Indigenous Adaptations to a Changing Social Environment in the El Paso Borderlands and the Tigua of Ysleta del Sur

Review by Scott Comar

Extinction or Survival?: The Remarkable Story of the Tigua, an Urban American Indian Tribe
S.K. Adam
Paradigm Publishers, 2009
220 pages

Examining cultural continuity, sovereignty, agency, and identity, S.K. Adam’s Extinction or Survival?: The Remarkable Story of the Tigua, an Urban American Indian Tribe reveals how the Tigua Indians of Ysleta, Texas negotiated their cultural perseverance amidst dominant American notions of indigeneity. Beginning with an overview of Tigua culture, Adam interconnects the Tigua experience with American expansion, national policies, and contemporary issues, such as Indian gaming and the right to sovereignty and self-determination. Posing that essentialist representations of indigeneity are a prerequisite for social and legal acceptance as being a real Indian, Adam argues that “contemporary Tigua culture is a product of particular cultural responses to various and changing majority rules.”

Using a circular approach that chronologically advances throughout each chapter, Adam concludes with the current debate over Ysleta’s Speaking Rock Casino. As an anthropologist, he blends an eclectic of secondary works into a multidisciplinary synthesis that involves history, cultural theory, anthropology, sociology, and political science. The scholars he draws from include James Axtell, James, James A. Clifton, Vine Deloria Jr., and Nicholas Houser, to name a few. His ethnographic methodology falls into the category of ethnohistory and contributes to Tigua historiography as the most recent scholarly work to discuss tribal identity, history, and contemporary issues in micro and macro perspectives which connect the local with the national. Moreover, Adam connects the past with the present by addressing the extinction dilemma facing the Tigua because of the one-eighth blood quantum criterion for tribal membership. Including an historical overview of Federal Indian policies and explications of American dominant society’s stereotypes of indigeneity, Extinction offers a comparative analysis of local realities and national expectations. For example, Adam contrasts federal and Tigua identity norms by writing that being Tigua “is not tied to legal descriptions or degrees of blood or what outsiders may or may not think about Indian authenticity.” Instead, it is tied to traditional ways of knowing that are passed on to tribal members and descendants, whether or not they are official tribal members.

Adam informs scholars about the benefits of translation, interpretation, and comparison between and within the polemics of identity politics, indigeneity, and historical memory. He also illuminates how primary sources hold multiple meanings in different cultural arenas, i.e. legal, tribal and political. By considering how indigenous identities are cultural responses to majority perceptions of Indianness, Adam suggests that ceremonial Indian performances serve dual purposes: they maintain indigenous cultural continuity and negotiate public acceptance of the performing group as Indian. In this way, Adam effectively deconstructs Tigua identity politics. Although Adam discussed New Deal Indian policy at the national level, he missed the bus to the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, where the Tigua made President Franklin Delano Roosevelt an honorary cacique. Yet Adam does mention the trip to Dallas when discussing the tribe’s adaption of special uniforms for public ceremonies. Revealing that the Tigua dressed one way for public ceremonial performance and another for private, shows how the tribe adapted to public perceptions of Indianness.

Ultimately, Extinction or Survival elucidates that historians need to consider the power dynamics of indigenous identity formation when examining their primary source materials. As such, public historical stereotypes of Indianness, anachronistic expectations, and romanticized notions of historical memory should all be considered in relation to the competing policy agendas that exist behind the curtains of indigenous ceremonial performances. In closing, Adam informs scholars of the need to consider multiple views and comparatively assess primary sources, imploring them to look beyond the source and into the socio-political context within which it was written. Thus, Extinction or Survival is a must read for historians and anthropologists alike, and is a great addition to any Americanist’s library.

The Deeper Truth About Spanish Colonization

Review by Scott Comar

Indian Conquistadors: Indigenous Allies in the Conquest of Mesoamerica
Laura E. Matthew and Michael R. Oudijk, Eds.
University of Oklahoma Press, 2007
349 pages

This anthology elucidates how colonial Spain’s conquest of Mexico and Central America would have been impossible without alliances with indigenous peoples. From 1519 to 1620, the Tlaxcalteca, Mexica, Zapotec, Maya, and various other indigenous groups enabled Spanish conquest and colonization from Honduras to Saltillo as “indios conquistadores,” who served as coerced laborers and conscripted soldiers, as volunteer auxiliaries, as warriors and colonial settlers, and as role models of exemplary behavior for un-colonized indigenous peoples. Illustrating that these categories often overlapped, Indian Conquistadors is comprised of the work from an array of historians and anthropologists who deconstruct the myth of Spanish conquest and reveal that colonial expansion was contingent upon the armies of Spain’s indigenous allies.

Indian Conquistadors is divided into nine chapters. First, Michel Oudijk and Matthew Restall present how Spanish conquest hinged upon indigenous alliances through intermarriage, preceding conquests, pre-established indigenous trade networks, and indigenous opportunities for social mobility and exemption from tribute through land grants and lordships. Then, Florine G. L. Asselbergs uses indigenous pictographs, such as the lienzo of Quauhquechollan, to show that some indigenous peoples perceived Spaniards as equals and themselves as distinct from others. In chapter three, Laura E. Matthew discusses how various indigenous peoples conquered Guatemala for Spain, received privileges as elites, and then lost them as the colonial order established itself. Next, Robison Herrera discusses how native women acted as “intermediaries” through intermarriage with Spanish elites during early colonization. Yet as colonization progressed, these “strategic alliances” decreased and often compromised their agency. In chapter five, Ida Altman reveals how over 20,000 indigenous people helped Spain conquer Nueva Galicia. Then in chapters six and seven, John Chuchiak and Yanna Yannakakis reveal that although indigenous peoples conquered the Yucatan and Oaxaca, colonial Spain soon forgot them and many lost the privileges they had earned as “indigenous conquistadors.” In chapter eight, Stephanie Wood interprets a series of indigenous paintings to show how Indians co-opted Spanish behaviors for these privileges. Ultimately, Bret Blosser illustrates how indigenous archers received political autonomy until the end of the colonial period for their services to the Crown on the Nueva Galicia frontier. Thus, Indian Conquistadors enriches our understanding of Spanish imperialism by moving the narrative beyond the simplicity of Tlaxcalan aid in helping Cortez conquer Tenochtitlan. Revealing a new complexity of contact relations, this book rearticulates the power dynamics of Spain’s colonial expansion, revealing indigenous agency in the process.

These scholars use various secondary and primary sources which include the Archivo General de Indias in Seville, Spain, the Biblioteca Nacional de Antropología y Historia in Mexico City, and the Archivo General de Centro América in Guatemala City, among others. Their strength is in their new interpretation of old documents, which places indigenous peoples in the narrative as more than passive recipients of imperial dominion. Their weakness in focusing on only certain periods and places is understandable due to the spatial limitations of the project. Yet as a U.S.-Mexico Borderlands historian, I would have appreciated an essay showing these power dynamics in Nueva Vizcaya and Nuevo Mexico. Nevertheless, Indian Conquistadors adds a new dimension to Borderlands history as it illuminates the dynamics of contact, contestation and collusion between indigenous peoples and Spain’s colonists and settlers during the period of colonial expansion on Mesoamerica’s frontiers.

Letter from the Editor: 2012

Our third annual issue of Nakum celebrates the Winter Solstice of 2012, a cosmic event for Indigenous peoples of the Americas as represented in the Mayan calendar. To introduce this issue, I invited Carlos Aceves, who not only shares, through teaching, his vast knowledge of indigenous Mesoamerican knowledge, but who also inspired the creation of Nakum. —LF

There is an old proverb asserting that “to practice science without a conscience is to become a thief rather than a scientist.” One of the seemingly unavoidable sins of academia, is to justify the social structure upon which it relies regardless of principle. Nakum arose out of need for a forum of unheard voices, to present knowledge often judged as primitive, esoteric, or contradicting accepted research. As part of its challenge, Nakum seeks contributors that can explain concepts contemporary western reality dismisses simply because Native thought emerged in “prehistory” or circumstances often referred to as “the wild.”

To the indigenous mind everything is alive, especially knowledge. Words are whispers of Creation, concepts are the long arms of elders stretching across time to guide us, and scientific ideas are dreams ancients wove in their dance with the universe. Discovery is a collaboration not only with those in the present but with generations past and future. Stephen Hawking, for instance, can express such quantum realities as physics, but such an indigenous discourse is automatically classified as mystical or mythic.

When the ancients created calendars that synchronized the motions of the heavens with Earth and human cycles, they were being quite scientific, but not in the “thief” sense. Rather than wrest knowledge out of natural phenomena, they embraced the deeper realities of Creation. But as the year 2012 approached, these tracked cycles have been dismissed by NASA astronomers and reframed as a doomsday by mystics trained in three-day workshops.

What we are experiencing this fateful year is both scientifically and spiritually serious. We have seen how the eight-year Pleiades and Venus alignment cycle is weaved in the Transit of Venus across the sun, and both cycles integrate with the sun’s 5,125 year visit to the dark rift just above the center of the galaxy, where we now know a black hole resides. This cycle is part of a greater cycle in which five different stars take turns, if you will, being the North Star—a cycle that takes 25,625 years. Hence, the now famous 26,000 year cycle. Human beings long ago discovered that celestial events are related to Earth cycles. Knowledge of how Earth and sky are integration provides a model for our own kinship with Creation. —CA

Banning the “Aztec Calendar”: Indigenous, Maiz-based Knowledge at the Heart of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies Curriculum and Conflict

By: Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez and Norma Gonzalez


The banning of the Aztec Calendar in a Tucson classroom in 2012, was the symbolic culmination of a six-year effort to destroy the district’s highly successful Mexican-American Studies (MAS) department. This mind-numbing act gives the public a glimpse into the level of conflict and censorship present during this “debate”; it is a form of censorship that went beyond the banning of books. In effect, this conflict is about civilizational war. And to the chagrin of those promoting this war, this effort has boomeranged; the attack on the MAS program has created an unprecedented interest in Indigenous knowledge, history, and culture. The destruction of Tucson’s MAS program as also created a teaching moment of what is commonly referred to as the Aztec Calendar or the Sun Stone, though more precisely known as the Tonalmachiotl.

The Tonalmachiotl was created over many centuries. The one most people are familiar with was chiseled in the 1400s in Mesoamerica and currently resides in Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology. The interest in learning how to read it, especially in the United States, is very much on the rise.

Exploring this growing phenomenon, Dr. Cintli examines, in the first part of this essay, examines the political context of the efforts to prevent the teaching of Mexican history and culture. In the second part, MAS teacher Norma Gonzalez touches on the contents of the Tonalmachiotl, whose teaching was banned in Tucson schools in 2012.

The Political Context

When the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) governing board voted in January of 2012 to suspend its Mexican-American Studies department, chaos ensued. Contrary to what the board and the district’s superintendent, Dr. John Pedicone, had been telling the community for months, that vote did not suspend the department; rather, it abolished it. This is the same department that was graduating close to 100 percent of its students and sending close to eighty percent of them on to college.1

Perhaps the most underreported aspect of this conflict is that shortly after the department was dismantled, one of the MAS teachers, Norma Gonzalez, co-author of this article, was told that she could not teach the Aztec Calendar to her students. In a symbolic sense, this spoke volumes. Indeed, this prohibition on teaching the Tonalmachiotl confirmed the idea that the debate was a civilizational war—a characterization that was first advanced by former state school superintendent, Tom Horne. When Horne first began this campaign to eliminate Tucson’s MAS department, that is, he advanced the idea that it needed to be done because the MAS curriculum was purportedly outside of Western Civilization. Indeed, there are few symbols more connected to Mexico’s Indigenous roots and history than this Pre-Columbian calendar, a calendar so exact that it continues to be more advanced than the Western Gregorian calendar in use today.2

Despite the significance of this incident involving the censuring of the Aztec Calendar, it has never been widely reported by the mainstream media. In part, this may be due to the fact that after the dismantling, chaos ensued in Tucson schools, primarily because this action took place in the middle of the school year in response to the 2010 anti-ethnic studies HB 2281 legislation. What would happen to the teachers, the students and the curriculum, became not academic questions, but trauma that was played out in real time in Tucson classrooms. Overnight, no one was quite sure what was legal or illegal, or what was permissible inside of the classroom. In one case, after student Nico Dominguez spoke at the previous school board meeting, he was pulled out of his classroom at Tucson High School by TUSD security personnel.3

During this chaotic time, MAS teachers were given nine directives, explaining what they could expect thereafter, including what they could and could not teach.4 The directives had the additional chilling effect that even students were unclear as to how they could interact in class. The first directive is jarring: “assignments can not direct students to apply MAS perspectives.” In the 43-year history of MAS/Raza Studies, there are no known parameters that define or limit “Mexican American Studies perspectives.” That the district would attempt to constrict the teachers was an apparent attempt to also constrict the discipline and its perspectives. The second directive banned MAS books and other teaching materials, including art and posters, from the classroom. Aside from the resulting district-wide walkouts, most of the attention immediately focused on the book banning which included TUSD personnel entering former MAS classrooms—during class time—boxing books and labeling them “banned books” and shipping them off to the district’s warehouse.

One teacher reported that her computer had been wiped clean and she, along with all the MAS teachers, were told to clear up all their MAS books, not just the seven that appeared on a TUSD list.5 The directive involved some additional fifty titles, which constituted the MAS curriculum. To this day, the district and state deny that any books were banned.6 Ironically, despite that denial, one rationale that MAS critics utilized for their removal was that such books—which dealt with such topics as critical race theory—were appropriate for college youths but inappropriate for high school level youths. The critics actually advanced the argument that Ethnic Studies, and Mexican American Studies specifically, were appropriate in college but not high school or younger.7

After the directives were issued, the chaos began as both teachers and students were confounded, not sure of what could be taught or discussed in their classrooms, including what could and could not be written in class. Of the many situations that arose, one, involving MAS teacher, Norma Gonzalez, bears special scrutiny. A few days after the dismantling of MAS, while Gonzalez was teaching the meaning of the Aztec Calendar to her students, the principal instructed her to take down the image. The principal cited the TUSD vote, explaining that because the calendar corresponded to Mexican history and culture, its teaching was now prohibited. One of the great ironies of this situation is that while the calendar apparently could no longer be taught in Mexican American Studies, it could be taught in Native American Studies.8

None of these draconian prohibitions were surprising; another one calls for the regular monitoring and collection (confiscation) of teacher and student work by district and state officials, which has happened. Despite these unprecedented measures, this six-year conflict has actually begun to create a teaching opportunity nationally for Indigenous knowledge. For instance, Gonzalez made the observation that while many Mexican families have an Aztec Calendar in their home, the vast majority don’t know how to read it. Indeed, this observation is true about most Indigenous knowledge in Mexico and Mexican homes. What little is known is viewed as part of the past and function more at the level of artwork or relics, as opposed to living knowledge.

When Horne began his attacks, claiming that MAS was outside of Western civilization and that its roots were not within the Greco–Roman tradition, what he was apparently referencing were the Maya philosophical concepts that anchor the MAS-TUSD department.9 These concepts are In Lak Ech (You are my other Me) and Panche Be (to seek the root of the truth). These concepts teach students to see themselves in each other and to pursue the truth in all that they do. Invariably, this leads students also to fight for social justice. Those concepts are traced not to Europe but to this very continent. However, as Maya scholar Domingo Martinez Paredez explains in Un continente y una cultura (1960), the concepts are actually not Maya, but rather belong to all maiz-based peoples of this continent.

Other elements of the curriculum that can be construed as outside of Western civilization, in addition to the Aztec calendar and these maiz-based philosophies, would be the teaching of other Maya-Nahua or Mesoamerican knowledge. Because of this emphasis on maiz-based knowledge, Horne also alleged that MAS teachers taught the students to see themselves as part of groups (Aztecs or Mayas, apparently), as opposed to individuals.

HB 2281 has precipitated several legal challenges, yet, regardless of how the courts settle this, Mexican-American Studies, particularly with a maiz-based or Indigenous perspective emphasis, is ascendant nationwide.10 Probably at no time since the 1960s has there been this much interest in these studies. The interest nowadays appears to be even more profound because its allure is that Indigenous Knowledge, history, and culture has once again become “forbidden” knowledge.

In this environment, people nationwide, and students in particular, want to know what elements within MAS are considered to be “outside of Western civilization.” Specifically, they want to know about In Lak Ech and Panche Be, the Aztec Calendar, and about the great book of the Maya, the Popol Vuh. Within this book is the creation story of the Maya, how the cosmos was born, and how human beings and maiz were created. This has also sparked interest in other Indigenous (Maya-Mixtec and Aztec-Mexica) codices that contain Indigenous knowledge and history of the continent, including the creation stories of other Indigenous peoples. One such codex, or Amoxtli, is Codex Chimalpopoca, which contains the creation story of the Nahuatl peoples (Legend of the Suns), which is somewhat similar to the Popol Vuh. The knowledge contained within these ancient books is referred to as In Tlilli In Tlapalli—The Red and the Black (Boone 2000). This is the knowledge that students want and are now clamoring for.

The battle to defend MAS-TUSD has created an unprecedented thirst for this knowledge (often found in the few surviving codices), knowledge that has been on this continent for many thousands of years. In these communities, there is also high interest in the Nahuatl (Aztec), Maya, and Quechua (Inca) languages. This also includes a high interest in Mesoamerican mathematical knowledge systems, including the Nepohualtzinzin, and, to a lesser extent, the quipu of the Inca, reputedly 5,000-years old.11 Both of these devices record knowledge; they are not simply counting devices. This also includes interest in the Maya-Nahuatl numbering systems,12 and the culture that has also been preserved in the oral tradition, song, poetry and dance.13

In the United States, in the past, these different kinds of Indigenous knowledge were seen at best as quaint or simply of interest to poets or esoteric and erudite scholars. However, since the advent of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, with an emphasis on In Xochitl In Cuicatl, or Floricanto—Flower and Song—but even more so, as a result of this Arizona conflict, there is a groundswell of interest in these forms of Indigenous knowledge.

Beginning in the fall of 2012, many communities nationwide are set to recommend to their local school boards that maiz or Indigenous-based Mexican-American Studies—with a social justice emphasis—be introduced and taught in their schools.14 It is safe to assume that this is not what Horne had envisioned.15 Now, no one is certain whether Horne’s successor, John Huppenthal, will next come after MAS at the university level, though he has promised he will do so. If he does, no doubt this will create an even greater interest in Indigenous knowledge and studies.

Cultural Relevancy and Maiz-based Curriculum

For the predominantly brown students that attend Tucson Unified School District schools, a maiz-based (corn-based) curriculum possesses a profound relevancy to their humanity, thus imparting purpose for their existence as planetary citizens, effectively rendering them at once responsible and response-able.

