The White Privilege of “Latinx”
[ Kurly Tlapoyawa ]
In a recent editorial column, I discussed the “Latinx” identity and how it was being retroactively inserted into the Chicano Movement. This bit of historical revisionism appeared in a recent Youtube video about the Chicano Moratorium March of August 29, 1970. In my editorial, I raised a number of questions as to why the producers of the video felt it necessary to erase Chicano history and attempt to re-write it as a “Latinx” movement.
I pointed out that the term “Latin America” was the invention of a French writer who wanted to supplant indigenous identity in Mexico with a generic “Latin” identity that was favorable to French interests. I feel that by embracing “Latino” as the foundation of an identity, its proponents are in fact actively promoting and legitimizing an ideology that is ultimately racist, as it privileges European notions of identity. I ended my piece by suggesting that a possible (and more culturally relevant solution) would be to use a term in an indigenous language. Personally, I prefer Mazewalli.
The response to the article was overwhelmingly positive, though a small number of people disagreed with my analysis. This, of course, is fine. Everyone is welcome to an opinion on the matter. To my surprise, the detractors offered well reasoned, carefully crafted, nuanced, and thought provoking reasons as to why they disagreed with me.
They lost their freaking minds.
Rather than intellectual discourse, my critics only offered a litany of emotional tirades fueled by invective and ad-hominem attacks on me as a person. It would appear that I struck a nerve. As I looked over these childish responses to my column I noticed an unfortunate, yet all too familiar trend: an utter disdain for the indigenous coming from those who identify as “Latinos” and “Mestizos.” This is not hyperbole. Not only did the “Latinx” crowd reject the idea of asserting an indigenous identity, they were openly hostile towards those of us that do so (see below).
You see, asserting a native identity just isn’t cool to these folks. After all, to be “Latin” is to be hip, sexy, and perhaps most importantly, modern. But to be Indigenous is to be backwards, uneducated, and trapped in the past. Our indigenous cultural inheritance is viewed as a liability – an unwanted reminder of where we come from. Who wants to be a dirty Indian when you can be a spicy Latin, right? Mainstream America got a glimpse into this racist mindset recently when video emerged of a white “Latino” from Argentina attacking an indigenous Mexican man on the streets of Los Angeles. The video went viral and sparked outrage in the Chicano-Mexicano community, yet I can’t help but wonder who the “Latinx” crowd was rooting for while they watched it.
Ultimately, I think this desire for whiteness (“Latinidad”) and perceived modernity is the driving force behind “Latinx” motivations – at least among those who attacked my indigenous identity. One of my detractors proudly stated, “to decolonize should not mean indigenize.” This racist attitude brings to mind the “indigenismo” projects of post-revolutionary Mexico, in which the motto “Mexicanize Indians, Don’t Indianize Mexico” was the order of the day.
I find it ironic that, despite all efforts to appear “woke” in the eyes of their peers, my “Latinx” detractors have internalized the racist, anti-indigenous attitudes that the “latino” identity has engendered. The French strategy of creating a language-based coalition built around the Latin language and a common “Latino” identity has had the effect of triggering indigenous erasure via the homogenization of identity.
A common mantra in the “call-out culture” is “check your privilege,” yet these folks cling to the privilege afforded to those who embrace the “Latin” identity. Here’s a tip: the next time you feel entitled to rewrite history in order to advance your Eurocentric agenda?
Check your privilege.
As for me? I remain proudly indigenous.
Interested in learning more? Check out my book “Totacho: Our Way Of Talking” available on Amazon.com. In it, I detail the major influence that the Nawatl language has had on the “Spanish” spoken by Chicanos and Chicanas in the Southwest.
Kurly Tlapoyawa is an archaeologist, author, and ethnohistorian. His research focuses primarily on the interaction between Mesoamerica, Western Mexico, and the American Southwest. Kurly has lectured at UNLV, University of Houston, and Yale University on topics related to Mesoamerica. His recent book, “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” was published in 2017. In addition to his work in Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Kurly is a professional stuntman with over 35 credits to his name. Kurly lives in New Mexico.
Follow Kurly on twitter @KurlyTlapoyawa
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Thoughtful and triggering piece.
I’m having similar thoughts on my own identity. I was born in MX but feel uncomfortable in trying to learn about my indigenous culture, mostly because I don’t have enough information about my indigenous roots. The overwhelming indigenous cultural and linguistic diversity in Mexico almost paralyzes me–I think this is why I used to have comfort in Latinx, because it was one of the very few identifiers I have for connecting with my culture. I primarily use Mexicana as my “label,” but I’m wondering if there are any tips on how to start a journey like this. I imagine it’s not like,”okay, well I’m from Tamaulipas, so I’ll just choose the tribes closest to that area and identify as that.”
I see the author’s point about not erasing indigeneity but I personally (and many of my other friends who are half mexican and half central american) couldn’t fully identify with the term Chicano because it was too Mexican-American-centric. Latinx feels like it covers a wider portion of us and I always thought the X was not only gender neutral language but also a homage to Nahuatl or other indigenous languages that heavily use X. Nice thought provoking article.
“I find it ironic that, despite all efforts to appear “woke” in the eyes of their peers, my “Latinx” detractors have internalized the racist, anti-indigenous attitudes that the “latino” identity has engendered. ”
That’s what it is man. The whole PC, I’m woker than you game, it can’t be won. It’s all a front, it’s about a specific political package that disguises itself as “social justice”. They will only go along with you as long as you go along with them on everything. You would be better off to just be honest and original instead of appealing to wokeness, people see how fake it is and they want something real.