something special from the spirit world. Dreams warn us. Dreams make us laugh. Dreams point us in the right direction of our destiny.

My fisherman dream is a recurring theme ever since I was a kid. And today, I finally realize why I dreamed so much about it.

Ever since I was a kid, I knew I was gay. I knew I liked playing with girls and I admired guys. I understood both worlds – and I liked it. But I also knew it was “wrong” to be gay by the way my biological father criticized them. He made fun of the way they walked, the way they talked, and the way they teased guys. He came home to talk about some “pato” or “marica” and my mother ignored him. But I cringed at the thought of even telling him.

My mother, however, believes that everyone deserves a right to love and to be loved. She comes from a family with little prejudice – even though some of them can be racist and homophobic sometimes. In general, though, they do not comment. They support everyone’s lifestyle with a voluntary or oblige-voluntary smile on their faces.

I kept my identity a secret all this time. As I grew older, I allowed my identity to be expressed in safe spaces like my bedroom or in the park. By expression, I mean meditating, dancing, writing my thoughts in a journal, exploring my feelings, and sketching portraits.

But I also prayed to Baby Jesus every night to take away this stain. I prayed to the Virgin Mary to NOT make me gay for the rest of my life. But it was no use. I woke up the next day feeling the same – guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and sad. I faced the same indirect discrimination in school – kids using words like “that’s gay, what a fag, homo…”

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I came out to my mother as soon as I turned fourteen.

“I still love you,” she said giving me a hug. “You’re beautiful just the way you are.”

She encouraged me to embrace my identity to the fullest. She even told me my maternal family clan had several gay relatives today and in the past. Many of them kept their identity a secret, too, because the Ecuadorian government would send them to prison for being gay. Also, in some rural towns, people took it upon themselves to stone gays to death in public.

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In 2014, Ecuador is still anti-gay even though the government enacted a new law that allowed same-sex couples to live in union and in peace. In Quito, gay conversion facilities and institutions arose and gave parents permission to correct their children’s “gay tendencies” – with therapy and counseling. These “counseling” sessions, however, involve psychological, emotional, and domestic abuse, plus rape. Also, the parents authorize the institution to send their employees to kidnap their children at any given moment of the day. Then, the children forcibly start their therapy at isolated places in the Andes Mountains where no one can hear their screams.

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On a lighter note, there are few communities that believe gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people should be praised, honored and respected. Comuna Montanita, Comuna San Pablo, and Comuna Engabao are the few communities in Wankavilka Territory that protect their people in a safe space where they can express their identity.

According to oral tradition, the people of Comuna Engabao are direct descendants of the last Huancavilca Chief Tumbala. He lived to defeat the Incas three times and fought the Spanish with one victory in 1540. He lived in Puna Island – the ancient geopolitical capital of the Huancavilca Nation. He was also a great warrior who was married to many wives and to his favorite Enchaquirado (gay man).

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Enchaquirados used to hold high position of power in Huancavilca society before 1535. As young boys, they were sent to religious temples to get spiritual and political training from shamans and chiefs. They were adorned with reptilian regalia, seashell necklaces, deer hive, plumes, gems, and jaguar shawls. They were prepared to become the next shaman of his people, the mediator of his family clan disputes, the protector of his temples, and the future wife of his local chief.

The Spanish chronicles even mentioned, “Their young boys seem to hold a high position of Huancavilca power and influence over his people. He is even dressed better than the women.”

The Spanish conquistadors punished the Huancavilca Nation for indulging in “Satan’s” ways. They quickly introduced the Huancavilca people to Catholic codes of moral conduct – which “corrected” gay tendencies and forced women to serve men. The Spanish also killed Enchaquirados to set an example for the rest of the locals to abide by Spanish laws and expectations in colonial reservation camps. Ever since then, Enchaquirados lost their place in a machista society – making them feel useless, worthless, and ashamed.

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Comuna Engabao is the only community that follows this Wankavilka tradition to the letter. Enchaquirados are treated as people with a right to love and a right to be. Enchaquirados play tag with children in the park, cook with women, play soccer with men, and even flirt with fishermen right on the shore. Enchaquirados go by two names: birth name and warrior name.

They live peacefully in Engabao. They have important stories and experiences to share with their Wankavilka Comuneros. One surprising fact states:

An Enchaquirado can hold a relationship with a straight man in Engabao – and there is nothing wrong about that in our culture.

