Census: Mexicans & Hispanics/Latinos Can Identify as Indigenous
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
Throughout the years, to prove to government officials the indigeneity of Mexican and Central American peoples, I have had to resort to using the imagery of ancient pyramids. Unquestionably, it was the ancestors of Mexicans and Central Americans who built them – and who built them were Indigenous peoples, not Caucasians.
Try telling that to Jesse Acosta, chairman of the El Paso Complete Count Committee, who in a recent story in the El Paso Times, estimated that about 98 percent of Hispanics in El Paso are Caucasian. This is perhaps evidence that this misinformation has not yet been consigned to the pages of history. Either that or perhaps there is an acute shortage of mirrors in that part of the country.
I have had to use this imagery of pyramids because nothing else seems to work. Rather than use something ancient, I would rather use something living. But even before that, the good news is that this year, for the 2010 Census, if these peoples check the American Indian racial category (question #9), the Bureau will not interfere with the answer.
But back to the question as to whether these peoples are Indigenous, native or American Indian? The obvious answer is that the vast majority of Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Central Americans and most “Hispanics/Latinos” are not white. Among these populations, there indeed are a small minority of Caucasians, but the vast majority of Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Central Americans are either Indigenous, or “Indigenous-based mestizos” (relative to the Indigenous and African populations, not that many Europeans have historically migrated to the Americas). Some scholars refer to these populations not as mestizos but as “de-Indigenized” Indigenous peoples. Because most have never been given the choice or opportunity to make these choices, many have historically checked “other race,” only for census officials to redirect them into the white category.
The image I would like to utilize to better illustrate this answer is the following:
A few years ago, Julieta Villegas, a visiting elder at Nahuatl University in Morelos told some Mexican American educators that were there to learn the Nahuatl language this: “Most of you have lost your original [Indigenous] language, culture and ways, but do not for one second doubt that you are Indigenous. If you ever do, eat a tortilla.”
So how did Mexican and Central American peoples “become white” upon entering into the United States? They didn’t. This happens only on paper, including census forms and birth certificates, etc. It also happens when they are lumped into a broader category known as Latinos/Hispanics. In some parts of South America, there are higher concentrations of whites, but even there, several countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, etc have even higher concentrations of Indigenous peoples. Many Caribbean countries have higher concentrations of Black or African ancestry.
Historically, government officials have steered peoples from these backgrounds – despite their heavily Indigenous backgrounds – away from the American Indian or “other” race categories and into the white categories. A smaller percentage are steered into the Black categories.
Not this year and not this 2010 Census says Nicholas Jones, chief of the racial statistics branch of the U.S. Census Bureau. Unlike previous census counts, he stated that Mexicans, Central Americans or Hispanics/Latinos who check the American Indian racial category will be counted as American Indians.
End of debate. The Census asks an ethnicity question (#8) and a racial question (#9). It does not ask a cultural question. Thus, if Chicanos, Mexicans, Central Americans, Puerto Ricans or peoples from South America feel like acknowledging their Indigenous racial roots, they now have that right.
If they are de-Indigenized or far-removed from their Indigenous culture, that is not of interest to the bureau. For those who have a direct connection, they can check American Indian and write in their affiliation, such as: Aymara, Quechua, Mixtec, Maya, Huichol or Yaqui, etc. If they don’t know their affiliation – which is perhaps the case for most Mexicans/Chicanos and Hispanics/Latinos, the bureau will accept “unknown,” “detribalized, “de-Indigenized” or “mestizo” or any other term that indicates or connotes Indigenous or American Indian ancestry.
Jones agrees that if done right, this will not affect the allocation of resources to the nation’s American Indian tribes or members of recognized tribes.
For those previously unrecognized as Indigenous peoples, this is not about resources, but about something very simple: respect and dignity and an acknowledgement that their roots indeed are ancient on this continent.
* For more info on this topic, please contact Maria Rocha & Mario Garza at the Indigenous Culture s Institute at: maria.rocha or mario.garza
Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at: XColumn
Column of the Americas
PO BOX 85476
Tucson, AZ 85754
NEW AMERICA MEDIA COLUMNS
ARCHIVED COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS