Re-Indigenize Today #NotYourMascot

As Indigenous youth, people, and elders across the nation push for the name change of the R-word today, this is also a day when “Latinos” and “Hispanics” of mixed-Indigenous and pure-Indigenous origins should support their North American Indigenous relatives in solidarity.

It’s time we reclaim who we are. It’s time we stand up together as One People to defend our Pan-American Indigenous identity, culture, and ancestral land. It’s time we come out of the camouflage of “assimilation” and bring out the Indigenous culture we’ve held on to for so many centuries behind closed doors. It’s time to hold hands and do a mega round-dance in our land. It’s our collective effort to push for recognition and respect towards our people.

I’ve been blessed this week for so many reasons. In my efforts to finalize my dance group, I met so many Latino” who were proud of their Indigenous culture. In their creative way, they bring their dances, stories, and traditions to the public. In the Ecuadorian Embassy, an elderly man gave me tips on the difference between Ecuadorian Powwows and North American Powwows. Yesterday, I went to Brooklyn to work with a leader/professional dancer who was teaching young children the dance of their Indigenous ancestors. On spot, I taught twenty five students El Sanjuanito – Indigenous folklore dance in Ecuador. I smiled all along. The new generation stomped their feet to the rhythm of the drum.

There is hope out there. There are people who are invested in pushing for national recognition of our Indigenous identity. There are elders who tell stories to the young ones about the importance of unity and solidarity. There are community leaders who make every effort to preserve Indigenous language and culture. There are young people in universities, volunteer centers, and nonprofits who work towards protecting Indigenous rights and lands. Since the 1960s, our generation of Native and non-Native leaders created a momentum and a strong voice to protest, demand changes, and speak for our people.

Today make the effort to hashtag #NotYourMascot on Twitter and be a part of the solidarity movement that will make our future brighter for the next generation. Even my cat is a part of it. She is annoyed by the way other people mock our culture.

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But also, this makes me think about the mixed-Indigenous people in “Latin” America. We do not identify as Indigenous because colonialism taught us to be ashamed of our culture. We learned to bow our heads to authority all these years. We destroy each other by putting the other one down if he or she looked too “Indio.” To me, this is a start of a new movement for us, too. It’s time we also identify with who we truly are: Indigenous people. Let’s not let labels like “Latino” and “Hispanic” (determined by outsiders) confuse our identity. Because about two centuries ago, we became independent nations from the Spanish crown. That means that most nations in the Americas restored most of their original empire before colonial contact. Think about it. don’t let Spanish higher authorities thumb us down.

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Why Keeping In Touch With Your Native Language Does Matter

The Wankavilka president attends a CONAICE meeting (Confederación de Nacionalidades y pueblos indígenas de la Costa Ecuatoriana) an Indigenous political group aiming to protect the rights of Indigenous people in the Ecuadorian coast. The presidents start their meeting with an opening ceremony. Each of them introduce him or herself in their native language. As they take turns speaking in Awapi, Chachi, Tsa’fiqui, and Siapedee, the Wankavilka president bows his head in shame. He feels a knot in his stomach. His fingers tremble.

Finally, it’s his turn. He proudly stands up and states his name, his ancestral clan, and his Wankavilka nation  in Spanish.

“And you call yourself Indigenous?” says the Chachi president, sucking his teeth.

“You may not know this, but I’m more Indio than what you think,” replies the Wankavilka president.

“Chachi, stop!” exclaims the Tsa’chila president. “Who are you to consider someone else Indigenous when your nation gave up their traditional clothing centuries ago?”

The Chachi, Tsa’chila, and Wankavilka presidents took a few minutes to cool down. Then, they resume the meeting with the rest of the presidents and tackle important issues in the agenda.

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For years, I spent hours in the library researching the native language of the Wankavilka people. I was upset when I found nothing, but I kept telling myself: There has to be somebody who knows our language.

Last year, I read a list of possibilities: Puruwa, Atallán, and Aymara-Kichwa. But scholars and anthropologists conclude that the original language of the Wankavilka people is untraceable. Gone. Lost in the past.

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Language is identity. Period.

