By Roberto Cintli Rodriguez
With the war on Mexican and Central American peoples in this country in full swing, and promises by the GOP nominee to continue that war further, perhaps there is no better time to declare an Indigenous Nación Xikana than now. This ugly political climate has at minimum created the conditions to discuss what perhaps many have long considered unthinkable and unrealistic, or as an idea whose time has passed. And yet for others, it is long overdue.
Three initial questions arise:
1) Is it illegal?
2) what constitutes a nation?
3) What would this nation look like and who would be a part of it?
Yes, creating a nation is not simply legal, but it is something that has been done through the ages.
To do this, the assumption is that you minimally need a geographic space. And you need peoples with a common background and interest.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Chicanos spoke of creating a, or being part of, a Chicano nation. Those that subscribed to this idea referred to this proposed nation as Aztlan. Specifically, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan is credited with the idea of advancing the idea of the Nation of Aztlan. While it generated a lot of enthusiasm for perhaps a decade, whatever steps that were taken to create this nation did not materially result in the actual creation of this nation. That’s not to say there was not a lot of movement; quite the opposite. Some might describe it as a moment of electricity or even as a primary process when peoples long accustomed to resolving issues through institutional means quietly, exploded in fury across the nation in what we today know as the Chicano Movement. This political euphoria brought much excitement and change but the one thing the movement did not accomplish was a unity among the disparate movements, including the farmworker’s movement; the youth movement; the educational rights movement, the land grants movement, the political movement (La Raza Unida Party); the immigrant rights movement and the Chicana Movement, etc.
This inability to unite all the movements, in effect, was what perhaps doomed the dream of building a nation and specifically, the nation of Aztlan. The height of this dream was perhaps between 1969-1979.
In regards to the building of a nation, what was the geographic space envisioned? The land that had formerly been Mexico, prior to the land-grabbing schemes of Americans between the 1830s-1850s? The land lost constituted approximately half of Mexico’s national territory and included parts of 10 states that today are part of the United States. That land mass is also the northern part of what Spain had carved out for itself in its northern frontiers between the 1500s-1800s. While some argue that it also constituted the northern reaches of the Mexica sphere of influence, not many anthropologists or historians subscribe to that thesis. And yet, some do believe that the Mexica, Toltec or Maya may have extended their influence – via trade – to that region and to the Gulf of Mexico and possibly up the Mississippi, but that gets tangential to this discussion.
In pre-Colombian days, that land mass that is today referred to as the U.S. Southwest was actually not part of a historic territory called Aztlan. However, Aztlan was reputedly a native name for the homeland of the Aztecs, recorded by chroniclers and writers of the post-Colombian codices. However, during the 1960s, Chicanos designated or equated the U.S. Southwest as Aztlan, recognizing it as Aztec homeland, the land taken by the United States between the 1830s-1950s – affirmed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – nbm, and the future homeland for Chicanos.
But what of Aztlan itself? Where was it actually?
That is a huge topic residing somewhere between myth, memory, history and philosophy. It is the purported homeland of the Mexica, one of several tribes purportedly from somewhere north of Mexico City, that eventually migrated south, with the Mexica eventually founding Tenochtitlan-Mexico City itself in 1325. But where is that north and was it a city, a region or what is what is today considered the U.S. Southwest? If the Mexica, who were Nahuatl speakers, did come from somewhere in the north, more than likely, their point of origin was not the entire “North” nor the entire U.S. Southwest. Most Mexican anthropologists believe that the historic Aztlan was probably Mexcatitlan, Nayarait, a site that was later architecturally mirrored by the builders of Tenochtitlan-Mexico City.
Despite that widespread belief, historic maps show Salt Lake or the Salt Lake region as where some mapmakers located that point of origin of the Aztecs-Mexica to be (Humboldt 1804, Alzate 1769 and Barreiro, 1729). These maps show the Salt lake regionas the point of origin and three stops along the way south. Most importantly, the 1847 Disturnell Map, which is attached to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, does not depict Salt Lake as the point of origin, however it does depict the 2nd, 3rd and 4th stops. The second stop reads: “Antigua Residencia de los Aztecas” located generally in todays Four Corners region of the United States. This by itself is of huge significance to this discussion primarily due to the fact that the map is attached to the [living] treaty.
Also of importance is the fact that the Nahuatl language is part of a language family – known as Uto-Nahuatl or Uto-Azteca – that extends from Southern Canada to Nicaragua. The connections are simply linguistic and historic but also contemporary as Nahuatl-speaking elders from Southern Mexico have been able to speak with elders from the Four Corners region. This too is hugely significant.
Assuming that the Mexica (one of many hundreds of tribes/nations from Mexico) did originate in that region, would that be the basis for Chicanos claiming the entire U.S. Southwest? Or is the claim of the Southwest on the basis that the United States took that territory as a result of wars and the threat of more wars? This necessarily appears to be two different narratives.
Another claim to the same land would simply be on the basis that that is where the majority of Chicano/Chicana/Mexican origin peoples in the United States live today. And yet, while most do live in the Southwest, many more also now live beyond those borders in all 50 states and even Canada. One can also argue that many now also live in Mexico and Central America as a result of a large deportation regime put in place this past generation.
Thus far, the discussion has been about land and where peoples lived or live today, etc. With the idea of becoming a nation, perhaps one can look at it as a process and perhaps the first step in becoming a nation is simply declaring oneself a nation. Perhaps initially it can be a stateless nation, without borders and people-based, as opposed to territorially based. That is, it can be all peoples who identify with this proposed Indigenous: Nacion Xicana. This does not necessarily limit this idea to Chicanos/Chicanos, etc., though in the United States, they would form its core.
The name: Nacion Xikana, can be one option for this proposed nation. And no doubt there are others. For example, Nacion Macehual – which means average person or people in Maya and Nahuatl – connotes a wider inclusivity. To be remembered is that a Chicano/Chicana identity connotes the 1960s and 1970s (generation gap) and also, many Mexicanos/Mexicanas did not then, nor do they now identify with Chicanos/Chicanas, etc. That said, no doubt, Aztlan would be a leading contender, though because of its 1960s construction, it does not have the same appeal of that era today, if a number of the objections and negatives could be resolved satisfactorily, perhaps it becomes more palatable.
The reason there is a hesitancy re the use of Aztlan is twofold. It assumes, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that all people of Mexican origin were Aztec-Mexica, this while Mexico is actually comprised of hundreds of Indigenous peoples, pueblos and nations. But more importantly, the second reason has to do with the fact that the area in question is also home to many, many Indigenous nations, literally on both sides of the border. Many of those nations have spoken out throughout the past few decades, of not feeling consulted and thus objecting to a proposed nation that would include their territories. Aztlan, many have voiced, would infringe on both their sovereignty and their lands. Some aren’t as dilomatic and see Aztlan and Chicanos as potentially new colonizers.
And yet, that is the last thing any Raza ever envisioned, including proponents of Aztlan, though it of course begins with these negatives.
As part of this nation-building process, perhaps that is why initially a Nacion Xikana – or even a Nacion Xikana-Macehual – could be people-based, as opposed to one that is territorially based. In this manner, such a nation could have representatives from Illinois and New York and Georgia and Alabama and Washington and Wisconsin as well as from the U.S. Southwest. It could actually include representatives from Canada where lots of Mexicans and Central Americans can be found, many both political and economic refugees. And of course, Mexico and Central America is where many deportees live today.
While this idea has always existed, unbeknownst to the right wing, very few people outside of the late 1960s and early 1970s, have ever taken the idea of a nation of Aztlan (or by any other name) seriously, and whatever effort was made by a number of organizations did not result in its creation as a nation.
So for this nation-building process to begin today, something serious would have to trigger the process… something akin to 9/11. That is, 9/11 was spun to create a police-state, to be able to wage permanent worldwide war. Absent the events of 9/11 and that development would not have been possible. People came to believe that there was an existential threat to the United States.
Only something of that magnitude would permit the rise of a Nacion Xikana; something that would also rise to the level of existential threat, and real, as opposed to invented. Well, that day has arguably arrived.
Several factors have brought us to this precipice. The fact that the GOP nominee could become the next president of the United States is reason enough. His proposed policies that target Mexican and migrant communities are both hate-based, racially based and actually criminal. His proposal to deport 11 million people within 18 months, and the creation of a special deportation force, specifically targeting Mexican peoples, is the prima facie definition of ethnocide. Simply advocating for it is considered a crime against humanity. And yet, that is not all of his anti-Mexican proposals; his call for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, paid for by Mexico, appears to resonate the most among his extremist supporters, especially at his fascistic rallies where he in fact has encouraged violence. And not to be forgotten is that while always focusing on Mexicans, he favors the overturning of birthright citizenship and the 14th amendment.
What has actually brought us even closer to this precipice is that when this candidate attacked Mexican peoples when he announced his campaign in 2015, mainstream America did not come to the defense of Mexican peoples. Rather than treat him as an international pariah that he revealed himself to be, the media fawned all over him, falling over each other to get an exclusive interview. Not until he began to attack other groups did the U.S.-body politic start to publically object. This spoke volumes. Ok to attack Mexicans. Not Ok to attack other groups.
Something else that has brought us to this precipice; the fact that Mexican/Central American peoples peoples have been invisiblized by this society. The racial profiling and extreme violence against our communities is proof enough – whether by the police or immigration authorities – yet, this is actually true in all aspects of life in the United States. As far as the national discourse, national conversations and national imagination are concerned, “brown peoples,” in effect, do not exist. The reason why we are invisible is irrelevant. The point is, beyond the governmental institutions, we also do not exist on the little and big screens, except as subservient and as criminals… and that includes Spanish-language media, especially Spanish-language media.
This is no longer the 1960s or 1970s, and thus the idea of a Nacion Xikana is not being born of idealism per se, but in effect, arguably as an act of self-defense. What cannot be forgotten is that mass dragnet deportation raids have always been a part of our history and sometimes, in greater proportions than others (such as Operation Wetback of the 1950s). Those mass deportation schemes in the 1930s and 1950s (and more) unquestionably constituted ethnic cleansing or ethnocide as Mexican peoples were specifically targeted, which includied U.S. citizens of Mexican descent. Some may argue that today there isn’t a just cause yet… meaning perhaps they might want to wait until the lines for trains are being formed. And yet others are not willing to wait for the ethnic cleansing to begin.
If there is to be a nation, nations are minimally supposed to have shared roots, a shared history, a shared philosophy and a shared vision.
The shared roots and shared history are related. Actually, they are all related. Mexicans/Chicanos/Chicanas are part of maiz-based peoples and living cultures that have been on this continent for many thousands of years. And in what is today the United States, since 1848, have lived at best as foreigners in lands not simply that were formerly a part of Mexico, but also anywhere where they/we have lived. What should be kept in mind is that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – which is very much alive – is supposed to protect the human rights of all of Mexico’s former residents, but it has not. This applies to their descendants also, otherwise all treaties would be meaningless.
The shared vision is for the peoples in question is to be treated as full human beings with full human rights – whether they be political, economic, educational, linguistic or cultural – regardless of where they/we live and to be treated as the Indigenous peoples that we are and have always been. As has been proclaimed recently in Peru and Guatemala: “We can not be foreigners on our own continent.”
Regarding a shared philosophy, while the peoples come from many, many nations and pueblos, as maiz-based peoples, in effect, they/we inherit maiz-based philosophies which are largely attributable, though not limited to, Maya-Nahua peoples, developed over several thousands of years. Over the past generation in this country, poets and educators have brought and continue to bring this philosophy to light. At the same time, as the work of various scholars have shown, these same peoples have also been influenced, and much through intermarriage, by the original peoples and Indigenous pueblos of what is today the United States, including and primarily the U.S. Southwest.
In that sense, Mexicans/Chicanas/Chicanos are diverse peoples with northern, central and southern influences. In fact, peoples from Central America, come from those same maiz-based cultures, what anthropologists have dubbed Mesoamerica. And yet, the shared roots do not stop there as virtually the entire Western Hemisphere, what people erroneously call the Americas, are generally all maiz-based peoples, with some cultures even older, such as salmon and buffalo cultures. Thus the peoples in question are not foreigners at all, but instead, part of the original peoples of this continent. And while the world recognizes “the Americas”- in some of our languages, we use Abya Yala (the Cuna); Cemanahuac (Nahuatl); Pacha Mama (Quechua) and Turtle Island.
If there is to be a nation, it will be a process because, in effect, it can be argued that we are peoples in formation. Unfortunately, there is that matter of what Martin Luther King Jr. called the urgency of now. Our peoples continue to be brutalized and killed by law enforcement and continue to die daily in the desert. Perhaps this idea of becoming a nation would have all occurred naturally, due to the demographic shift of this nation, what the right wing terms… and fears: “the browning of the nation” and all that it implies. But all the ugly political developments which have been on full display since the GOP nominee announced his candidacy, especially at his rallies, including the 2016 RNC convention, have laid bare that urgency.
They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds