By Ernesto Mireles, Ph.D.
“The masses of Chicanos need their own political party to act as a unifying force and as a theoretical and practical guide to action. This party must be built by and for the large mass of Chicanos. Misguided action is at best wasted action, at worst it is counterproductive. Partido Raza Unida is the vehicle to insure action that is productive and which furthers the struggle of our people.”
If the past four years of Donald Trump have proven anything, it is that the foundation of Xicana/o/x political self-determination must be the creation of a nationwide political vehicle to harness the power, momentum, and political will of 60 million brown gente. It is equally apparent the only way that happens is by building an intentionally political organization at the local, state, and national level as Xicana/o/x people’s storm into the 21st century.
The political gift of this moment for Xicana/o/x is the crystallization of these facts: The US national race narrative was, is, and continues to center on Black and White relations. Xicana/o/x are experiencing a major episode of erasure that stems from an attempt to remake brown folks in the United States into white Latinx foreigners divested from the land and millenniums of indigenous existence in the Americas.
This campaign of whiteness centering on Latinization subordinates Xicana/o/x as political afterthoughts rhetorically managed by settler tirades on border walls, prison camps for kids, the myth of illegality, and then re-managed by colonialism’s brown lackeys with childish tirades on cultural appropriation, and the white racist myth of blood quanta.
Government directed COINTELPRO type propaganda fans the flames of political confusion in the streets of the barrio and on the little screens of a million viewers and is hardly the sole domain of Russian trolls. The trolling of native people began over 500 years ago with European land grabs, forced conversion to Christianity, stories of vast empty wilderness and outright murder.
The centuries long European settler psyops called the United States that forged the post-conquest social, economic, and political despondency in our community, into the unending bickering and rampant political apathy is primarily a direct product of indigenous genocide. A genocide, which evolved through the 20th and into the 21st century as political self-erasure, reinforced by the settler legal system to secure European’s an ancestral place in their new world “homeland.”
Within the past few decades, one of the main barriers to meaningful Xicana/o/x national political conversation is the belief that each individual is the only expert of their own situation. The idea of their situation is also problematic in the sense it becomes the entire context of their political understanding. Therefore, the inviolate nature of the “individual” becomes the supreme arbitrator of designing political action. This makes it almost impossible for anyone outside the specific perceived community to provide help even though the expertise in how to create social change may not be present in that community.
What if the local community has no experience in organizing, building organizations, and power; imagine the expertise stops at their own cultural restrictions, and geographic boundaries. Is this really, where Xicano liberation has evolved to after five plus centuries of struggle?
Raza Unida Party, and other Xicana/o/x organizations need a national political conversation. One that brings local organizations and leaders together in a national political forum in addition to their local community politics, and that creates structures within our current negative colonial space to advance a national brown Xicana/o/x politic. This political need becomes more evident as Xicana/o/x push back against a full-blown identity war brought on by settler psyops working to destroy any talk of Xicano self-determination and autonomy.
Juan Jose Pena, a former chair of the Raza Unida Party in the 1980s, wrote a series of papers that were never released to the public. Pena titled these documents “internal discussion bulletins.” He wrote six specific papers.
In Discussion Bulletin 1 that was written in 1979 and titled “THE CHICANO MOVEMENT, THE SOUTHWEST, AND THE ROLE OF THE NATIONAL AND STATE PARTIDO DE LA RAZA UNIDA.” Pena lays out his timeline vision of the Xicano movement over the next 20 years. What is interesting about Pena’s prediction is that he calls for a national Xicano plebiscite in the year 2000.
Pena understood it was time to do something we had never done before, which is why the plebiscite is listed. In the 173 years since the end of the Mexican American War Xicana/o/x have never truly voted free from settler interference on issues important to the Xicano community. Pena was right to call for a plebiscite; he saw the future of the party and movement at that moment. He saw, understood, and was participating in the revolutionary moment that had taken over the Raza Unida Party.
The last four years of Donald Trump along with the pandemic have brought a dose of badly needed political reality to the Xicano movement. The agent provocateur position of identity politics laced with cancel culture has not produced a mass movement or at the very least an individualized liberatory practice. The ongoing deep intersectional fracturing of Xicana/o/x politics has concretized our subjugated political, cultural, and economic position to the point of perceived inevitability.
