The New Latino Studies Reader: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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The New Latino Studies Reader
A Twenty-First-Century Perspective
By Ramón A. Gutiérrez, Tomás Almaguer
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The History and Politics of Hispanic and Latino Panethnicities
Ramón A. Gutiérrez
There is an apocryphal tale of recent popular vintage that circulates along the Mexico/United States border. It tells of an act of miscommunication, born of a mistranslation, between a Mexican immigrant traveling north and an officer of the U.S. Border Patrol trying to stem that flow. The Mexican woman named Molly was waiting in line to cross over to the American side. Finally, after hours of waiting, her interview moment with the U.S. Border Patrol agent arrived. The officer asked: "Are you Latina?" She replied: "No, no, no señor. Yo no soy la Tina. Yo soy la Molly. La Tina ya cruzó." ("No, no, no sir. I am not Tina. I am Molly. Tina already crossed.") The border agent was asking the woman about her ethnicity as a Latina. Molly, who was clearly unfamiliar with this U.S.-based ethnic category, interpreted the question as best she could. She heard "Latina" not as one word but as two — la and Tina — interpreting "la" as "the," and "Tina" as her friend's name. Indeed, her name was not Tina; it was Molly.
This story of miscommunication across national borders, when repeated, frequently provokes nervous laughter among Spanish/English bilingual speakers in the western United States. It shows how the ethnic groups and categories that are known and operate in one national space often make no sense when transported just a few miles north or south. When national regimes categorize populations, the very act of naming gives them a living reality.
Ethnic groups, whether deemed minorities in nation-states or simply identified as members of a subordinated and marginalized group in a given polity, have always resisted and defied the easy classifications of their oppressors. They generate the names they use to refer to themselves as a collectivity, often in their own native language, thus underscoring their linguistic resistance to domination. Such group names are often rooted in religious and communal conceptions of personhood and kinship, as well as in history, language, and culture. Institutions such as the Catholic Church, professional guilds, even merchants hoping to monopolize markets for ethnic goods, have long had vested interests in naming, generating, and sustaining national understandings of group collectivity. My goals in this essay are several. At the theoretical level, I want to examine three moments in the history of what became the United States, looking at the contexts of power that produced particular understandings of social boundaries and group membership: the Spanish conquest of the indigenous peoples of Mexico's north, which started in 1598; the United States military's takeover of what became the American Southwest at the end of the Mexican War in 1848; and the mass decolonization civil rights movement undertaken by racialized minorities in the United States during the mid-1960s and early 1970s. At the lexical level, I want to show how a small set of ethnic labels, whether tied to self-understandings of group membership, to actual social behavior, or merely as text, emerged, evolved, and disappeared, only to reappear again with new meanings generations later. The emergence of ethnic labels that demarcate social boundaries occurs in different temporal registers, sometimes quite rapidly and other times more slowly.
* * *
Since the early 1970s, sociologists in the United States have been particularly fascinated by the emergence of panethnicities, which are confederations created when several distinct ethnic groups come together in alliance for social, economic, or cultural advantage, thereby augmenting their numeric power and influence around issues of common concern. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, indigenous peoples such as the Cherokee, the Apache, and the Menominee came to be understood sociologically as "Native Americans." For several centuries conquering states had lumped them together as "Indians" in punitive ways that marked their subordination and marginalization. They had resisted such leveling, homogenization, and the eradication of their ancestral group differences, cleaving to their own internal ways of being and knowing, and defending their language and culture from the influence of those they labeled as outsiders and whites. But indigenous peoples in the United States had many common experiences. They had long histories of genocide and domination, of wars aimed at their eradication, of territorial segregation on reservations, and of similar structural relationships to the federal government. Calling themselves "Native Americans" made sense not only as a way of consolidating their factionalized power but also of maximizing their use of civil rights, voting rights, and affirmative action policies.
Immigrants and long-time residents hailing from such divergent places as Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic began celebrating their unity as "Latinos" in the 1970s, just as persons from such distinct places as China, Japan, and Korea came to call themselves "Asian Americans" in the United States. As new panethnic groups, they protested their marginalization and the toxic legacies of racism, militated for political recognition, and petitioned the state for compensatory remedies, demonstrating not only broader levels of interaction among their different national groups but also a heightened sense of oppositional consciousness in relationship to the state.
