Whither Aztlan?

I am Xicano, maybe Xicanx, it looks cool. I am also a fervent Aztlanista. I believe in Aztlan and the political potential of that concept. I have spent my adult life working to see that potential realized. I am a revolutionary nationalist. I say this as the spouse of an Anishinaabe woman, father of four, the grandfather of seven, a three decade organizer, former Brown Beret, founder of the Xicano Development Center, college professor and Marxist. Being Xicanx and my belief in the political possibilities of Aztlan are important to how I’ve lived my life, the way I’ve raised my children, the things I tell my students in class.


I have no rants about whiny millennials or bratty gender warriors who make people say their pronouns. I like millennials (my kids are millennials) and honestly, what kind of person are you, if you can’t address someone how they want to be addressed? Get over yourself and your grammar/language rules. It’s all made up anyway – ALL OF IT.


Currently, there are multiple social media conversations on Twitter and Facebook asserting the “movimiento” meaning the Xicano movement belongs to the youth. This idea of ownership is absurd, in an existential sense (wildly unreasonable). It was absurd in the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s, and 1960s. The Chicanx/Xicanx/Latinx/IndigenousX (insert word) movement (?) does not belong to the youth, nor is it youth led. The Xicanx movement is and always has been an intergenerational effort to secure independence from the settler colonial system. The only people who believe the Xicanx movement is a youth led movement are (possibly) “the youth” whoever that might be and older professionals, mostly it seems college professors, who I know for a fact don’t actually believe it but are, capitalizing on the kamikaze actions of students encouraging them to “revolt” while simultaneously distancing themselves from the carnage, remaining silent once the battle is begun by hiding behind mortgages, and tenure bids. Which is exactly I believe what is happening right now with the MEXA name change, older intellectuals using younger activists to settle old scores and vendettas, a magnificent coup years in the making and brilliant in its patient execution.


It is through this abdication of movement building responsibility in declaring or fixing the responsibility for social change solely on “the youth” that in spite of the non stop declarations of its arrival, the reality is, a youthful leaderless movement will never arrive. It is imagining politics in the same way small children are assembled on a playground by their parents - ruckus ensures, friendships and alliances are formed instantaneously and then everyone goes home for dinner. This surface analysis of leadership and power enfeebles the wielder on the same level as when we accuse each other of being ideologues. We are all ideologues. Ideology is the garbage can from which we eat. Chicanx/Xicanx/Latinx/ IndigenousX positionalities couldn’t even have a dialogue about political futures/possibilities sans ideology. So, thanks for playing.

Xicanx/Latinx/IndigenousX activists who think they are building leaderless pre-figurative movements are for the most part without a working analysis of state power, in a real sense they place the actions, feelings, and well being of the individual at the fulcrum of change, rather than the need to build mass movements that challenge the state. This focus on individual identity is especially ineffective when confronting state power/settler colonialism/neoliberalism, because whether the proponents of this position realize it or not, they have been “ideologically” co-opted by contemporary anarchism which was itself co-opted by Christian pacifists in the 1930s. As multiple scholars and revolutionaries have shown pacifism protects the state, it is a manifestation of white supremacy. writes Kristen Williams, anarchist and author of the pamphlet “Whither Anarchism”.


In my opinion and experience the type of prefigurative politics performed by MEChistas at the recent MEChA National conference is a perpetuation of hegemonic white segregation, a perverse color blindness that gate guards indigeneity through a blood quantum and documentation from the settler government. While simultaneously attacking a political idea, Aztlan, that serves and has served as a space for imaging Xicanx national liberation for the past 50 years. Aztlan has gaining notoriety to the point it is referenced on national newscasts and by right wing pundits in the early 2000s as the “reconquista” and currently as illegal immigration.


Contemporary Aztlan has little to do with the pre-Columbian myth. Aztlan, in the present exists primarily as an irredentist, political attempt by a strata of the Xicanx community in the United States, the same strata that has over the past 50 years overwhelming emerged from MEChA/MEXA. Aztlan is the main vehicle by which Xicanx people have declared a state of conflict with settler colonialism. Aztlan was and still is the only demand of the Chicano power movement not rooted in civil rights reform but categorically challenges white settler society by demanding political sovereignty. Aztlan is also the only demand from the Chicano Power Movement that has not suffered outright defeat and complete dismissal by the forces of settler colonialism, Aztlan remains an imminent challenge whose danger lies in not in the past but in future political possibilities.