In fact, straight men engage in serious relationships with both –  Enchaquirados and women in Comuna Engabao. In Enchaquirado John’s case, he had a serious relationship with his ex-boyfriend for many years until his ex decided to get married with a woman. John was heartbroken, but he took the extra step of his Enchaquirado role to become the wedding planner of his ex’s marriage.

Once in church, the priest marries the couple and Engabao comuneros say:

“Long live the husband! Long live the wife! And long live the other wife (Enchaquirado)!”

Also, after a straight man ends a relationship with an Enchaquirado, he is available to a pool of Engabao women and Enchaquirados again. On the other side of the coin, an Enchaquirado is also available to a pool of Engabao men.

“The plan is to protect Enchaquirado tradition in Engabao society, to restore our ancestral practices, and to share this culture with other Enchaquirados in Playas Villamil County,” John mentions in an interview. John and his Enchaquirado crew created a new initiative where they encourage other Enchaquirados to take pride in their identity and re-learn their Indigenous tradition, practices, and role in Engabao society.

Engabao people re-incorporate Wankavilka culture and emphasize Indigeneity in their community to protect their communal territory from expropriation. Their efforts play a big role where 70+ comunas in Santa Elena Peninsula are rescuing their Wankavilka culture in order to keep their Indigenous tradition alive and to become a more organized Wankavilka Nation in the Ecuadorian coast. The Wankavilka people are facing a national dilemma where their lands are in danger of expropriation due to the misconception of their “Indio” identity. Ecuadorians assume an Indigenous person needs to speak their Indigenous language and wear their Indigenous traditional clothes to be “Indio.” Otherwise, they are considered “mestizos” and form part of the Ecuadorian society. Wankavilka people are NOT mestizos, but they inherited 500,000 hectares (size of Rhode Island) of ancestral land under their name and power – which is what defines their Indigenous identity.

“Culture is Cure” – I heard this from the Northeast Two Spirit Society last week at their presentation at the American Indian Community House in New York City. I have to agree, after all these years of self-hate, low self-esteem, and shame, I finally came to terms with my gay identity through Wankavilka Indigenous identity.

It has more to do with just being gay or choosing a sexual preferences. It means claiming a culture that is rightfully ours, which includes our language, our customs, our songs, and even our Two-Spirit people. It means re-claiming a sacred role our ancestor used to have and restore the respect and honor we are entitled with. It means loving ourselves for who we are.

If one day I find my fisherman lover, that would be lovely, but most importantly, my dream led me to discover that my Indigenous Nation still practices Two-Spirit culture where I have the privilege to be who I am in a safe space in a traditional Wankavilka society. Maybe that’s where I need to go one day and learn my role…

Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Drop the “Latino” and Re-Adopt the Indigenous Label for Indigenous People: This is Our Idle No More Movement

Late last night, my father and I talked about how the ethnic term Latino mislabels Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous Mexicans, Ecuadorians, Puerto Rican, etc.. For a long time, he and I believed Latino and Hispanic correctly defined the Spanish-speaking mixed-Indigenous people of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. His argument was, “We speak Spanish. We dance to Spanish music. We have Spanish names. We live in Spanish towns. That’s what makes us Latinos.”

As we crossed the George Washington Bridge, I looked at the Hudson River and wondered, Why is this so? Why would this make sense to us? I mean, it is true. We speak Spanish and practice Spanish culture fused with Indigenous and African elements. But my family is also Indigenous. We have Indigenous ties that should not be overlooked. I thought hard about how to politely counter argue his belief. His opinion. His Latino identity.

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

“They’re Asians, though. You can’t confuse their race with Spanish,” he says, laughing.

“Exactly, so what makes you think we’re Latino or Hispanic? Some of us are Indigenous, right? Think about our families, papa. We’re Guayakos and Manabítas. We come from Huancavilca and Manteno blood that stretch back to thousands of years.”

“No, well..” he stammers. “I would say we’re…Ecuadorians.”

That’s it hits me. Ecuador is a country named after the equator in South America. But it’s also a country with rich Indigenous history, culture, dances, language, and people. In other words, we’re an Indigenous Nation and we don’t even know it.

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

Since 2011, more Latinos/Hispanics 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. I also want to add that Indigenous people who migrated from South America to the United States do not have access to their identity in this cross-cultural migration process. Hence, they wrestle with the ethnic label “Mestizo” and “Latino.”

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 because they are Spanish or Latin-descendant for the matter.

But many of us do not come from the Roman origins of Europe. Some of us come from our very own land in the Americas while others came from Africa and Asia.

