115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Debating Chicana/o Indigeneity in Literature

Ariel Zatarain Tumbaga, Antelope Valley College

I explore Chicana/o indigeneity and its mythological bases in the literature produced by two writers of the Southwest, consideriby the different strategies with which Leslie Marmon Silko (Almanac of the Dead) and Alfredo Véa Jr. (La Maravilla) engage Chicana/o indigeneity and its pitfalls, and respectively demonstrate Native American and Chicana/o sensibilities to aboriginal identities.


As an identity , Mexican American indigeneity crashes on many shores.  As Mexicans, indigeneity expresses a racial origin to be fled from, a starting point for José Vasconcelos's "cosmic race." As Americans, Mexican indigeneity enters a US Native American hierarchy in which it competes with often more prestigious, albeit heavily mythified, indigenous identities.  On the other hand, Chicana/o indigeneity is a racial and ideological embrace of an indigenous, as Rafael Pérez Torres has noted, that also rectifies the problem of Mexican aboriginal (dis)prestige by asserting a largely Pre-Colombian identity (i.e. Aztec and Mayan)  competitive within a US hierarchy of "Indianess" and the myth of the Aztec/ Mexica homeland Aztlán.  This shift in racial recognition and ethnic ideology is made necessary due to a Colonial Caste system that placed aboriginal culture and, in large part, aboriginal appearance in the lower rungs of what Alicia Gaspar de Alba has called a social-legalistic pigmentocracy.  Mexican and US nineteenth century race science (Social Darwinism, phrenology, eugenics) served the purpose of sustaining Mexican, and US ,Native inferiority by relegating mestizo Mexicans to a population of indolent swarthy half-breeds. While Chicana/o indigeneity is an essential part of the Chicano Movement,  critics like Josefina Saldaña-Portillo question the Aztlán myth's relationship with living Native Peoples of the US Southwest and George Hartley highlights the use of indigenous identity to erase African origin. 


This presentation explores the problem of Chicana/o indigeneity and its mythological bases as reflected in the literature produced by writers of the Southwest. Writers explore different strategies with which to engage Chicana/o indigeneity and its pitfalls.   Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko's AlmanacoftheDead (1991) draws attention to the problem of Mexicans' ambivalent relationship with their own Native descent. Old Yoeme scolds her grandchildren, mestizo twins who are racially indigenous by US Native American standards: "You are Indians!" At the same time Silko creates a myth of sets of contemporary Yaqui and Mayan twins who will lead a global revolution.  Chicano-Yaqui Alfredo Véa Jr. addresses the intricacies and contradictions of Chicana/o indigeneity in LaMaravilla (1993).  The protagonist is a Yaqui mestizo born in Aztlán, but whose heart and soul reside in Hiakim, the traditional Yaqui territory in Sonora, Mexico.  While acknowledging the importance of the Aztlán myth, Véa creates tension between the Aztec-Chicano homeland and the Hiakim territory and its specific cosmology, to give precedence to the living indigenous nation.