Even as you all read this, you are thinking to yourself this is foolishness – everyone knows Xicana/o/x cannot politically accomplish this level of political unity – we fight with each other too much, backstab each other, and pull each other down like crabs in a bucket. Even more seriously, we just do not have the leadership, which is to say the structures of Xicana/o/x governance simply do not exist even in their most rudimentary form. We spend so much time building political networks for white folks it is inconceivable to the majority of Raza that it does not have to be like that. If Raza worked as hard politically for itself as it does for white politicians, the joke would be on them – not us.
What this means is that as we participate in, and witness the end of this settler power struggle we once again are forced to acknowledge their power struggle has little to do with how brown voices will be heard. Sure, we turned out in mass and helped elect one of the candidates, and our reward? Public denunciation because we did not all vote for him – just most of us. See they say – you cannot trust them settlers sense we are always holding something back. Always holding back our total allegiance or at least a piece that can never belong to the settler, and they know it.
Xicana/o/x must find ways to make Indigenous political aspirations manifest within local communities even if, at first they seem ridiculous and silly. This political process is about rebirthing, nurturing, and protecting an open political system by imagining, and then practicing what Xicana/o/x politics looks like on a national scale not just statewide or local. Genocide, and the resultant cultural, social, economic, and political devastation has by design limited our political imagination to the local or even smaller the personal, one reason those levels are so fiercely defended, it is all we can imagine.
Say the word NATION to a roomful of Xicana/o/x and an argument about whether or not people should be called Xicano or Latino will immediately break out. Which in my opinion is a very odd response. It does make it clear we are currently incapable of discussing nation, power, centralization of policy, and mechanisms of enforcement not because we disagree but because we simply do not understand the terms. Our own group identity continues to escape our understanding. Pena writes,
The Chicano community of the United States has long struggled to overthrow the chains of oppression and exploitation imposed upon it by a brutal, racist, imperialist, and white government. Throughout this struggle, the oppressors have used all the mechanisms at their disposal to destroy these efforts. But our people have survived and endured to carry on the battle for freedom, Justice, equality and self-determination.
What if the average Xicana/o/x could defend the honor of their brown nation as staunchly as the corner down the block? That feeling of territorial possession is a phenomenon manifested by bringing Xicana/o/x organizations together, it is shocking when we first contemplate it. Mostly because not enough of us have thought through possession of territory beyond what belongs to settlers, that level of political response, that feeling of ownership is foreign to our worldview and even vaguer and harder to imagine is the path to national liberation, a return to history that requires us to disavow a comfortable existence within this settler colonial system. What does it mean to turn our backs on everything we know to return to a history that is yet to be written?
It seems fanciful and over dramatic to insinuate the act of bringing Xicano movement organizations together to invest in the political existence of each other would create a situation where so much is at stake. Nevertheless, it does, and it does this because structures of settlerism become more fragile as settler history moves further from the initial conquest and as the racialized exploitation, settlers have subjected Black and Brown people to is increasingly critiqued and exposed for the underlying falsehoods of our fabricated existence. Our nightmare becomes theirs as Xicana/o/x see escape from settler colonialism is more and more possible.
This 2020 election, and the four years leading up to it more than any other I can remember has laid bare the fragility of the US settler colonialism. After four years of overt racism straight from the bully pulpit it is clear the determination we feel in our black and brown bodies is the output of the first real cracks in settler hegemony. The opportunity to manage politically the future or at least the immediate future of the Xicana/o/x movement exposes real fractures across the settler system.
The Raza Unida Party is developing strategies for healing those fractures and bringing together diverse Xicana/o/x peoples with seemingly different missions to pursue a larger agenda centering on the Xicano/Indigenous movement. The legacy of the colonial binary and Xicana/o/x resistance has posed the question of belonging, do we expand our energy in becoming the brown managers of a white reality, or in building a brown reality, we own?
“The only worthwhile dogma, it is repeatedly stated is the union of the national against colonialism.” - Frantz Fanon