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Some of mixed-Indigenous and Indigenous people wrap our babies in shawls and braid our hairs in trensas. Some of us eat tamales, tacos, maize, beans, papas, tomatoes, and lentejas every day – the traditional meals of our Indigenous cultures. Some of us pray to Catholic Saints and a pantheon of ancestral Indigenous gods and goddesses that might have similar purposes to our Indigenous beliefs like La Virgen de Guadalupe – Tonantzin in Mexico. Some of us dance to cumbia – a fusion of Indigenous, Spanish, and African music elements, and in many places, we still dance to Indigenous music. Some of us wear ponchos, sombreros, and Indigenous skirts. Some of us believe in el cuco, talk to Grandmother Moon, walk on Pachamama, swim with mermaids, and fear the devil and tin tin. Some of us EVEN use words with Indigenous syntax and don’t even know the original meaning of it – like mexica (Mexico), guagua (baby, Ecuador), huracan, (hurricane, Puerto Rico) and tayta (father, Peru). Does this sound Latino to you?

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“We’re Ecuatorianos,” my father said last night. You see, Ecuador is not a country named after the Equatorial line. It’s a country founded by many Indigenous nations, tribes, clans, and families that lived in the region for thousands of years. It’s a country rooted in the Quitu-Shyri Empire (320 AD- 1465 AD) and influenced by the Tawantinsuyu culture (1465 AD-2014 AD). It’s a country surrounded by a wealth of natural resources in the Amazon rainforest and protected by totem poles, shamanism, and Andean spirituality in La Sierra. Recently, Spanish and African cultural elements influenced Ecuadorian society in the past 500 years. Ecuadorian mixed-Indigenous population acculturated some of these foreign elements into their Kichwa culture, roots, and language – but they still maintain their Indigenous identity alive.

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Ecuador is home to 30+ Indigenous nations and to 8 million descendants of the Quitu-Shyri Empire. It’s also home to 1 million Euro-Ecuadorians and 1.3 million Afro-Ecuadorians.  The 8 millions mestizos are the rainbow colors of the Indigenous race mixed with the Spanish and the African. In Ecuador, we say “tenemos la pinta ecuatoriana” (we have the Ecuadorian look) because we inherit the culture, the language, the ritual, and Kichwa traditions. Because we dance to merengue and reggaeton, but we blast to Indigenous music and do our round dance. We sing in Kichwa, pray in Kichwa, speak in Kichwa, and have Kichwa names or nicknames. (My last name, Quinde).

Is that what Latino means? Ecuadorians are mixed-Indigenous and Indigenous people who re-invent their identity with a fusion of foreign cultures, languages, and religions yet preserve their ethnicity, traditions, and roots. We have mixed-Indigenous soap opera, rappers, hip-hop artists, dancers, actors, and famous singers like Julio Jaramillo.

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We repeatly find ways to break negative stereotypes of Indigenous people in South America by inviting ourselves in cultural spaces where we’re usually excluded – especially in the media.

Los Nin – Otavalo Hip-Hop Artists rap in Quechua (Runa Simi, the language of the Tawantinsuyu Empire)

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Rosita La Taxista Soap Opera – Kayambe Indigenous Taxi Driver (This telenovela forever changed the antiquated perspective of Indigenous women as stay-at-home moms. Rosita is a Taxi Driver in Guayaquil City who encourages mixed-Indigenous Ecuadorians to embrace their original culture in a dominant white-mestizo space)

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Ecuadorian Indigenous Group perform in Times Square -EVERY DAY! People think of “Indians” in the past and as a vanishing culture, but then are shocked to see this group perform in the famous Times Square venues.

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Manta and Wankavilka communities re-claim traditional clothing on Columbus Day as a collective resistance to better inform the world that they are still here. In Ecuador, coastal Indigenous people are viewed as mestizos even though they are not. But the coastal Indigenous people are challenging the stereotype and redefining the national space.

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Since the 1980s, Ecuadorians migrated to the United States. The U.S. census does not provide an accurate label for Ecuadorian Indigenous people. The only option they have is: Latino/Hispanic to geographically place them in the map.

But this is not what the U.S. wants to deal with. Because it’s easier to label them Hispanic or Latino instead of recognizing them as one of the original people of Ecuador. Because it’s convenient to make them think they’re the immigrants, terrorists, invaders,  thieves, criminals, and idiots instead of treating them with proper respect and solidarity. Because it’s okay to fool them into thinking they’re “free” and they’re chasing the “American dream” instead of disrupting US colonial institutions that aim to steal more land and more resources abroad in Ecuador.