Rupert Emerson writes in his book From Nation to Empire that nation can be defined as a “terminal community – the largest community which, when the chips are down, effectively commands men’s loyalty, overriding the claims of both lesser communities within it and those which cut across it or potentially enfold it within a still greater society.” In response to this definition, I argue, that Xicano Nationalism has brought about a space, that we call Aztlan, that is big enough to hold and nurture all the dialogues that have so effectively challenged misogyny, patriarchy and homo and transphobia in the Xicanx movement while simultaneously maintaining an umbrella Xicanx identity.


Many might chaff under this assertion but as the argument begins let us agree on one thing - the challenge to patriarchy, misogyny, homo and transphobia, those resistance narratives certainly did not happen under the mercifully contrite direction of settler colonial structures. Are their those who call themselves Xicano/Indigenous nationalists who embody hurtful and dehumanizing practices – yes. But they hardly represent the totality of the nation. Just as supporters of Donald Trump hardly represent the totality of citizens in the United States.


Aztlan as it stands is a political, intellectual, social, economic, spiritual, and possibly armed challenge to US settler colonialism. If the idea of Aztlan seems fantastical, it is fantastical in the same sense as all indigenous sovereignty, because settler colonial education has consigned Indigenous people (re: Xicanx people) to history as political failures. Professor Juan Gomez Quinones, in his book Indigenous Quotient/Stalking Words writes,

“according to denial politics, Indians have no politics. Instead of governance, Indians were said to have authorities; instead of laws, chieftains; instead of resistance, violence. Europeans often argued that Indian bellicosity remained unorganized and that most Indian groups lacked even tyranny as a form of governance. Hence, by their own failings, Indians could not be the beneficiaries of rights. This argument not only underlined Indians alleged inferiority, but in addition allowed Europeans to order them.”

Latinx proxy political narratives, on behalf of native people, seem natural because whether Latinx youth understand their own motives or not the infantilized political position of indigenous people within the settler colonial context has been internalized - Indian people have no politics. What other reason could possible impel a group of Latinx students to paint the idea of Aztlan - the one surviving anti statist political project of the Xicano movement as imperialist and colonialist? Imagining they are providing a protection for native people, because according to the settler colonial narrative Indian people have no political voice of their own, they are unorganized and as a result of this these students feel it is their duty to “order them”. I ask all of you to consider who in this equation are the ones carrying forward the agenda of settler colonialism?


The first US census was taken in 1790 and only counted white and black persons. In 1848 when the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed there were between 70 to 90,000 persons who remained in the former northern mexican territories that could be legally counted as citizens of the United States. In the 1930 census, the first and only time the question Mexican was used on the census their were three million Mexicans living in the Southwest United States. By 1970, one year after Alurista introduces the concept of Aztlan to the Xicano movement there are 9.1 million. According to a 2010 Pew Hispanic Center report,

“As of July 1, 2008, there were over 46.9 million Hispanics residing in America and this number is only looking to increase exponentially over the years ... In 2010, Census projections are that 47.8 million people (33 million or so of those being Mexican American) will self-define as Hispanic, but in 2050, only 40 years from now, that number will grow to an astonishing 132.8 million people, constituting approximately 30 percent of the overall U.S. population at that point.”

The growth from 1970 to 2050 represents a 1359.34 percent increase over an 80 year period. If I am still alive in 2050 I will be 84 years old. My youngest child will be a mere 42 years old. A full decade younger than I am today. I point all this out because it is important to understand that this is all happening within the course of your lifetime and mine. It is a brown repopulation of Turtle Island. There is no escaping the impact of that brown bodied growth in politics, culture and the search for sovereignty. By 2050 one third of all the bodies in this country will be descendents of indigenous survivors. What does that mean though in terms of present political development? Professor Gomez-Quinones writes,

“Being Indigenous is the conscious experience of Native descent and lived culture historically situated in the Americas; of a historical memory related to awareness of a Native group membership; and of an ethos that recognizes exploitation and discrimination, past, present and future. Indigenism involves understanding the convergence of history and the present, and gaining from this understanding a motivation to change the present.”

Understand this critical point, Aztlan as a political and cultural idea has survived because settler colonialism continues to thrives. Abandoning the politico-cultural hope of Aztlan is one stage of the final surrender. As the descendents of indigenous people we inhabit and navigate a dystopic and apocalyptic setting unimaginable by our ancestors. People that certainly understood being conquered or conquering but mostly likely had little conception of systematic intentional extermination centuries long.


For the past 500 years Indigenous people have literal been hunted and murdered on sight. When after 400 or so years the practice of mass human slaughter fell out of favor we were remitted to the worst geographic areas - euphemistically called reservations or ghettos - locations that are often polluted beyond reason and unsafe for occupancy. Fences and walls are erected to stop our physical movement, the government mobilizes vast armed forces against us, regular citizen do the same, Our citizenship and loyalty is constantly questioned and suspect. We are under educated and left jobless in a world that requires us to exchange our labor for survival (work).


Our native languages are dead and dying. We are denounced as murderers, rapist and thieves, on a daily basis from the bully pulpit of the most powerful person in the world. Asymmetrical war is our constant companion and all around us even in our safest moments the whoop whoop of the a police siren is an immediate reminder of how close death always is. This is our 500 year extinction scenario. And yet as we speak the one political challenge to the settler colonial state is named imperialist and colonising toward other indigenous peoples by Xicanx youth because it articulates a desire for political sovereignty by Xicanx peoples?


The 2010 Census, reports 194, 949 Mexican-Americans self identified as Native American making Xicanos the 3rd largest grouping of native people in the country. Nation is a self identifier, it is by definition the largest grouping that commands the loyalty of the people the differences within that grouping range from the extreme far left to the far reaches of the right. I believe in the return to history, through the end of settler colonialism and that, this end, can only be brought about by a protracted national liberation struggle that joins the cultural with the political.


Asad Haider in his book Mistaken Identities: Racial Politics in the Age of Trump writes this about the Black revolutionary nationalist, “What nationalism meant was a political perspective: black activists organizing themselves rather than following the lead of white organizations, building new institutions instead of seeking entry into white society.” That is the essence of the irredentist political project called Aztlan.


I submit to those assemble that current US immigration policies are in reality and practice anti-indigenous counter insurgencies measures designed to stem the growth of potential anti-colonial resistance in the United States. Psychological operations, also know as PSYOPS are underway across this globe. Intelligence gathering reaches into the some of the most remote areas of our world, and it is naive to assume that the same long term low intensity disruption is not happening among the fastest growing indigenous population in the United States. Cholos can understand Morrissey but not Marx or Mao? The undermining of direct action, pro-sovereignty, anti setter politics in the Xicano community is perhaps the biggest clue to the active recruitment of Latinx intellectuals on college campus’ by the colonial settler state. How can we even begin to imagine only white professors are recruited by the FBI and the CIA for domestic matters.


I am today the same as when I was born, a brown person. However, I chose to walk a path of indigenous resistance. I have devoted my life and my family's fortune to the struggle against settler colonialism.


I have done my time in MEXA. As a member of Michigan State University Movimiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan (MSU MEXA) for the decade of the 1990s, and after that as an advisor for countless iterations of MEXA at Michigan State. I know about the challenges student organizers can face. Today as a college professor, and human being, I also understand the developmental issues young adults are going through. The need to tear down idols, it might be a pain in the ass but it is Punk as Fuck. I’ve been there, I get it.


And yet, like any grassroots political project, the power of Aztlan, lies in the complicating of Aztlan, in the complicating of what it means to be Xicanx, believing we will arrive at the material truth only through a deep investigation into the internal contradictions.


Racially, my life has been a mass of those contradictions, a white mother, a mexican father, a black step father. The cultural-political decisions I’ve made are constantly informed by embracing the contradictions those three world views brought to my awareness. Holding these three pieces of my identity, who I am, in my heart and then coming to the conclusion I am Xicano and believe in Aztlan not because my biological father is Mexican, but because it represents and articulates my political and cultural desire: the total dismantling of the settler colonial state and by proxy the end of capitalism.


Nation, by definition is not exclusionary. It is by definition the largest grouping of people that can command loyalty. Aztlan is not exclusionary it is open to all who will allow it to command their loyalty.


I leave you with the words of Apaxu Maiz from his book “Looking for Aztlan: birthright or right for birth,”

“We can no longer hide behind poems, songs, dance, talk, articles fantasy and maps. The concept of Aztlan as it stands among Xicanos today is frivolous fantasy. It is time to graduate to real solutions and real actions … finally, I believe the challenge is not the discovery of Aztlan and the birthright it magically would give us, but the challenge of building Aztlan, because it is right for birth.”
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