Columbus, Latinos and the US Census?

Oct 12, 2015
6:05 AM

“Wild tongues can’t be tamed, they can only be cut out.” ―Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza

“Our identity is our spirit and our spirit has no name.” –Roberto “Dr. Cintli” Rodríguez

“They forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual’s head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers’ breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders into a river, shouting: ‘Wriggle, you little perisher.’ They spared no one, erecting especially wide gibbets on which they could string their victims up with their feet just off the ground and then burn them alive thirteen at a time, in honor of our Savior and the twelve Apostles, or tie dry straw to their bodies and set fire to it. Some they chose to keep alive and simply cut their wrists, leaving their hands dangling, saying to them: ‘Take this letter’—meaning that their sorry condition would serve as a warning to those hiding in the hills. The way they normally dealt with the native leaders and nobles was to tie them to a kind of griddle consisting of sticks resting on pitchforks driven into the ground and then grill them over a slow fire, with the result that they howled in agony and despair as they died a lingering death. –Bartolomé de Las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

Part One: Columbus as the First Latino Here and Indigenous (Latino?) Resistance

The term “1491 Geographic Ancestry” is introduced here as a term that will help Latinos/Hispanics better understand how to identify our Race on the 2020 U.S. Census.

1491 CE is chosen as a year, because it is the year right before the world would forever change, right before October 12th, 1492, when Cristóbal Colón/Christopher Columbus and his men immigrated to and discovered or invaded this continent (depending on your perspective).

Though perspectives change depending on political and social factors, there are several historical facts, which cannot be ignored. In 1491, there were millions upon millions of Brown people (aka, Red people) on this continent of Abya Yala (North and South America). In 1491, the ancestors of the many millions of Brown people on this continent had been living, breathing and developing culture here for thousands upon thousands of years (at least 15,000 years). Since at least 7,000 years ago, a maíz culture connected the continent: the Eagle (the North, Anahuak) with the Condor (the South, Tawantinsuyo).

To be clear: there was no White race, no Latinos, no Hispanics and no Europeans on this continent in 1491. None, ninguno, nil, nada. There was no Latin America, and no America at all in 1491 (Italian colonizer Amerigo Vespucci is the namesake circa 1507, thanks to the German mapmaker Waldseemüller). In 1492, though he never made it to the mainland, Columbus and his men were the first White dudes/vatos, first Latinos, first Hispanics, first Europeans to begin a mass immigration stream from Europe to this continent, as the initiators of likely the largest scale genocide human history has seen (sometimes justified by simply being products of their time and place—emergence from Europe’s Dark Ages).

¿Tú eres Latino/Hispano? Colón was the first Latino here, but wait, if you’re a Brown Latino/Hispanic, were your ancestors already here in 1491, and if so, who were they, and do you identify with them?

Do you identify with the Indigenous, or with Colón?

Or is it both?

Why don’t we learn about this in our American schools?

Columbus is given credit and celebrated for his accomplishments, with cities and states and a Latin American country being named after him, Colombia. Even Anglo Americans give him supreme credit, so much so that the capital of the United States is named after him—the District of Columbia, as well as universities and U.S. cities. He also has his own holiday, which goes by different names in different countries, but here in the U.S., it is celebrated as Columbus Day on the second Monday of October. We are told that we should all be thankful for this man, whose courage and navigational skills brought a cultural exchange and the civilizing of the Americas by European (White) settlers. This was a Godsend, enabling a great advancement over the primitive ways of the indigenous Brown people of the continent, making the world we live in today possible, and even the Indigenous should be thankful for the civilization Cristóbal Colón brought to this continent on October 12, 1492. In Latin American countries, this day is celebrated as Día de la Hispanidad or Día de la Raza, and even in Spain, as Día de la Fiesta Nacional.

On the other hand, American Indian peoples, from the Inuit and Mohawk in Canada, to the Lakota, Dine, Iroquois, and Hopi in the U.S., to the Taínos in the Caribbean, the Nahuas, Purepecha, Zapotecs and Mayas in Mexico and throughout Guatemala and El Salvador, to the Quechuas and Aymaras in Ecuador and Peru and Mapuches in Chile, as well as other multitudes of American Indian Nations throughout the continent, have an extremely different take. They call Columbus the catalyst of the hemisphere’s Genocide, the one responsible for the mass murder, raping, pillaging and diseasing that still continues today in different ways. This has been elaborated by Indigenous scholars from Northern tribes such as Vine Deloria Jr. and Wilma Mankiller, as well as White Anglo-American scholars David Stannard and Noam Chomsky, White Latino scholars Eduardo Galeano and Xikan@ (Latino) authors Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodríguez and Rodolfo Acuña.

The @ in my name reminds me that there are women writers I should name here. I will work on this: colonialism has also had its way of silencing women perspectives, though they are here, strong and necessary. For starters, one can look at the anthology entitled The Bridge Called My Back by all women writers of color, edited by Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherrie Moraga. For an introductory consideration, simply link to this piece written by Christine Rose.

The point is, there has been resistance to the hero worshipping of Columbus for quite some time. You can even take it as far back to the resistance of the Taíno Hatuey, portrayed well in this film within a film, Even the Rain. There are also critical African American scholars, such as John Henrik Clarke, who emphasize the relationship between Columbus and genocide, not only of American Indians, but also of Africans, since Columbus’ discovery/invasion and worldview directly resulted in the Middle Passage and the institution of Slavery.

A unified movement against Columbus Day has been active since at least 1977, when at the UN’s International NGO Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, Indigenous groups spoke out against it. Since then, many tribal and continental Indigenous gatherings have echoed the same sentiment, including the First Continental Encuentro on 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance held in Quito in 1990. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day on October 12 since that same year. The 500th year anniversary or the “Quincentennial Jubilee” of 1492 was countered by a declaration of Indigenous People’s Day in Denver (birthplace of the Columbus Day state holiday in 1907, and parade in 1909), a declaration of a Day of Indigenous Solidarity by the city council of Berkeley, and marches and Indigenous People’s Day events throughout the country. There are also mournings of remembrance and celebrations of resistance at universities and in communities across the nation, and just this year, Indigenous People’s Day was officially recognized by the Seattle and Minneapolis City Councils, as well as Portland’s schools. In 2002, Venezuela changed its Día de La Raza to Día de La Resistencia Indígena, a holiday Nicaragua also celebrates on the same day.

In essence, the fifth element of Genocide (detailed later), was never completed. This current resistance against the Columbus myth is proof. However, the racial identity of Latinos throughout Latin America and in the U.S. is a key relation to this final element of Genocide, initiating with the exploits, which would be punishable by death if Christopher Columbus and his men were alive today.

Part Two: The Census Connection

So what does this have to do with the U.S. Census?

There are very strong connections between a “Cristóbal Colon-ization” and Latino/Hispanic racial identity today. The country’s demographics, including Race, are officially documented by the U.S. Census every 10 years, and these racial designations have changed throughout the Census’ history. There has been much recent hype throughout about our racial identity. And most of it started on this very same site. There has been pervasive confusion about how to make sense of Latinos/Hispanics’ due to the largely unreliable and contradictory data on Question 9 of the 2010 U.S. Census, and the 2000 to 2010 differences. How this understanding evolves will affect the specific terminology used in asking and answering of the important Race question on the 2020 Census, and therefore, affect the “official” identity of the United States.

Once an absolute truth to Western (and White) scientists like Dr. Samuel Morton, Julian Huxley (Brother of Aldous, author of Brave New World), Joseph Mendel and others, Race is now widely accepted as a social construct, a biological fallacy, which can more accurately be considered as “Phenotype” and “Geographic Ancestry.” Phenotype means how people look, and Geographic Ancestry means where people’s ancestors are from. Unfortunately, most Americans, including most Latino/Hispanic Americans, don’t know basic geography.

Regardless of its lack of a true scientific basis, Race (as a concept and term) has been used as a tool of oppression for centuries. It has changed in its implicit and explicit form, and is still very real and relevant today, on various impactful social levels (from education and incarceration to class, health care and politics).

For my hundreds of students, over 95% Latino/Hispanic, U.S. Census Question 8 on Ethnicity is much easier for them to answer upon original diagnostic assessment. Latinos/Hispanics are confident about what to put for Question 8, and give generally reliable data in this regard, often simply marking “Mexican/Mexican American/Chicano,” “Cuban,” “Puerto Rican,” or writing in “Guatemalan,” “Honduran,” “Peruvian”, etc. But question 9 on Race is very confusing for many Latinos/Hispanics to answer. “I don’t know” is a very common interview answer among students. Why? Because Latino/Hispanic is not considered a Race for the U.S. Census, or for social scientists, and for good reason, as we will soon see (if we don’t yet understand).

An element of confusion is that law enforcement departments such as the LAPD (police in the city with the most Latinos/Hispanics outside of Latin America), and in other institutional and everyday contexts, Hispanic is incorrectly considered a race, even amongst many Latinos/Hispanics ourselves, magnifying the confusion. Indeed, sometimes it is considered a cultural heritage or a pan-ethnicity. Though inherently connected through geography, really, there is only one main unique element of culture and ethnicity that Latino/Hispanic is a referent to: language.

When someone says Latino/Hispanic culture, what they are really referring to is familial or recent familial language, intrinsically connected to geography, a geographical language of colonization, that is the prime unifying element. Often food, music, ceremonial traditions and forms of dress are cited as cultural examples, but these are too diverse across Latin America to be one unifying element. Religion and patriarchy are also often cited as Latino/Hispanic cultural examples, as they were one in the same with colonizer culture (by force), but many non-Latino/Hispanics are also of those same religions, and patriarchy is just general to all Europeans societies.

Therefore, the Latino/Hispanic Identity all boils down to the familial relation to the language, which spreads across/pan cultures and geographies that are distinct in other ways. In short, Latino/Hispanic, is a (neo)colonial, Linguistic Pan-Ethnonym, since it is based primarily on Language (not on Race), and was originally imposed through colonial processes (often, by force until conditioning was complete). Specifically, for White Hispanics/Latinos of only Spanish descent (non-People of Color), it can be considered a Linguistic Pan-Endonym (an identity term based in and originating from the White Hispanic/Latino culture itself). For Brown and Black Hispanics/Latinos, People of Color, it can be considered a Linguistic Pan-Exonym (an identity term based in and originating from an outside culture—in this case the White, European, Hispanic/Latino culture which brought and imposed the language by force to People of Color).


Break that down further please…

Let’s start with the term Hispanic.

Richard Nixon’s administration is credited with making this term official on government forms. However, it has its antecedent in the term Hispano, used throughout this continent, and actually long before. Close relatives to the terms Latin and Hispanic have been highly connected for thousands of years, at least in Europe. About 3,000 years ago, there was a tribe called the Latini in modern day Italy. The place they resided was called Latium (still a region in Italy today), which was a founding place of what would become the Roman Empire. Indeed, the language of Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire (in “White” Europe and beyond), and the Empire’s province in the Iberian Peninsula, where Spain and Portugal are now located, was known as Hispania (get it, Hispanics from Hispania, the province of the European Roman Empire). To make sure this tradition would continue, Christopher Columbus, an Italian sailing for Spain, renamed the great island he emigrated to on a 17-ship return voyage. This island was originally known as Ayiti to the indigenous Taínos. However, for the sake of all Hispanics/Latinos today and for the King and Queen of Spain, Columbus claimed it as Hispaniola over one thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire.

(Remember that the next time you check off “Hispanic” as your primary ethnic identity, especially if you’re a Person of Color.)

Five hundred and twenty-two years later today, we know this island as being inhabited by the descendants of African slaves, part of the island speaking the White European language of Spanish (Dominican Republic), while the other speaking the White European language of French (Haiti; re-rerenamed as such thanks to the Black Revolutionaries of the Haitian Revolution).

With the fall of the Roman Empire 1,500 years ago, we entered Europe’s Dark Ages. As a result, this led to the emergence of the supreme power of the Roman Catholic Church for a thousand years and into the time of Columbus’ immigration to the Americas/Abya Yala. Latin was the official language of the Church in Christianizing millions upon this continent, the language which evolved into what are called the Romance languages today, and most importantly for our concerns here, the language base used in the European languages of colonization of the Americas. From the 1830’s on, inspired by White French philosophers, a whole mega-region would start being called Latin America (again tracing back to Europe’s Rome and Latium). Fast forward to today, when all directly connected to this language and region, (including People of Color, whose ancestors suffered Genocide under the first and subsequent waves of Latinos/Hispanics on this continent), are ourselves known as Latinos/Hispanics, often without second thought as to why or how this came to be.

The terms Latino/Hispanic directly correlate with the language of Spanish for the term Hispanic, and to the languages of Spanish and Portuguese (and sometimes, though most often not, French/Italian/Romanian) for the term Latino. This is why Mexicans, Brazilians, Cubans, Dominicans are all most often called Latinos, but why their neighboring Belizians, Guyanans, Jamaicans and even Haitians, are usually not considered Latinos/Hispanics, even after migration to the U.S.

Though geography and language are both very important and interconnected here, the terms of identity are secondarily due to family relation to the region called Latin America, and as emphasized above, are primarily due to family relation to the language(s) of Spanish and Portuguese. This becomes even more evident when considering how Spaniards themselves in Europe are generally also considered to be Latinos/Hispanics. Of course, Latinos/Hispanics in the U.S. who no longer speak or understand Spanish, are still considered Latinos/Hispanics, because of their familial language and geographical relations.

To be extra clear: Of the millions of American Indians here on this continent in 1491, who have millions of descendants alive today (including the majority of us Brown Latinos/Hispanics), there were no Latinos/Hispanics on this continent at that point. None. Columbus/Colón and his men were the first Latinos to immigrate here in 1492, and for that, statues of him stand throughout Latin America, Anglo America and Italy, thanking their Colón for making practically a whole continent of People of Color thousands of miles away, and millions of Africans taken from the continent below, into Latinos. In this way, as People of Color, we are taking on the identity of our colonizer.

Now you know, the terms are not a Race, but repeat this aloud, they are Linguistic Pan-Ethnonyms (Endonym or Exonym, depending on if you consider yourself White or a Person of Color), describing a Linguistic Pan-Ethnicity, primarily defined by the “Latin” (Spanish/Portuguese) languages of colonization.

In actuality, Latinos/Hispanics are diverse creeds, cultures, and yes, can be of any Race. The majority of Latinos/Hispanics are “racially” of American Indian “Brown/Red” descent, African “Black” descent and/or European “White” descent. The Latino athletes’ example is helpful to understand how Latinos can be of different races: a) Pau Gasol, “White”, from Spain; b) Hanley Ramirez, “Black”, from Dominican Republic; c) Marco Fabian, “Brown”, from Mexico, d) Bruce Chen, Asian from Panama. All are considered Latino/Hispanic.

Black Latinos (of 1491 African descent, e.g., most Dominicans), and White Latinos (of 1491 European descent, e.g., most Argentinians), provide more reliable demographic data on the question of Race than Brown Latinos (e.g. most Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadorians). Even with a good amount of mixture/mestizaje being obvious, why are Brown Latinos/Hispanics more confused than White and Black Latinos/Hispanics, on Question 9 of the U.S. Census?

The 2010 Census form clearly had issues. Race is highly associated with “color” and “phenotype.” If you look at the actual Census form, you will see that it only considers this reality for certain groups though. The Census is explicit about European geographic ancestry as Race/Color: “White” checkbox, present. The Census is explicit about African geographic ancestry as Race/Color: “Black” checkbox, present.

However, the Census is not explicit about American Indian ancestry as Race/Color: “Brown” checkbox, not present. This is even though multitudes of Latinos/Latindios directly identify their “race” with the color Brown (e.g. see Brown Pride). The Census is also not explicit that American Indian refers to Indigenous/Native American ancestral roots from the entire continent(s) of North and South America, not simply the United States of America. If increased reliability is the goal, the Census should explicitly include “Brown” or “Red or Brown” in the 2020 Census, aligned with American Indian, the way it aligns African American, with “Black.” The Census should also be clear about “American Indian” referring to ancestral indigeneity to the entire continent(s) of North & South America, for more accurate racial classification. These shortcomings on the 2010 Census form, are major reasons why for the most part, Black and White Latinos know what to select, but not Brown Latinos, who instead yield statistically significant data-confusion.

Thus many Brown Latinos/Hispanics, by default voluntarily select the White category, leave the question blank or write in their nationality or Hispanic/Latino for Other, though the Census already does that in Question 8, and clearly indicates that it not considered a Race for its purposes. As far as the form goes, it is this confusion amongst the Brown masses of Latinos/Hispanics that has the data suggesting more Latinos/Hispanics identifying as White.

5. US Census 8 & 9

Part Three: The Real Talk, La Neta, in Tlahtolli

Though the aforementioned structuring, naming and phrasing on the Census form itself are important factors and should be revised for the 2020 Census, there are deeper and more explanatory reasons for this confusion.

It is now time for the very real tough love, that I myself didn’t realize until after traversing stages of self-hatred as a youth.

The main reason for this confusion amongst our “Brown” Latinos/Hispanics is our own ignorance about basic geography, history and our own internalized colonization of identity. We reemphasize, U.S. Americans are generally considered to be either ignorant (or indifferent) to basic geography and history, and Latino/Hispanic Americans in the U.S. are no exception to this. How many of us are unable to name and label the continents of our world, and identity which “race” was indigenous to which continent in 1491?

It is all connected: from the Requerimiento of the 1500s mandating the European way as the best way and guaranteeing that any resistance would be met with grave punishment and Auto de Fe Indigenous Book Burnings, to Slave Codes which made literacy illegal for People of Color in the 1800s, to the Civil Rights era when Ethnic Studies were fought for and established by students of color, to the banning of Ethnic Studies in Arizona in 2010 and Ethnic Studies still being left as the null curriculum (non-existent) in the majority of American schools today.

The dominant, mainstream and uncritical  colonial tradition remains in the narrative of education. For instance, the so-called achievement gap didn’t emerge out of nowhere, it’s based in a legacy of racial, economic, sociopolitical and moral colonialism that as Gloria Ladson Billings (2006) reminds us, can more accurately be called “the Education debt”—what was taken from our educational processes for hundreds of years through cultural genocide has never been restored, and that is the core reason why the achievement gap/education debt exists.

Restoring it, is the U.S. paying off that debt, and unless the country wants to see itself continue to lag behind others in primary and secondary education, it needs to consider this; it should be explicit in the Common Core Standards, but again, it is not, continuing to standardize imperialism as Christine Sleeter noted of the NCLB California Standards.Even most People of Color in the U.S. today grow up going to school without learning this deeper understanding of the connections between geography, history and identity, which in turn, is an ignorance of self that effects student understanding of other areas of study in deeply and profound ways. As long as this lack of critical and culturally relevant education exists, the so-called achievement gap will continue to reproduce itself.

The fact is, beyond many not even knowing our continents, where we are on a map and where our families are from, many of us also have no idea about how Geographic Ancestry correlates with the Race indigenous to each continent.

If that is you, the way it is many of us, here are a few basics. (Shout out and apologies to South Asians and Oceanians in advance.) For simplicity’s sake in classic Race discourse, here is the breakdown:

Black = Indigenous to Africa @ 1491 Geographic Ancestry.
Brown = Indigenous to the Americas @ 1491 Geographic Ancestry
Yellow = Indigenous to (East) Asia @ 1491 Geographic Ancestry
White = Indigenous to Europe 1491 @ Geographic Ancestry.

Where were your ancestors Indigenous to in 1491, the year before Columbus and his men came to this continent to commit Genocide as the first Latinos here? Understanding this simple breakdown is helpful to understanding the connection between “Race” and “Geography.” Who do you affirm/celebrate, who do you deny/negate with how you officially identify?

Which leads us to this question: what about mestizaje/mixture? The Census allows for mixed/multiple selections in racial classification. Though most African Americans have at least some White European ancestry, and many are very light-skinned, it is interesting to note that Black African Americans don’t often identify their White ancestry at all officially, largely because they know at least some of this mixture is by force through the institution of Slavery and the ancestry of the White colonizer/plantation owner.

The identity of the mestizo takes the opposite approach: instead embracing ancestry of the White colonizer in one’s identity, while technically but often implicitly and ashamedly acknowledging the indigenous American Indian roots as well. The terms, “Indio/Naco menso” (“dumb Indians”) still resonate through fields, pueblos and cities, often uttered by those who themselves have Indigenous roots.

Choosing to identify with the dominant culture of our colonizer as our own personal identity, the way both Fanon and Malcolm X spoke of, may be considered a form of internalized oppression and self hatred. As People of Color, we have often been taught that we have nothing to be proud of ancestrally. This is not true.

There is a Geographic concept called Catalyst Cultural Hearths, which is a very important concept not only to geographers, but to all People of Color. Catalyst Cultural Hearths are the foundations of original human civilizations, and there are eight throughout our planet, including A) Anahuac (Mesoamerica) and B) Tawantinsuyo (Andes Mountain Region) on our American/Abya Yala continent, as well as C) West Africa/Alkebulan, D) Nile River Valley (Kemet/Egypt), E) Mesopotamia, F) Indus Valley (India), G) Ganges Delta (India) and H) Wei Huang Rivers (China).

These places had advances in agriculture, astronomy, mathematics, science, geography, labor, philosophy, organizational structures and urban centers. They were the original catalysts of human civilizations, over 5,000 years ago. Note, there are no Catalyst Cultural Hearths in Europe, home of “the superior, dominant race” during the shaping of this recent world since Columbus. The foundations of Western (White, European) civilizations are considered Greece and Rome (dun, dun, dun, Roman Latinos live on, in you!). But of course, Rome learned from Greece, and Greece learned from Mesopatamia and Kemet as George G.M. James wrote his treatise on, Nikki Giovanni poetically expressed about and brought to hip hop in the golden era by KRS-One, X-Clan and others. Perhaps that is why the direct descendants of Mesopatamians (Iraqis) and modern Egyptians are classified as White when it comes to Race in the U.S., even amidst present religious/racial tensions.

For Racism to work, Western scholars and scientists had to prove that Whites were the smartest, blatantly stated by Samuel Morton in his Crania Americana (and others such as John Campbell and Flinders Petrie), going so far as to conclude that the ancient Egyptian ruling classes were White. The science related to the study of Ancient Cultural Hearths provides us with evidence for great advancements made by People of Color, long before Greece and Rome would see their heyday, with vast amounts of their knowledge coming from other Catalyst Cultural Hearths (of color).

Understanding the concepts of Cultural Hearths can be empowering in this sense. “Brown” Latinos have been taught to have amnesia (forget/be ashamed of our Indigenous/American Indian ancestry for centuries), to the point of many “Brown” Latinos not identifying at all with our Indigenous roots, as the 2010 Census Data clearly shows. We deeply internalized our colonization.

There are several sub-points exemplifying this destruction of identity in the history of Latin America and the U.S., related to notions of a) Reducciones (Reductions of the Indigenous), b) Blanqueamiento (Whitening), c) One Drop Rules in the U.S. and Latin America and d) Social Engineering/Conditioning (e.g. General Richard Pratt’s policy of Native Boarding schools here in the U.S., “Kill the Indian to Save the Man”, or Canada’s “Kill the Indian in the Child,” all deemed permissible and just through official [neo]colonial legislation).

People of Color identifying as our colonizer (Latino/Hispanic) or identifying as our nationality/patria (most often also a [neo]colonial structure), without knowing how to identify our ethnic/geographic identity and ancestry on a deeper level than that, all connects to the fifth element of the United Nations definition of Genocide, “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Article II:  In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

For elaborations of the first acts, see the introductory quotes the the very beginning of this essay. The native boarding school history of points a-e was actualized in the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional realms. Point e is critical here as it relates to Identity and the Census. At the boarding schools, children were relocated hundreds of miles away from their families, forced to take White European Christian names, and learn the White ways (while forgetting their Indigenous names and traditions); thousands of children were abused and even died at these residential schools (see Haskell and Carlisle schools for examples).

Though the approach differed in Latin America, the end result as far as identity for millions was largely the same. Just as most American Indians and African Americans within the U.S. have Anglo surnames, notice how most Hispanic/Latino people have Spanish (or Portuguese) White European last names, even though multitudes of us, are People of Color with primarily Indigenous Amerindian and African roots. For some, the further removal from their actual ancestral past becomes (hegemonically) voluntary because of the privilege associated with it. So when one can also have their racial identity be White rather than a Person of Color, that opportunity is quickly taken by some. As some of this Census data is digested (especially amongst third and fourth generation Latino/Hispanic Americans), is there any critical thinking in the selection? Is it just assimilation taking its natural American course, or is it the nail in the coffin completing the fifth element of Genocide when White is selected as a racial identity by People of Color, five centuries after Columbus landed?

For Brown and Black Latinos, by replacing a Spanish dominant social context with an English dominant social context in the U.S., we become doubly colonized. This process of mental colonization (or of de-Indigenization) may be considered complete by some. The Census data is proof, since articles such as this one are far outnumbered by articles such as this one. Yet if we began to truly understand geography, history and identity, and push for an honest, well informed approach by the 2020 Census form makers, the points being addressed in this essay would make for much more accurate and reliable data in 2020. Nonetheless, we still run the serious risk of just identifying ourselves at a superficial geohistorical level, so that we may assimilate/forget our Brown/American Indian (Mazehualtin, Nikan Tlakah) roots, enough to be considered White. If that happens, White Americans may remain the American majority beyond the 2050 projection.

Part 4: Knowing What to Do Next

Ultimately, we are all human beings indigenous to Earth/Tierra/Tonantzin/Pachamama. This knowledge is a tool of empowerment, and when deciding how to identify, it’s ultimately about doing the best we can with what we have to work with. Approach your choices with honesty, dignity and integrity. In addition, we must know that we decide ourselves so others don’t decide for us. Are you confused about Question 9 on the Census? Let’s make this very simple for everyone:

If you consider yourself to have heavy 1491 Ancestor African Roots and want to choose to identify yourself with your 1491 African Ancestors, mark Black.

If you consider yourself to have heavy 1491 American Indian Roots (from anywhere on Abya Yala / North + South America) and want to choose to identify yourself with your 1491 Indigenous/Native Ancestors, mark American Indian.

If you consider yourself to have heavy 1491 European Roots and want to choose to identify yourself with your 1491 European Ancestors, mark White.

If you consider yourself to have heavy 1491 Asian Roots and want to choose to identify yourself with your 1491 Asian Ancestors, mark one of the several sub-selections for Asian.

If you consider yourself to be mixed, biracial, triracial, etc. and want to choose to identify with your different 1491 Ancestors, the Census allows you to make multiple selections. However, always remember: Who do you affirm/celebrate with how you identify? Who do you negate/deny? For the largest Latino/Hispanic group in the U.S., Mexicans-Mexican Americans-Chicanos, over 90% are considered to be Mestizo (mixed with American Indian and European Roots). So why is it that so few are selecting American Indian and many more are selecting White?

Do you need an example to inform your thinking? See San Fernando, California (part of the great L.A. Metropolitan Area). According to Census data, the city is about 90% Latino/Hispanic (largely Brown and “Mestizo”). However, about 42% of the population identifies as White while less than 2% identifies as American Indian. See the pattern there?

Is the fifth part of the U.N. definition of Genocide complete? Has the vast majority of American Indian ancestry in Latinos/Hispanics been eliminated from our identity and human consciousness?

The current data, with its flawed premises, suggests yes. However, there is still hope.

This is where decolonizing our minds comes in. Decolonizing Identity is the opposite of Colonizing Identity. It can represent a true Liberation/Freedom of Our Mind. Whether you consider yourself a Brown Latino/Hispanic, or a Mixed Latino/Hispanic, if you want to choose to acknowledge your American Indian ancestors in your official racial identity (rather than denying/negating them by default), I hope this essay can guide you.

Nonetheless, people are still confused. Consider this example:

Well, I’m still confused. What do I do? I’m a third generation American, and I consider myself Latino/Hispanic, because my family is from Honduras and Michoacán, Mexico, but we’re mostly dark Brown, and I definitely don’t want to mark White, since I know that’s not us. No one in my family speaks an Indigenous language though and I’m really not connected to that tradition. Actually, I don’t even speak Spanish (my parents just spoke English, and a little Spanglish to me). Even if I know my ancestors were probably Native American Indian because of where we’re from and how Brown my family is, and even if I check off that box for Race, I have no idea what to put on number 9 where it says ‘tribe?’

Yes, a very common point of confusion. If you do know what tribe/nations you are officially enrolled/connected to, simply write that in there: Ohlone, Kachikel Maya, Cocopa, Yaqui or thousands of others. Unfortunately, most of us Brown Latinos/Hispanics don’t even realize we can claim our American Indian roots in the first place, much less know what to put for tribe. Here, after claiming your Brown/Indigenous roots by marking American Indian, I offer three solutions for the fill in the blank section for those who don’t know. After checking off American Indian, where it then says “name of principal or enrolled tribe,” choose from the following selections:

  • The most conservative response if you don’t know, is Unknown.
  • A more explicit and politically charged response, is Detribalized or Deindigenized.
  • If you’ve done your research and are confident you have an ancestral connection to a particular tribe or nation, for instance, Quiche Mayans in Guatemala, Cucapa/Cocopa in California, Taínos in Puerto Rico, or Lenca in Honduras, but are not officially part of the tribe/enrolled, choose to put Detribalized or Unenrolled before the tribal name Lenca, e.g. Detribalized Lenca or Unenrolled Lenca. Of course, in that example, the word Lenca would be replaced by the tribe(s)/indigenous peoples, you are most connected to.
  • A fourth option we like to use as Xikan@s, an identity we open up not just to Mexican Americans, but to all, is this term itself, Xikan@. With its indigenous base in Me-Xikano, it’s connection (as Chicana/o) to the civil rights movement of the 1960’s before the terms Latino and Hispanic began to largely replace it in mainstream usage, and its affirmation of using an endonym (from us) rather than an exonym (from an outside group/colonizer) to define us, we advocate its usage for those beyond just Mexican Americans, who want to begin taking steps to connect to our Indigenous identity and consciousness. Furthermore, the X represents Ollin/movement in American Indian Nahua philosophy, as well as the DNA double helix, Quetzalcoatl Kukulcan. We also symbolically connect the X in Xikano to Malcolm X, and his reasoning for using the X as the unknown, “because I don’t know my real name, it was taken from me.” Similarly, as Brown people who have seen 522 years of colonialism, we may not know what specific tribes our ancestors were from, but we know that their American Indian Indigenous roots are within us; therefore we claim this part of our identity with the X in Xikano. Please see Dr. Cintli’s classics “The X in La Raza I & II” for a deeper treatment of the subject, and its connection to the Census (back in the 1990’s).

And for Brown/Hispanics Latinos, who are seemingly the most confused of all, when we consciously make these selections, Decolonization of Identity is then in process. Though Columbus and his men were the first Latinos/Hispanics here, the consciousness of those who were colonized has still resisted and lives on, as we decolonize our consciousness, today, into tomorrow on the 2020 Census and in life.

The political connotations here are not ignored, whether we are talking about the political weight Latinos/Hispanics have been gaining in recent years as a Linguistic Pan-Ethnic group, (a weight which will only continue to grow) or whether we are talking about what some Northern American Indians (from tribes within the modern United States) may feel, that in detribalized Latinos reclaiming Indigeneity, we are taking away from their own rights as enrolled tribal members who were never detribalized (this in no way, needs to be the case). Contrarily, as Lakota Tokala Clifford shared years ago, a sentiment in common with other Northern Natives, “one of my life goals is to help those who have Indigenous ancestry to this continent, recognize their roots.” Russel Means notes it in his autobiography, and Oneida/Potwatomie Buggin Malone asserts it as in his dedication to Leonard Peltier, “We are all Indigenous.”

And specifically related to the Migrant Rights Movement, to those that tell Brown Latinos/Hispanics to “Go back to where you came from,” Dolores Huerta responds, “If there’s anything we need to go back to, it’s to our roots, our indigenous roots, and claim them.” (Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan, 2005).

So I ask: What choice will you make as a “Brown Latino/Hispanic?” Who will you affirm and who will you negate the next time you mark that box? Is the fifth element of Genocide complete in your mind and energy, or do your Indigenous ancestors still live within your consciousness and identity?

In Lak Ech = You Are My Other Me. Mitakuye Oyasin = All My Relations. Tiahui = Onward.


LatIndi@frican@ is the pen name of the author of this essay, recognizing the Indigenous American Indian roots, as well as the African roots of the pan-ethnic group commonly called Latin@s.