As long as church authority figures force their knees to the floor and media convince us into thinking we’re Spanish with white actors on soap opera, South American and Central American Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous people will not rise as a people with a political voice to protect their lands.

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But if North American and South American Indigenous people in the United States work together to raise awareness, all Indigenous people of the Americas will have a stronger political voice as one Indigenous race. The mixed-Indigenous people will have a chance to learn from their mixed-Indigenous culture as well. For example, my parents and their generation learned to speak, write, and read Kichwa (language of the Inca empire) as young kids in schools. It was tradition to learn the language, the history, and the dance. This tradition did not exclude mixed-Indigenous Ecuadorians because as a nation, they recognized the importance of including both cultures (Spanish and Indigenous) in their mixed Identity.

Recently, Ecuador changed the policy and limited Kichwa to certain regions to encourage assimilation of Indigenous people to the Mestizaje and re-invite the learning of international languages such as French, English, and Italian in schools. Although there is nothing wrong learning European languages, there is something wrong with limiting the original language of our ancestors. There is a potential danger in losing our tradition to both mixed-Indigenous and Indigenous Ecuadorians.

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 people who think it’s okay to walk over Indigenous people with mascot names, Halloween Indian costumes, and trespass violations. I also think the Idle No More Movement should include the Indigenous people and mixed-Indigenous people from Spanish-speaking nations as an effort to collaborate, unite, and support one Indigenous people across both continents.

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I mean, 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? Do we call white people mestizos or mixed because they make up also are mixed with the Irish, German, African, Native, Asian heritage even though they physically look white? 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. I make the comparison from what my people in Santa Elena are going through to what Latinos are going through in the United States. 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 genocides, it’s so much more convenient to make the switch to “Mestizo” to avoid these social complications.

But Indigenous people should not feel obliged to make the switch because of the shame. Their culture is as beautiful as the African-American’s, European-American’s, and Asian-American’s. Their culture is the only one that has a solid foundation on these lands for millennia. In Ecuador, the mestizaje percentage jumped from 40% in the 80s to 78% in 2010. It’s not because Indigenous people mysteriously “vanished” but because they are forcibly pressured to assimilate to dominant white-mestizo society. In some communities, they do not have access to their ethnic label in the Ecuadorian census. My comuna in Santa Elena is a perfect example. We all identify as Indigenous. We go by cholos comuneros, and some, more than others, Wankavilka, but we have ancestral ties to these lands for 12,000 years.

 In the 2010 census, the classifications available for self-classication were: Mestizo, Montubio, Afrodescendiente, Indigena, & Blanco in the Ecuadorian census. However, sometimes the census does not arrive in the hands of Indigenous people in certain locations in Ecuador, and if they do, does the census include all ethnic labels or provide another opportunity for cultural assimilation?

In Santa Elena, comuneros identify as Cholos because it closely describes their existence as an ethnic group that acculturates from one era to the other -pulling a rich history of 12,000 year-old-Indigenous culture and including new cultural elements to their Comunero identity, like Spanish and African. “Indigenous” to them means a group of people who maintain their traditional clothing, roots, language, and land intact since the beginning of time. Cholos live in the same land and maintain their Indigenous culture, but they consistently adapt to new clothing and language depending on the era in order to keep up with the global technology and better use of their communal economy.  I’m a Comunero from my mother’s side. I speak English fluently and acculturated to American society. But I also pull Spanish, Kichwa, Huancavilca, and Sumpa culture with me.

The ethnic label “Cholo” is not in the Ecuadorian census – which means they have two options: Mestizos or Indigenous. They oblige-voluntary identify as Mestizo – a blanket term that covers up discrimination and encourages assimilation of all ethnic groups regardless of their historical origins, colonial trauma, and ethnic traditions. Also, the mestizo concept does not equally glorify two cultures. The dominant Euro-centric culture overpowers the Indigenous one – providing an opportunity for discrimination with words like “cholo” and “longo,” expropriation, and much more. In this case, the ethnic Comuneros are still an invisible presence in their region – a total of 200,000 or mre people. Consequently, Comuneros are viewed as mestizos and larger corporations expropriate them from their ancestral land due to the mislabeling since 1982.

There is no need for Indo-mestizo or Indigenous people from Latin America to leave their culture behind and adopt the Latino label. Without their identity, they are very close to losing their own culture, language, and tradition — the ones they brought over from Latin America.