Every language has words, sentences, and phrases that only a network of people with a common background can only understand. Language is as old as history. It captures stories in proverbs and rhymes. It’s onomatopoeia to the sound of its surroundings. The whish and whoosh of the rivers and the peeoh peeoh of the baby chickens.

My language is lost forever in colonial history. It stays in the past with our traditional clothing, dances, and belief system. It remains a sacred mystery to me and to my Wankavilka brothers and sisters.

But what does that mean for the rest of the 200,000 of us who survived the colonial impact and maintained our ethnic identity, our land, our government, and our shamanism? What does that mean for the Wankavilka president who faces backlash from Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people because they think he’s a fake Indigenous? What does that mean for me when I identify as Indigenous in North America and get funny looks from other people?

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A few months ago, someone told me, “Language evolves with the people. It takes a new form over time.”

The Spanish we speak is not the same Spanish others speak in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Spain. The words we use are not the same words other used in other Indigenous communities. “Santy, this time read between the lines,” she said. “The language still exists. Don’t lose hope.”

For a couple of months, I spent a good chunk of time researching online, interviewing relatives, and attending linguistic panel discussions. Soon, I discovered that my language was not completely gone. In the 1600s, my ancestors made a strategic decision to hide their culture and traditions in order to guarantee the survival of the people. Camouflaging was their way of  resistance. They adopted Spanish as their new language, wore pants, shirts, and dresses as their new clothing, and converted to Catholicism as their new religion. The end goal was to fool the Spanish into thinking their willingness to assimilate into Spanish society while simultaneously preserving their ethnicity, stories, and ancestral lands.

Our ancestors wore ponchos at night. They combined their Wankavilka ceremonies with Catholic rituals. They incorporated words like chanduy, engabao, guayal, tin-tin, puna, colonche, yagual, tomala, baidal, sumpe, mogote, etc. in their everyday life. They re-ordered the Spanish syntax in the Wankavilka dialect. They spoke in Amorfinos, too, which means they tell our stories in rhymes.

Even though I speak Spanish today, I at least know I’m speaking the Wankavilka-Spanish dialect. I used their words, expressed myself in their proverbs, sang to their chawi when I needed guidance, and wrote poetic rhymes in my storytelling. The identity was there all along. I just didn’t know it then.

And this is the reason it’s important to know your origins, your language, and your Indigenous culture. It forms a part of who you are today and who came before you in the past.

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I’m un Cholo, So What?

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The other night my father blasted his Ecuadorian music in the living room. My brother groaned and left the space to workout in the bedroom. My sister rolled her eyes and wore her headphones. I hummed to Julio Jaramillo, El Curiquingue, and Don Medardo y sus Players songs. My mother danced with my father with a happy smile on her face. She still misses her lindo Ecuador, even though she migrated to the States as a teenager.

The next song popped up in my dad’s playlist: Cholo Soy by Sanyi. In Ecuador, the term cholo is mainly used to insult a person with Indigenous heritage. Ecuadorians also use the derogatory term to describe the poor, the dirty, and the dumb in society. In Santa Elena, however, comuneros (villagers) use the term cholo to identify themselves as an ethnic group in the Ecuadorian coast. According to oral tradition, the cholo comuneros are heirs of the Manteno-Wankavilka-Puna tribe. Before 1530, this tribe governed the Ecuadorian coast with an international sea-faring trade system and a strong military base that kept the Incas out of their land.

does not place them on a favorable position in Ecuadorian society. Ecuadorian Indigenous people consider the cholos comuneros as a people with no cultural Indigenous background. This statement makes the cholos comuneros seem a people who actively deny their Indigenous heritage when in fact it’s the opposite of their current situation.

Cholos comuneros are pushing for national recognition of their land, culture, and people. Since 1937, cholos lost complete power over their ancestral land when the Ecuadorian government decreed an Agrarian Reform law that encouraged individuals to divide their communal lands into parcels. Each person owned a piece of land. For the first time, Cholos comuneros dealt with a dilemma they have never faced before: How do they sustain a fractured land of 515,000 hectares and maintain Indigenous culture, family, and traditions in place? Family clans had to act quick and separate themselves in different regions to hold possession of their ancestral territories. Simultaneously, local and international corporations put a foot in their land to steal, evict cholos, and destroy Indigenous culture.

