Don’t Be Fooled: Latino = Indigenous

Don’t Be Fooled: Latino = Indigenous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments (63)
No. 1-10
demzeo
demzeo

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

tom m
tom m

This an interesting discussion, lots to learn and think about. WRT central and south America, the history and example of Paraguay is interesting. About 95% of the population speaks Guaraní, the indigenous language, to this day.

Historically, Guaraní has been the language of home and hearth, and Spanish the language of commerce and government (and the Catholiic Church). This is due to a colonial anomoly of the first Spanish criollos to rebel against Spain. The new leader required that Spanish men marry their indigenous women, and that the country blend the two cultures. This contrasts with the experince of many other countries in the region, which often established and maintained a social hierarchy based on “race” as conceived by the Spanish. This is a simplificatoin, but I encourage readers here to read up on the country’s history. I look forward to further comments.

Brand new, anglo reader here, though have read Indian Country for some years. Thanks for reading.

Xennos
Xennos

Latino = Indigenous is totally misguided. It is a term used the USA but is replaced by the term Hispanic today. All people of Spanish, Native American and African and mixed race origin from Latin America are Latinos. This does not include Filipinos nor other Asians so let's not make up nonsense.

rere_a40
rere_a40

Not Latinos Spaniards the latinos are a mixed from natives and Spaniards. Just like the Natives in USA which are mixed European and Native to this day would they be lumped in with Columbus? No but now that there is a movement for "Mexicans" which is America as well to reconnect and reclaim their roots they are lumped in to the oppressors and by other natives this is a shame. I am just learned that my Family is Tarahama and I do have 54% native blood! More than thoes who claim a tribe and tribe clams the at a quarter of blood.I will claim mixed race Including Native American! Because USA is not solely AMERICA. All our ancestors once travelled, hunted anywhere then borders were placed and that is how we all got placed in different areas, I would what some would say if they were born on the opposite side because of the borders placed or what our ancestors would say about the current argument who is native enough or not! The only way to stand strong is to unite and not become the oppressors to eachother. A nation divided is as strong as its weakest link.

rere_a40
rere_a40

The destruction of Indigenous tribes in Mexico was horrendous so much that many people do not know their roots and if they are learning that , they should be able to do so without being oppressed. Especially if you do have family and you find out then you should be able to re content and now have to stay assimilated. Nowadays even if many people say they are 100% something if they take the DNA test I can guarantee you that they are mixed with some kind of blood. There are many USA natives that are mix currently should they no longer claim their tribe because now they're mixed that's ridiculous if they are able to claim theirs and many people that have roots in Mexico are learning about their indigenous roots who's to stop them nobody's going to stop me and nobody's going to tell me a dam thing about what I can or cannot claim. And just like the natives in USA many natives in Mexico that is part of America as well went through the same struggles the same rape the same destruction of their culture of their beliefs of their language of their identity and it still goes on to this day. So to say that there is nothing in common is ridiculous this for someone who is not knowledgeable.



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