A critique of the Mexica Movement (on antiblackness and the politics of decolonization)
Note: The material cited in this piece is from the Mexica Movement website (here, here , here and here) and Nican Tlaca University of Cemenahauc Facebook page. A new website was also recently made, largely containing the same content. If you haven’t heard of Mexica Movement/Nican Tlaca before today, please feel free to look through their website (both to familiarize yourself with the content discussed, and to judge for yourself if anything I’ve written below is taken out of context from their sites). Given that I am neither Indigenous/Native nor Black/Afro-descended, I am foremost open to the critiques, thoughts, feelings & concerns of Indigenous and/or Black folks. For other xicanxs/chicanxs like myself, I ask that you take this critique seriously. My greatest hope with this piece is that it will spark more open conversation among us[i] about some of the problems in many of our attempts towards anti-colonial consciousness and praxis. The sections that follow are: Pan-Indigenous Movement, so where’s the consensus?; So are we all Indigenous?; Praxis and Accountability?; Antiblackness in Mexica Movement political ideology and identification; and last, On Masculinity and the Emergence of “Traditional” Queer Patriarchy.
*Here is a quote I posted from this critique that has some important edits/comments that were worked into this version.
Pan-Indigenous Movement, so where’s the consensus?
From the page, “What is Nican Tlaca?”
“Nican Tlaca is a term that the Mexica Movement coined in the first couple of years of the 21st century as term to identify all of the Indigenous people of the “Western Hemisphere” (what is called “North and South America”). […]
Nican Tlaca is our Nahuatl (Mexica) language way of saying ‘We the people here’, in reference to all of us who are Indigenous to Cemanahuac (what Europeans call “the Western Hemisphere”) and more specific to Anahuac which is the northern part of Cemanahuac (which is falsely called ‘North America’). […]
We referred to ourselves as “Nican Tlaca”, meaning “We the people here”, regardless of what city we were from or from what tribal area we were from, or what language we spoke. We knew that we were all one people. […]
ANAHUAC REFERS TO the following European-descent controlled modern day colonial areas: Mexico Guatemala ‘El Salvador’ ‘Honduras’ Nicaragua ‘Costa Rica’ ‘Belize’ ‘United States’ and Canada. […]
We are all of one race, one culture, one origin, and of the one nation that was being born at the time of the European invasions: ANAHUAC!”
To start, the last quote above seems to be a pretty straightforward re-writing of history. It claims that at the moment(s) of contact, peoples indigenous to the places they claim make up Anahuac were building one nation, one people. The implication is that indigenous peoples now should commit themselves to the reconstruction of this singular nation. Even if this is being used rhetorically, to build an argument for a united movement, we can problematize this call for a new Anahuac and strengthened Nican Tlaca identity. … The biggest issue is that there is absolutely no attempted consensus on Mexica or Nican Tlaca identification as the identification for a pan-indigenous movement (to be honest, I haven’t come across any other coalition that requires everyone to identify with only[ii] one term, since, a coalition itself is an attempt to maintain and respect difference while building alliances and some form of relationality. But, my argument is that this is not an attempted coalition). The application of the terms Anahuac and Camanahuac as the single representation of land is not accounted for. There is no mention of terms from other languages or peoples, other than European; the website actually claims that “North America” and “Western Hemisphere” are false names, but does not address that their terms are not the only terms. I understand, for practicality, using one term to refer to something, but my question is, where is the work that went behind agreeing to the terms being used? Furthermore, besides Nahua identity, there is little mention of other indigenous groups (Mixtecas,Seri, Huichol , Otomis, Amuzgo, Zapotecas, Huastecas,Tlapanecas,Taraskan, Mexicanero, Kora, Tzotzil, Quiche, Popolucas,Yukatek, Chiapaneco, Tepehuane, Raramuris , Yaqui, Mayo, ,etc.- if we’re going to stick to some of the groups that make up “Anahuac”). And worse, when they are mentioned, they are only named as groups that should subscribe to Mexica identity. From the page “Why Mexica’?”
Mexica is the only one of our cultures and civilizations which has enough surviving material (codex manuscripts, archaeology, ethnographic studies, linguistic compendiums, etc) from which we can fully reconstruct our Nican Tlaca Anahuac nation. (emphasis mine).
And here is another quote from the “What is Nican Tlaca?” page:
We further encourage our people to self-identity as Mexica on a cultural basis as a point of unity in reconstructing our collective culture and our future collective society. We recommend this because most of us have lost the root and connection to our original civilization or our tribal culture.