The rise of such new nationalisms is not an entirely unique or new sociological process. Historian Eric J. Hobsbawm reminds us in Nations and Nationalism since 1870, how emerging nation-states, through a process he calls "nationalism from above," transformed the residents of the ancient kingdoms of Castile, Aragón, Asturias, and León into Spaniards through mandatory language instruction, compulsory public schooling, and military service, just as the United States forged Polish, Italian, and German immigrants into Americans using these same institutions and techniques for similar ends. What is new and distinct about panethnicities is that they can emerge not only from above through the actions of states and elites, but they also percolate upward from below, as acts of popular mobilization and consciousness in direct opposition to state actions.
* * *
Many of the people of European ancestry who first colonized and settled what eventually became the American Southwest migrated there from the Iberian Peninsula, from what we now call Spain, but which in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a series of independent kingdoms that were gradually aggregated, most definitively by the 1469 marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragón and Queen Isabella of Castile, which laid the foundation for the emergence of modern Spain. Several decades before the English founded Jamestown in 1607 or the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth colony in 1620, residents of Spain's medieval kingdoms had already established a permanent settlement in Saint Augustine in Florida (1565) and begun colonizing the kingdom of New Mexico, which by 1598 encompassed roughly the current states of New Mexico and Arizona. Texas's first Spanish settlements date from 1691, and those of Alta California began with the founding of San Diego in 1769. The kingdom of New Mexico and the provinces of Texas and Alta California were all situated at the northern edge of Spain's American empire, isolated from one another, surrounded on all sides by mostly hostile indigenous groups, and too distant from the major centers of Spanish culture in central Mexico and Cuba for frequent or rapid communication. What developed in each of these provinces over the centuries were distinct regional subcultures that were Spanish in name and form, but thoroughly hybrid in culture due to prolonged contact with local indigenous groups.
National consciousness, by which I mean a sense of membership as a resident or citizen of a particular nation-state, did not exist as a well-developed sentiment among the colonists who initially left the Iberian Peninsula, migrated to Cuba and Puerto Rico, and then moved on to Mexico, eventually settling New Spain's north. What affinity they most shared and expressed was religious; they were Christians first and foremost. The fervor of their religious sentiment was forged during the Crusades and particularly strengthened over nearly eight centuries of warfare during the Iberian Reconquest between AD 711 and 1492, when the Christian monarchs rallied their populations behind the standard of the cross, vanquishing the Moors and pushing the influence of Islam south. What victories the Christian kings won in those years were won in the name of their one true God. The year 1492 marked the acme of the Reconquest with the fall of the last Moorish stronghold in Granada, the underwriting of Christopher Columbus's voyage of discovery westward, and the intensification of religious orthodoxy, leading to Jewish and Muslim forced conversions to Christianity, and eventually to their expulsion. From 1492 onward, Spain's public culture was Christian to the core. The first and most distinct sense of group membership among the residents of Spain's enormous empire was as cristianos viejos, or "old Christians." Men and women who were firm in their faith stood ready to defend it from neophytes, from infidels and heretics, and from cristianos nuevos, or "New Christians," which in Spain was made up of recently and forcibly converted Moors and Jews, and in the Americas of equally recent indigenous converts to the faith.
The patria chica, the "small fatherland," or the region of origin, was next in importance to these colonists. By the sixteenth century, each of Spain's kingdoms had a well-developed conciencia de sí, or "self-consciousness." After men and women proclaimed themselves Christians, they boasted of their rootedness in local affairs as Aragonese, Catalans, Galicians, and Castilians. Indeed the word the indigenous peoples of the southwestern United States first used to describe their new Spanish overlords was Castillas, meaning a person from the kingdom of Castile. Though initially the native peoples understood very little of what soldiers told them in Spanish, they did repeatedly hear them call themselves castellanos, announcing that the natives were now subjects of Castilla and that a king in Castilla was their new lord. Gaspar Peréz de Villagrá, who participated in the 1598 conquest of New Mexico and in 1610 commemorated the feats in his book Historia de la Nueva México, reported that the residents of Acoma Pueblo "called to me, crying, Castilian! Castilian! ... Zutacapan [their chief] asked me if more Castilians followed me and how long before they would arrive."
Identification with Spain's various regions persisted in the Americas into the nineteenth century, whether in Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, or Mexico. Residents of the kingdom of New Mexico called themselves nuevo mexicanos and neomexicanos, those in California referred to themselves as californios, and those in Texas as tejanos. Throughout Spanish America loyalty and a sense of attachment to the patria chica, to one's natal place, persisted and remains strong even to this day.