In 1982, cholos decided that in order to claim as a national Indigenous sovereignty under the Ecuadorian constitution, they had to reclaim their Indigenous roots, culture, and background as a collective people. The reclamation process will also put them on a higher political platform and align them with the rest of the Indigenous people in Ecuador.

Unfortunately, some Indigenous nations did not approve of cholos comuneros input. They say that cholos do not qualify as an Indigenous group because they lost their native language and traditional clothing. They think that cholos assimilated into Western culture and were ashamed of their Indigenous heritage. But that was not the case. Even though cholos comuneros explained that adaptation to the Spanish language and Western culture served to keep them up-to-date with worldwide trends, this reason alone did not make them less Indigenous.

As we speak, since 2001, cholos comuneros are shifting to a new ethnic label: Wankavilka. This shift will place them closer to the Indigenous spectrum of Ecuadorian society. This shift will highlight their political stand as they push for national recognition of their Indigenous culture in 2014. In some communities, they revived most of their Wankavilka practices, traditions, and ceremonies. For example, in Comuna Sacachun, they resurrected their ancestral ceremonies of birth, death, and marriage. In Comuna Antoncillo, they asked elders to actively pass down the oral tradition to the youth. In Comuna Chanduy, they brought back the incision of frontal teeth as a way of honoring their ancestors’ culture.

Sanyi, a famous technocumbia artist in Ecuador, produced her song, Cholo Soy. It touched my heart when I heard someone else speak about my identity as un cholo:

I’m a cholo and don’t pity me/Coins are worthless but of value to the Whites./We the cholos ask for nothing./With the little we have, everything is possible.

Let me live my life, walk my mountains, feel my winds, and hear my ancestors./You say, “I’m sad and I let others tell me what to do.” You say, “You cholos have no purpose in this world.”

But let me remind you, the Whites from Spain came to our land and stole our silver and gold./It was Pizarro who killed our King Atahualpa./So many promises, beautiful and false promises./I’m a cholo and don’t pity me.

Cholo soy, I say, loud and proud. I’m a Cholo, look at me, beautiful and brown. My breath inhales the Pacific Ocean midst. My feet moves to NDN panpipes, drumbeats, and strings. My stories stretch back to thousands of years of oral tradition. To the first elders in Sumpa, La Punta, Tumbala, Goancavilca, Guayas, and now Santa Elena Peninsula. To the first lovers of Sumpa who taught us the value of respect, honor, and tradition. To the fish and turtles on our beaches and to the tigers and deer on our forest. To the ancestors who fought for us and protected us all these centuries and thanks to them, we carry our Indigenous identity.

When I ask a “Latino” the question of his or her identity, I can sense the frustration in their body, in their eyes, the trembling nerve on their lips as they wrestle with the questions, with their identity, and with their fear. Some would answer, “I’m Latino because I speak Spanish.” Others would say, “I’m not an Indian because I’m civilized.” But many would snap, “What do you mean Indian? Do I look cholo to you?”

All this time, I encountered similar reactions when I asked a Spanish-speaking person from “Latin America” if they considered themselves Indigenous or what? Some would even say “But we are mestizos.” True, but what is your race mi’hijo/a? A mestizo is not restricted to the mixed-Indigenous population in Latin America. The mestizo is a metis in French world and a mixed in English world. In Europe, there are white-mestizos with mixed national backgrounds of Irish, German, and French heritage. In Asia, there are Asian-mestizos with mixed national backgrounds. of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean heritage In Africa, there are African-mestizos with mixed national backgrounds of Ethiopian, Egyptian, and Congolese heritage. But they still identify with their race: Caucasian, Asian, and African.

So why can’t we say, “We are Indigenous?”

I’m a cholo, so what? Don’t pity me, but respect me.

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My Great-Grandparents Who Changed My World

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In my Facebook newsfeed, I see pictures of my great-grandparents posted, re-posted, commented, tagged, and shared by my relatives in the United States, Ecuador, and Italy. It’s crazy to see how my family continues to speak of my great-grandparents as if they were alive with us in the 21st century. My Great-Aunt Marlene once said:

Your great-grandparents set a fine example to your family. They will live in every generation. Their tradition is what keeps them alive.