Appropriating a local tribe that is not yours is also NOT the respectful manner to go around this. However, US census should provide an ethnic label that speaks for Mexican, Central, and South American Indigenous people -or the very least, make specific classifications that distinguishes them from the Indigenous people in North America. This provides an opportunity for mixed-Indigenous people from Spanish-speaking nations to learn from their culture and respect the Indigenous cultures in North America. This provides an opportunity to start a conversation of, “What does it mean to be Indigenous from North and South America and how we can work together?” Our culture does not start in 1492; it started millennia before 1492 and not many “Latinos” know that. We glorify our past ancestors but we never acknowledge the present Indigenous culture and people in our respective nations.

Imagine what would happen if mixed-Indigenous or Indigenous Ecuadorians, Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Peruvians, Bolivians, among other Spanish-speaking nations re-identify as Indigenous, how would that cause a chain reaction in South America and how would that redefine our culture, our history, and our thought process? Would we stop hating each other and point fingers to others when we ourselves are also Indigenous?

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Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments

Interpreting the Idle No More Movement One Year Later

Yesterday, the Freedom School (a committee from the Intercultural Resource Center) hosted a teach-in titled: “Learning to Move one year later, Interpreting the Idle No More Movement and Indigenous Narratives in North America” at Columbia University. Jarrett Martineau, Cree/Dene digital media producer & hip-hop artist from Frog Lake First Nation, Alberta, Canada, and Tristin Moone, Diné Columbia University student born for the Diné Nation preparing for genetic studies and Indigenous sovereignty research and application, facilitated the teach-in along with members of Freedom School.

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The meeting started with a brainstorm on what Native Activism meant to the attendees. Words like solidarity, peace, decolonization, territory, among others, appeared on the white board. Each word represented what each person believed in their personal definition of Native Activism and how each word counterattacked the existing colonial structures that put Natives, African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities to a disadvantage in the United States in the 21st Century.

So, how do we de-colonize colonial institutions and organize a strong Native leadership?

Jarrett introduced the Idle No More Movement. Idle No More started with four lawyers who wanted to create a conversation among themselves about how Natives needed to take an active measure in defending their lands, protecting their culture and language, and demanding respect and recognition from Canadian and American governments. The lawyers started a hashtag Idle No More just for themselves, but then it became a large-scale movement by Native youth, people, and elders who used #IdleNoMore to create a strong online presence in the social media.

“Idle No More calls on all people to join in a peaceful revolution, to honour
Indigenous sovereignty, and to protect the land and water.”

However, strong Native leadership can be misguided sometimes. Some people believed it had to do with the lack of Native support for specific causes like lobbying. Others think Natives need to be better organized. One person in the audience said, “We need to take action now instead of dialoguing about this in the first place.” At the end of the day, we realized Native leadership can also become a victim of colonial structures in  political platforms.

Tristin shared an important perspective. She said it had to do with the art of science and genetics. Since 1492, colonizers always wanted to know more and write about what they know. They simultaneously explored, studied, and killed life forms like plants, animals, people, and nature to gain knowledge in their books. What about sterilizing our Native women? What about enslaving our horses as a transportation mean in New York City? What about knocking down the trees and mining the Earth? “THIS is not supposed to happen,” Tristin said.

Colonizers always wanted to know more, write more. They labeled us according to their research findings. They called us “Indians” and then “Mixed,” “Metis,” “Mestizos,” “Latinos,” and much more. They told us who can or cannot be Indian according to blood quantum. They created the “Other” in the racial pyramid and placed us at the bottom of the pyramid. See how this works? See how “Latinos” do not feel connected to their Indigenous culture because we do not even see ourselves as Indigenous in the first place? See how “Metis” and “Mixed” people feel uncomfortable identifying as one or the other because they have been stigmatized by the research? Because identifying with the dominant culture is favorable, right? Again THIS is not supposed to happen.

Everything is a hierarchy in this society. Even to the point where animals and plants are not on an equal playing field with humans. This hierarchy, the language, the scientific approach, and other institutions add to the existing colonial structures that keep putting Natives, African American, Latinos, and other minorities to a disadvantage.

I shared this news with my elders. My grandmother says that nothing was more than the other.

The plant, the fish, the bird, the mountain, the river, the air, the fire, the people, the sun, the moon, the wind, and the stars all played an equal role in the interconnected world of Pachamama, Mother Earth. “You never know if that plant could be your great-grandmother,” my grandma would say to the young ones when they intend to stomp it.

It’s not a question about who is right or wrong. It’s about how we can work together to guarantee the survival of our people, which includes all races, nations, and living beings. It’s about guaranteeing life on this planet for many generations to come.

Posted in October 2013 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment