Indian Hispanics Making Themselves Known

Indian Hispanics Making Themselves Known

Rob Capriccioso

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released earlier this year, more Hispanics are identifying as American Indian than ever counted by the federal government before. And there is a variety of social and political reasons behind the phenomenon.

The overall federal data suggested that the number of Hispanics who identify themselves as American Indians has tripled since 2000, and now stands at 1.2 million.

The mainstream news media is catching on to the trend. A recent report in the Herald Tribune noted that 70 percent of the 57,000 American Indians living in New York City are of Hispanic origin. The New York Times also presented a recent report, published July 3, that highlighted Indians who live with dual identities, celebrating both Hispanic and Indian cultural traditions.

The Times reported that American Indian totals “are still a small fraction of the overall Hispanic population of the United States, which eclipsed 50 million this year. But the blip in the census data represents raised awareness among native Latinos who believe their heritage stretches farther back than the nationalities available on the census form.”

José C. Moya, a professor of Latin American history at Barnard College, told the Herald Tribune the following in explaining the phenomenon: “There has been an actual and dramatic increase of Amerindian immigration from Latin America.” He noted, too, that according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, half of all Hispanics having moved to New York in the last 10 years have been Mexican, adding that in 1994, with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the traffic between Mexico and the U.S. increased.

The Tribune reported that in response to NAFTA, Mexico’s “government started to strip Indian landowners of a long-held legal protection from privatization. The resulting conflict awakened ethnic tensions that dated back centuries, and spurred a populist support of indigenous heritage.”

Peru-born Carlos A. Quiroz, told the newspaper that the ethnic/racial options on the census forms are not acceptable, so he selects “Non-Hispanic” American Indian, which is usually the intended choice for North American Indians. He does not believe that “Hispanic” is an ethnic category.

“Hispanic is not a race,” Quiroz was quoted as saying. His ancestors were the Central Andes’ Quechua people. “Hispanic is not a culture. Hispanic is an invention by some people who wanted to erase the identity of indigenous communities in America. We don’t believe we have to accept this identity just because we speak Spanish.”

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Semiology and Culture within the term Indigenous Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the usage of the term indigenous. The term is gradually set into practice without a real understanding of the word. This term is not distinguishing its proper context when associating this to American Indians in the United States. Words matter! Words are spoken to convey a message; words are used in everyday life. Words employ both positive and negative terms that can cause harm, at the same time that they produce a vehicle for expression and impression through culture. This word affects American Indian culture that affects education; religion that exploits the culture to gain special interests. However, the most damaging concern is the American Indian social structure, which deals with traditions and culture that has and will create a new belief system defining who the American Indian people are in today’s society. To understand the word indigenous, the word needs to be an analyzed through a semiological approach. Ferdinand de Saussure introduces Semiology in his The Course in General Linguistics published in 1916. The process reduces a single sign as a naming system to a particular word or element. This technique creates a mental image through a process of signification to a concept. People associate a sign with its meaning by conditioning and repetition, that creates a psychological connection to a concept or sign. We create a mental picture when hearing a particular term because language is sound that creates a mental image as a sign. When a small child is learning language the child sees a dog, the child’s first instinct is to mimic the sound the dog creates, which is a barking sound. The small child produces a sound wow-wow that signifies the dog. This sensory process corresponds to the element or the dog as the sign. This process may seem natural however, it is not, Saussure argues that it is arbitrary. The conditioning process becomes automatic, this may seem natural but the parent makes an analytical process associating the naming to correspond to the dog through repetition. This process creates the signified. The signified presents an image, thus making a connection to the signifiers by placing them together. Each signifier is a word or term that produces a complex mythology. These connections are cultural, subject to change where meanings are reinterpreted and it constructs a different ideology. “Mythologies,” by Roland Barthes, affirms that a culture creates their own set of values and meanings by the representations of signifiers like Indigenous. These signifiers can enable a belief system based in social class or status. The main premise of mythological analysis is that any term or practices are constructed. In Barthes’ essay “Toys” for example, he deals with cultural practices, involved when children playing with toys (dolls and trucks), a seemingly natural cultural experience that creates certain gender expectations. This reproduces culture as its status quo. The myths here are the underlying morals and norms assumed by practices. In the past decade, a number of parents and their children participate in American Indian cultural practices such as Pow Wows (singing and dancing). Its myth is the parents and children are not affiliated to any tribe but through the term indigenous; the parent encourages their children to practice these cultural practices at face value are natural. This is cultural construction built into their ideology. This cultural construction manifests through a term, “indigenous” that ties it to a tradition. That way a constructed cultural tradition is passed down and reinforced, familiarized and ultimately made to “appear” natural. As other theorist such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Jacques Derrida also pointed out, language is arbitrary in its design yet we believe in its construction as a sense of truth. Nietzsche, a philosopher and literary theorist on truth explains, through a rational society reveals terms as a metaphor because man or humanity desires a term in a restrictive sense. His ideological perspective is a moral sense of the human intellect process in a social status. Arrogance associated with purpose, a preservation of an individual or group reveals true knowledge is destructive when language is metaphorically expressed in an indifferent to true knowledge. Society structures a terms and how it imposes an ideology and its meaning in a metaphorical illusion. Society unconsciously manifests a meaning without any cultural consequences, without moral sense that is oblivious to rational boundaries to cultural traditions. The real danger is the use of a term for a length of time shifts and embellishes a fixed sense of truth that alters a term’s perception that casts a different degree of significance. Primarily, the Federal Government Ideological process was to introduce the American Indians to become a productive group of people within a Eurocentric society. But limiting and subjugating Indian tribes by abolishing culture and imposing education did not work instead causing defiance towards the controlling system. Some of the actions, such as placing a number of tribes on reservations actually preserved the culture, while some of the other tribal members lost connection with their culture by the relocation act in the 1950s. The stages of assimilation and processes are relocating and immersing American Indians into education, cities, urban location as method to create a new image and lifestyle as the first process. The second stage is loss of language, with this process a portion of culture vanishes that generates abandoning their traditions and religion. The last stage is total assimilation; accepting to a new culture identity and loss of cultural identity with external marriages to other ethnic groups that ends all association to their own cultural. At the present, with the ideology of decolonization, vast groups have centered on the term indigenous as a method to recapture a social identity, which inaugurates a fourth stage of assimilation. This method establishes a completely new ontological structure saturated with myths and copied cultural traditions, which creates stereotypes and Pan-Indianism. Pan-Indianism is a social construction takes assimilation to a new level. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines Indigenous, 1: having originated in and being produced, growing, living, or occurring naturally in a particular region or environment 2 : INNATE, inborn Etymology: Late Latin indigenus, from Latin indigena, noun, native, from Old Latin indu, endo in, within + Latin gignere to beget. Date: 1646 Let’s consider how this definition might coincide with the identity of American Indians of the United States. The key elements used to define this term are “originated” and for the most part a large number of Indian people in the United States were removed and relocated to reservations, as for the Indian people of Oklahoma, they were set into a whole state known as the Indian Territory. Another key point is the word “naturally.” A number of tribes, Navajo, Apache, Sioux, Cheyenne and many of the California tribes were removed from their natural region. A number of tribes were relocated to Reservations or Missions, which is NOT living in their “natural” home where they “originated.” What effects are produced when we present American Indian tribes under the term indigenous? For the past three decades or more, the Chicano or Aztlan movement (people from Mexico or student groups) used the term loosely as a convention to naturalize their entry into the American Indian culture. The process of naturalization reinforces familiarized ideas and ultimately they are made to appear natural through culture; these groups then become a part of the culture unnoticed, then obtain funding, grants or through private funds, using the term indigenous. Some may wonder why or how this process is occurring to the American Indian culture. In addition, the imposing ideas that the Chicano Studies programs and Aztlan groups use the term indigenous as a way to regain their former land or a process of decolonization, according to their history. Chicano studies, teaches that they originated from Oklahoma. According to some Chicano Studies professors, this anthropological research suggests that the southwest United States to Canada is their land. This study was roughly researched in the late 1960s and based on obscure data that presents these notions that are taught in colleges and universities; basically denying any existence of American Indian people and the history. Now the Chicano students use this term Indigenous as a way to associate to the American Indian culture. Some may question why Chicano Studies programs are a reference and how this relates to the term indigenous. Let’s look at one example: in Northern California a tribal college, D.Q. University was a functioning tribal college. Initially, the administration accepted and enrolled non-American Indian students in the tribal college, to implement and enhance enrollment numbers. However, Latino students exceeded American Indian students. In addition, Latin students through the ideology of decolonization believe they are “indigenous” and eventually pushed out enrolled tribal students. The college closed down for this reason along with many other management problems. But Latino students still use this term and it remains a problem on the west coast of California with Pow Wows and other cultural events being taken over by Latin groups that make a mockery and exploit American Indian culture, for example, the East Los Angeles Pow Wow presented by East Los Angeles Community College. Susan Harjo wrote in February 10, 2006 an article in Indian Country Today, Fakers and phonies and frauds, egad: There ought to be a law; “And what happens to all the damage they caused and the money they made and the accolades they garnered under false pretenses? They abscond with the money and goods and leave the mess for the people they pretended to be. The pseudo-Indians should not be held harmless. They should be made to pay”. But many American Indians accept the use of this term indigenous and this opens the doors for these “pseudo-Indians” to exploit American Indians. The dominant culture eventually suppresses the weaker culture. This same Eurocentric ideology of divide and conquer is implemented by the term indigenous. People refuse to recognize that history repeats itself as it occurred with the Iroquois nations on the east coast when accepting the pilgrims. However, now people south of the border are imposing this same approach by the same Eurocentric ideologies and American Indians that do not understand the flexible meaning of the term indigenous are opening these doors. Essentially, all people in the world can use the word indigenous. The term places American Indian people as generic, stripping all identity and culture. People forget that at one time Europeans were tribal with Celtic, Germanic, and Scottish tribes with a number of other groups that are indigenous through history. Indian people and Indian Nations across America seriously need to examine this word, its meaning and usage in its proper context when associating this with American Indians in the United States. Many literary and cultural theorists examine how words construct, represent and express one’s culture. In light of these different theories, the term indigenous appears explosive and damaging to American Indians in the United States. Nevertheless, many of the people that agree with the term are of other heritages, a mix of other cultures, using their own cultural ideologies that are not of the American Indian Tribal Nations. Older generations of Indian people do not understand why this term is used. And I close my paper with a translation of the thought of one 98-year-old Cocopah Indian woman, who decisively says! “Americans change words because there is more to what they say, they do this to gain something that hurts tribal people, I don’t like it!” Karris Wilson (Quechan)