Yo soy Chicano. Having spent over 30 years applying the term Chicano in my life, I have realized that many people have a misunderstanding of the term. Normally people have a strong opinion – pro or con – but for a wide range of reasons. The word historically became popular during the civil rights era and especially for those who embrace the word Chicano, it is an act of self-determination. For decades the American establishment had labeled us with terms that do not reflect our values or honor our Indigenous ancestry. It’s refreshing to see that young millennials don’t like to be labeled and have renewed their ideas of self-determination.
Claiming the title CHICANO to me was a connection to my roots in this continent. My abuelitos didn’t know what native tribe their abuelitos were from nor did they wish to be associated as ‘Indios’ because of the system of white supremacy that was constructed around them. Growing up in América meant they were ‘Spanish’ but their sons who came home from war in Vietnam took up the cause and taught me to be Chicano and why it is important. They could fight and die for the country but never had an open door or ‘easy time’ getting their dreams realized. Some even internalized the racism and still argue with their own brothers and sisters for being radical and going ‘against the system’. My own family never even maintained Spanish language skills, so they didn’t know that ‘Pocho’ was a bad term. I was one of the lucky ones.
Why can’t we begin to integrate evidenced beliefs that rid our society of racist and abusive structure and norms? Why do we continue to practice democracy through an antiquated lens of representation?
I spent decades researching some unpopular books to understand the depth of annihilation that was enacted against our people. I also had the blessing of connecting with people and family that practice ceremony and rituals with Native influence and origin, so that I could learn first-hand their perspectives. Decolonization of the mind is a precarious undertaking because there is so much to unravel beyond the personal traumas that our family had endured. Just finding the strength to face the belief systems that our colonizers have perpetuated, to believe our ancestors were people with spirit and wholeness with Creator. That they built great civilizations autonomously and without ‘aliens’ to instruct them. Without Christianity to hinder their collective endeavors.
WE come from a lineage that is built upon 7,000 years of acculturation. From Aztec warriors that faced death without fear. Free Human Beings that found more honor in ‘counting coup’ than killing their enemy on the battlefield. NO need for weapons of mass destruction because we cultivated a society of peace. Without prisons and borders and disease. With a common sign language universal from Alaska to Patagonia. With a common belief that we are all related and that all things in life and death are sacred.
Within our DNA, our genes and chromosomes hold this collective energy of memories that Indigenous nations forged. Not just the historical traumas of the past 200 years, but the wisdom of natural experience and divine inspiration. That is our heritage. My Tía Debora once said, “We Chicanos are lucky because we only have a little more than seven generations removed from our natural way of understanding. Europeans have been killing their grandmas for 2,000 years!” It makes you consider the impact that colonization has played on every continent and on the mental health of those who direct public policy or manage our industries and global businesses. The stoic indifference that the military industrial complex and even the local and state police agencies inflict upon our communities.
These institutions have a historical foundation in the motives of those post-colonial Europeans. Refugees whose acculturation came out of two centuries of plagues and primitive views about their new religious renaissance, we agree that to gauge social norms today by the documented values and beliefs of early American colonizers is useless. So, why can’t we begin to integrate evidenced beliefs that rid our society of racist and abusive structure and norms? Why do we continue to practice democracy through an antiquated lens of representation? Like the Electoral college that was implemented because the leaders thought people were too ignorant.
No surprise to me after such considerations, when I see these demonstrations and first amendment exercises. I went to support Black Lives Matter, even wore my traditional regalia and with my family. We danced on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol building to pray for hope. We have so much in common as a result of the past two hundred years. Just as African slaves were brought to this continent and separated by their language groups so that they could not communicate with each other to plan escapes. Also, the Natives in Boarding schools were separated from their tribal relatives in classrooms so that they could not speak amongst each other. African slaves that did manage to escape very often joined native tribes where they were adopted and became responsible members of our society. Early Cherokee tribal leaders that were persuaded to purchase black slaves, would free them after awhile, much like indentured servitude. Almost every Black American I talk to acknowledges that they have Indian bloodlines and beyond that, when they investigate their native cultures from Africa, they find a lot of similarity in our ways of life.
When European Americans embrace the term ‘white’ they fail to comprehend the damage that it does even to their own cultural group. When they maintain the ideas of racism and focus on privileges, they exclude themselves from a greater understanding of the world around them. I have white relatives and I understand their ignorance. Why so many of them have lost sight of what the American Experience was originally about. Sure, they teach us about manifest destiny but there was supposed to be the pursuit of liberty and happiness and freedom. The early pioneers and colonialists envied the freedom that Native American people had almost perversely. They based their constitution and its separation of powers on the Iroquois Confederacy but left out the important factors of the women’s voice and transgender members of the tribe. So, they never really embraced the actualization of the tree of peace. The realization of the best form of social governance that had been developed by our ancestors.
‘The American Experiment’ was a term I had little familiarity with but have read it in school and I was surprised to hear it again when the dance ritual I engaged with at the State Capitol was filmed from a helicopter and inserted into a CNN interview with Anderson Cooper and retired General Allen. The General spoke about this being a possible end to the American Experiment and I had to wonder, “What defines the American Experiment?”
I always perceive the duality of a situation and maybe that’s because of my dual upbringing. Having white privilege because of my Father but growing up in a Mexican family because of my mother. These polarities certainly shaped my identity and tendency to see both points of view. Whereas, one side of the American historical lens upholds the values of freedom and providence and this being the land of opportunity where everybody is given a chance to fulfill their dreams. The other side being that this country was invaded by foreigners that brought enslaved Africans to build on land they stole for the benefit of a small elite group. These viewpoints may seem extremely opposed today but they were at one time almost united in principal.
When you favor the values of what América is still hopeful to become, you have to admit that much of what the original inhabitants of this continent had to teach us was seldom brought to light. Colonial ‘Americans’ had little interest in understanding the reality of Native American Indians. They did however benefit greatly from the abundance of foods and medicines that were given to them. Even today, few of us understand the cultivation or social value of these natural treasures. Few appreciate the spiritual value that we had with the land and everything upon it. Few have listened to the stories that our ancestors related to help us establish that connection. Even fewer times were native people elected to any positions of authority in our government. But if we want to continue this American Experiment it is time to bring those stories back into the hearts of the people. Revolution is generally about returning to an earlier state of harmony.
On the other hand, if we decide that the American Experiment is nothing more than a colonial invasion such as many nations across the world have endured. Then perhaps it is time for a True American Revolution to begin and for the original people of this hemisphere to reclaim their Independence. 1776 is taught as the year of the American independence but it promised no freedoms to my ancestors, nor to my fellow brothers and sisters that were forced here in chains. If they can’t declare a hate group like the KKK as a terrorist organization what is their domestic relevance? How can American born Europeans call themselves independent when they refuse to relieve themselves of the identity of Eurocentrism?
Wake up to the real América.
Daniel Stange is the Director of Mobilization with Sisters of Color United Education (SOCUE) in Denver, Colorado.
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