Census Moves Toward Legalized Races
[Reprinted and posted with permission from the authors]
FROM UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
FOR RELEASE: WEEK OF MARCH 24, 2000
COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
LIVING RED-BROWN IN EL NORTE
(NOTE: This is one of an occasional series on the Census.)
Gonzales: My grandmother was a Mexican Indian born near the sacred site Chicomoztoc in Zacatecas -- the place of the seven caves. My grandparents made it a point to tell me that we were Indios -- Kickapoo, Mexican Indian, Comanche. Back then, Mexican was synonymous with Indian. My great- great grandma, Mama Mencha, was Kikapua (Kickapoo) and went into Mexico for refuge. When she returned to the North, her granddaughter was considered a Mexican. My grandpa came from native peoples, north and south, but had to buy his papers to make his life in "El Norte." I can only imagine how my ancestors became Mexican to survive in Texas, where Indians could not own land, were deported to Indian Country, or killed.
Rodriguez: My skin color is a deep red-brown; thus, I've never doubted that I was Mexican. However, because of the racially hostile climate here, as a child, I was ashamed of being Mexican. In those days, even people who looked like us hated us; they claimed to be Spanish or even white -- anything but Mexican or Indian. Despite this, I grew up knowing that I was indigenous to America. My parents raised us on stories of an indigenous America, and amid constant taunts to "go back where you came from," assured us that we had not crossed an ocean to get here.
Gonzales: Over the years, I've not fit neatly in boxes. My Indian grandmothers of five generations walk with me always. They come to me speaking "Indian" -- Kickapoo and Nahuatl. Sometimes those boxes for government and employment stats aren't big enough for me and my ancestors. My grandpa saved all our ancestors' names on a piece of paper, but it was lost by one of my uncles in a move. We aren't on any rolls, but we don't need government telling us who we are. As I did in the 1990 census, I'm checking the American Indian box again. So is my mother.
Rodriguez: The Chicano movement of the 1960s changed the climate I grew up under. Pride replaced shame. Though it was not until years later, after I first went to the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico that I finally got a glimpse of what it means to be ancestrally connected to America or Great Turtle Island. There I found an arrowhead that we keep to this day, and later I met relatives who speak Nahuatl, affirming that we are part of an ancient culture that has survived a half-millennium of cultural onslaught.
Gonzales: I've often heard Latinos/Hispanics say they are not a race. But those cultures get erased in labels that erase the Indian and African grandmothers and grandfathers. Though I've been separated from my tribes as a result of migration, hunger and wars, in my closing the circle, I have begun the return to my peoples. If naming my tribes can help my relatives, then in some small way I have fulfilled my responsibility as an indigenous woman.
Our experiences are not unique. Many readers wonder if their answers will be changed -- if their heritage will once again be disappeared by a government obsessed by a black/white vision of race and seemingly oblivious that America spans two continents, not a single nation. Some wonder why the bureau still asks questions about race and ethnicity -- as if it was any of its business. Some argue that there's a relationship between an accurate racial/ethnic count and combating discrimination. Still others ask why on birth certificates, the government continues to engage in a practice that is a throwback to the era of legal segregation, automatically designating Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Central and South Americans as white?
In a turn for the worse, the bureau is now seemingly intent on emulating the old Spanish colonial practice of dividing people into dozens of new racially mixed categories. Perhaps we should also copy the practice of giving these categories ridiculous names. How about "blue bunnies," "white apples" or "brown peppers?" For obvious reasons, that system collapsed as will this one.
Conducting an accurate count, combating discrimination and respecting people's heritage should not be an either/or situation. Until the government gets out of the identity business, it should respect self-identity and also understand that people like us are firmly rooted here in America.
COPYRIGHT 2000 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
The writers can be reached at PO BOX 7905, Albq NM 87194-7905, 505- 242-7282 or XColumn@aol.com