Posts tagged aztec
Today, as many of you may already know, was International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a day meant to highlight the contributions of indigenous peoples and expose the struggles they still face today.
Let me start off by saying that I do not identify as an indigenous person. I know some of you may disagree, and wish to label me as such. But, to do so I feel, would be a gross insult to the true indigenous peoples of Mexico and the rest of the world. Maybe it is possible that I am a detribalized indigenous person, yet, I am also fully aware that my experience has been more as the oppressor than as the oppressed. I have not faced the discrimination and poverty than many indigenous peoples still face. I know I’m not white. But I’m not exactly indigenous either. I am that hazy mix – Mestizo. That said, I am also cognizant that my roots lie in the indigenous peoples of Mexico, particularly one group: the P’urhépecha.
One of my biggest qualms with Chicano Studies has always been the focus on the Ancient Indigenous past instead of the living indigenous presence. Especially, I disliked the almost exclusive focus on the Mexica-Aztecs. Don’t get me wrong, I acknowledge the unquantifiable contribution of the Mexica to the culture of Mexico. Without them, we wouldn’t have an Eagle in the center of the Mexican flag, or the word chipotle (what would we call an Americanized burrito then?!). The problem is, Mexica-Aztec culture never fully resonated with me the way it did with many of my Latino Studies/Chicano Studies peers. The reason: my family is not from Mexico City.
No, my family (my mom’s side that is) is from Michoacán, the ancestral land of the P’urhépecha. The traditional dances I would on occasion see during my summers in Michoacán were nothing like the dances I was reading about in books. There were no feathers or conch shell horns; There were only old men masks and canes, or butterfly shaped nets. Even the food was somewhat different. Reading discussions of the history of the tamal, never did I come across any mention of the uchepo michoacano. However, growing up I never realized that those actually were part of Michoacán’s indigenous heritage. It is only until recently that I have begun to learn the culture, the history, even the language.
It is through this learning that I have become much more connected to my mom’s homeland. For one, I have begun to see Mexico as a much more diverse place. But also, I have begun to see myself as part of the Mexican diaspora. Kolombrín Parákata (as the Monarch Butterfly is called in P’urhépecha), in its travel from Michoacán to the US, never actually makes it to its destination. On the contrary, it is its spawn that actually reach it. Yet, these new generations, while having no personal recollection of living in Michoacán, are still able to begin the journey back when winter arrives. I am like that. I have no personal recollection, yet something still draws me to this history.
But my journey back has not been easy. This history, sometimes it feels, was meant to be forgotten. The acculturation programs started by Lázaro Cardenas (President of Mexico, and a fellow michoacano) during the era of agrarian reform were partially meant to empower the indigenous, but under the assumption that it was their indigenidad that kept them back. Because of the relative success of these programs, a lot of knowledge has been rapidly disappearing. I have found it incredibly difficult for me to find the history of the P’urhépecha even though their history is one of resistance.
This impulse to return to something that existed before me is why I have taken on the pseudonym “Karari Kue” (which means “Gay Writer,” more or less). Currently, my writing is taking me backwards. I have begun to write my parents’ stories and my grandparents’ stories; they are, after all, part of my story. I can’t know who I am unless I ask what the Argentine writer Ana María Shua asks, “Where do you come from? Where are you going?” In a sense, International Indigenous Peoples Day allows all of us, whether we identify as indigenous or not, to ask ourselves this question. It allows us to reflect, even if it is for only one day or two, on the people that existed before us, and continue to exist alongside us. Their struggle is our struggle. Their strength, is (as the P’urhépecha say) juchari uinapikua (our strength).