Ever since I was a kid, my mother and her sisters talked about Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo all the time. If they hear a bird chirp by the window, one of them would start a story about how Mami Carmen taught them how to listen to the unspoken language of nature. If they dream about them, the aunts would gather in a circle and talk about the meaning of the dream. If they see a dad play with his little girl, they would talk about how Papi Teofilo played tag with my mom even though he came back from a thousand-mile journey from the sea.

I talk to them in my prayers. I re-tell their stories to my cousins and siblings. I also dream about them and thank them for the visit.

Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo were born and raised in Comuna Data de Villamil. They had a lot of ancestral tradition and knowledge in their souls. Papi Teofilo was the captain of a few cargo ships. He sailed in the sea many times a year. Mami Carmen was a seamstress, storyteller, medicine woman, and caretaker of 10 acres of ancestral land. She looked out into the sea singing songs for Papi Teofilo. Both were respected by their comuneros in Data de Villamil. They always helped a neighbor in need.

In 1955, Comuna Data de Villamil was not the best place to raise my grandmother and her sisters. As my grandma describes the experience in her own words: “It was lonely up there. We got pretty bored, plus we had no high school.” Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo wanted the best education for their children. They moved to Guayaquil and transferred their fishing routes from Data to Guayaquil City.

They were the first Quinde-Crespin clan to step out of their ancestral land Data de Villamil. However, a second family followed them and supported each other during the transition.

From 1955-1987, my great grandparents lived in Guayaquil and Data de Villamil.  My mother was a child when Mami Carmen and Papi Teofilo managed ten kids, a rental property, a grocery store, a fishing business, a family clan of 500+ relatives, and 10 acres of ancestral land. My mother was exposed to their tradition day in and day out. She learned the ancestral stories of El Tin-Tin and El Buque Fantasma. She made the sign of the cross before bathing in the beach, as she ws taught. She chirped to Chawi, a mythical bird that brought luck to Data de Villamil. She was daughter of the Quinde-Crespin family, heiress of Wankavilka culture, descendant of Indigenous people, and also Ecuadorian, forming part of a new nation.

Can you believe that every time I hear a bird chirp, I think of the unspoken language Mami Carmen talked about? Can you believe that El Tin-Tin, a 1000 year-old story about a mythical creature running around the hills, still exists? Can you believe that I know what my family totem pole means and what spiritual animal we come from and belong to? Thanks to them, I know who I am, too.

I am also son of the Quinde-Crespin family, heir of Wankavilka culture, descendant of Indigenous people, and first-born Ecuadorian-American in today’s society.

Stay in touch with your roots and take time this break to learn about your ancestors, too. Start out by asking relatives to share a story. You get to know who you are through oral tradition. Happy Holidays!

Posted in October 2013 | Leave a comment

Celebrity Monday: Julieta Paredes

Julieta Paredes

I had the privilege of meeting Julieta Paredes in Middlebury College in Spring 2012. A member of Voices of Indigenous People student organization asked this famous speaker to give us a minute of her busy schedule to talk about her thoughts on Indigenous politics in the 21st century. Julieta made a special trip all the way from Bolivia to see us. She is an Aymara woman, communitarian lesbian feminist, co-founder of Mujeres Creando (Women Creating Community), and member of the Communitarian Feminist Assembly. She lives in La Paz, Bolivia, a nation where a political change process is underway. Julieta is anti-patriarchal feminist activist, writer, author, and poet, and has been involved in feminist training with Indigenous and working class women throughout Bolivia and other parts of Latin America. Julieta changed my life in Middlebury College.

I went to her lecture that night. I felt like my grandmothers were speaking to me about their struggles, too. I was moved by Julieta’s thorough theoretical talk about communitarian feminism and how it differs from other forms of modern feminism in the 21st century. Before Christopher Columbus, many Indigenous women used to be powerful leaders in traditional societies. Women controlled the land, held political roles, and determined the well-being of the community. Men hunted and protected their women and children, but they did not have the last word. Men believed their grandmothers were wiser and stronger – like La Pachamama, Mother Earth.