The Spanish conquest and colonization of the Americas brought together men from different regions, and through their common experiences of warfare, established them as a victorious colonizing class. The men who marched into the Aztec capital at Tenochtitlán in 1519 most likely had never before thought of themselves as Spaniards, or españoles. This was so because a unitary nation-state had only begun to emerge recently, as a result of the unification of the kingdoms of Aragón and Castile, born of the 1469 marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and because these men were more deeply invested in their Christianity and regional loyalties to place. It was in the Americas that they came to think of themselves as "Spaniards," particularly when confronting indigenous peoples as overlords. This is how the emerging Spanish nation-state, from above, forged a panethnic sense of group membership. By calling themselves españoles the colonists acknowledged that their culture and social institutions were of Iberian origin and thus quite different from those of the indigenous peoples they called indios, or "Indians." Three hundred years of contact between these two groups through intermarriage and cohabitation would radically transform what it meant to be español and indio, but about that there will be much more to say below.
Just as españoles were forged in the foundry of warfare through their battlefield victories as Christian soldiers in Mexico, Central America, and Peru, so too the vanquishment of their enemies transformed America's native peoples into indios, or "Indians." In 1491, on the eve on the Columbian voyages, there were some 123 distinct indigenous language families spoken in the Americas, with more than 260 different languages in Mexico alone. Perhaps as many as 20 million people were living in the Valley of Mexico in 1519, in hierarchical, complexly stratified theocratic states. But there were no Indians. Christopher Columbus invented them in 1492 by mistakenly believing that he had reached India, and thus calling them indios producing the lexical distinction we now use to refer to the Caribbean as the West Indies and to India as the East Indies. Inventing Indians was to serve an important imperial end for Spain, for by calling the natives indios, the Spaniards erased and leveled the diverse and complex indigenous political and religious hierarchies they found. Where once there had been many ethnic groups stratified as native lords, warriors, craftsmen, hunters, farmers, and slaves, the power of imperial Spain was not only to vanquish but also to define, largely reducing peoples such as the mighty Aztecs into a defeated Indian class that soon bore the pain of subjugation as tribute-paying racialized subjects.
Militant Christian españoles colonized Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and New Mexico in the name of Spain's Christian monarchs. As conquering soldiers they carried writs of incorporation (capitulaciones) for the formation of towns, which included aristocratic titles, land grants, and tributary indios they could exploit mercilessly, but whom they were also expected to Christianize and protect. The Catholic priests who accompanied these colonists carried all the symbols in which their ethnicity was rooted: the sacred texts and stories of the Bible; the altars, crosses, and statuary that connected the terrestrial community to the celestial one; and all the religious ritual formulas that conjoined the sacred and profane, and which ordered time and space.
Yearly in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the city's founding is still routinely remembered by reenacting the submission of the Pueblo Indian chiefs before Don Juan de Oñate, the area's conquistador, as it was done and described in 1598. This is the occasion for the staging of didactic dramas such as "The Christians and the Moors," which in the late 1600s was marked by "loud acclamations from the soldiers, with a salvo of harquebuses, and by skirmishes and horse races." Wooden lanterns known as luminarias, which are still lit on important dates of the Christian calendar, were meant to evoke memories of the heat of battle, the fire and destruction the españoles used to establish their supremacy over the indios and the imposition of their Christian God and culture. Even the bedecked and bejeweled statue of La Conquistador, Our Lady of the Conquest, is taken annually from her venerated perch in church and processed through the streets, unifying and sanctifying the space she traverses. The messages encoded in all of these ritual acts are not lost on observers of Santa Fe's fiesta, for as a Taos Pueblo Indian woman recently pronounced, the skirmishes, the bonfires, the dramas all symbolized "the brute force the Spanish used" to conquer the land.
The Pueblo Indians, of course, have long resisted such chauvinistic celebrations. In 1998, someone from the northern Pueblos severed the right foot of the large bronze equestrian statue of Don Juan de Oñate, the Spanish conqueror of the kingdom of New Mexico, which sits in front of the Oñate Monument and Visitors Center near Española, New Mexico. The vandal's explicit political goal was to force everyone to recall the collective punishment Oñate meted out to the residents of Acoma Pueblo in 1600 for resisting his tributary demands: every man over the age of twenty-five had one of his feet cut off, the women and children over the age of twelve were condemned to twenty years of slavery, and the children were distributed to serve as servants in Spanish households. As Andrés Lauriano, of Sandía Pueblo noted of the foot severed from the Oñate statue, "When I think of what Oñate did ... I have a vision of Indian men lined up to have one foot cut off. I see the blood pouring from their legs as they crawled or hopped away. I see the bloody pile of feet left behind."
Excerpted from The New Latino Studies Reader by Ramón A. Gutiérrez, Tomás Almaguer. Copyright © 2016 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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