If plurality is celebrated, it is only done so to recognize past differences that, for sake of building a stronger movement, must logically fall under the Mexica call to Nican Tlaca identity. The centering of Mexica identity then works to claim that distinctions, or difference itself, is an obstacle to decolonization. Put differently, we have to ignore historical and contemporary differences between groups in order to further what the Mexica Movement claims is the best method for future liberation.
Are we all Indigenous? Or who is the “we” in this movement? Indigeneity, Identity & Decolonization
The last quote above (in the previous section) hints at who this movement more than likely appeals to most: those of “us [who] have lost the root and connection to our original civilization or our tribal culture.” To be clear, I would consider myself one of these persons, i.e. someone who, having Nicaragüense and Mexicanx heritage, can claim some general knowledge of being mixed white European and Indigenous, without being able to pinpoint an exact group, or an exact time when that ancestry joined. This is commonly referred to as being mestizx. And, if you’re not already aware, many folks who share this positionality often gravitate towards reclamation of indigeneity.[iii] One of the problems with this is the elision of structural differences between mestizo and indigenous peoples. And this is exactly the kind of discourse that is central to the Mexica Movement:
The Mexica were victims of an ethnocide that left no one today who can authentically call themselves Mexica, much like in Italy there is no one who can authentically call themselves Roman.
Therefore, the rest of us (the vast majority) who have lost all of our civilization identity and culture or tribal identity and culture, and even those of us who have a civilization or tribal identity, can and should embrace Mexica identity as a collective identity for all of us that we use in order to reconstruct our Anahuac nation and as a means of Liberation. (Note: The overwhelming majority of our people were not tribal, but urban: cities, towns, and villages). […]
We reject all racist and Eurocentric labels which artificially divide us and our lands (i.e. ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, ‘immigrant’, ‘illegal’, ‘raza’, ‘mestizo’, etc.) Full-bloods and mixed-bloods…we are ONE people! We are ONE nation!”
Some of this appears to be a rejection of racist (white supremacist), xenophobic terms, as well as a colonial blood quantum logic that recognizes blood as the sole determinant of indigenous identity. However, this homogenization of groups ignores a few things: the fact that prior to contact, divisions, however similar or different they may be to distinctions in the present, were already in place; that many indigenous communities/groups/nations are “racially” mixed, but have their own methods for determining community and relationality that directly reject blood as a criterion (the case being that indigenous peoples are not a “race,” but instead have been racialized by settler colonial states aiming to maintain a colonial relation of power- one of elimination or genocide); and, building on the previous point, to state that no one can “authentically” call themselves Mexica (or any other group) falls under the assumptive logic of settler colonialism that claims that “real” indigenous peoples can only exist in the past, thus ignoring contemporary indigenous peoples who have maintained identity and community as such (indigenous).
Again (last block quote above), Mexica Movement rejects terms like mestizx, due to its connection to colonialism (mestizaje being a racial construct & identity developed by colonial empires-turned-nations to create racial orders based in hierarchy). However, the rejection of this term, or at least another term that could describe the structural positioning of mestizx peoples comes with its problems (much like the rejection of “race” within colorblind theory, due to the popular “race is a social construct” that is often mis/interpreted to mean race doesn’t matter and /or shouldn’t be discussed). Without an acknowledgment of this difference, historical and present-day violence/s perpetuated by mestizx peoples & the structures from which they benefit, through indigenous dispossession and genocide, would be erased under the slogan “we are all one people.” In rejecting this difference in an attempt to re/claim indigeneity, the work of decolonization is then reduced to identity. Meaning, the conversation usually begins and ends with claiming an indigenous past, with little thought (or action) on how to challenge the material practices of ongoing colonialism (more on this in the next section). To reiterate, the claim “we are all indigenous,” at least within the context of mestizaje and Mexica Movement, leaves the issue at identity, and ignores how participating in and romanticizing a discourse on indigenous past(s) ignores very violent histories and current indigenous struggles.
Praxis and Accountability?
My question is then, what is at risk in claiming that all land is connected to one people? What of the connections and relationships to specific land/s by groups historically & presently connected to them?[iv] One of the central slogans within Mexica Movement, already hinted at in their rejection of the term ‘immigrant,’ is “we are indigenous, with the right to migrate everywhere on our continent.” However, it is never specified who makes up the “our” in this statement. While it could be meant as a reference to indigenous peoples and their lands, it seems to operate more specifically as “our Anahuac land/continent.” Within the context of immigration debate the statement is used to argue that “we” can travel wherever we want, across colonial borders, and even seems to invoke a politics of collective sharing. However, an effect of this argument, which can be translated as “If this is our land, then we as its rightful inhabitants need only be worried about our own (continued) presence, wherever we may be,” is a lack of accountability to specific peoples on specific lands. Note that there is no mention of building relationships with and to specific indigenous groups & lands on the Mexica Movement webpage. Nor is there any mention of any kind of praxis or action (their membership is exclusively based in Los Angeles); instead, what is stressed is liberation through education (see block quote below). The only page that really hints at action is the Join Mexica Movement page, which remains vague on what to do besides offering financial support and spreading Mexica political ideology.
Facebook post on the Nican Tlaca University of Cemanahuac (May 20, 2013)
THERE IS SIMPLY NO SUBSTITUTE FOR READING
You cannot DANCE your way to knowledge.
You cannot PRAY your way to knowledge.
You cannot SMOKE WEED your way to knowledge.
You cannot TATTOO your way to knowledge.
You cannot CHANT your way to knowledge.
Honor our ancestors by studying.
You mock our ancestors if you think they didn’t STUDY to gain knowledge.
Antiblackness within Mexica Movement
From the “What is Nican Tlaca?” page
We must reconstruct our Anahuac nation in order to be liberated from the European occupation under which we are enslaved. We must declare ourselves as the Nican Tlaca race, using Mexica civilization, and the Anahuac nation as points of unity and points of liberation. (emphasis mine).
Facebook Comment on post with a video about the Revolt of Túpac Amaru (May 15, 2013):
I don’t understand why our people are so foolishly in love with the African slavewhen this video clearly states how the negro helped Pizarro wipe out our indigenous bothers and sisters of Peru. Also, be well aware that when the black man fought along side by side Tupac Amaru’s rebellion, that they strictly did it for their own interests and not ours, just like they do in the present day. (emphasis mine)
Facebook comment (date unsure, since I blocked the person who made it):
There is no such thing as an ‘afromexican’! If your predominant blood and cultural heritage is Nican Tlaca, then you are an Indigenous person. You cannot be half of something! Just as we shun and reject Eurocentrism, similarly we must reject and shun any identification or affiliation with Afrocentrism! Our consciousness should be rightfully and justly Nican Tlaca centric, not Euro or Afro centric! To race-mix is to blindly participate in the Genocide of our own Nican Tlaca people.
A few points will be addressed here: the use of the term/s enslaved/slave; antiblackness in terms of political consciousness and identity; and Mexica Movement’s politics of respectability, grounded in anti-blackness. I am hoping that I don’t really have to explain the obvious anti-black racism in the Facebook comment made on May 15th (its gross stereotyping, contempt for the ‘African slave’ and casual use of the word ‘negro’).If that doesn’t register as deeply rooted in antiblackness, then I doubt there is much I can write that will change your perspective …
As the quote in the previous section suggests, the movement advocates liberation through knowledge, as opposed to other things like dancing, smoking weed, tattooing, chanting, praying and ‘gang culture.’ While they claim “GANG CULTURE IS EUROPEAN. Graffiti is a European tradition,” gang culture, when read alongside the rest of the “you cannot …” list works to connote, within an antiblack world & imaginary, proximity to Blackness. To be liberated, you have to read; in other words, you can only achieve liberation by being a respectable intellectual. Without providing any arguments or contexts, you cannot participate in prayer, tattooing, chanting, smoking weed or dancing, despite the fact that some of these may be traditional practices. But, my point here is that the things listed are specifically anti-Black and replicate a white supremacist ‘common sense’ regarding drugs, traditional practices, and conditions determined by poverty and racism: that all of these things are backwards and un-progressive. For Mexica Movement, participation in/being part of any of these things means remaining a “cultural slave.”[v]
And this is actually one of the constant expressions used by members of this movement: enslavement as an ongoing condition of their people. This seems odd to me, given that there is absolutely no reference to or real acknowledgment of the severity and impact of Transatlantic Slave Trade, racial chattel slavery, or the racialization of Afro-descended peoples in the Americas. The term “cultural slave” itself is not qualified (nowhere on the site do they define what exactly they mean), and ignores that it is specifically a non-black/black (not a white/non-white) distinction that has determined enslavement as a condition of being in the Americas.[vi] Also of interest is how blackness specifically appears as a threat to Mexica Movement’s goal of decolonization and indigenous consciousness (third block quote in this section). As stated earlier, identification as mixed is argued to be unproductive and inherently colonial. However, this approach is not only applied to whiteness (‘the colonizers’), but also to Blackness.[vii] What this communicates is that while white settlers were not indigenous to the Western Hemisphere, the re-indigenization or accomplishment of reclaimed indigeneity also requires a distancing from blackness and Black political identification(s).[viii] The comment made on Facebook regarding Afro-centric consciousness as contributing to the “Genocide of our own Nican Tlaca People” not only marks a politicized Blackness as that which engulfs and blurs the integrity of indigeneity, but also disregards antiblack genocide as a structuring component of racial/colonial modernity. In imagining a completely decolonized/re-indigenized Americas, Mexica movement makes no distinction between white European settlers and descendants of enslaved Africans, thus collapsing Black people into the category and ontology of “settler.”[ix] In other words, the re-indigenization of the Americas requires a defense against the blackening of its political geography.
On Masculinity & the emergence of “Traditional” Queer Patriarchy
This section is based on conversations I observed between members of this particular movement, and is more of a reflection on a tendency I believe to be underway. Without going into detail, I will say that the following general trends that are present within Mexica Movement are without doubt (and well-documented to be) familiar to other political-cultural movements against white supremacy and colonialism that are overwhelmingly represented & dominated by men: statements about how “our women” were treated well in the past (the supporting rhetoric for comments like “it’s only because of THE COLONIZERS that shit is like this now,” or “if she isn’t respected now it’s because she doesn’t respect herself!”); the policing of women’s bodies, aesthetic choices, and other choices in regards to whom they choose to have relationships with; and the expressed (masculine) right to police the boundaries of community through claims to being knowledgeable on that which is traditional or authentic to one’s respective culture.[x] The presence of these dynamics quickly became apparent to me as I read across phrases & terms like “our women,” “patriarchy card,” “cultural castration,” (who, may we ask, is centered as the injured subject of colonialism?) and “malinche” (and who is positioned as in/directly responsible for this coming ‘castration’?). I should stress that comments like these were not exclusively made by cis straight men, but have also been made by queer men affiliated with this movement.[xi] I make this comment to underline that queerness does not in any way negate masculinity, its privileges and investments in oppressive behaviors, and the erasures that sustain it.
I have come across plenty of conversations between Xicano[xii] queer men who, in reconciling an indigenous past with a queer present, express that they would have been respected and embraced in regards to gender & sexuality within a pre-colonial past. And while it is true that many cultures have had and continue to have different understandings and embodiments of gender&-sexuality, what I am concerned with is how this appeal to a historical-traditional position of respect is potentially manipulated on multiple levels. First, as is common with many cis queer Xicanx men, in the claim to an ahistorical queerness, proximity to femininity is assumed, more than often without an examination of trans/misogyny or the appropriation of two-spirit identity (“I embody the feminine and the masculine. I can relate to and therefore comment on the experiences of multiple genders, but I am a Ch/ Xicano man”). Building on this, my concern has to do specifically with the way in which this queer past is often mis-cited by cis queer men. I say mis-cited because many of these expressions end up being “what if,” or “if I had been …” kind of statements: “if we had never been colonized, I would be ____ .” Meaning, cis men often claim that if they were living in a pre-colonial past, they would have a different ‘gender identity.’ In doing so, they ignore trans feminine indigenous persons and trans feminine people of color historically and in the present. I realize that the vocabulary of trans isn’t well-suited for describing genders that pre-date this kind of dialogue (and the dynamics and conditions that make such a dialogue necessary), but I’d like to note that the traditional and communal roles cis men often cite as their own[xiii] are actually in reference to persons who might now be labeled as trans feminine. My concern is what in some cases might be a double-appropriation, of indigeneity and the experiences of peoples whose genders&sexualities are not a past, historical equivalent to cis gay men now.[xv] My final point is this: I find Chicano men who claim liberation through Two-Spirit identity while situating themselves as THE inheritors of queer past/s (with no mention of trans feminine folks past or present, or indigenous genders now) absolutely suspect, to say the least.
[i] Note: being X/Chicanx, Black, Indigenous are not mutually exclusive identities/identifications
[ii] I say only because there are terms, such as people of color & two-spirit that are used as coalitional terms. However, they do not require that people give up other specific identifications. These terms have also been problematized by constituent members for various reasons.
[iii] There is plenty of anti-indigenous sentiment within mestizo peoples as well. Some of this appears even within attempts to embrace indigeneity. See: Andrea Smith’s “Queer Theory and Native Studies” for a critique of the appropriative and anti-indigenous elements of the “mestiza consciousness” developed in Gloria Anzaldua’s scholarship.
[iv] Note that migration is part of some peoples’ histories. However, this does not mean that patterns of movement on specific land/s are not significant.
[v] Different parts of the website use variations of claims to being slaves/enslaved as a people: “enslaved,” “cultural slave,” “European slave condition,” and so on. http://www.mexica-movement.org/timexihcah/JOINMEXICAMOVEMENT.htm
[vi] Note that there is also no mentioning of cases in which indigenous/native groups/nations in “Cemenahauc” have participated in the enslavement of Afro-descended peoples. Blackness as “categorical eligibility for enslavement” (Jared Sexton) is here being discussed in relation to a movement operating in the ‘Western Hemisphere,’ but by no means is this meant to indicate that this logic operates solely within the geography of the ‘Americas.’ For more see the works of Lewis R. Gordon, Frank B. Wilderson III and Tyron P. Woods.
[vii] This larger rejection of Afro-mexican, Afro-mestiza & Afro-indigenous consciousness ignores how the groups mentioned are indigenous, insofar as groups mixed together to continue communities that were both/and. The need to homogenize indigenous consciousness (i.e. the rejection of Afro-centric consciousness) can be read as an attempt to marginalize blackness through the claim that non-blackness is (or should be) the default or norm of indigeneity.
[viii] For a critique of antiblackness within the literature of mestizaje, specifically Gloria Anzaldua and the genealogy of Mexican thinkers she positions herself within, see Jared Sexton, Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism. See also: “The Consequence of Race Mixture: Racialised Barriers and the Politics of Desire” (Sexton).
[ix] Tiffany King writes that “Black slaves and descendants of slaves are not settlers.” See also: this post with added commentary by bad-dominicana.
[x] See: “Producing Elite Indigenous Masculinities” byBrendan Hokowhitu for an analysis of how “tradition” can be used as “a strategic object that serves to protect dominant forms of indigenous masculinity […] promoting nostalgia at the expense of an existential immediacy.”
[xi] Although I use the term “queer,” there is chance they might reject it due to its emergence as a term to describe deviation from colonial genders/sexualities (and a regime that would mark those as mutually exclusive) predicated on indigenous genocide. For more on colonialism and gender see decolonizing trans/gender 101by b. binaohan. In saying that queer men did say these comments I am not trying to suggest the organization as over-represented by queer men. I don’t think this is the case.
[xii] In writing xicano, I am talking about this as a wide-spread phenomenon completely not exclusive to Mexica Movement. I also find Xicano (as a term) to encompass members of Mexica Movement, since I’ve seen photos that claim being called Xicano, Nican Tlaca and Indigenous, instead of Latino or Hispanic, means being respected as an Indigenous man. I’ve yet to come across Mexica Movement propaganda that recognizes someone who isn’t a man as Nican Tlaca, except for a gross re-writing of Frida Kahlo’s life, written by a Mexica Movement member as if from her perspective after her death. (available here: http://www.mexica-movement.org/timexihcah/fridabook.htm )
[xiii] And often the assumption is that the people they lay claim to are only accessible by looking to the past. My point here is that the well-respected ancestors often invoked by cis men are often not persons who identified as and lived as men, but persons who inhabited genders recognized as neither man nor woman. I should also clarify that Two-Spirit is not an equivalent to (or interchangeable with) “trans,” nor is it exclusive to gender. I am not intending to write out who is or isn’t Two-Spirit. Rather, I am attempting to outline a trend among cis Chicano men in connection to what we might identify as a long history of colonial transmisogyny.
[xv] See “Extermination of the Joyas: Gendercide in Spanish California” by Deborah A. Miranda (Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation, Chumash). I find some of the language around gender problematic in Miranda’s work, in that it may read as transmisogynistic. But, of course, I am also struggling to find language adequate enough to discuss pre-colonial gender/sexuality.