After European contact, the conquistadors brought the machismo which impacted the lives of thousands of Indigenous women in the Americas. European men were raised and taught to subjugate their women. To them, women only served to procreate. European men hurt their women through domestic violence, rape, verbal abuse, and public shaming. They burned their women at stake for being witches (medicine women) or put them on a scold’s bridle for those who talked too much. The conquistadors brought this destructive culture with them to the Americas.

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The conquistadors left this legacy to non-Indigenous, mixed-Indigenous, and Indigenous people in North, Central, and South America. Some brothers bully their sisters and disrespect their mothers from an early age. Why is it okay to watch a movie filled with so much graphic violence, deaths, and shootings? Why is it okay to listen to music degrading our women? Why is it okay to encourage men to be machistas?

Julieta talked about how women and men should work together to fight all forms of oppressive institutions. She used a simple metaphor: the human body. She said the left side of the body represented male and the right side, female. If they did not work together, one side of the body would suffer. The other side of the body will carry the weight of the burden. As a community, we should care for each one another even if we do not know the person. If a person is sick, we should help them. If a person is in trouble, we should give them a hand. If a person is overwhelmed, we should listen to them. In her own words, she said these were the principle teachings of our ancestors. We are a community of people who work together, love together, and care together like all the things interconnected in life on this planet. This is the circle of life. The community round dance. The shape of the  sun and moon.

The next day, I drove Julieta Paredes to the Amtrak station. In that one hour commute, we talked about where my family came from and what they were up to. She listened to my words in silence as stared in the distance. She nodded at the details of what I personally encountered as a child, the experience of growing up in a confused world where labels determined my Indigenous identity, where peer pressure forced us into assimilation, and where abuse from my paternal side made my Indigenous self cringe at words like “cholo” or “montubio.”

“Scars make a part of who you are,” she started. “They make you stronger and wiser. They give you reasons to make something out of your life. Something good. It’s time to spread positive vibes of communal work to your community. It’s time to work together like the human body. Let’s not let one side of the body carry the burden of the world.”

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Why Did Maria Panchita Fall in Love with Un Cholo Guapo?

Los Mentaos de la Manigua, a Montubio band in Ecuador, promotes oral tradition through their music, which sends a positive message to youth of preserving tradition and culture.

In this song, Maria Panchita searches for her type of love outside of her community. During the colonial era, it was taboo for Spanish and Indigenous descendants to intermarry with each other. It was the LAW.

But this did not stop Maria Panchita. The lyrics reads, “With my Paja de Toquilla hat from Jipijapa, I will go to Madrid but in hopes of finding un cholo guapo (a handsome Indigenous man). Because I don’t find any of them in my town.”

Maria Panchita went after what she truly loved. Not even the laws of ethnic conduct stopped her. Even though she got in trouble with her mother, she responds, “Nobody will punish me because I’m telling the truth. I want to find un cholo guapo.” Maria Panchita’s act of resistance is also an act of pure love according to Montubio tradition. She represents courage, determination, and perseverance and sets a fine example for mixed-Indigenous youth to preserve tradition and above all, love themselves for who they are. 

Take a few minutes to listen to this beautiful song of Maria Panchita that promotes a good message to our generation.

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Celebrity Tuesday: Rigoberta Menchu

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My mother migrated to the States the same year Rigoberta Menchu was on exile. My mother heard the news of the genocide in Guatemala the same week Rigoberta Menchu found out about her brother’s death. The genocide killed 200,000 people in Guatemala, maybe even more. The genocide continues to haunt ethnic groups in the 21st century. Genocide of all definition: cultural, physical, and mental. My mother talked to me about Rigoberta Menchu and her people. I was four years old, a time I had no idea what genocide meant and how it affected my people, my family, and even myself an Ecuadorian-American citizen.

Rigoberta Menchu, a member of the ethnic group K’iche’, went through the worst genocide in the history of Guatemala and Central America. In her autobiography, she recounted the horrid experience her people went through. Guerillas breathed behind their backs and took advantage of their low-income inferior status. This racist attitude came from the rich class in Guatemalan society-especially.

