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Native American Lakota star COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS: Cuahhtemoc Has LandedNative American Lakota star
By PATRISIA GONZALES & ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ

© Please respect this copyrighted material. It is not to be duplicated for any purpose without explicit written permission from the copyright holder.                                            *Page Added on: 04/26/2010
FROM UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
FEBRUARY 20, 2004


Shortly after Cuauhtemoc was put to death by Cortez in 1525, the body of the last "tlatoani," or speaker of the Mexica, was surreptitiously spirited to his birthplace of Ixcateopan, Guerrero, Mexico. For more than 400 years, the people of Ixcateopan held on to this closely guarded secret, finally revealing it in 1949.

Today, his bones are on display there inside a 17th-century church, a humble resting place and a site of pilgrimage to Mexico's greatest symbol of indigenous resistance. Cuauhtemoc, or "descending eagle," is to Mexico what Sitting Bull is to many native peoples of the north, what Popé is to the Pueblos of the Southwest, and what Tupac Amaru is to indigenous peoples of South America.

Archaeologists and anthropologists dispute the authenticity of the bones. Yet his annual honoring there (and throughout Mexico and the United States) on his birth date, Feb. 23, 1500, represents not a battle over authenticity, but over the right of indigenous peoples to define their own peoplehood and write their own narratives.

A similar dynamic is playing out across the continent. Governments traditionally have taken it upon themselves to define who is native and who isn't. In some countries, it is left up to anthropologists and archaeologists to answer these questions.

In the United States, a similar dynamic has been taking place for decades regarding people of Mexican, Central and South American heritage. Here, census officials have simultaneously "converted" these primarily indigenous populations into Caucasians and aliens.

Yet a movement has arisen here this past generation that challenges this "demographic genocide." Part of this movement includes viewing these populations as aboriginal and part of an indigenous continent. This is not a negation of mixture. Quite the contrary. It's an affirmation that despite mixture, they and the continent remain indigenous.

Jack Forbes (http://cougar.ucdavis.edu/nas/faculty/forbes/jfhome.html), one of the nation's foremost native scholars (Rappahannock-Powhatan), has long argued that Mexican Americans are indigenous. In his groundbreaking work "Aztecas del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlan," he affirms that mixture does not disqualify a person from being indigenous. If that were the case, no one could claim to be anything, as virtually everyone is mixed, or "mestizo," yet only people from the south are labeled as such.

Despite this, the census has long insisted that these populations are not native, but white. At the same time, society has insisted that they're also alien (as evidenced by the periodic anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant movements). Both of these notions have created an unwanted population.

For example, the extreme right wing has recently taken to picking on MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), claiming that the student organization is a hate group (UCLA is the latest battleground). However, a quick check of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Web site: (http://www.tolerance.org/maps/hate/group.jsp?map_data_type_id=6), which tracks hate groups, reveals not MEChA on its list, but instead the very same anti-immigrant organizations doing the pointing. Additionally, these organizations question the indigenous character of people of Mexican/Central American heritage -- claiming that they've invented their heritage to a supposed mythical homeland located in today's Southwest.

Yet Chicanos did no such inventing, nor did they invent divisive Western geography. Hundreds of maps, chronicles and codices prior to 1848 point in this direction. So do oral traditions, as well as linguistic (Uto-Azteca) and cultural evidence that firmly plant people of Mexican/Central American heritage not in one but all directions. Truthfully, all the evidence points to maize as the only legitimate "map" needed to prove indigenousness to this continent or, as Yaqui scholar Vivian Delgado terms it, to one single Turtle Nation.

For those who question this, Forbes' "Aztecas del Norte" is a good place to start. Though published in 1973, he had been writing on this topic since 1961, when he was part of the Movimiento Nativo Americano -- which recognized people of Mexican origin as "Anishinabe," or indigenous. Not everyone accepts this. Some believe the indigenous category should not apply to peoples of the south. Others invoke some form of blood quantum purity (which is actually a formula for extermination). Yet despite these protestations, all peoples have the inherent right to determine their own identity.

This year, the National Association of Chicana/Chicano Scholars (www,naccs.org) is joining this movement as an indigenous caucus will be formed within the organization. They will be joining Mujeres Activas de Letras y Cambio Social (http://malcs.chicanas.com/) -- an organization of women scholars -- where a similar caucus will be forming there. (Incidentally, the legitimacy of the discipline of Chicana/Chicano Studies itself has always, and continues to be, under attack.)

Before Cuauhtemoc was executed, he is said to have left a "mandato," advising the people to keep their cultural knowledge, teachings and traditions deep within their hearts ... and that a time would come to once again reveal that knowledge. Those who are aware of that mandato say the time is now.

* Though Jack Forbes's classic Aztecas del Norte is out of print, this is a good time to encourage the publisher to republish it. More on this in the near future. Forbes can be reached at: jdforbes@ucdavis.edu

COPYRIGHT 2004 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

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