In urban areas, the rich hired Indigenous women and men to clean their homes, do the beds, cook the meals, mop the floors, iron the shirts, and prune the flowers. What was the pay per hour?  What kind of treatment did they get? Indigenous people had no beds to sleep on. Indigenous people ate leftovers, if they were lucky. Indigenous people won a meager salary of 50 cents per day. And many experienced first-hand racism and abuse from the rich class. Rigoberta was one of them. In rural areas, it gets worse. If an Indigenous woman did not consent to the sexual needs of her boss or his sons, she was dead that day. Rigoberta heard the screams in the forest. She was eight years old then.

Her people worked twice as hard to keep their traditions alive and defend the land from thieves, terrorists, and guerillas. In her autobiography, she talked a lot about her traditions. It’s important to know where you come from. It’s important to understand why the sun comes up and why the river flows into the sea. It’s important to celebrate the first snow or commemorate a newborn. She emphasized that traditions tie people to the first ancestor and all the stories mean something personal and communal to all Indigenous people. Oral tradition, one of the most important tools in our culture, tells people a history of how things came to be and how every person plays a crucial role in life. In order to practice tradition, people need land, air, food, and water. Without these basic human needs, how else will tradition survive?

In her teen years, Rigoberta worked for her family and village. She went to the haciendas to plant seeds, take care of the crops, and pull out the weeds under the hot sun. In her leisure time, she observed her environment and learned many things. She realized that not all Ladinos were mean people. Only those in power were. She saw that it does not matter what race people came from. If people were poor, they suffered the most. In one of her chapters, one day she noticed the rich evicted poor Ladinos out of their land. She asked, “Are you Indigenous?” They shook their head disapprovingly and said they were Ladinos. She thought, ‘They look just like me. But it’s not about race, it’s about poverty. It’s about their disadvantage to speak out for their rights.’She wanted to integrate the mixed-Indigenous people in her protest because everyone was going against the same enemy.

In her escapades, the Guatemalan armed force rampaged homes, towns, and crops in the countryside. They kidnapped Indigenous people and killed them in the forest. They held some hostage till Indigenous people surrendered their lands. Rigoberta lost her father in an explosion, her brother in a massacre, and her mother in hostage. But she was not the only one who lost relatives. Her village, her family clans, and her K’iche’ people lost their families, too, in the genocide. They all knew this was going to happen, but they continued their protest. They had one goal in mind: to protect the rights of her people, land, and culture for the future generation.

Rigoberta mentioned this in her autobiography: Indigenous people work together because everything in this life is interconnected. Indigenous people stand up for not one person, but for an entire community.

In the 1980s, about 250,000 Guatemalan Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous people died in the genocide. Rigoberta became an activist t fight for the rights of her people. She spread awareness worldwide of the violations committed by Guatemalan armed force. She interviewed with Elizabeth Burgos and wrote Menchu’s autobiographical story to talk about the importance of treating each other with respect, dignity, and love. From what I understand, Rigoberta makes a valid point in talking about how racism, stereotypes, misunderstandings, and ignorance contribute to genocide of all levels. There is no respect towards a people because media portrays them as stupid or ignorant. There is no love towards a people because society views them as undeserving or dirty. There is no dignity in a two way street because two groups of people do not understand one another.

When you think about it, what gives people the right to maintain the Washington football team Redskins in 2013? They are taught that us Indigenous people do not exist in the United States. They think it offends nobody. This is exactly what Menchu means. No respect and no love equals “cultural” genocide and appropriation. Redskins is as offensive as cholo, indio salvaje, “feathered” Indian, and so forth. These words were used back then to offend a people and are used now for jokes and casual conversations. But there are 5-7 millions of us in the States and we find it offensive. We protest the change. Not because we are “sensitive,” but because out of respect for our people and our ancestors.

What about the “illegal” people coming in and out of the United States? Again, people target the brown people of Mexico and Latin America. They say that Mexicans are taking away jobs, homes, and space. Mexicans do not belong here. But what are Americans talking about? Where did your ancestors come from? Where are your roots and your culture? Surely, those roots are in another continent. The culture is on the other side of the Atlantic. The Mexicans have roots in Turtle Island. Their tradition and culture stretches to Central American all the way to Washington State in U.S.A. We also protest change not because we are “insensitive” but because out of resect for out people and ancestors, too.

Rigoberta

How do genocides come to life? One of them is out of ignorance. That has to change.

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