Components of a maiz-based curriculum include: identity, discipline, tlanelhualtiliztli (seeking truth for stability), Nehuan Ti Nehuan (I am you and you am I), and cultural relevancy. As colonized people we struggle with identity, as that is what the colonizers immediately attack. Without knowledge of our culture, history, or roots, we are weak individuals; thus, acquiring an authentic identity is critical as a component to cement a positive identity. Acquiring an authentic identity places students on a path towards self-love. Discipline is presented in the manner in which students are in control of their learning and are expected to have confidence in themselves to move in a positive and progressive manner. As such discipline is understood as the training of self, in all aspects, so that we can positively transform the self and the collective. Seeking truth for stability is a requirement as students become academicians through their devotion to research due to the application of critical thinking. Community is the essence of the classroom environment, so students are expected to conduct themselves with the utmost respect for themselves and everyone around them. This is practiced daily through the application of Nehuan Ti Nehuan.

It is through the implementation of these components that students experience love with high standards, the concretizing of an ethnic and academic identity, the expectation that they must be researchers (as the more knowledge they gather about a topic the more stable they will be as authorities on that topic), and a vision of themselves in others as a basis for their interaction with one another.

Relevancy is when a student finds a significant and logical connection to classroom content and knowledge that provides a bearing on the students’ daily lives. This maiz-based curriculum fosters students’ connections to their essence. Within the Mexican American Studies (MAS) curriculum, culture is defined as a “lens,” figuratively speaking, that we utilize to perceive our world. Culture was created as a necessity for humans who first inhabited the Earth so we could live in harmony with our surroundings. Cultural relevancy is the ability to utilize that “lens” in the classroom as a tool for the students to critique, understand, question, value, perceive, apply, evaluate, and to relate to the content that is being presented. Cultural relevancy is what the maiz-based curriculum provides our students to profoundly impact their lives.

Cultural Symbols and the Aztec Calendar

Culture is expressed through language, values, beliefs, etc. and has various characteristics. One of the characteristics of culture is that it is symbolic. Every culture has a set of symbols that expresses its features. As a Mexican indigenous person, many cultural symbols permeated my home as a young girl, and I accepted them as just that, symbols. Growing up, I was particularly interested in the round shaped plaque with many symbols on it; it is commonly known as the “Aztec calendar.”

Today, as a student of Amerindigenous culture, I have come to deeply appreciate and value the teachings embedded in some of those cultural symbols that made up my home as a child. Indeed, they are symbols that are present in most Mexican indigenous homes. Specifically, I have long been a student of the Aztec Calendar, or properly named by its creators: the Tonalmachiotl. It is this symbol precisely that has enlightened me about indigenous Mexican culture and, more generally, all indigenous cultures of this continent. The Tonalmachiotl represents the keys to the cultures indigenous to this continent and should be a required subject taught in all schools on this continent.

This symbol was the point of reference for the development of the former MAS maiz-based curriculum, that is, until I was prohibited from teaching it by my former administrator at a middle school, when the program was dismantled. Upon returning from an administrators’ meeting, my administrator literally stormed into my classroom the day after TUSD killed the program as a result of HB 2281 and stated in front of my students, most of them Mexican, that I was not to teach anything related to that symbol, pointing to the Tonalmachiotl. She stated that the TUSD directives (and specifically the 1st directive) prohibit the teaching of anything that had to do with “Mexican culture.” Needless to say, I was in shock primarily because this is a cultural symbol that permeates the Mexican indigenous homes, restaurants, bakeries, and murals of her very students. The calendar is more “American” than any Greco-Roman symbol that the state of Arizona would have its teachers teach. In fact, according to my co-author, University of Arizona professor Roberto Rodriguez, “Tucson is home to the oldest cornfield in the nation,” thus establishing maiz-based curricula and culture as more indigenous than “America” itself.

Since this event, interest in maiz-based curricula has skyrocketed as educators nationwide have been intrigued by the prohibited curriculum. What follows, then, are lessons on the Tonalmachiotl and maiz-based perspectives.

The Knowledge in the Tonalmachiotl

Profesor Arturo Meza Gutierrez, a respected teacher of Mexican Indigenous culture in Mexico City, states that the Tonalmachiotl communicates to us that we have the right to live a just and happy life and that we must respect the four life-giving elements. Developing a curriculum centered on these precepts appeals to the students’ humanity and yields tremendous growth, as evidenced by human measures. Human measures are expressed through the students level of engagement in life, that is when they engage positively in life because they have a purpose, they have hope that opportunities exist for them as opposed to being in a state of nihilism where we can find students of color because of colonization. A stable identity that allows them to walk in beauty.

Focusing on growth based on these human measures will positively and drastically foster progress in all academic areas, as evidenced by TUSD’s Raza Studies students’ consistent outperforming all other student groups in AIMS (standardized test) scores. This curricular focus imparts to students the keys to their indigenous identity and their rights as planetary citizens of this continent, thus cementing their purpose in life, their responsibility and their sense of self, their humanity.

According to the teaching of our Mexica elders, caretakers of our indigenous history and knowledge, the Tonalmachiotl is based on at least 30,000 years of research and study conducted on the Earth and the Cosmos; it is a scientific documentation and an astronomical account (Meza-Guitierrez). According to Calpolli Teoxicalli, the twelve-foot diameter stone is the culminating product of research conducted by our indigenous elders.16 Our ancestors’ query was centered on living in harmony with all of creation. This research cultivated the knowledge to understand the Earth and her cycles and to effectively and harmoniously work with her and the Cosmos (Calpolli Teoxicalli). Moreover, this knowledge establishes a connection with our inner-self to live in harmony from within and without.

When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 1525, an understanding of these cultural symbols and the knowledge embedded within them was the furthest thing from the Spaniards’ minds; they came to destroy. As colonizers of this region, the Spaniards proceeded to chronicle the history of the Mexica. Purposefully they wrote that the face in the center of the Tonalmachiotl is that of a sun god, but to my understanding, that is a 500-year-old fabricated falsity. Evidence reveals that it is not a sun god as there is no word in Nahuatl to express an idea of a sun god.

According to the teachings of Meza-Gutierrez, the face represents Tlaltecutli, the Earth. Tlaltecutli translates into “our guide”; thus, the Tonalmachiotl is our guide to understanding how to live in harmony with the Earth. The Sun is, however, represented in the form of an Eagle and Butterfly in the center of the Tonalmachiotl, symbolizing an astronomical event that can be witnessed on Earth every year in July.

Among the many documented counts within the Tonalmachiotl, two are of significance and are elaborated in the maiz-based curriculum. The xiuhpohualli (a solar count) represents the solar calendar, which consists of 360 days with 5 days of the nemontemi, a reflection period used to evaluate the previous year with the intent to learn and grow from our lived experiences. The xiuhpohualli consists of eighteen veintenas (20-day cycles) as our ancestors discovered that the climate changes slightly every twenty days. Each twenty-day period that changes in the Earth’s climate is recognized and ceremonial obligations continue to be completed in an effort to assist the Earth or thank the Earth for everything that She provides. This solar count was critical to the survival of our ancestors as it was an agricultural calendar that provided the necessary knowledge for them to grow their sustenance effectively without destroying the Earth. An understanding of this count cements our interdependence with the Earth and establishes our responsibility to respect Her, for ourselves and the many generations hereafter.

The second count, the tonalpohualli (human count), consists of 260 days. The tonalpohualli consists of twenty trecenas (13-day cycles). This count totals 260 days, which is the amount totaling the human gestation period and applies to our development in the womb and the philosophy that the very second we take our first breath we are granted the energies of the day. Additionally, each thirteen-day cycle carries an energy that, when known, can be used. For example, according to the thirteen-day cycle, Ce Tochtli (one rabbit) days carry the energy of completion and maturity, a great time to undertake a project and to complete it.

Knowing the energy of the day on which we were born serves as a guide to realize and develop our potentials and capabilities so that we can fulfill our destiny as human beings to develop our profound potentials and inhabit this Earth and live in harmony with Her. This is what the Tonalmachiotl teaches us. Each day is given the symbol of an animal, a plant, a life-giving element or a symbol of life. For example, the day tochtli (rabbit) carries the energy of fertilization and maturity, and so a person born on the day, rabbit, is granted that energy. As such, that person can be fertile with the creation of ideas and on the completion or maturity of projects. A person born on the day atl, water, has the potential like water to give life, to take the shape of any container that it is housed in. As such, that person will be the giver of life to all things, ideas, and projects and will be well-established in all groups of people just as water conforms to its surroundings.

Each of the twenty days carries a very specific symbol because the elders matched the energy of the day with an animal or element that is representative of the specific energy. The twenty days, which appear counterclockwise in one of the inner circles, are the following: cipactli (crocodile), e’hecatl (wind), calli (house), cuetzpallin (lizard), coatl (serpent), miquitzli (skull), mazatl (deer), tochtli (rabbit), atl (water), itzcuintli (dog), ozomatli (monkey), Malinalli (herb), acatl (reed), Ozelotl (jaguar), cuautli (eagle), cozcacuautli (condor), ollin (movement), tecpatl (flint), qiahuitl ( rain), and xochitl (flower). In a maiz-based curriculum, students are able to find the personal symbols that correspond to their birthday. By knowing these symbols, students have acquired an identity that gives them purpose and direction in life to live in beauty.

Another critical pillar of the maiz-based curriculum is centered on the Nahui-ollin. This way of knowing is extrapolated from the center of the Tonalmachiotl, including the face and the four images in the squares surrounding it. The knowledge reveals a fundamental concept in Aztec-Mexica Cosmology that establishes a guide for everyday life and decisions. Moreover, it guides us in our development towards harmony and balance of the mind, body, and essence that fosters community. This epistemology serves to guide our decision-making in that there is an understanding that as evolutionary beings we grow and become wise through our lived experiences. The cycle consists of the male energies of Tezcatlipoca (reflection), Xipe Totec (transformation), Huitzilopotchtli (our will), and Quetzalcoatl (stability). The Nahui-ollin demonstrates that we must be reflective in our daily actions so that we can learn from them and grow into loving and respectful human beings.

This maiz-based curriculum focuses on the development of identity, purpose, and hope that is appealing to a students’ humanity and not focused on test scores. The focus on human measures is how we can transform the experience of students in the classroom and where we can disrupt the achievement gap.

While some will deny that there is a civilizational war at play here, what is clear is that indigenous knowledge has been demonized. That demonization has backfired as there is a newfound interest among people of Mexican, Central, and South American descent—indigenous peoples on this continent—to learn about the ancestral knowledge that lives in our midst. That the knowledge that is indigenous to this continent would be deemed to be Un-American is mind-numbing. Regardless of how this plays out in the courts, this is why it has become a teaching moment. It is possible that the calendar that has graced homes, schools, and restaurants in both Mexico and the United States for many generations, will no longer be appreciated simply for its artistic value, but for its actual content.


1. A June 2012 study confirms the positive relationship between taking MAS classes and success in school, thus debunking once again the notion that there is no such proof. See this study.

2. For a broader discussion on the topic of whether MAS is outside of Western civilization, go to Truthout.

3. The proper context of this conflict can only be appreciated by knowing that several months before on May 3, 2011, perhaps 200 law enforcement officers converged on the school board meeting, surrounding the entire neighborhood, occupying the building with SWAT officers, snipers, police dogs, a bomb squad and a metal detection unit. At this meeting, seven women were arrested inside for speaking in support of the program, while youths and students were beaten outside. To this day, there has been no accounting as to the reason for the massive show of force.

4. The directives can be found on this website in a column titled TUSD shuts down Dept., bans books, & issues draconian directives as to what can and cannot be taught in schools.

5. The initial seven books that were boxed in Jan 2012 were: Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic; 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez; Message to Aztlan by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales; Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by F. Arturo Rosales; Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña; Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire; and Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow.

6. Several of my own books were part of the MAS-TUSD curriculum. Two, The X in La Raza and Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human, were banned by TUSD administrators the year before and were part of the original MAS curriculum since the department’s founding in 1997.

7. The argument that TUSD was not censoring books was also predicated on the idea that the books were not actually banned, but simply placed in district libraries. While books are available to students, they can no longer be taught in MAS classes or by former MAS teachers.

8. Chucho Ruiz, who is part of Calpolli Teoxicalli in Tucson and who teaches for Chicanos Por La Causa in area schools, including TUSD schools, is permitted to teach the Aztec Calendar through Native American Studies.

9. Tom Horne has not attacked the concepts of In lak Ech-Panche Be or Hunab Ku, but these are the most celebrated concepts of the MAS program. His attacks have generally attacked everything outside of Western Civilization. One such attack was Lecture #1023, Heritage Foundation, May 14, 2007

10. One of the legal challenges actually precedes HB 2281. The long-standing Fisher/Mendoza desegregation lawsuit may trump local and state laws. As of Nov. 2012, it seems likely that the courts may order TUSD to reinstate the Raza Studies curriculum. A preliminary report calls on TUSD to greatly expand its Latino-relevant classes.

11. In the United States, people of Mexican origin have a greater interest in the Nepohuatzinzin because it is of Mesoamerican origins, though Lorenzo Boturini Benaduci posited in the 1700s that it is similar to the quipu of the Andes.

12. In a maiz-based curriculum, students are taught things as simple as how to count in Nahuatl. For example, here is 1-13: ce (one), ome (two), yei (three), nahui (four), macuili (five), chicuace (six), chicome (seven), chicueyi (eight), chicnahui (nine), matlactli (ten), matlactli huan ce (eleven), matlactli huan ome( twelve), matlactli huan yei (thirteen).

13. The oral tradition is passed on by both, elders, primarily from Mexico and Central America, but also by traditional dance groups referred to as danza. Several influential elders who have had direct relationships with Mexican American community have included Maya scholar, Domingo Martinez Paredez, Aztec-Mexica elders, Florencio Yescas and Maestra Angelbertha Cobb, conchero elder Andres Segura and Mexicayotl elder, Tlakaele. All are now deceased except Maestra Cobb.

14. In the summer of 2012, educators convened a Raza Studies Now conference in Santa Monica, Calif., with the expressed purpose of spreading Raza Studies at the pre-K–12 levels nationwide. Several of the participants were those that also took part in writing “El Plan de Santa Barbara” in 1969, a blueprint for spreading Chicano Studies at the college and university level nationwide.

15. During the first week of August, Mr. Horne verbally reversed himself on the topic of the Aztec Calendar. At a press conference held to denounce the use of death threats in the debate over MAS, he stated that HB 2281 does not prohibit the teaching of the Aztec calendar, nor does it prohibit the teaching of Mexican-American history or culture. However, he added a disclaimer, saying that he is not responsible for what administrators do in the classrooms. See my Truthout article.

16. Calpolli Teoxicalli is a family of Indigenous families in Tucson, Arizona, who guide their lives according to the Tonalmachiotl or Aztec Calendar.


Boone, H.E. 2000. Stories in Red and Black: Pictorial Histories of the Aztecs and Mixtecs. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Boturini Benaduci, L. 1974. Idea de una historia general de la America Septentrional. Preliminary analysis by Miguel Leon Portilla. Mexico City: Editorial Porrua.

Chimalpopoca Codice: anales de Cuauhtitlan y leyenda de los soles / traduccion directa del nahuatl por Velazquez. (1945). (Velasquez, Primo, Feliciano (ed.). Mexico City: UNAM.

Forbes, J.1973. Aztecas del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlan. Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett.

Martinez Paredez, D.M. 1960. Un Continente y Una Cultura: Unidad Filologica de la America pre-hispanica. Mexico City: Editorial Poesia de America.

Rodriguez, R. 2010. Amoxtli X – The X Codex. Austin: Eagle Feather Research Institute.

— — —. 2012. “Raza Studies: Inside or Outside of Western Civilization?” Truthout: Public Intellectual Project.

As the Sun Shined Brightly: Tigua Representations of Indigeneity and Agency Through Public Presentations, 1889-1936

By: Scott Comar

As the sun shined brightly on the hot morning of June 12, 1936, thirty-five Tigua Indians stood in the Dallas Cotton Bowl at their place of honor in front of sixty-five thousand spectators. Accompanied by the El Paso Pioneer Negro Chorus and numerous Secret Service agents, government officials, and other distinguished guests, the Tigua of Ysleta del Sur excitedly watched as a cavalcade of automobiles entered the stadium. As the crowd roared, the procession slowly navigated the arena’s perimeter and crawled to a halt near the area where the Tigua stood. Moments later, Tigua cacique Damasio Colmenero, tribal member Isabel Granillo, and Cleofas Calleros of the National Catholic Welfare Conference led the group towards a topless luxury convertible in which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat with his wife Eleanor. Surrounded by government agents and escorted by Texas Governor James V. Allred, Colmenero and Calleros presented the President with a pair of moccasins and an Indian headdress, declaring him an honorary Tigua cacique. Isabel Granillo then gifted the First Lady with an Indian molcajete, making her an honorary tribal member. This memorial occasion marked the onset of the sixth day of the Texas Centennial Exposition. Although largely overlooked by Centennial officials and other visitors from El Paso during the Exposition, this event marked a turning point in which historians and tourist boosters embedded the El Paso region into the larger grand narrative of Texas history (El Paso Times 1936; Cleofas Calleros to Around Here, June 18, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection; Houser 2004, 187; Houser 2005, 32-35).1

For the Tigua, participation in the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition involved more than just becoming part of the Texas narrative. Their participation also represented a step in their journey of self-determination as they articulated their cultural history and identity as Tigua through public performances and displays of authentic indigeneity. During the Progressive Era and the interwar years, scientific fallacies and cultural stereotypes attempted to create a public image of indigeneity that practically erased the Tigua from the region’s historical memory as anthropologists, such as Jessie Walter Fewkes, viewed the Tigua as Mexicanized and contributed to popular impressions of Indian assimilation (Fewkes 1902, 57-75; Klein 1997, 13, 144-148; Dippie 1982). To counter these misconceptions, the Tigua participated in various public events, where they conformed to contemporary fashionable notions of indigeneity in order to establish themselves as “real Indians” in the popular consciousness.2 This essay’s objective is to examine Tigua participation at state fairs and other public events as acts of self-determination in the establishment of tribal continuity and indigenous identity. In this context, I argue that between 1890 and 1936, Tigua identity did not diminish. In fact, it persisted and increased as outside pressures caused the Tigua to represent themselves according to the stereotypes and expectations of American society. By participating in Texas’s state fairs and expositions, the Tigua of Ysleta del Sur pragmatically and publicly negotiated their own socio-cultural positionality by utilizing the dominant society’s discursive and aesthetic mechanisms to their best advantage. As an act of self-determination, the Tigua used public representations of indigeneity at fairgrounds to both preserve and continue their identity as Tigua.

Tigua participation in state-fairs not only made the public aware “of their role in the historical development of the region and the state,” but also augmented their own sense of self in the midst of the changing nation (Houser 2004, 35). Aside from reinforcing Nicholas Houser’s position that Tigua attendance at the 1889, 1890, and 1936 Texas state fairs established them as historical actors in both El Paso and Texas (2004, 35), this essay repositions Tigua public presentations as acts of agency and strategic negotiation that reinvigorated group identity and self determination. This assertion is based upon an eclectic conceptual application that considers various scholarly views. For example, I draw on James A Clifton’s Being and Becoming Indian and Christina Taylor Beard-Moose’s Public Indians, Private Cherokees, which emphasize how American Indians navigated the duality of public and private identities as needed in order to survive in various social environments (Clifton 1989, ix-xii; Beard Moose 2008, 4). In Clifton’s anthology, Gary Clayton Anderson’s notion of “biculturalism,” reveals how indigenous peoples made choices based upon “the knowledge and skills needed to exist in several distinct social settings” and as a means for “ethnic and social mobility” (Clifton 1989, 59-81). Examining how tourism influenced both the public and private spheres of Eastern Cherokee society, Beard-Moose illuminates how Cherokee public representations of authentic Indianness for outsiders actually preserved Cherokee cultural traditions and identity, creating a socio-economic space for them as well as interjecting their story into the narrative of American Indian history (2009, 2,4,18).

In addition, Morris W. Foster’s Being Comanche and Steven K. Adam’s Extinction or Survival reveal how indigenous identities are regenerated and influenced by the cultural attributes of modernity and the dominant society. Foster’s work connects with the Tigua experience by deconstructing the myth of the vanishing Comanche and illustrating how changes in Comanche culture and society did not equal the abandonment of Comanche social identity. Evaluating the nuances of identity construction, Foster argues that “Comanches have used changing languages, social identities, and social situations to realize a variety of actual social units and gatherings as a way of maintaining their traditional community” (1991, 1-2, 23). Adam furthers this view and applies it to Tigua by arguing that “Tigua culture is a product of cultural responses to various and changing majority rules” (2009, 6, 21). In this way, these scholars offer significant inroads into the way in which Tigua public presentations and performances at state fairs enabled tribal members a space of negotiation that would have otherwise been unavailable for them.

Cultural performances at fairgrounds and expositions also allowed the Tigua the ability to negotiate the public sphere and establish their indigeneity in the face of Euro-American hegemony. Frederick W. Gleach offers significant insights into this process of identity negotiation. Presenting fairgrounds and expositions as dynamic spaces where the dominant society exhibits its “power” and perpetuates its construction of popular or national identity, Gleach writes that

[w]hile often and most visibly hegemonic, these processes are never total, of course; they are also appropriated as counter hegemonic strategies by groups opposed to the dominant voice…more typically, the exposition also creates a space for non-Western and disenfranchised others (e.g., ethnic groups on display…) to represent themselves to an international audience (2003, 420).

In other words, fairgrounds serve as zones of contestation and collusion as subaltern groups co-opt and challenge the popularized stereotypes of the dominant culture to their best possible advantages. This counter-hegemonic strategy also underscores Coco Fusco’s examination of the implications of public representation as culture, identity, and politics converge in public spaces. Yet for Fusco, public exhibitions by indigenous peoples at fairgrounds during the late nineteenth-century confirmed white stereotypes of the “vanishing” and “primitive” Indian and catered to “the Western fascination with Otherness” (1995, 43).3 Looking at these how indigenous peoples negotiated white notions of indigeneity in public spaces, Christina T. Beard-Moose illuminates how the Eastern Cherokee adapted to these types of white stereotypes and resiliently used them to reinforce the validity of their own cultures and traditions. Beard-Moose explains that in response to tourist assumptions of “Indianness,” the Eastern Cherokee transformed their annual Cherokee Indian Fair from an event “created as a public Indian spectacle to a private Cherokee celebration of tradition and heritage”(2009, 69, 86). Gleach, Fusco, and Beard-Moose all reveal how indigenous peoples used fairgrounds as spaces of public representation as well as personal spaces of cultural self-determination. As such, their views allow for a new understanding about how fairs and expositions offered strategic opportunities for indigenous groups like the Tigua to simultaneously represent themselves both publicly and privately as they perpetuated their own identities, and maintained their evolving culture amidst the dominant society’s hegemonic influences and expectations.

In order to more fully understand the relationship between Tigua cultural continuity and western hegemony, one must review the historical context though which it evolved. Descendents of the North American Southwest’s Mogollon and Anasazi peoples, the Tigua originated from the Tiwa Pueblo of Isleta, New Mexico. Tigua oral traditions contend that as the Spanish retreated in the aftermath of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, they captured numerous Tiwa Indians to shield their retreat (Calloway 2003, 82-95; Adam 2009, 33). This retreat consisted of two waves of migration during 1680 and 1682 in which Spanish colonists brought over 695 Tiwa and Piro Indians from New Mexico to El Paso del Norte. In 1682, the Franciscans established the Mission of Corpus Christi in Ysleta del Sur, and most of the Tigua settled in its proximity. Similarly, they opened missions in Senecu and Socorro, where the Piro settled with some Tigua. In 1692, colonial Spain granted El Paso’s mission-Indians all lands surrounding the missions in the Hinojosa Grant. In 1751, colonial Spain granted the inhabitants of the Ysleta mission thirty-six square miles of land surrounding the mission. Known as the Ysleta Grant, this document recognized the Tigua as the rightful inhabitants of this land (Bowden 1971, 140, 148n7; Comar, 2010).

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the Tigua and Piro intermarried with the region’s Suma and Manso Indians and collectively utilized all of the land that surrounded El Paso’s missions in their subsistence economy. As time passed, the Tigua emerged as the region’s predominant indigenous community, while the Indians in Socorro and Senecu increasingly merged into mestizo society (Calleros 1951, 26, 34-35; Calleros 1953, 10; Campbell 2006, 299-301; Comar 2010, 37-43). In Socorro and Senecu, intermarriage between Indians and mestizos contributed to a process of “ethnogenesis”4 in which numerous indigenous peoples claimed a regional mestizo or Paseño identity. In contrast, Ysleta remained largely populated by Native American peoples (Menchaca 2001, 94). Thus, by the turn of the nineteenth-century, El Paso’s lower valley held “a sizeable Christian Indian population that was part of colonial society” (Menchaca 2001, 117). Yet this interconnection with the colonizer held specific cultural implications for the Tigua.

Over the years, the legal-political status of Ysleta shifted from Indian to bicultural Indian and Mexican. Yet this did not affect the cultural identity of the Tigua, as they retained their cultural traditions during a period when their land was increasingly possessed by outsiders. After Mexican independence from Spain, numerous settlers from Mexico moved into the El Paso region. During this time, the Tigua conveyed various parcels of land in Ysleta to non-indigenous settlers and encroachment on Tigua land increased (Menchaca 2001, 203; Houser 2000, 15-21). After the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo placed Ysleta in the United States, Western expansion increasingly dispossessed the Tigua and severely disrupted their socio-cultural landscape. The state did not militarily drive them off their land, as they did other Texas Indians, because it appeared to the Texas legislature that, as Menchaca points out, “the people of Ysleta were a bicultural people deserving some of the privileges extended to Mexicans,” and it appeared to officials from the Bureau of Indian Affairs that the Tigua had adapted well to Mexican customs (Menchaca 2001, 230, 241). Yet in 1871, a group of local elites influenced the state of Texas to incorporate the towns of Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario. This geo-political incorporation into the state legally allowed mestizo and Anglo elites to increasingly privatize Tigua land. Between 1871 and 1874, local elites and speculators sold most of the land around the Ysleta mission. This severely dispossessed the Tigua, who utilized this land for their subsistence economy and cultural activities. By 1889, the incorporation of Ysleta had reduced the Tigua landscape from over thirty-six square miles to twenty-six acres (Comar 2010, 23-33; Martinez 2000, 19; Eickhoff 1996, 69-70). In this context, the Tigua entered the Progressive Era as a marginalized Native American community, whose political-legal status as bicultural simultaneously protected them from military expulsion and enabled their legal dispossession as they fell into the interstice between citizenship and savagery—not fully Indian according to contemporary stereotypes, yet not Mexican either.

To fully understand the implications of these stereotypes for the Tigua, one must consider the national context at this time. During the early Progressive Era, the United States sought to culturally assimilate Native Americans as second class citizens and privatize Indian lands. Seeking to indoctrinate American Indians into the nation-state, the federal government shipped children from reservations to boarding schools, educated them in English, and encouraged them to integrate into mainstream society. The 1887 General Allotment Act (Dawes Act) created tribal rolls, established a baseline for blood quantum, and distributed private allotments of reservation lands to eligible members of various Indian tribes that already lived on reservations. The goal of the Dawes Act was to end communal land use on Indian reservations by distributing individual land allotments. Underlying this new land policy was the motive to break up tribal unities and assimilate indigenous peoples into the emerging private and individualistic American nation. After distributing relatively small land allotments to eligible Indians, the government sold the leftover reservation lands to speculators, farmers, and miners. Between 1887 and 1934, this policy reduced Native American reservation landholdings from approximately 138 million acres to 48 million acres (Bruyneel 2007, 16; Adam 2009, 92; Trafzer 2000, 329-333; Sturm 2002, 78-79).

According to political scientist Kevin Bruyneel, a discursive tension between assimilation and control through racial dominance steered United States Indian policy during the Progressive Era. As the era progressed, white Americans romantically stereotyped the independence and rebellion of Native Americans in a way that reinforced an emerging notion of the Indian as a “noble savage.” Many white Americans associated this trope with authenticity, freedom, and purity, and used it to reinforce the laissez faire values of the era. They also used it to reinforce the racialized imagery of Indians as uncivilized, lazy, drunk, and thus ineligible for the full benefits of citizenship (2007, 12-14). Within this national context, the Tigua, as unrecognized mission-Indians and non-citizens, found themselves obscured and excluded from the grand narrative as they entered the Progressive Era.

Despite their exclusion from the national narrative of indigeneity, the Tigua did not forfeit their tribal identity as they persisted in Ysleta’s bustling mestizo community. Because of their indigenous identity, the Tigua experienced a significant amount of violence during the Progressive Era. This violence towards the Tigua caused them to often identify as Mexican in order to escape victimization by the Texas Rangers and other local vigilantes (Comar 2010, 60, 64; Houser 1979, 336-337; Adam 2009, 100; Roman 2009, 36). For example, in 1915 a group of Texas Rangers shot tribal member Luz Pedraza in the back of his head at point blank range in front of his house in Ysleta. Other incidents involved Texas Rangers assaulting tribal members who went to town after eight o’clock in the evening, sending them home bruised and injured. The Texas Rangers even dragged Damasio Colmenero down to the river and threatened to hurt him (Miguel Pedraza, Affidavit, and Pablo Carbajal, Affidavit, Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo Archives: Tom Diamond Files). Although Colmenero escaped uninjured, the implications for being Indian were obvious. If they identified as Indian in public, the Tigua stood the chance of being assaulted. Thus, in order to avoid violence, many Tigua identified as Mexican.

Identifying as Mexican or mestizo may have alleviated some violence, but the Texas Rangers mistreated mestizos also. Because Ysleta was an integrated community, many Tigua sometimes identified as Mexican to receive acceptance and property rights from their mestizo neighbors. Identifying as Mexican also allowed the Tigua to participate in the region’s political economy and local elections. This identity negotiation also involved relationships and kinship ties that had been forged through intermarriage and the acceptance of outsiders into the tribe (Comar 2010, 41-43; Adam 2009, 100, 108-110).

These survival mechanisms, Ysleta’s integrated demographics, and the Tigua’s cultural connection to both the Ysleta Mission and the local wage labor economy created an illusion of their cultural collapse into Mexicanness by the turn of the twentieth-century. Yet despite the assimilationist discourse of the Progressive Era, the Tigua, like the Cherokee and various other indigenous groups, had not disappeared. Instead they continued their culture and established themselves as an autonomous Native American polity by writing a tribal constitution and presenting their cultural rituals during public performances and ceremonies such as Saint Anthony’s Day, which they celebrate every thirteenth of June (Eickhoff 1996, 103, 203, 207; El Paso Herald 1890; El Paso Herald 1909). Saint Anthony’s Day reveals the cultural syncretism reveals the cultural syncretism that ostensibly masked the Tigua’s retention on indigenous culture. It also represents the way that indigenous peoples adapted to and negotiated Spanish colonization. In order to avoid the violent policies that Franciscan missionaries used to coerce indigenous peoples into Catholicism, the Tigua seemingly performed their conformity by dancing the Corn Dance in front of the church. Yet the Corn Dance signifies the onset of the Tigua agricultural season and shows their gratitude to the Earth Mother for her subsistence. In this way, the Tigua resiliently negotiated colonization by merging Saint Anthony’s Day with their traditional Corn Dance ceremony, which conveniently fell on the same day (Wright 1993, 143; Adam 2010, 58-63).

In a Euro-American context, this type of cultural syncretism is present throughout Tigua history and is important for understanding how they strategically negotiated their culture and identity. Despite their situation during the Progressive Era, the Tigua pragmatically established their autonomy by using public policy and public representations of indigeneity to their advantage in the same way that they adapted to Catholicism during the colonial period. In 1895, they established a tribal constitution with by-laws in order to preserve their tribal government and legitimate themselves as a sovereign people. The syncretic nature of Tigua culture is implicit throughout this document (Eickhoff 2010, 207-209; “Pueblo of San Antonio de Ysleta,” Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo Archives, Tom Diamond Files). The document also suggests that the Tigua understood the contemporary politics of Native American sovereignty, which held that in order for the Tigua to be recognized as sovereign people, they needed to conform to the western definition of an autonomous and civilized Indian nation.5 Like the Cherokee constitutions from earlier in the nineteenth-century, the Tigua constitution of 1895 sought to negotiate the structural requirements of state diplomacy to the best of their ability. Yet unlike the Cherokee, whose governmental structure was dismantled in 1906 under the auspices of the 1887 Dawes Act, the Tigua tribal government remained intact because of their obscure and isolated status with the Federal government (Conley 2008, 198).

In this context, public celebrations maintained tribal unity and gave the Tigua opportunities for cultural representation that perpetuated their cultural history into the El Paso region’s historical memory. Elucidating this phenomenon, an El Paso Herald article entitled “The Indian Dances” opened with a brief summary of Tigua history. Romantically elaborating on the Tigua’s link to New Mexico’s Pueblo Indians, it states that “[t]heir civilization may be older than ours, as they doubtless sprang from the very cradle of mankind—Asia.” It then exemplifies Tigua cultural persistence by describing them as “here staunch and true” (1890). Beyond cultural preservation, it showed how Tigua festivities served as heterogeneous meeting places for the region’s inhabitants. At one dance sponsored by the Tigua, “a few white gentlemen who undertook to go through the mazes of the cuna, or cradle dance” had the opportunity to dance with any “handsome young squaw [sic] he could find for a partner” (El Paso Herald 1890). Despite the contemporary rhetoric in which the local press described indigenous women, this article elucidates how gatherings in public spaces helped the Tigua maintain their culture and establish themselves as a real group of Native Americans with a history, the first step in their long process of sovereignty.6

This view is a microscopic application of Prasenjit Duara’s macro idea that cultural interactions and the establishment of an entity’s history (i.e., a nation) are precursors to sovereignty. Examining East Asian nation building, Duara writes that “nations are cognitively and institutionally constituted by [larger] global circulations that are mediated, in turn, by regional historical and cultural interactions” (2008, 323). Duara continues, “Nationalism as the predominant ideology of the nation-state has tended to locate sovereignty in the ‘authentic’ history and traditions of the people—the regime of authenticity—even while these have been considerably re-signified, if not invented to fit the nationalist project” (2008, 330). Although this second passage is more applicable to fairgrounds activities than local celebrations, it nonetheless signifies that the cultural persistence of an “authentic” culture, or culture that is viewed as authentic is a significant attribute of nation building, or, in the case of the Tigua, the establishment of an indigenous group’s sovereignty.

Presentations at the 1890 and 1899 Texas state fairs broadened the Tigua’s public exposure at both the regional and state levels (Houser 2004, 181). Ironically, these presentations also reinforced the stereotypical imagery that equated indigeneity with antiquated and anachronistic cultural practices. In order to meet public expectations and establish themselves as real or authentic Indians, the Tigua practiced diligently. On May 14, 1890, the El Paso Daily Herald reported that

[t]here are about 50 Pueblo Indians being trained at Ysleta, who will be taken to the state fair at Dallas on October…The men are being drilled in all sorts of Indian sports and the boys are getting to be experts in the use of bows and arrows. They will all be dressed in Indian fashion and it is expected will attract [sic] much attention at the fair. The American boys of Ysleta are learning the use of bow and arrow and can now kill rabbits, birds, etc., as trophies of their skill.

Although this article reinforces contemporary notions of the “noble savage,” as well as assimilationist discourse, by associating the modern with the primitive, it nonetheless gives the Tigua regional exposure otherwise unattainable outside of the realm of the public spectacle.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries world’s fairs and expositions perpetuated Western modern and progressive views that supported science, industry, and economic freedom. According to historian Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo, these types of fairgrounds served as teleological spaces that advanced modernity and reconciled nationalism, cosmopolitanism, colonialism, and capitalism (1996, 4-36). Historian Pheobe S. Kropp elucidates how this worldview perpetuated the views of anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan and stereotypically symbolized the world’s indigenous peoples as conquered relics of colonization who had endured the transition from savagery to civilization (2006, 133).7 In this context, Indian performances and displays at fairs both paralleled and obscured the harsh realities that indigenous peoples faced during the nineteenth century. Early Indian exhibitions, such as those at P.T. Barnum’s 1853 fair in New York, emphasized savagery and peril. Coco Fusco explains that these types of exhibitions supported stereotypes of Indians as “primitive” and “gave credence to white supremacist worldviews by representing nonwhite peoples and cultures as being in need of discipline, civilization, and industry” (1995, 41). Yet by 1900, as Kropp asserts, “the purpose of display shifted subtly from proving that the Indian threat was swiftly vanishing to showing the pacified Indian as a cultural artifact, not a political force” (2006, 133). In this way, indigenous performances at fairgrounds supported the narrative of Western expansion and reinforced the dominant society’s cultural stereotypes about Native Americans (Williams 1980, 138).

Like other indigenous peoples who performed at fairs and expositions, the Tigua used nostalgic regalia that conformed to popular notions of Indianness. As mission Indians in an emerging market economy, the Tigua seemingly blended with Ysleta’s mestizo community and usually dressed according to contemporary popular norms (Phillips and Steiner 1999, 220; Fewkes 1902, 58-59). As such, their presentations at Texas state fairs involved a performance that conflicted with their everyday lifestyles. This is exemplified by an 1899 newspaper excerpt that illuminated the attraction that the departure of a group of Tigua caused as they left Ysleta for the Texas state fair in Dallas dressed in Indian regalia, such as feathered headdresses and buckskins. Describing the Tigua as “dressed with the usual costumes,” the article points out that this deviance from everyday fashions “attracted a great deal of attention” (El Paso Herald 1899). Yet this performance phenomenon did not uniquely pertain to the Tigua. During the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, various mission Indians from California worked at the fair’s Painted Desert exhibit and emulated the ancient ways of the Pueblo, Navajo, and Apache as they maintained the “appearance of primitive authenticity” in order to conform to the demands of exposition supervisors and the expectations of white audiences (Kropp 2006, 103, 137, 150). Similarly, at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, public presentations of Virginia’s Powhatans in stereotypical Plains Indian regalia, complete with large headdresses and horses, conformed to the dominant society’s views and undermined indigenous counter-hegemony. Reinforcing the myth of Indians as “vanishing peoples,” this imagery confined living Indians to anachronistic representations that metaphorically excluded them from the “modern world” (Gleach 2003, 430, 440).

Explaining how the Bureau of Indian Affairs and white entrepreneurs influenced Eastern Cherokees to perform in stereotypical Plains regalia for “the tourist gaze,” Beard-Moose describes this performance phenomenon as “Chiefing,” which stood in direct contrast with the realities of everyday life for North Carolina’s Cherokees. Although this conformity to white stereotypes reinforced preconceived notions of indigeneity for capitalist consumption, it also allowed the Eastern Cherokee a space of agency and negotiation that would have otherwise been unavailable to them (2009, 80-82). In a similar way, public performances that met popular expectations of indigeneity gave the Tigua a space of agency as well. Yet they did so in a context quite different than that of the Eastern Cherokee.

What made the Tigua unique was that modern society had practically written them off as vanished, so any type of public exposure was necessary to help them establish their status as mission Indians. For example, an 1890 newspaper article entitled “Indian Dance at Ysleta” discussed Tigua history within the larger historical context of the Ysleta mission and declared that “[t]he descendants of the [original Tigua] families have gradually been absorbed by the Mexicans… by intermarriage” and that “there are only three or four absolutely pure blooded Indians in Ysleta and these are very old” (El Paso Daily Herald). This rhetorical assimilation transitioned into cultural erasure as it introduced “Father Cordova,” who “rightly look[ed] upon the dances as a relic of barbarity to be dispensed with as soon as possible” (El Paso Daily Herald 1890). Considering these extremes, public presentations in Indian regalia, either in Ysleta or at the fairgrounds, greatly benefitted the Tigua by allowing them to distinguish their group autonomy both within and apart from Ysleta’s ethnic Mexican community. Elucidating the general dynamics of this cultural aesthetic, historian Paige Raibmon explains that

[w]hites imagined what the authentic Indian was, and Aboriginal people engaged and shaped those imaginings in return. They were collaborators—albeit unequally—in authenticity. Non-Aboriginal people employed definitions of Indian culture that limited Aboriginal claims to resources, land, and sovereignty, at the same time as Aboriginal people utilized these same definitions to access the social, political, and economic means necessary for survival under colonialism (2005, 3).

Applying this dynamic to the Tigua, it appears that in order to disrupt the myth of Mexicanness, they co-opted the stereotypical aesthetics that symbolized the vanishing Indian for some groups, such as traditional and colorful Indian regalia, and used it to negotiate their own cultural persistence as a signifier of authentic indigeneity.

As mission Indians dressed in nostalgic regalia for white audiences, the Tigua seemingly reconciled the tensions between civilization and savagery. Yet this position posed a significant dilemma for Indians within the Progressive Era worldview. Examining the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (i.e. Columbia Exposition), Raibmon draws out these tensions by connecting them to two converging influences: (1) salvage anthropologists who presented indigenous peoples as “traditional yet vanishing,” and (2) government officials and missionaries who wanted to see them nationally assimilated and civilized. During the late nineteenth century, the convergence of these two threads united anthropological science with assimilationists and marginalized all indigenous people in the process. By the early twentieth century, anthropology and archeology had both placed the Southwest into the “wider cultural narrative of racialized human progress” (2005, 34, 40, 45-46). This is evidenced by the anthropological theories of Lewis Henry Morgan and Edward Burnett Tylor, which viewed indigenous culture as experiencing a transition from savagery to civilization (Stocking 1989, 174-175, 212-213). Straddling the fine line between Mexicanness and Indianness as unrecognized mission Indians, the Tigua seemingly fit well inside the interstitial space between these two polemics, allowing them various opportunities to negotiate colonization. Although the Tigua avoided federal reservations and boarding schools because of their obscure status as Native Americans, they did not avoid anthropologists.

Over the course of the Progressive Era, changes in anthropological viewpoints made outsiders more susceptible to recognizing Tigua indigeneity. During the early Progressive Era, anthropologists believed that Indians of the North American Southwest would eventually become extinct as they acculturated into the dominant society. These views especially predominated during the early twentieth century as ethnologists like Jessie Walter Fewkes, from the Bureau of American Ethnology, studied the Southwest’s Indians under the impression that authentic indigenous culture consisted of specific traits comprised of anachronistic form and content. Yet by the 1920s, in the wake of the First World War, many anthropologists questioned the values of western civilization and began to view culture in its own right. In this vein, scholars like Franz Boaz, Harold Stearns, and Edward Sapir broke from Morgan and Tylor’s view of cultural evolution, which conflated culture with civilization. Sapir in particular viewed culture as an organic and autonomous entity that experienced a life of its own (Basso 1979, 17; Stocking 1989, 214-217).

By the 1930s, a new school of thought had emerged in which anthropologists considered the cultural organizations and social institutions of indigenous communities. As scholars like British social anthropologist Alfred R. Radcliff Brown focused on kinship and social organization, American anthropologists like Ruth Benedict viewed culture as a psychological phenomenon. Although Benedict emphasized the psychological dimensions of national character, such thinking as applied to Native American communities emphasized the distinctive cultural profiles of each group. Subsequently, scholars who studied the Southwest’s Indians synthesized these two approaches and concluded that culture was not static and that change was fundamental to culture. These mid-twentieth-century anthropologists refuted the notion of indigenous societies as closed anachronistic systems made up of “cultural isolates” (Basso 1979, 21; Stocking 1989, 219-223). In this way, the development of anthropological views from the late 1800s to the 1930s suggests that by the time Franklin Delano Roosevelt met the Tigua at the 1936 Texas Centennial and became an honorary tribal cacique, some educated elites and members of the general public likely felt more open minded towards authentic Tigua indigeneity and cultural continuity through social change.

Yet in 1901, when Fewkes showed up on the Tigua’s doorstep, he believed in the old school ethnology that judged a group’s culture by its traits, form, and content instead of its particular social context. A well published naturalist, Fewkes began studying New Mexico’s Zuni and Hopi Indians in 1889. Between 1890 and his death in 1930, he published over 44 articles on indigenous peoples in the North American Southwest and Caribbean regions (El Paso Herald 1901; Hough 1931, 92-93; Ortiz 1979, 638-639). By November 1901, Fewkes was in Ysleta researching the Tigua. Framing Indians as relics of the past in an article entitled “The Tigua Indians: Scientist Studying the Tribe at Ysleta,” the El Paso Herald announced that Fewkes’s “discoveries will throw considerable light on the origin of the ancient races” and “resurrect” their “dead languages.” Using language as a signifying trait of cultural continuance, Fewkes predicted that the Tigua “language will become extinct when the old Indians now speaking it die, because not appreciating the value of teaching it to their children, they allow the younger ones to grow up with no knowledge of it whatsoever” (El Paso Herald 1901). Emphasizing the need to salvage the “ancient” tradition, Fewkes suggested that as the Tigua lost their language, they too would become extinct. Thus during the age of Social Darwinism, the prevailing wisdom left no room for autochthonous lifeways in the burgeoning United States.

In this context, Fewkes’s methodological approach perpetuated the image of the Tigua’s gradual extinction. His 1902 article, “The Pueblo Settlements near El Paso, Texas” exhibited his findings. Fewkes wrote that the Tigua

Indians have practically become “Mexicanized,” and survivals of their old pueblo life which still remain, such as their dances before the church, have long lost the meaning which they once had or that which similar dances still have in the pueblos higher up the Rio Grande. The southern Tiwa and Piros are good Roman Catholics, and their old dances are still kept up not from a lingering belief of the Indians in their old religion, as is the case with certain pueblos in which Christianity is merely a superficial gloss over aboriginal beliefs, but as survivals which have been worn down into secular customs. They cannot give an intelligible explanation of the meaning of these dances, because they do not know their significance. Interest in them on the part of the ethnologist is purely as folklore, for they represent a stage through which the dances of the Pueblos ultimately go when the complexion of the population changes from Indian to Mexican. Ysleta is an instructive example of a Pueblo Indian settlement which has become a Mexican town, the number of Americans settled there not being large enough to affect materially the population. It is therefore instructive to study a pueblo in this stage of transformation (1902, 58-59).

Fewkes ignored continuity within change and assessed Tigua culture as if it was supposed to exist in a timeless anachronistic space of homeostasis. Equating “transformation” with extinction, his closing remark inferred a cultural trajectory that denied indigenous peoples the ability to maintain their own identities through “cultural preservation,” which he could not even conceive of in 1901 (Adam 2009, 74; Comar 2010, 9). He also failed to consider the heterogeneous nature of Mission Indian communities as well as the fact that the Tigua had adapted to Catholicism, migrated to Ysleta del Sur from their homelands in Isleta, New Mexico, and participated in over two hundred years of cross-cultural interaction in which they had intermarried with various other indigenous groups, such as the Suma, Manso, and Piro (Campbell 2006, 299-301; Comar 2010, 37-43).

Intermarriage was nothing strange to Native American communities. Illuminating Fewkes’s racialization of Mexicanness and the heterogeneous nature of indigenous society, anthropologist Frederic W. Gleach asserts that “native identities had a stronger tendency to be defined by cultural behavior rather than biological factors. Non-native and mixed-blood people were thus often accepted as Indians, by Indians. But to others the folk-racial categories held, and the Indian identity of such people had to be qualified” (2002, 500). Although Fewkes’s analysis of the Tigua was not intentionally racist, it did collapse into the popular stereotype that viewed Indians as culturally singular isolates. Addressing this stereotype, Adam explains that Americans have always conceived of indigenous peoples as homogeneous, self reproducing entities, and, as stated above, Progressive Era anthropologists saw any signs of acculturation as signifiers of extinction (2009, 14-15n34,35).8

Fewkes’s evaluation of rituals and language as authentic cultural determinants also overlooked the meaning of place in association with Tigua identity and cultural continuity. Examining their connection with Hueco Tanks, a place that holds significant spiritual meaning for many of the region’s indigenous peoples, Fewkes noted that the Tigua used Hueco Tanks as a summer camp and that various Tiguas had painted their names in the caves there. In fact, the Tigua used Hueco Tanks to hunt, camp, and conduct various spiritual ceremonies. But in his article, Fewkes referred to Hueco Tanks as a “Mescalero reservation” and overlooked its significance as part of the Tigua cultural landscape (Fewkes 1901, 48; Gerald 2000, 48; Greenberg and Esber 2000, 315-316, 328). Similarly, by arguing that traditional Tigua dances have “lost their meaning,” he missed the fact that the Tigua used these rituals to reinforce their identity, regardless of their authenticity or the ways that their meanings changed over time. Despite Fewkes’s view that the Tigua had assimilated into the borderlands Mexican Paseño society, Tigua cultural presentations in public spaces, such as dances and ceremonies, still served as mechanisms that preserved their culture, identity, and autonomy during the early twentieth century (Fewkes 1902, 58-59; Adam 2009, 52, 65-72).

Progressive Era press coverage on Tigua cultural rituals reinforced anthropological views that conformed to the trope of the vanishing Indian. Yet they also gave the Tigua access to the public sphere and served as another mechanism that reinforced their Indianness in the public consciousness. In 1908, an article in the El Paso Herald announced that “Remnants” of a “Prehistoric Race Reside Near El Paso” and linked Ysleta’s Indians with the ancient “Pueblos of the Gran Quivera.” Another article elaborated on the Tigua celebration of St. Anthony’s Day. Explaining how “the Ysleta tribe of Pueblo Indians” celebrated “with all the pomp and ceremony which the custom of centuries prescribes,” it concluded that “it seems but a matter of a few years before [I]ndian dances will have passed into history…for education is driving from the young braves the superstitions of their forefathers, and with them the customs” (Ross 1909).9 Elucidating the syncretism of Tigua and Catholic belief systems, a January 1912 article discussed how Ysleta’s Indians baptized a man during King’s Day by stating that

[t]he man chosen by the tribe to be baptized in atonement for their sins [sic] was taken to the river and stripped of his gaudy trappings. He plunged into the water, diving under seven times. When he came out he was dressed, placed in a litter and carried to a house and placed in a bed, where he is to lie as one dead for 24 hours, representing the death of the sins of the tribe. (El Paso Herald)

This ceremony reveals the hybrid or syncretic nature of Tigua spirituality in that water signifies purification in both belief systems (Fewkes 1902, 67, 70). Beyond hybridity, the article also exposes indigeneity within the framework of a “civilizing” institution: the Catholic Church. During the Progressive Era, this mixture of colonial and indigenous tradition helped reconcile the Indianness of the Tigua with emerging notions of modernity because both fell into the linear narrative of progress (Concept from Tenorio-Trillo 1996, xii, 71).

In this sense, the Tigua’s historical interaction with Spanish colonization and Franciscan missions reconciled Tigua tradition with modernity and opened a space in the public sphere for the Tigua as real people, living in the civilized present. Although press coverage exemplifying this dynamic still contained imagery that reinforced older stereotypes, it did present the Tigua as real living Indians, who had not vanished into extinction. In October of 1909, the El Paso Herald announced that Ysleta’s “[I]ndians are preparing for their winter festivities and the tom-tom is heard every night. They will take part in the…parade in El Paso during the fair. These dances are of great interest to all newcomers in the valley.” Although these types of articles presented Tigua culture as existing within a cultural vacuum that pulled it towards inevitable extinction, they also gave credence to Tigua cultural continuity by revealing how Tigua public performances reinforced their indigeneity within the public sphere.

Tigua ceremonies also received press coverage when dances turned violent. During the Tigua 1910-1911 annual New Year festival, “Santiago Lujan, said to have been intoxicated, insisted on joining the dancers with his hat on. This is considered a serious breach of etiquette. So when one of the merry makers took it off for him he became very angry and . . . proceeded to shoot up the dance with a 22 rifle” (El Paso Herald 1910). Similarly in 1913, the Herald reported a monthly dance in “the [I]ndian village” of Ysleta, where “Gilberto Carbajal was shot under the right eye and Guillermo Tapia through the right hand.” Noting that Antonio Bustamente was also “struck with a pistol during the fight,” this article names the event an “[I]ndian dance and shooting party.” Despite associating Tigua celebrations with violence and savagery, these articles refute the idea that the Tigua had vanished by validating their existence as an interactive Indian community. This type of informal recognition served the Tigua well within the larger context of being recognized nationally during the late Progressive and New Deal periods.

American Indian policies during the Progressive and New Deal eras significantly shifted from those of the late nineteenth century. Yet during the Progressive Era, many of the legal interpretations that recognized Native Americans were based on Morgan and Tylor’s notion of the evolution from savagery to civilization. For example, in 1913, the Supreme Court case United States v. Sandoval overturned its antecedent decision of the 1876 case United States v. Joseph and reinstated federal protections to New Mexico’s Pueblo Indians. However, the Court did so under the precept that these Indians had retained the uncivilized traits of their culture and had resisted the benefits of civilization. Acknowledging Indianness in terms of savagery over civilization, this decision posed a dilemma for the Tigua as civilized mission Indians in Texas without federal protection (Garroutte 2003, 64; Comar 2010, 31-32). The Court’s acceptance of Morgan and Tylor’s views, which conflated Indianness with primitive “savage” forms and behaviors, suggested that missionization equaled civilization. The ideology behind these anthropological views and the policy decisions that they influenced, in turn, suggests that they influenced Indians like the Tigua to aesthetically present themselves in traditional and ceremonial forms that conformed to these popular misconceptions of Indianness.

Yet scholarly views toward indigenous peoples changed during the 1920s, and public policy followed. Among the various reform policies passed by Congress in 1924, the Indian Citizen Act (ICA) gave citizenship, voting rights, and the right of self government to all American Indians, including the Tigua. A combination of assimilationist, Progressive Era, and Indian rights policies, ICA seemed like indigenous peoples’ “final absorption” into American civilization (Trafzer 2000, 343-344; Roman 2009, 38; Greymorning 2004, 69; Adam 2009, 93). Nationally, the 1887 Dawes Act, the 1924 ICA, and conservative efforts to privatize Indian land had marginalized most Native Americans. By 1926, however, policy reformers who advocated for the protection of Indian lands and communities turned to the Brookings Institution for help. Under the auspices of the Brookings Institution, Luis Meriam wrote a report entitled The Problem of Indian Administration, which is known as the Meriam Report. Published in 1928, the Meriam Report informed policymakers that as Indians lost their land, they experienced high levels of poverty, insufficient health standards, high death rates, and low birth rates. After Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election, he made Harold Ickes Secretary of the Interior and John Collier Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Influenced by the Meriam Report, Collier ended the assimilationist movement, abolished boarding school requirements, and supported indigenous cultural preservation. In 1933, Ickes angered many conservatives by ending the allotment system and the sale of Indian allotments, but because of the Great Depression, public feelings swayed in his favor (Trafzer 2000, 339-354; Taylor 1980, 13-14). Then in 1934, Collier influenced Congress to pass the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The IRA put all Indian land into a federal trust, reclaimed land sold to individuals during the allotment period, and guaranteed indigenous peoples rights to self-determination, tribal government, culture, and identity (Adam 2009, 94; Trafzer 2000, 335-336).

This changing political and intellectual milieu made state and local elites more susceptible to recognizing the Tigua allowing them into the narrative of the region’s public history. In 1933, an article in The San Antonio Express declared that “these refugees formed the first permanent settlement in Texas.” Suggesting cultural change and continuity, the Express romantically described “Ysleta as “a living example of the metamorphosis of the United States.” Illustrating a place where Indians, conquistadors, and Anglo settlers lived in “peace and harmony,” while preserving their distinct customs and identities, this article presented a romantic and racialized rhetorical imagery of peaceful Indians and Spanish conquistadors which sought to attract tourists by connecting the region to its European colonial past (San Antonio Express 1910; for more on this imagery see Nieto-Phillips 2004, 103). This imagery also emerged on the cover of a booklet published by the El Paso Catholic Diocese, which illustrated “Spanish Conquistadors taking possession of New Spain,” and “Franciscan Friars Christianizing Indians.” Edited by Cleofas Calleros and researched by historian Joseph I. Driscoll, this booklet perpetuated the imagery of Indians as part of the region’s colonial past by placing El Paso’s missions into the state narrative as the “oldest in Texas” (El Paso Herald Post February 29, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection). An El Paso Herald Post story on H. Harris Sheldon’s painting of the “Ysleta Mission, First Church in Texas,” evidences this trend. Writing that the painting would be displayed at the Texas Centennial’s Catholic Exhibit, the article explained how the painting reflected “the mighty spiritual light that this early house of worship must have brought to the mind of the primitive Indian…a mind still darkened by the cloak of ignorance” (1936). In this way, the Texas Centennial promoted the type of history that portrayed the Tigua as “primitive” colonial subjects whose historical existence rested in the Spanish missions of the past.10

Initially it seemed unlikely that the Tigua would perform at the 1936 Centennial Exposition. In January, Calleros invited the Tigua to present in June at the Centennial’s El Paso Day and National Folk Festival. The Tigua turned down Callero’s first invitation because it conflicted with Saint Anthony’s Day. By April, they agreed to send thirty-five people after the Saint Anthony’s Day celebration. Then they decided to perform at the expo before the holiday. Calleros resolved this with the help of Father Cordova, who had served as Ysleta’s pastor for thirty years. With Cordova’s influence, the Tigua agreed to perform at the Texas Centennial over the course of Saint Anthony’s day and celebrate it upon their return to Ysleta (Cleofas Calleros to A.F. Quisenberry, April 14, 1936; Cleofas Calleros to Roland Harwell, April 23, 1936; Cleofas Calleros to Jack Cheney, April 25, 1936, all from Cleofas Calleros Collection).

Yet funding the Tigua’s trip to Dallas proved to be problematic. In late 1935, the Texas Centennial Commission had awarded the El Paso Chamber of Commerce $50,000, but the money could only be used for “permanent projects such as buildings, statues, and markers.” (Houser 2004, 183-184). Excluded from state funds, Calleros and the Tigua relied on private contributions. In April 1936, El Paso’s Chamber of Commerce seemed open minded about funding the Tigua and led Calleros and Sarah Knott of the Centennial’s National Folk Festival to believe that they intended to donate $3,000 for the trip. Subsequently, organizer Leslie Reed agreed to help the Tigua raise the money for transportation, food, lodging, and cloth for uniforms. By late April, the Chamber of Commerce had not contacted Calleros, who had already begun to solicit funds elsewhere (Houser 2004, 183-184; Calleros to Quisenberry, April 14, 1936; Calleros to Harwell, April 23, 1936; Calleros to Cheney, April 25, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection). Reaching out to his network, Calleros wrote to another parish, “We are having a terrible time raising the necessary funds to pay our transportation from El Paso to Dallas…so we are counting on you or the Dallas Knights of Columbus, or Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, or some other Catholic organization, to sponsor our show for June 13th”( Cleofas Calleros to Rev. Fr. Joseph G. O’Donohoe, May 22, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection; Also see Calleros to O’Donohoe, May 2, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection). Thus, because Texas policy and the Great Depression made funding a major obstacle for the Tigua’s journey to Dallas, funding for the trip came from the Church and various private organizations.

Poor planning and coordination between Calleros and El Paso’s other Centennial participants also created some confusion. Noting that the Tigua planned to dance at the fair, the Herald announced in June that El Paso’s Tipica Orchestra planned to give President Roosevelt “a $60 sombrero and serenade him with some music” (El Paso Herald Post 1936). Upon learning that the “El Paso delegation” planned to give Roosevelt a sombrero, Calleros assumed that they would do so after the Tigua made him an honorary cacique (Calleros to Kittrell, June 4, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection; Port Arthur News 1936). It was a known fact that the Tigua planned to make Roosevelt a cacique and Calleros helped make this a reality. Through his efforts, the Centennial commission agreed to let the Tigua have ten minutes with the President on July 12, pending “Presidential Approval” (Cleofas Calleros to W.H. Kittrell, June 4, 1936; Cleofas Calleros to Sarah Gertrude Knott, June 10, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection). Just before Calleros left with the Tigua for Dallas on June 10, he was still unsure whether the Roosevelt ceremony had been approved, and he had no idea what to expect once the Tigua arrived in Dallas (Calleros to Kittrell, June 10, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection).

On June 10 at three o’clock in the afternoon, Calleros, Cacique Colmenero, and thirty-three Tiguas from Ysleta departed for Dallas in a brand new Ford V-8 bus. A mural on the side of the bus announced the “Tigua Indians” of “Ysleta Texas” and displayed an image of an Indian in a stereotypical plains style war bonnet (El Paso Times 1936; Houser 2004, 185; Calleros 1953, 16). The next morning, the Tigua arrived in Abilene for breakfast. The Abilene Daily Reporter wrote that they “swarmed into Doyle’s cafe…filling every table in the house and crowding the palefaces to the counter” (1936). After breakfast, assistant cacique Sebastian Duran played “a single beat on the 150 year-old tom-tom” that “brought Indian chants from half a dozen old braves” (The Abilene Daily Reporter 1936). The Reporter then romantically concluded that “[s]miles lit their faces as the campfires of sixty years ago lived in their eyes as they shuffled back and forth in the Red-man’s dance” (1936). That evening, the Tiguas reached Dallas and Calleros and Reed met with the exposition’s staff to work out their schedules for the next three days (El Paso Times 1936).

The next morning, April 12, Calleros, Reed, the Tigua, and the Negro Chorus met at 8:30 in front of the Centennial Administration Building, but the El Paso Tipica Orchestra was nowhere to be found. Under the morning sun, the Tigua entered the Dallas Cotton Bowl and waited for the President’s arrival. During that time, the Centennial staff mistakenly confused the Tigua with the Alabama-Coushatta and announced that “Indians from Alabama” waited to honor the President. As they waited on the stadium floor in front of sixty-five thousand spectators, Cacique Colmenero asked Calleros to name the President an Honorary Tigua Cacique. When Roosevelt’s cavalcade entered the stadium and crawled to a halt, Governor Allred escorted Calleros, Colmenero, and Isabel Granillo to the President’s car. There, in front of numerous government officials and photographers, Calleros bestowed the President with a headband that Tigua women had made from peacock and turkey feathers and declared him an Honorary Cacique. Then Colmenero gifted Roosevelt with a pair of black and white buckskin moccasins that came from a deer that had been hunted at Hueco Tanks. Subsequently, Granillo made Eleanor Roosevelt an “Honorary Squaw” and presented her with an Indian Molcajete (El Paso Times 1936; Calleros to Around Here, June 18, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection; The Abilene Daily Reporter 1936; Abilene Morning News 1936; Roosevelt Article and Photo, Cleofas Calleros Papers).

After the Tigua greeting, the President’s caravan continued to a platform stage on the stadium floor, where Roosevelt made a speech. Then, the Tigua, Reed, and Calleros met El Paso’s Mayor Sherman at the Socorro Mission Building (Calleros to Around Here, June 18, 1936, Cleofas Calleros Collection). This reproduction of the Socorro Mission, complete with live Indians, surely pandered to the crowd’s fantasies and stereotypes of Spanish missions, conquistadors, and colonized Indians. But this did not stop the Tigua from stealing the show. Later that day they gave two performances in the amphitheater and made El Paso’s presentation quite a success. Their sensational performances continued into the Saint Anthony’s Day celebration on June thirteenth and the National Folk Festival on the fourteenth. Noting the Tigua, the Negro Chorus, and the Tipica Orchestra, the San Antonio Light reported that El Paso “ran the show at the Centennial” (1936). Writing that “[i]t was El Paso Day yesterday, today, and tomorrow,” the article also states that the Tigua “created a near riot wherever they appear[ed]” (The San Antonio Light 1936).

The 1936 Texas Centennial celebration was a state fair and centennial celebration all wrapped up in one. One Centennial flyer emphasized patriotic themes that included history, progress, and development. The Centennial sought to promote tourism and stimulate economic development in the midst of economic depression. The flyer did not mention any American Indians and instead focused on tourist attractions such as Caddo Lake, noting that the lake’s glorious history “vanished with the end of steamboat transportation”(Houser 2004, 182; “Starring Texas,” Cleofas Calleros Papers). In this way, flyers such as this erased any trace of Native Americans from the state’s historical narrative. Mentioning El Paso as the “city of the sun,” the flyer paid tribute to “ancient Spanish Dons” and displayed depictions of Spanish conquistadors. Romantically describing Ysleta as Texas’s oldest community with phrases like “mellow mission” and “golden yesterdays,” the flyer overlooked the Tigua as participants in the region’s history (“Starring Texas,” Cleofas Calleros Papers).

Despite these types of cultural erasures, the publicity that the Centennial Exposition gave the Tigua significantly elevated their status. Often described in terms of vanishing and ancient, the Tigua’s Centennial performances opened a new discourse that further recognized the Tigua as “an Indian nation living in Ysleta” (Abilene Morning News 1936). Yet these new views overlapped the old as the rhetorical imagery of the 1930s Texas popular imagination associated the Tigua with the state’s “oldest city” and the fair’s “Old Ysleta historic village”(Abilene Daily Reporter 1936; El Paso Herald Post 1936; see Tenoreo-Trillo 1996, 64, 198 for concept of historical overlap). Placing the tribe’s authenticity within the primitive residual of Spain’s colonial past, the popular press celebrated the anachronistic Tigua that survived into the present (El Paso Herald Post 1936). Despite this misleading imagery, the Centennial was quite a success for the Tigua.

Upon their return, the Tigua performed on July sixteenth at the Ysleta Centennial Celebration and planned to perform at El Paso’s Sun Carnival that December. The 1936 Ysleta Centennial was the first of similar celebrations to be held in Socorro and San Elizario. It featured matachine dancers from New Mexico, Franciscan Friars from El Paso’s St. Anthony’s Seminary, and the Tigua as “guests of honor.” At the Ysleta Centennial, Margarita Calleros, Cleofas’s daughter, unveiled a historical marker commemorating the Ysleta Mission, and various local officials spoke on behalf of Ysleta and the Tigua. For instance, County Judge Joseph McGill stated that the “Tiguas were Indians of peace, not war” (El Paso Herald Post, July 15, 1936; El Paso Herald Post, July 17, 1936). Another speaker elaborated that the “settlement of this region might have been delayed for a century” if the Tigua had not helped colonial settlers defend against Apache raiders. Accompanied by a dinner and fireworks, the Ysleta festival celebrated the Tigua’s interpolation into the region’s historical narrative (El Paso Herald Post, July 17, 1936).

During the festivities, the Tigua declared Driscoll and Reed honorary tribal members. The Herald reports that “Chief Colmenero placed his feathered headdress on Joseph I. Driscoll, making him the honorary Tigua historian, and on Leslie Reed, inducting him into the tribe as an ‘indio,’ or Indian” (El Paso Herald, 1936). While Driscoll’s writing serves as a baseline for Tigua historiography, the booklet itself promoted El Paso as a tourist booster more than a study of Tigua history. As its pages seemingly commodified the Tigua to promote El Paso as an exotic tourist destination, they reinforced Tigua indigeneity and placed them at the center of the region’s history as real Indians (“El Pasoans and their Neighbors Greet You Amigo!” Cleofas Calleros Papers). Subsequently, El Paso invited the Tigua to present alongside the Mescalero Apache at the Sun Carnival’s “Indian Day” on December 31, 1936. For their presentation, the Tigua planned to display their “craftsmanship in weaving and silver working” as they performed “ancient tribal dances” at El Paso’s San Jacinto Plaza (Abilene Morning News 1936).

Although the Tigua made great public gains to be recognized as Native Americans during 1936, by the end of the year, life eventually caught up with them. Just before the Tigua’s presentation at El Paso’s Sun Carnival, Damasio Colmenero’s wife, Agustina, passed away, causing the tribe to cancel its performance (El Paso Herald Post, December 31, 1936; Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, e-mail message to author, March 28, 2011). Despite this setback, 1936 served the Tigua as a year of transition, a turning point in which they established themselves in the public consciousness as being “real” Indians. While the Tigua lived everyday lives in Ysleta’s contemporary society, their self-representations of indigeneity throughout 1936 had rearticulated their socio-cultural positionality in the public imagination and influenced many to advocate tribal recognition (Houser 2005, 35).

Refuting the popular notion that they had vanished into Mexicanness, the Tigua solidified their indigenous identity through cultural performances at public events and state fairs during the Progressive and New Deal eras. They strategically used fairgrounds to rearticulate the popular misconceptions of the vanishing Indian by co-opting public stereotypes of Indianness and using them to their advantage. In spite of assimilationist discourse, the Tigua maintained their cultural lifestyles as they adapted to the changing world in which they lived. Persisting through the oppression of Progressive Era Indian policy, which sought to civilize and assimilate indigenous peoples, the Tigua emerged in the public sphere as real life people whose history played a significant role in the settlement and development of the El Paso region.


1. Ysleta del Sur refers to Ysleta of the South, in Texas, as compared to Isleta, New Mexico, which is further north. A cacique is a chief or tribal leader. A molcajete is a small stone bowl used for grinding food and spices. The grinding tool used to mash various foodstuffs in the molcajete is a smaller stone cylinder called a tejolote.

2 The term “real Indians” is from Garroutte (2003, 4).

3 For more on this idea see Bhabha (1994, 2-3).

4. For more on “ethnogenesis” see Radding (1997, 8-9, 249).

5. For further treatments of this topic see Bruyneel (2007).

6. For more on this dynamic see Duara (2008, 323, 330).

7. For Morgan’s notion of the transition from savagery to civilization see Morgan (1877, vi).

8. For indigenous heterogeneity see Hämäläinen (2008).

9. The Tigua celebrate St. Anthony’s Day on June 13th.

10. For more on Indians and Spanish Missions during this period see Bolton (1917, 42-61).


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Dippie, Brian W. 1982. The Vanishing American: White Attitudes and U.S. Indian Policy. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Duara, Prasenjit. 2008. “The Global and Regional Constitution of Nations: The View From East Asia.” Nations and Nationalism 14, no.2: 323-345.

Eickhoff, Randy Lee. 1996. Exiled: The Tigua Indians of Ysleta del Sur. Plano: Republic of Texas Press.

Fewkes, J. Walter. 2001. “Diary Notes, 1901.” Edited by Tom Diamond. Vol. 3. Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo Archives. El Paso: Sundance Press.

— — —. 1902. “The Pueblo Settlements near El Paso, Texas.” American Anthropologist 4 no. 1: 57-75.

Foster, Morris W. 1991. Being Comanche: A Social History of an American Indian Community. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Fusco, Coco. 1995. English is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas. New York: The New Press.

Garroutte, Eva Marie. 2003. Real Indians: Identity and the Survival of Native America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gleach, Frederic W. 2003. “Pocahontas at the Fair: Crafting Identities at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition.” Ethnohistory 50, no.3: 419-445.

— — —. 2002. “Anthropological Professionalization and the Virginia Indians at the Turn of the Century.” American Anthropologist. New Series 104, no.2: 499-507.

Harris, Charles H. and Louis R. Saddler. 2009. The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Hough, Walter. 1931. “Jesse Walter Fewkes.” American Anthropologist 33 no.1: 92-97.

Houser, Nicholas. 1979. “Tigua Pueblo.” In Southwest. Edited by Alfonso Ortiz. Vol. 9 of The Handbook of North American Indians, edited by William C. Sturtevant. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

— — —. 2004. “Tigua Indians and El Paso at the Texas State Centennial Exposition, Part I.” Password 49, no.4: 181-190.

— — —.v2005. “Tigua Indians and El Paso at the Texas State Centennial Exposition, Part II.” Password 50, no.1: 29-37.

Klein, Kerwin L. 1997. Frontiers of Historical Imagination: Narrating the European Conquest of Native America, 1890-1990. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kropp, Phoebe S. 2006. California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Martinez, Oscar J. 2004. The First Peoples: A History of Native Americans at the Pass of the North. El Paso: El Paso Community Foundation.

Menchaca, Martha. 2001. Recovering History, Constructing Race: The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Nieto-Phillips, John M. 2004. Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s-1930s. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

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Cultural Discourse and Interpretation of Distressed American Indigenous Communities in Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca’s 1542 La relación

By Ramon Sanchez

[L]a tierra estava despoblada y sin labrarse y toda muy destuída, y los indios andavan escondidos y huídos por los montes sin querer venire a hazer assiento en sus pueblos. (Cabeza de Vaca, sig H5r) (The land was abandoned and uncultivated and damaged. The indios were hiding and fleeing through the hills. They did not want to come and settle in their towns.)1

The above quotation from Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca’s La relación demonstrates his awareness of the impact of Spanish aggression on the natives. In La relación que dio Álvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca de lo acaescido en las Indias . . . (1542), Cabeza de Vaca, as eyewitness, attempts to articulate disrupted indigenous communities through an imperial rhetoric. The challenge, though, in Cabeza de Vaca’s encounters with tragic-stricken natives is to be able to detect, within the official conquest conversation, traces of the indigenous voices that can lead one to an understanding of the discursive conflict involved in the transformation of the Americas. Ralph Bauer comments in The Cultural Geography of Colonial American Literatures that Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse is a reaction to questions about legitimacy, rights, and power in the Spanish empire.2 The resulting arguments between the feudalistic conqueror and the Spanish crown about who will reap the spoils of the conquest, especially over who commands the labor of indigenous people, come to affect Cabeza de Vaca’s interpretation of indigenous losses in the sense that he promotes the crown’s authority over the natives and the Spanish conquerors who seek their gain.3 Consequently, Cabeza de Vaca’s Spanish imperial narrative becomes part of the complex discourse engagement over identity constructs between españoles and indigenous people. The examination of conquerors’ and natives’ articulations reveals their expectations of each other, a process that creates a sort of mutual recognition and interconnectedness.

In analyzing Cabeza de Vaca’s accounts of the five episodes in which he encounters indigenous peoples in a region the historiography designates as “la frontera septentrional de Nueva España” (the northern most frontier of New Spain), I focus on the Bakhtinian rejoinder (respond and answer) process.4 This approach illuminates how Cabeza de Vaca transmits encoded ideological relationships and establishes categories derived from a cristiano/Hispanic cultural social milieu as well the scope of his self-awareness in the midst of numerous native nations. Taking into consideration the rejoinder in reading the continuous and constant interaction between Cabeza de Vaca and the indigenous inhabitants also leads to learning about the indigenous discourse embedded in La relación. An evaluation of Cabeza de Vaca’s ideological imperial language—through which he interprets five tragic encounters with indigenous people—dramatically and, at times, starkly displays cultural exchanges, adaptations, and changes which initially and over time affect the ethnic identity of native people and much later those who call themselves Mexican American. Juan Bruce-Novoa refers to the latter consequence by pointing out the importance of Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación as root material necessary in a cultural evaluation of Mexican Americans, for it is a “founding as well as a fundamental text of Chicano literature and culture” that can show indigenous people resisting and a Mexican American connection to an indigenous heritage (1993, 4). By attending to Cabeza de Vaca’s interpretation of encounters with natives in tragic circumstances, I gauge the impact of these events on the identity-forming process of people of Hispanic and indigenous ethnic heritages.

More specifically, I examine how Cabeza de Vaca’s 1542 Relación utilizes the Spanish imperial discourse—as revealed by terms like “Dios” (God), “Vuestra Magestad” (Your Majesty), and “indio” (Indian)—to interpret five encounters with distressed indigenous communities, four occurring when he is a castaway and one when he reconnects with Spanish forces. From a Bakhtinian language perspective, Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse does not just reveal Spanish imperial impositions, but also and more importantly it exposes contradictions, misunderstandings, lack of knowledge, and unresolved conflicts between the Spaniards themselves, who argue over conquest approaches, and the Spaniards and natives. Specifically, Cabeza de Vaca expects an indigenous answer that fits into his imperial Spanish discourse context in which the native response is categorized in terms of cristiano/Hispanic definitions of identity, position, stance, and permitted action. Spaniards and natives, though, are forced to determine and understand each other through one another’s utterances. Their exchanges are constructed in anticipation of possible responsive reactions: rejoinders.5 Since “every word is directed toward an answer and cannot escape the profound influence of the answering word that it anticipates,” the rejoinders in Cabeza de Vaca’s encounters with distressed natives make one conscious of a native speech and leads to an understanding of the discursive conflict that contributes to the transformation of the Americas (Bakhtin 1981, 280). An analysis of Cabeza de Vaca’s interpretation of tragic native situations, involving the disruption of indigenous communities along with their loss of life, allows recognition of an unintended dialogue despite the incommensurable discourses of these two very different communities.


Before examining the mentioned five encounters, I need to point out a few important aspects that will assist in comprehending the discourse practices through which Cabeza de Vaca attempts to shape the encounters.6 His discourse of empire-building defines boundaries, supplies argument structures, and creates hierarchical values in a narrative. They are intellectual tools that assist the Spanish conquerors in the implementation of policies and deeds, which silence and marginalize the indigenous community. Cabeza de Vaca does not simply describe the noted tragic events; rather his Spanish discourse ideologically legitimizes the conqueror’s acts in the midst of what he experiences at the time as a hostile and dangerous indigenous multitude. However, the Spaniards do constantly experience obstacles in their communication with native inhabitants, either practical ones or ideological ones, meaning that their imperial rhetorical instruments do not necessarily convey the explorers’ intentions or what actually transpires.

At the same time, Cabeza de Vaca needs to deal with the indigenous discourse, which cannot simply be pushed aside. The struggle over the “ownership of interpretative control and authority over words and signs” that Ralph Bauer remarks upon in Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative goes beyond the Spaniards themselves (Bauer 47). Bakhtin’s concept of the “rejoinder,” or response to the other’s discourse, assists in delineating ideological relations in the five Cabeza de Vaca incidents I examine. All discourses reflect the conditions and goals of their ideological source, which develop their own explicatory language that affects peoples’ actions. Bakhtin notes that “[a]ny utterance is a link in the chain of speech communion,” making language crucial in human interaction (Bakhtin 1986, 84). This means that since individuals continuously and constantly interact with the discourses of others, their communications are filled with others’ words (89). Consequently, in La relación, Cabeza de Vaca’s five encounters with distressed indigenous communities can each be examined as if a palimpsest on which one may read the remnants of earlier imperfectly erased discourses.

From 1492 on, the Spanish arrived in the Americas utilizing their cristiano/Hispanic cultural/ideological concepts to understand, or rather, to interpret the people and the land they endeavored to conquer. For instance, they apply part of a lived imperial and constructed history known as the reconquista history (718-1492) with its narrative and guiding terms such as “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad.”7 In their subjugation of American natives, they followed old patterns, such as “systematic devastation of the countryside,” from their war against the Moors (Fletcher 1992, 164). Such approaches are upheld by their imperial cristiano/Hispanic historical narrative with all its self-referential cultural categories, such as cristiano and español. When the Spanish reach and enter the Americas, they expect to find large populations, whom they will convert as they expand their reach.8 Indeed, converting natives to Catholicism was important in terms of Spanish legitimacy to the land and people of the Americas. In fact, the Spanish crown’s right to the Americas rests on the issue of converting the large number of conquered indios.9 This becomes within the cristiano/Hispanic cultural framework a circular justification: you must conquer to convert and to convert you must conquer. In turn, the terms “Dios,” “Vuestra Magestad,” and “indio” specify, focus, and fuel this conquering ideological imperial belief system.

Fifty years after Columbus’s expedition, Cabeza de Vaca’s 1542 narrative, published at Zamora, Spain, appears. His relación is about the failed Pánfilo de Narváez Expedition (1527-1536)—of which Cabeza de Vaca is one of the four survivors—and his travels from Florida westward, almost to the Pacific Ocean and finally southward into the Mexican interior. In April 1527, Governor Narváez leads an exploratory mission that consists of five ships and about 600 armed men to conquer land and people in the Americas. On 17 June 1527, as a member of the Pánfilo de Narváez expedition, Cabeza de Vaca sets sail from San Lucar de Barrameda authorized by the Spanish crown to “conquer and govern” land and people in the provinces from Río de las Palmas to the cape of Florida.10 Cabeza de Vaca represents the Spanish crown’s interests as treasurer of the Expedition. He is among the 300 armed men who enter inland Florida in 1528 but who end up unable to reconnect with the ships. Consequently, the stranded men construct barges and launch themselves into the sea and end up shipwrecked somewhere on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, most probably the present day coast of Texas.11 From there, Cabeza de Vaca, along with three companions, tries to reconnect with cristianos and journeys inland westward. The castaways finally reach a Spanish slave-raiding party in 1536 near the Sinaloa River close to the Pacific Ocean. Before and after meeting the Spanish military forces, Cabeza de Vaca observes their violent destruction of the native communities in the region (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H3r). He then meets and joins Melchior Díaz, Chief Justice of Culiacán, in subduing the natives of this region. He returns to Spain in 1537 to present his report of merits and service and to gain the adelantamiento for Florida.12

The general backgrounds of Cabeza de Vaca’s five encounters with distressed natives which I will examine are as follows. The first incident occurs when it looks like the Spanish castaways infect a tribal people with what appears to be dysentery and half of them die (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. C7r). The second incident is clearly not of the making of the Spaniards, who are castaways at this time. Natives die after being weakened by lack of food in the midst of a very harsh season and their adherence to what Cabeza de Vaca describes as a tribal mourning custom (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D1r). However, Cabeza de Vaca’s incomplete conversation during the incident shows his Spanish imperial discourse incapable of effectively interpreting this grieving practice through the imperial rhetoric of “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad.” The third incident raises the possibility of a Spanish cause. Cabeza de Vaca, still as a castaway, encounters a group of indios who, because of some disease, are mostly half-blind (one-eyed) or blind (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. F7r). It is not clear what malady did this to them nor if their condition is the result of an indigenous infectious disease or an imported one like smallpox. The fourth incident involves the death of many natives by an unknown cause, and the Spanish castaways are blamed and feared for it (Cabeza de Vaca, sig.G4r). Who or what causes the deaths is undetermined. The final incident to be scrutinized is clearly caused by Spanish imperial actions, and it turns out to be very damaging to the natives’ societies and inflicts major loss of indigenous life. This transpires when Cabeza de Vaca reconnects with Spaniards. He ceases to be a castaway and regains military backing. In this episode, he witnesses Spanish destruction of indigenous communities, whose members are either being killed, fleeing to escape being enslaved, and/or living in precarious situations (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. H1v, H2r).

In the five noted occurrences in La relación, Cabeza de Vaca addresses his fellow Spaniards through a language that operates on the basis of a widely accepted Spanish empire-building belief system, which transmits, formulates, and frames the events. He actively employs in his reports the imperially authorizing discourse in trying to shape the painful indigenous encounters he experiences. He, as an individual, is not detached from the forces that condition his actions so his discourse is not produced in a cultural vacuum. Consequently, in an effort to validate the narrative of his accounts, he employs words that overlap with a sanctioned notarial rhetoric.13

However, despite discourse defining terms, such as “Dios,” “Vuestra Magestad,” and “indio,” with which he attempts to retain his rightful Spanish recognition, in his narrative Cabeza de Vaca struggles to interpret several incidents of native displacement and population loss. So at one level, his language presents imperially encoded ideological relationships and categories that configure Cabeza de Vaca’s understanding of events witnessed but that may not address things accurately. At another level, however, they do give him the power to explain in a Spanish imperial manner to an audience who comprehends such discourse. This means his empire-building language can have great social impact even though it may not have much if anything to do with the physical landscape or the social environment or the people with which he dealt. The term “indio” reveals this. Cabeza de Vaca recognizes the diversity of the indigenous people he encounters when he admits he cannot use the six languages he knows because there are more than a thousand indio languages.14 However, the term “indio” assists all the Spanish conquerors in forming an amalgamation of a multi-tribal world containing great physical diversity, linguistic differences, and a multitude of cultural frameworks. This is so because, as displayed in Cabeza de Vaca’s utterances, a cristiano/Hispanic functional and meaningful discourse rooted in an imperial history precedes the manner in which the conqueror defines and gives meaning to relationships in the Americas. Consequently, the Narváez Expeditionary members perceive themselves as the ones who will impose a cristiano/Hispanic imperial system on an indigenous American population, whose religious conversion they seek along with their labor, wealth, and other resources.

Like the other Spanish conquerors, even when he is attached to a military expedition, Cabeza de Vaca is a part of a minority in the sea of indigenous people. In the Americas, the Spanish conquerors’ minority status is what stands out. It plays a large and constant role in their insecurity. Cabeza de Vaca, like other Spanish conquerors, is confronted by the difficult task of placing himself in a position of dominance over a very large native population. This is always in the background, even when he observes disruptions of and deaths in the native community.

Entering the American mainland, he gambles he can conquer and dominate the numerous native people. Unfortunately for him, the Narváez expedition does not conquer. Instead, the 300-man expedition that heads inland loses contact with the ships and is unable to sustain itself (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. A8v). The expedition disintegrates and as a castaway, Cabeza de Vaca experiences two different types of native societies, one hunter/gatherer nomadic and the other sedentary, and two different situations, one in which he does not have military backing and one when he does have it. In both experiences, he always recognizes the Spaniards are a very vulnerable minority and that he needs to react to different native discourses.

For about eight years (1528-1536), Cabeza de Vaca interacts with natives, mostly from a position of weakness. He is in a subordinate, marginalized, and alienated condition, and always in danger of being absorbed into the indigenous community. In the fluidity of his castaway situation, he experiences cultural, linguistic, and religious/philosophical difficulties in understanding the land he travels and in communicating with the native people. The castaway Cabeza de Vaca journeys the land, acknowledging that it is filled with people: “es tierra muy poblada” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. G5v). Again and again, Cabeza de Vaca notes the numbers of natives he runs into even in the harsher territories he travels. As he consistently encounters natives, he not only needs to interacts with them but also to give narrative meaning to these numerous people he labels “indios,” especially when he experiences several distressed indigenous communities. As he attempts to conquer them, if not physically at least rhetorically, his narrative language displays the Spanish conqueror engaging, accommodating, rejecting, and, as castaway, forestalling his absorption into a large indio population. He must respond, though, to the indigenous people and “make room for the other’s active responsive understanding”; such an interaction leads Cabeza de Vaca to recognize diverse relationship boundaries, forced rejoinders, and an alternate discussion concerning his and others’ identity (Bakhtin 1986, 71-72).

First Encounter

The first incident occurs in 1528 on the Isla de Malhado as follows. In La relación, Cabeza de Vaca makes clear that not even when the Spanish have coercive military power can they easily absorb the native people into the empire. Additionally, as castaway, Cabeza de Vaca is in no position to implement the Spanish imperial dominion and assimilation of natives himself. This is dramatically exhibited when Cabeza de Vaca pleads to the natives that they take the castaways into their community or the Spaniards will die, “rogué a los indios que nos llevassen a sus casas” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. C6v ). Cabeza de Vaca’s request to the natives generates a rhetorical exchange that starkly shows the words “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad” lose their assumed full imperial referential force, revealing their weakened interpretive power. First, in the indigenous sphere, there is no way to appeal to the authority of “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad.” Second, Cabeza de Vaca’s communication is to present the castaways as “people” who are in need and hopes a response from the natives that acknowledges this.

The natives answer Cabeza de Vaca’s plea for shelter. They take in the shipwrecked Spaniards, and then many natives begin to die of a stomach ailment for which the natives blame the Spaniards (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. C8r). During this occurrence, the terms they and we have very serious meanings, for the Spaniards find themselves in a very dangerous situation without a legitimate voice in the community. The threat of killing the Spaniards can become a fact. Again the imperial terms “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad” are not directly central to the situation. The natives clearly identify the Spanish as the “other,” ellos, and as such, the Spaniards have no claim to authority within the native community.

Cabeza de Vaca informs that “nosotros” (we) are accused of being the cause of the deaths by the natives. Cabeza de Vaca and his companions are accused, but they do not reply. In this instance, the power relations are dominated by the indio. The cultural discourse orientation of Cabeza de Vaca’s “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad” are out of place in the context. This is most noticeable when he presents the native who holds him as making a speech in the defense of the castaways, “que no creyessen que nosotros éramos los que los matávamos.”15 Cabeza de Vaca does not raise his voice, reflecting his lack of standing and his vulnerability in that situation. Instead, one hears the words of the indio making a case for the castaway Spaniards with what sounds like a rational argument. The castaways have no tribal validity. Nevertheless, their presence and the crisis created by the deadly disease prod a reply to them within the native discourse context.

There is also Cabeza de Vaca’s response to the Spanish reader of his relación. Through the notion of virtue that arises, the imperial discourse is brought back into the narrative, in this case, as an appeal to the Spanish reader of the narrative, which points out that the castaways having nothing of physical worth remain cristianos and are still committed to converting and correcting the errors of the indios.

The defending native speaker invokes common sense and raises the ethical imperative of doing the right thing. Nevertheless, though articulated by an indigenous person, the attention to virtue in La relación echoes back to Cabeza de Vaca’s statement in the beginning of his narrative where virtue relates to his divine trial during which his distinguished services arises.16 The native who stands up for the Spaniards points out to his fellow community members that many of the Spanish castaways have also died without them being able to prevent it: “tantos de nosotros como ellos veían que avían muerto sin que les pudiéramos poner remedio.”17 If they were the cause, he says, then why did they kill their own? In the narrative, the term “indio” is temporarily re-identified at this point. A double focus appears in the narrative, in the sense that indio has more than one acknowledged discourse orientation: one is represented by the natives who want to kill the Spaniards and the other by the one who defends them.18

In his speech, the indio verifies within the indigenous cultural context who is “we” (nosotros)—the indigenous tribal members—and that “they” (ellos; the Spaniards) are the strangers, which clearly defines the castaways as not part of the tribe who yet still have a right to be recognized. The Spaniards are accorded, through an intermediary, space for their response. Two indigenous perspectives of the castaways are articulated with both anticipating possible responsive reactions relating to their discursive context. The native who defends Cabeza de Vaca and his companions ends his statement by telling his fellow community members that the best thing to do is to leave the castaways alone (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. C8r). And his argument saves the Spaniards.19

Cabeza de Vaca’s interpretation highlights the understood notion of virtue as a functioning universal basis for resolving problems practically. This in turn alludes to cristiano/Hispanic philosophical underpinnings. However, the indio discourse that saves them demonstrates the reality of an indigenous world. The native’s speech forces a re-contextualization of the label “indio,” making the word problematic in the Spanish imperial context, for not only does indio become active and multifaceted. The native’s tribal position and words determine the appeal and authority of his discourse, and his language demands an active response from his fellow tribal members. In this indigenous dialogic process, Cabeza de Vaca’s term “indio” is undermined because that word has no place in that tribal exchange. In fact, the Spanish imperial discourse disposition, which allows the conqueror to treat what seem disparate indigenous discourse actions and reactions as actually understood by his imperial framework, is undone. At this juncture in La relación, “indio” breaks away from Spanish conqueror’s perspective that assumes it contains the authoritative word on everything. Instead, the imperial discourse cannot define and control the natives through the use of the word “indio.

Second Encounter

In La relación, Cabeza de Vaca needs to demonstrate loyalty to the emperor while under the difficult circumstances of great physical deprivation and daily hardship. La relación contains the examples of Dorotheo Theodoro and Lope de Oviedo who willingly join indigenous communities, accepting a tribal cultural context, and in the process engendering a deep and crippling sense of abandonment of the Spanish imperial endeavor (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. C2r, D4v). Cabeza de Vaca understands that if he is perceived by his fellow Spaniards as becoming an indio—in other words, not adhering to his cristano/Hispanic imperial culture—he will be rejected and this means the end of his viability in the imperial context. One of the more grave possible outcomes could have been Cabeza de Vaca being assimilated into the native social/cultural framework and ceasing to exist as a person of cristiano/Hispanic background. In such a state, he would no longer fit in the Spanish empire-building frame of reference, except in terms of disloyalty and betrayal. He would have been another Guerrero, who, according to Stephen Greenblatt, “collapsed into the other” (1991, 141). Consequently, he clearly states practical reasons for taking on several roles in the indigenous community. For instance, he is a trader in order to get food and better treatment and also to learn about routes to be used for escaping the non-cristiano indigenous domain.20 He is the pilgrim on a journey to the tierras cristianas (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D3v; Christian lands).21 In addition, Cabeza de Vaca informs his reader he is the chosen one who will lead his companions out of catividad (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. D5v, E5v.; captivity). All of this is done in order to carry out his duties to God and the Spanish crown. These reasons distract, in the first place, from the sub-discourse in the text that alludes to natives’ impact on allowing or not Cabeza de Vaca to take on such roles within their community.22 What is also not usually acknowledged, as the second episode demonstrates, is that the natives at times do make it clear they will not absorb the Spanish into their community.

The second Cabeza de Vaca encounter with suffering indios occurs also on Isla de Malhado and is one in which the Spaniards bear no responsibility for the indigenous social disruption and loss of life. The discussion, though, is about how Cabeza de Vaca with the aid of his imperial discourse interprets the situation. In this case, again the term “indio” stands out, which pre-ordains a social/cultural difference that denies the indigenous population complete acceptance as cristiano/Hispanics. For Cabeza de Vaca, the indio cultural construct means turning the natives into vassals, which fulfills his duty and service and establishes relationship boundaries with the conquered. In this second encounter, though, the label “indio” raises questions about legitimate actions and obligations toward the natives. Although his words carry a Spanish imperial history, it is not easily used in this situation. For as Cabeza de Vaca attempts through his discourse to give meaning to a dreadful indigenous situation, his words respond in anticipation to indigenous statements about whether or not his assumptions concerning them are correct.

The incident under discussion occurs during what Cabeza de Vaca describes as a very hard season (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D1r). Cabeza de Vaca is a castaway who is dependent for sustenance on the natives holding him. This is either because he does know how to get the food or is too weak to engage in such activity. However, both natives and Spaniards suffer from the severe weather and from hunger. The result is that natives begin to die.

In the midst of a very difficult period, Cabeza de Vaca’s cristiano/Hispanic lenses are tasked to clarify indigenous relationships with him and his to them, especially in the midst of indigenous loss of life. Cabeza de Vaca points to the following custom of theirs. When a son or brother dies the immediate family members do not seek food for three months, which means that relatives, neighbors, or friends provide them with food. In bad weather conditions, the non-mourning native members of the community are hard pressed to find food for themselves let alone for the mourners. During this difficult period, the mourners are not receiving sustenance and are not breaking the ritual observance in order to get food, which, consequently, result in them getting weak and sick. The rest of the native group cannot feed them, and so the weakened mourners cannot fight off the elements and illnesses. This leads to mounting deaths. However, Cabeza de Vaca points out that the natives do not have to adhere to the patriarchal custom as he informs that the indios who hold him decide to leave the island, taking him along, and head to the tierra firme (mainland) where they can find sources of food (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D1r, D1v).

There are, at least, two cultural conversations being conducted in this incident in La relación. One exchange is between Cabeza de Vaca and his cristiano/Hispanic audience, during which he anticipates their questions. The other exchange is between Cabeza de Vaca and the indios. In this first cultural exchange, he addresses the reader of his text, attempting to reconstruct for them an unknown native people, who are identified as gente de ellos (“others”), and their relationships (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D1r). As he gives information, his discourse attempts to codify the indio discourse, which is recognized as a different form of representation that requires clarification within the cristiano/Hispanic context.

A major Spanish concern that is in the background and informs his reactions entails the fears that the Spanish conqueror can be absorbed into an indigenous culture or, at least, have his cristiano/Hispanic cultural distinctiveness eroded in time. In his text, he observes, interprets, and responds to the indigenous cultural actions by contrasting himself (as cristiano/Hispanic) with the indio. The natives are ellos, the other, and he is the español who serves Dios and Vuestra Magestad. He points to their custom and his powerlessness at that moment because he is held by the natives. Even though Cabeza de Vaca is without a Spanish army and vulnerable as a castaway, he rhetorically informs the reader he is continuing the imperial mission, his imperial discourse implying that eventually the indios will be subdued and made useful in the Spanish imperial framework. However, in that harsh weather situation he, too, is suffering along with all the natives from hunger and bad weather (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D1r).

The second cultural exchange between Cabeza de Vaca and the indios presents a complex mix of different discourses over which Cabeza de Vaca has no say. The natives know stories about these strange castaways, and one associates them with cannibalism and another with an unfortunate ailment that strikes natives, which makes all the Spaniards “them” (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. C7v, C8rindio,” specifically that they cannot be a part of the legitimate native community.

Within the cultural social network of the indigenous community, the native deaths and disrupted community generate levels of meaning for all involved that cross back and forth between discourses that define who “we” and “they” are. For instance, Cabeza de Vaca’s use of the word “estuvimos” (we were) seems to merge the Spanish castaways and the natives in the text, making the “us” unclear in terms of group distinctions and implications of status (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D1r). The Spanish imperial discourse frame thereby loosens and leads to some ambiguities.

During this life-threatening situation, indio custom dominates and carries meaning, and there is much narrative silence from Cabeza de Vaca. As noted, Cabeza de Vaca cannot assert control and is in no condition to subjugate the natives. After all, he acknowledges that he is under the control of the tribal people he is with at that moment with the phrase “los indios que a mí me tenían” (the natives who held me). He comes across as a marginal and silent observer in the indigenous debate about what to do about the survival of the group. The imperial weight of words like “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad” is not felt because such terms are not part of the tribal dialogue. The facts are that the indios hold authority over him and that he depends on them for survival. On the surface, it appears the natives do not communicate with him at all except when he is informed by his group of natives they are leaving and he departs with them.

Despite all this, Cabeza de Vaca remains a constituent part of the situation. The natives communicate with him, for he imparts to the reader the indigenous patriarchal custom that he points to as contributing to the tribe’s difficult situation. He interacts with the natives, knowing some of the ones who die. He goes where the natives go and experiences their areitos y fiestas (ritual songs and dances), and eventually they demand he take the role of físico (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. D1v; physician). Despite the fact that the conversation is dominated by the natives, one discerns a complex multi-faceted system of relationships that make it impossible to deny the existence of others, including that of the castaways.

Cabeza de Vaca is involved in a complex dialogue involving anticipated responses with two audiences: the native one and the projected cristiano/Hispanic one. However, in cultural/political terms, his imperial interpretive categories do not function well. In actuality, crucial Spanish imperial terms, such as “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad,” remain outside the native discussion. In practical terms in this situation, Cabeza de Vaca’s relationship to the indigenous members of the group is one of being a subordinate, which is highlighted by his lack of voice in the tribal community. The natives make it clear they will not absorb Cabeza de Vaca as a member of their community. His physical dependence on the adversely affected natives and his outcast status leave him struggling to make things fit in the existing imperial frame. This situation also exhibits indigenous independence.23 Although Cabeza de Vaca attempts to incorporate the indio’s acts and perspective into his imperial discourse, the result is an incomplete discourse between him and the natives. This is one of many impaired exchanges in the narrative that discloses limited and/or distorted understandings between Cabeza de Vaca and the natives.

Third Encounter

After 1534, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions commend themselves to God, they escape from the natives who are holding them and head out in search of tierra cristiana.24 All the castaways have already taken on the role of físico (physician). It is a role the native discourse constructs, which demands tribally-defined responsibilities and accords rights within the indigenous community. In a third incident with suffering native people, tribal people who have been in contact with Cabeza de Vaca deliver to him natives who have been ravaged and are marked by a disease that leaves the majority of the survivors partially (in one eye) or completely blind (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. F7r). The disease-ravaged indigenous people horrify Cabeza de Vaca and raise questions about what caused the disease and what to do, for it is an illness that Cabeza de Vaca and the healthy natives do not recognize. Before the afflicted wretched people, the tribal people and Cabeza de Vaca lack words that will transform the painful sight into an explainable event within their separate discourse contexts.

The possibility arises that this is an imported disease like smallpox that is preceding the Europeans’ physical arrival and devastating the indigenous population. Smallpox, for instance, is spreading across indigenous communities in a deadly manner, and it is known that in the north of New Spain, the conqueror Guzmán is introducing diseases into the Culiacán region (Voight 2009, 75). In addition, during the late 1520s and early 1530s, Spanish slaving expeditions and the spread of non-indigenous diseases for which the natives did not have immunity devastate large areas to the north such as the Pánuco and San Miguel de Culiacán regions (Reff 1996, 121-122).

In the narrative, Cabeza de Vaca conveys the sadness of the encounter but communicates little about what occurs during his encounter with these physically disfigured and suffering natives. In fact, emphasizing his need to continue on his way out of the non-cristiano world, he quickly shifts the narrative to talk about the mountains that become visible, writing, “[a]quí empeçamos a ver sierras” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. F7r). These natives stand before Cabeza de Vaca, and he admits to being aghast. In this instance Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse representations from “privileged literary models such as the Bible and hagiography” do not arise in his attempt to articulate the situation.25 Miraculous cures or cures of any kind are not considered.26 Cabeza de Vaca does not mention trying to assist the disease-stricken natives as he has done for some others before this. The restriction of Cabeza de Vaca’s utterances implies that he cannot assist the ravaged natives as físico (physician), as Spanish conqueror, or as missionary.

The limiting of his words is reinforced by a pillager/victim pattern that is at play when a tribal group, led by principales (important native leaders), escorts the castaways to another indigenous community.27 Once there, they take the wealth of those natives to whom they transfer Cabeza de Vaca and his companions.28 Then the castaways are conducted by the pillaged group of natives to the next indigenous community, where they steal from that community in order to make up for their lost (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. G3r). Adorno observes that the looting natives’ rhetorical construct of the castaways involves skillful manipulation of the dread associated with them and succeeds in the purpose of acquiring possession of the other’s property (178-79).

As part of the pattern, Cabeza de Vaca notes that he and his companions are under the control of the indios who rob and then the former victimized ones who become plunderers (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. F6v, F7r, F7v).29 The tribal group that steals always demands that the victimized natives hand over their wealth or the menacing Spaniards, who they claim have the power to destroy or save, will be offended.30 The different indigenous groups, which follow the pillager/victim pattern, use their discourse to label the castaways as not simply healers but as potentially harmful and damaging people. Cabeza de Vaca does not mention if the healthy tribal people who present the blind or almost blind people to him have or have not appropriated the diseased weakened natives’ property. His comments are limited.

The ideological arena for social interaction that governs how a conversation is to proceed is left in the air by Cabeza de Vaca. His narrative silences leave an unclear and unfinished conversation, in addition to making his discourse ineffective in transmitting, formulating, and orienting the native incident into a Spanish empire-building narrative process. The incident reveals Cabeza de Vaca is lacking cristiano/Hispanic cues about how to understand the unexpected meeting, for blessings and Christian appeals cannot unfold the situation, and the saving element of an imperial addressee (the emperor), who understands and validates the situation, is weakened. He is left with is his need to use the native discourse of him as a threat to the indigenous communities as a way to find a trail and guides to convey him to the tierra cristiana.

In the incident, a fragmentation of discourses is palpable. An appalled Cabeza de Vaca focuses on the horror of the situation and the result is a prevailing awkward silence that interferes with an exchange with others. Cabeza de Vaca fails to construct a response. The uncertainty in Cabeza de Vaca’s imperial rhetoric during this circumstance displays a dispersed authority and the limits of his empire-building language. In the account, there is for Cabeza de Vaca no formal imperial structure. There is a lack of words, which are needed for the purpose of transforming the painful sight into an explainable event through his discourse. The imperial discourse that imparts authority and meaning does not construct an adequate setting for his cristiano/Hispanic audience. Consequently, the articulation of the dreadful situation is a hazardous undertaking for Cabeza de Vaca because things may not be understood or can be misunderstood, or, worse, no one will listen, leading to no response at all. In addition, the Spanish imperial interpretation is set against indigenous ones, pressing with a juxtaposition of various points of view that are there but not given clear and significant voices. What comes across is Cabeza de Vaca lacking a common language, common cultural touchstones, and accepted common knowledge, making it difficult for him to orchestrate the voices involved in this dismaying event.

Fourth Encounter

This leads to the fourth incident with its complex discourse situation. At one level, Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse makes him a físico who transforms cultural symbols to fit the imperial endeavor. However, at a second level, his attempt to incorporate others’ utterances into the discourse of the Spanish imperial endeavor is not effective. Although his statements do bring information and knowledge that can be useful to the conqueror, his account reveals indigenous people’s independent existence and their power to give meaning to the castaways: strangers who can disrupt and kill.

Although Cabeza de Vaca labels himself and his companions as físico, the indigenous people have other impressions about them, such as being cannibals and bringers of disease. First, as noted earlier, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions are traveling the region where tales of them have preceded them or natives who accompany them transmit the stories. This means that they are associated not only with healings but with cannibalistic acts and episodes of disease. Second, also noted before, natives led by principales (important native leaders) promote the narrative that the castaways are dangerous to the tribal communities, for they speak of the strangers as beings who can disrupt and kill.

The fourth event involves natives falling ill and some dying. This deadly incident occurs when Cabeza de Vaca and his companions ask the group of natives who are with them to guide them to the west (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. G3r). The guiding natives come up with excuses for not taking them in that direction, which angers the castaways. Afterwards many natives become ill, and eight die. The natives blame the Spanish for those deaths but also fear them because they see the castaways as the cause of their state of extreme distress, which is reflected when they plead with Cabeza de Vaca and his companions to stop their angry and to cease desiring to kill more of them (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. G4r). This gives the castaways an opportunity to take advantage of the natives’ fear as a means of getting them to lead them to tierras cristianas. Nevertheless, the castaways dread that the terrified indios will all die or abandon them, for they desperately need the assistance of the indigenous people.

Cabeza de Vaca once more witnesses the disruption of a native community produced by an illness that suddenly strikes and that Cabeza de Vaca and the indigenous people do not recognize but to which both have to accord meaning. In the context of this dramatic event, when survival is at stake for Cabeza de Vaca and, it seems, also for the natives, the discourse interactions between the different groups reveal various organizing narrative categories. For the natives, the issue is how to coexist with these very different people who are associated with painful and tragic consequences for those who make contact and cohabit with them. For Cabeza de Vaca, his empire-building discourse presents the físico role as a means to perform and lay the ground for the natives’ conversion to Christianity and acceptance of Spanish governance, opening the way for imperial expansion and transformation.

In this incident, the native groups respond to Cabeza de Vaca, but their discourse transformation of him is based on their knowledge of his short known history, his much unknown one, and their demand that he take on a useful tribal role. It is important to remember that there are two verbalized native perceptions about the castaways, which are based on the pillager/victim pattern that makes it difficult for Cabeza de Vaca to codify the event through his empire-building discourse. This native fashioning of the castaways establishes clear-cut boundaries and relationship within the indigenous context for all involved that determine their references to preceding utterances and responsive options. Rhetorical assimilation and the supplanting of the natives’ views appear not to be possible here for the castaways. In this instance, he does not even give the santiguar (blessing) as a minimal sign for communicating his commitment to his imperial discourse (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. G4r, G4v).

The shocking swiftness of the illness that kills tribal people frightens both natives and castaways, who proceed to be involved in an unfolding mutual process of interpretation. Cabeza de Vaca’s demand to the natives for guides to take him west under the deadly situation reinforces views that two oppositional groups exist. Nevertheless, although Cabeza de Vaca gets the indios to guide him after the deadly illness experience, he needs to respond to the natives, whose perspective—even if incomplete and/or not clear—expresses and reproduces itself alongside that of Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse. He embraces the tale that makes the castaways dangerous beings in order to proceed westward, acknowledging this indigenous discourse construct whose rhetoric carries weight. At the same time, he struggles to justify his act within the Spanish imperial enterprise, raising a narrative doubt concerning whose perception is valid.

In the fourth incident, the interaction between different groups results in conflicting conversations among the natives and the Spanish castaways. As Cabeza de Vaca articulates his situation, he develops contextual ambiguities, as exemplified by the term físico, which is “shot through” with both Spanish and indigenous cultural intentions and meanings (Bakhtin 1980, 293). In the process of learning about each other, the castaways and indigenous people understand cultural differences. There is the fearful discourse construction of the físico used by principales who manage and develop the identity of the Spanish castaways in order to gain the goods of others. One reaction of the assaulted people to the pillaging natives’ articulation of the threatening nature of the castaways is to ritually attempt to contain the físicos. This is enacted by physically separating the strangers from the community. On the other hand, Cabeza de Vaca and his companions at times appeal to the dark perception communicated by the tribal people. All of them do grasp that the discourse common ground is that dictated by the indigenous people.

The natives fear a complete connection with the castaways, for in their discourse they are equated with misfortune and suffering. Cabeza de Vaca requires guides in order to reconnect with cristianos, an act which will confirm his loyalty to God and the Spanish crown by avoiding assimilation into the indigenous community.

Fifth Encounter

When the castaway Cabeza de Vaca reconnects with Spaniards in 1536, he sees the results of the destruction of indigenous communities by Spanish slave raiders. The indios are either being killed by the españoles, or they are fleeing to escape being enslaved and/or are living in precarious situations (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. H1v, H2r). This fifth encounter from Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative clearly shows the disastrous effects of Spanish warfare on the indigenous communities which suffer population losses and the ravaging of social and economic relationships.

The status of Cabeza de Vaca definitely changes at this point, for he re-acquires military support. He confirms that the Spanish conquerors constitute a minority of the population in the region, and their military attempts to conquer the mass of native people bring about the problems of holding and governing them. In addition, Cabeza de Vaca criticizes the Spanish slave raiders, who are causing the devastation for the sake of short term gain. He points out that their personal profits from their enslavement incursions result in an inefficient manner of conquest which does not achieve the incorporation and religious conversion of the natives into the empire, for the raids inflict deaths on the natives and cause them to abandon their settlements (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. H3v, H4r). Therefore, he proposes a different manner of dealing with the indios. In order to end the social turmoil that the Spanish conquerors have initiated, they must engage the natives in a less destructive process, one that pacifies them.

In this episode, two different groups of cristianos are identified, which reflect the split in the Spanish “we” concerning who is a true cristiano. Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse also becomes problematic as it functions within the Spanish imperial codes that dictate the possible options required in fulfilling the enterprise for both españoles and indios. For instance, the conqueror’s language arises from a cristiano/Hispanic cultural and ideological frame, which evokes layers of imperial categories and experiences, some of which, for instance, justify the Spanish slave raiders’ use of violence against the indios by classifying them as barbarians, and war against them is promoted as needed to rectify and punish their idolatry and facilitate their conversion to Catholicism (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. A1v). Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse of pacification, which commits him to vanquishing and controlling the natives in a non-violent manner, rejects that conquering approach, for he sees the killing, enslavement, and destabilization of the indigenous community by the Spanish forces in the region as contrary to the imperial project.

Echoing back to the first incident on the Isla de Malhado during which an indio defends him and tells his tribal members to leave the castaways alone, Cabeza de Vaca makes the point that the “cristianos” have to leave the indios alone, for they are undermining justice, hurting the innocent, and hindering their incorporation into the empire. However, this restriction pertains to “[la] culpa de los cristianos” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H4v; the Christians who are guilty of the destruction). Cabeza de Vaca, though, can intrude on the tribal people because he is bringing the empire and religion through the natives’ free will. For Cabeza de Vaca, his approach involves the indios voluntarily coming under His Imperial Majesty: “atraídos a ser christianos y a obediençia de la Imperial Magestad” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H1v; They are drawn to be Christians and to obey Your Imperial Majesty). As in the opening of La relación, he acknowledges the basis of his authority and action, “Sacra, Cesárea, Católica Magestad,” (Sacred, Imperial, Catholic, Majesty) who validates the legitimacy of his non-violent discourse-sanctioned endeavor. Consequently, he seeks to demonstrate he can accomplish in a better fashion than other conquerors the religious mission and imperial duty of converting and turning the natives into vassals.31

In practice, Cabeza de Vaca agrees to assist Melchior Díaz in pacifying the assaulted indios, presenting his aid to him as contributing a great service to “Dios nuestro Señor y Vuestra Magestad” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H5r; God our Lord and Your Majesty). However, the tribal people’s discourse orientation divulges a different perspective. They are under immense pressure and in serious trouble. The Spanish acts of war and the resulting disease and hunger cause losses that affect the natives’ personal and social relationships, tax their support networks, and undermine their political associations. While some natives become enemigos (enemies) of the invaders, fighting them and continuing to completely reject the Spanish, others seek accommodations with the invaders (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H7v).

Melchior Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca negotiate with the natives who wish an arrangement with the invaders. They push to formalize imperial relationship boundaries through a discourse that claims truth, right, and the duty to empire building. Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca seek jurisdiction over the natives. The tribal people seek an agreement that will safeguard them from cristiano attacks. Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca enter into a conversation with the natives and declare that the indigenous people have to comply with what is best in the service of “Dios nuestro Señor y de Su Magestad” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H6v). However, the Spanish lack of numbers forces them to allow indigenous governance of their communities, which leads to the adaptation of dual institutions: the república de indios (republic of Indians) and the república de españoles (republic of Spaniards).32 This type of governing adaptation is an attempt to retain the existing indio order so the Spaniards can govern through it. Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca present this system at the negotiations, in which it is clear that the república de españoles is considered supreme, as the Spanish-imposed cultural and social relationships exclude the indio from the cristiano/Hispanic “we.”

For Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish assault that is the cause of the tragic indio situation is not conducive to their pacification. He makes it known to his reader that his cristiano “we” is the suitable group to liberate the natives and thus provide a great service for “Dios nuestro Señor y a Vuestra Magestad” (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. A6r, H4v, H5r). Consequently, he seeks to assure the natives they are now safe from the other “cristianos.” However, he and Díaz demand they accept their requirements for the offered peace. Consequently, Díaz pronounces that the tribal people are obligated to accept and use the Spanish imperial language, which binds them to the conqueror’s representation of the situation. The natives, for instance, must in all things conform to the required practices of the cristianos/Hispanics as did the baptized Moors. In the name of the emperor, they take possession of land and people with the intent to restore the indigenous communities under Spanish control, which requires the indios to display subservience to their conquerors.33 Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca, cristiano promoters of pacification, order the natives in the name of God and Your Majesty to settle and till the land: “mandássemos de parte de Dios y de Vuestra Magestad que vineissen y poblassen en lo lano y labrassen la tierra” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H5r). They now portray themselves as the ones who bestow legitimacy based on an imperial discourse that cues their ideological expectations and interpretations, erasing the native voice.

There does come a moment when the difference between Cabeza de Vaca’s true and non-true cristiano appears to lose its distinction. Melchior Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca demand that the natives, as Spanish vassals, “creyessen en Dios y lo sirviessen” (comply by converting to Catholicism) or else “los christianos les tratarían muy mal y se los llevarían por esclavos a otras tierras” (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. H5v, H6v, H6r; they will be severely punished and taken away as slaves). Their imperial discourse raises the threat of violence against the tribal people. Their jurisdiction is being imposed by the use of intimidation to force compliance. The natives are required to demonstrate submission by building a house with a cross over the entrance for Dios, feeding and sheltering the cristiano conquerors, and in addition the sons of the principales are required to be baptized (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H5v, H6r). The continued possible use of military violence against the indios remains, but what Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse emphasizes is the merit that he is not harming innocents. The land is resettled, and the indios are friendly, for they are now “assegurados” (secure) and serve the Spaniards, who he mentions are “Espantados de tal novedad” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. H7r; amazed at the result). Again, though, the distinction between true and non-true cristiano becomes unclear because among the conquerors the indigenous people have to serve are the same ones who were causing them great harm and Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca uphold the use of violence against them.

Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca’s language strikes at the indigenous discourse spoken during the negotiations, for they aim to change their status to subordinates.34 Nevertheless, there is no assurance for Cabeza de Vaca that his imperial rhetoric, mirrored in terms such as “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad,” can overcome the indigenous cultural discourse. In the process of imposing the Spanish imperial authoritative perspective on the natives, Díaz and Cabeza de Vaca recognize and reply to the victimized natives’ speech. The tribal people make their voice heard, demanding that the Spanish attacks stop and that their community and land rights be recognized. Their voice has not been effaced, and the españoles have to acknowledge it, for they do not have the numbers to truly impose their rule.

Both parties promote their interests, but what hinders adequate understanding between the two groups is that the Spaniards are intent on conquest. There is also the complication that españoles and natives each draw on different bases of authority and merits, producing between them an uneven conversation. The end of the negotiations does create a respite for both parties, but it is one that leaves a precarious set of relationships between Spanish conquerors and native people. For the Spanish, conversion and civilizing duties still justify interference in the affairs of the tribal communities. As for the indigenous people, the Spanish “Dios” and “Vuestra Magestad” imply that they will experience recurrent cristiano/Hispanic coercion, which will lead to continued indigenous tragedies such as native social dislocation, negative economic shifts, forced native labor requirements, and a decline in the population.

Discursively, in Cabeza de Vaca’s imperial restructuring of relationships, the suffering of the natives is not lost, though its meaning is changed to emphasize a conversion and vassalship process. His discourse shift cannot hide the complex and contending perspectives being raised in truncated forms in the narrative. The natives’ counter-discourse asks who the Spaniards are and what is their authority, their utterances indicating the existence of a non-cristiano/Hispanic formal structure that is etched into the episode. This brings forth the unstated but understood native questions about why do “we” suffer and why do so many of “us” die. Cabeza de Vaca recognizes in his account the indigenous people’s voice through their questions and the answers he gives. However, his dominant language presupposes the single closed context of the Spanish enterprise, and this limits his interpretation of and response to the indios’ discourse to what is required in fulfilling the imperial task. His account does retain traces, though, of the other’s speech, enough to grasp portions of indigenous people’s perspectives and their regeneration in the midst of suffering.


Bauer’s work gives insight into Cabeza de Vaca’s promotion of the crown’s authority in the ideological discourse clashes between Spaniards who represent “two distinct ideas of empire” (56). This, in turn, illuminates a complex español/indio struggle over identity constructs with rejoinders being critical in delineating this conversation. Even though Cabeza de Vaca himself attempts to develop with the natives an exchange that “does not cancel a project of colonial character,” the indigenous voices reverberate with their anticipated replies which do not recognize his imperial endeavor (Pastor, 142). His discourse supports the establishment of a Spanish conquering hierarchy that subordinates interpretation to imperial goals, giving the conqueror discursive control over how to perceive land and people. Nevertheless, in actuality, Cabeza de Vaca is responding to indio discourses because as a castaway, and even later when he again has military power, his survival is not possible without native assistance.

Starting in 1492, significant changes occur to the indigenous population of the Americas through a fragmented and turbulent Spanish conquering onslaught, whose discourse silences or marginalizes all who are defined as “other” (Pastor 122, 157). One consequence of this is an evolving demographic change that gives a new shape to both the histories of the Spaniards and the indigenous people of the Americas. Cabeza de Vaca’s discourse communicates the centrality of the Spanish imperial perspective in La relación in connection to the developing demographic shifts and alterations; however, the episodes’ understanding and coherence shift and drift when the indigenous people’s discourse is admitted into the conversation.

Even as Cabeza de Vaca attempts to incorporate the indigenous people into his imperial context, he is answering their utterances. His account, in fact, reveals the resilience of natives who are experiencing very deadly situations. Consequently, Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative encounters with distressed indigenous communities highlight an inconsistently forced re-structuring of native identity by his imperial cultural discourse, which contains contradictions and is disrupted by the voices of the natives.35

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, in his 1542 La relación, employs the mentioned imperially authorizing discourse to interpret the dismal encounters with distressed indigenous communities. However, at times, his application of the Spanish imperial interpretation on his encounters with suffering natives does not function adequately, but instead reveals dissonant and ambiguous patterns. The discourse terms that emphasize and propel empire building obfuscate the indigenous trauma in the encounters whether caused or not by the Spanish, for the issue of imperial authority makes it difficult to hear the native voice. In addition, discordances and disjunctions arise in the Spanish and indigenous exchanges, not allowing a fully developed conversation between the Spanish themselves and the Spanish and indigenous people about the dismal indigenous incidents Cabeza de Vaca reports. This type of Spanish imperial discourse does solidify a conqueror’s identity in the midst of a numerous native people and their suffering. However, words such as Dios, Vuestra Magestad, and indio force connections between two worlds which are incommensurable, and in such a discursive context, the cultural conflicts of interests between the Spanish and the natives are irreconcilable. Cabeza de Vaca needs to interpret the encounters with distressed natives, but the translation is flawed, for it leaves Cabeza de Vaca struggling to make sense of anguished indigenous communities who suffer loss of life.

My rejoinder analysis focus on Cabeza de Vaca’s attempted ideological interpretation of the five encounters with distressed indigenous communities accounts for an important dimension of the Spanish/indigenous interaction, exposing in La relación the incomplete imprint of the dismembered but retained indigenous voice. The deciphering of the Spanish conquering process in La relación is crucial for indigenous people and Mexican Americans because this narrative documents part of the traumatic invasion of the Americas that alters native people’s identity and sets the foundations for those later categorized as the Mexican American ethnic group.36 This study seeks to promote a scholarly conversation about cultural exchanges, adaptations, and changes that over time affect indigenous and Mexican American people and their significance. By recognizing the rejoinders in Cabeza de Vaca’s encounters, the opportunity emerges to detect indigenous traces partially erased by the official conquest conversation, making one conscious of a native speech and leading to an understanding of the discursive conflict involved in the transformation of the Americas. The battle over rhetorical perspectives persists. Consequently, indigenous people continue to liberate themselves from the legacy of European subjugation, represented here by the Spaniards, while Mexican Americans persevere in understanding their identity as a people whose origins lie in that violent conquest. The awareness of the discourse exchange during the conquest period presents to the silenced and marginalized people the possibility to transcend the imperial limits set then.


1. The Cabeza de Vaca translations are my own, and for the Spanish quotations, I follow the original orthography. Throughout the essay, translations of Spanish terms are represented parenthetically within the document upon the first introduction of that term. On occasion, I will also provide in the notes Spanish originals for transliterations within the text the essay.

2. See, for instance, Bauer (2003, 56, 62- 63, 75).

3. In La relación, there arises a struggle that pits decentralization tendencies against centralization of authority in the person of the emperor. In general, Spanish conquerors press for traditional feudal prerogatives while the Spanish imperial administration seeks to strengthen the emperor’s powers (Bauer 2003, 51, 52). Bakhtin observes that “the utterance is constructed while taking into account possible responsive reactions [of others]” (Bakhtin 1986, 94).

4. Roughly speaking this region today encompasses Northern Mexico and the Southwest United States. For an insightful discussion on how historiography has approached the region see Alfredo Jiménez Núñez (2001).

5. The rejoinder has its beginning in the preceded “utterances of others, and its end is followed by the responsive utterances of others” (Bakhtin 1986, 71).

6. There is a body of scholarship that deals with the demographic impact of the Spanish conquest. Livi Bacci (2008), a demographic scholar, for instance, concludes that Spanish economic and social policies along with imported diseases contribute to the drastic indigenous community trauma and population decline.

7. La reconquista (718-1492) refers to the struggle between Christian forces and Moorish forces for the Iberian Peninsula that is crucial in the development of the Castilian ideological basis for what becomes the Spanish Empire. See Taboada (2004, 43).

8. See Livi Bacci (2008, 5-6).

9. See Seed (1993, 635, 639).

10.con poder y mando de Vuestra Magestad para conquistar y governar las provincias” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. A3r).

11. Although there is much discussion still about where exactly Cabeza de Vaca and his companions were shipwrecked at this time, many scholars, including Adorno and Pautz, point to the area of present day Texas (Adorno and Pautz 1999, vol. 2, 156, 163).

12. Cabeza de Vaca seeks the appointment to be in charge of the Florida expedition, but it is granted to Hernando de Soto (Adorno and Pautz, Vol 1, 379,-380).

13. “As Roberto González Echevarría argues in ‘The Law of the Letter,’ sixteenth–century novelists and New World chroniclers alike appropriated the notarial rhetoric employed in such documents [relaciones de servicios and información] in an effort to legitimize ‘the voice which narrates the story’” (Voight 2009, 75).

14. According to the text, “más de mil diferencias” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. G7v).

15. The native said that his fellow tribal members should not believe that we (the Spaniards) were the ones who were killing them (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. C8r).

16.sino por sola voluntad y juicio de Dios, donde nasce que uno salga con más señalados servicios que pensó” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. A1v ; however, by God’s will and judgment that it happens that a person comes away with more distinguished services than expected). Agnew remarks that the “misteriosa profecía” of the mora de Hornachos, which appears toward the end of La Relación, is conveyed by one of the women of the expedition and predicts that through the survivors of the ordeal God would perform great miracles. Agnew comments that this “reafirma lo que era implícito en el resto de la narración, es decir, que Alvar Núñez había participado en un viaje supuestamente bendecido por la Providencia” (2003, 234; reaffirms what is implicit in the rest of the narrative, that is that Álvar Núñez has participated in a supposedly Providencially blessed journey).

17. Cabeza de Vaca informs one that the native said the following: As they saw, many of us as well as them had died without us being able to prevent it (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. C8r).

18. Voloshinov observes that “[s]peech becomes a battlefield for opposing intentions” (1973, 198).

19. Bakhtin notes that through the “other” one can see and know what one does not see and does not know. One becomes aware of a different perspective (Bakhtin 1990, 87).

20.[Y]o buscava por dónde me avía de ir adelante” ( Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. D4r, D3r, D3v).

21. Michael Agnew points out two types of pilgrimage that are in Cabeza de Vaca’s account: the march to freedom and the journey of religious devotion (222).

22. Mariah Wade states that “Cabeza de Vaca, a male, is compelled to perform native women’s chores,” such as those involving the trader role (1999, 333).

23. This indigenous independence ironically will be used later in the criollo independence discourse. See Earle (2001).

24.nos encomedamos a Dios nuestro Señor y nos fuimos huyendo” (Cabeza de Vaca, sig. E3r).

25. Daniel Reff comments that Cabeza de Vaca represents “his New World experiences using privileged literary models such as the Bible and hagiography” (117). One hagiographical model, for instance, is Saint Paul’s life. Kun Jong Lee argues that Cabeza de Vaca “reconstructs his experience in parallel with the major moments of Paul’s life thereby represents himself as the Spanish Paul among American Gentiles” (242).

26. There are at least two other occasions when Cabeza de Vaca does not attempt cures. One is when he is with the Mariames from whom he eventually flees from and when he is with the Arbadaos where life is very difficult for all and finds that they are very ill and emaciated and swollen (muy enfermos y flacos e hinchados). See Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. D7v, D8r, E8r.

27. The principales show successful leadership through their forceful theft of others’ goods. From the victimized native group other principales rise and take up the looting group’s discourse and seek the success that comes by providing for the tribal group.

28. For clarification purposes, let me point out the following about the two verbalized native perceptions. One is expressed by the indios who get assaulted by others when the castaways reach them. The other perception is articulated by the native manipulators of the Spaniards’ identity, whose goal is to persuade others to give up their property. This gets complex dialogically because the victims then become looters and use the language that sanctions the plunder. From the view of the natives who get raided, the castaways are the cause of community distress and possibly the deaths of tribal members. Consequently, they are interpreted as outsiders and as dangerous. The second group, the looting natives, are led by principales, who convey the Spanish “healers” to tribal communities from whom they demand that they hand over their wealth. If they do not, they threaten that the dangerous strangers will disrupt and kill.

29. Cabeza de Vaca admits he does not have the authority to stop the pillaging group of natives who arrive with him and are directed by the principales from taking the property of the other natives. He states, “más no éramos parte para remediallo” (we had no power to remedy it). He also admits he turns what is offered to him to the plundering natives.

30. Cabeza de Vaca informs that the plundering natives said, “[D]ezían que éramos hijos del sol y que teníamos poder para sanar los enfermos y para matarlos” (Cabeza de Vaca, sigs. F6v, F8r.; “They said we were children of the sun and had the power to heal the sick and to kill them).

31. A contrasting example is Columbus, who sets the pattern of the conquest, for he accepts violent subjugation (e.g., enslavement) of the natives he encounters in what becomes known as las Indias. For instance, he expresses this as a given when he speaks about gold and about Christian security and certain domination of the indios along with the great hope of glory and the spread of Christianity (Columbus 1994, 153).

32. For more on the establishment of these dual institutions, see Castro (2007, 55).

33. Guillermo Serés comments on la tercera redacción (C 1532) del Orlando furioso by Ariosto, pointing out the Providential view of Charles V as the one pastor and the one monarch who will bring peace and justice (2011, 331- 332).

34. According to Nan Goodman, the only way for Cabeza de Vaca as royal treasurer to recover his initial outlay of money is through the collection of royal revenue, which is only possible after a territory is pacified and controlled (2005, 235- 236).

35 Bruce-Novoa remarks that Cabeza de Vaca attempts to return to the center of signification at the Court of Charles the V but fails (15).

36. The discourse clash over the ethnic identity of indigenous people and Mexican Americans reveals in their responses “the medium of the surrounding ideological world” whose roots go back to the Spanish conquest (Bakhtin and Medvedev 1985, 14).


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Indigenitude Theory as a Pedagogical History of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Review by Margaret E. Cantú-Sánchez

Indigenous Quotient Stalking Words: American Indian Heritage as Future
Juan Gómez-Quiñones
Aztlán Libre Press, 2012.
131 pages.

Juan Gómez-Quiñones wastes no time in getting to the point of his text, Indigenous Quotient Stalking Words: American Indian Heritage as Future, by explicitly stating that Indigenous cultures and histories should be implemented in K-12 and university curricula. Despite this fervent opinion, Gómez-Quiñones takes special care in noting that it is an assertion that many contest due to the belief that Native American studies are perceived as a thing of the past and therefore should be left to scholars and the ease with which Indian consciousness is often appropriated. Gómez-Quiñones emphasizes, however, that the implementation of Indigenous cultures and histories into school pedagogies can raise awareness as long as such challenges are addressed. Gómez-Quiñones attempts to bring awareness to this issue by contesting the historiography of certain terms, critically examining colonial history especially “Conquista” writings, while discussing their connections to today’s pedagogies.

Gómez-Quiñones begins his argument by contesting the historiography including the “denigrating vocabulary” that surrounds discussions of Indigenous culture. In order to engage in such a task, Gómez-Quiñones begins with the sixteenth century and the European conquest of the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. Specifically, Gómez-Quiñones engages in a critical examination of “Conquista” writings like those written by Christopher Columbus, Hernán Cortés, Bartolomeé de Las Casas, and Vasco de Quiroga among others. Gómez-Quiñones’ examination of “Conquista” writings reveal how indigenous peoples are initially perceived by European colonizers. Just as Native American studies scholars take note of the significance of colonial writings, Gómez-Quiñones also reveals that they also indicate that the colonized peoples, the indigenous, engage in criminal acts in contrast to the altruistic actions of the Europeans. Such contrasting behaviors and the colonists’ desire to write about such actions are decisively political moves as Gómez-Quiñones insists. “Invariably, colonialists assure you that the colonial is a worthy subject who is best dealt with as an object. Indeed, European ends demand that Indian actions validate European triumphalism,” Gómez-Quiñones writes.

While Gómez-Quiñones grounds his theory in history, it is important to note that his purpose here is to contextualize and advocate the need for incorporation of Indigenous history and culture in K-20 and university curricula. Gómez-Quiñones specifically refers to Cortes’ technique of utilizing the history and stories of the Aztec people in an effort to claim Mexico. It is at this point that Gómez-Quiñones notes that despite the European colonizer’s attempt to erase or appropriate Indigenous history, in many cases Indigenous culture has survived. Gómez-Quiñones contends, “His agents [Charles V] made Indians and their children learn the language of dominance, but Indian languages as well as symbols persist, while Charles’ are arcane.” Such efforts to eradicate native languages continue in the US school system today, demonstrating the need to continue to fight such efforts.

In addition to the eradication of native languages, Gómez-Quiñones points out the appropriation of Indian’s past by Criollo descendants of sixteenth century Europeans. Especially critical is his assertion that the eradication of certain Indian histories is attempted while others are claimed as European in origin. Such information is indicative of the European’s subconscious validity of certain Indian knowledge and skills. This discussion also allows Gómez-Quiñones to make a connection to present-day Indian knowledge and culture, while also allowing him to demonstrate how an exploration of history allows for a better understanding of the present. Gómez-Quiñones points to the concepts of mestizaje and hybridity, as well as the writings of Guillermo Bonfil Batalla, arguing that “Mesoamericanas, migrating peoples are today as transborder and transnational as they once were transcontinental.” It is this observation that allows Gómez-Quiñones to correctly assert that “Native Americans must communicate and act across borders of countries and neighborhoods, which they are.”

Gómez-Quiñones brings his point back to the pedagogies of Native Americans by observing that the stories of Pocahontas and the Indians of Plymouth rock that dominate history continue to praise Indian bravery and generosity, yet also point to the need for extermination of those very same individuals. Like other Native American scholars, Gómez-Quiñones too points out the contrasting actions of colonialists. While such assertions continue to be made in history, Gómez-Quiñones note that the 1960s saw an emergence of American Indian Studies programs. Unfortunately, few people supported such efforts. Yet another attempt was made in the 1980s to alter curricula. However, these endeavors were characterized as examples of revisionist history, which proved incorrect; in fact the same anti-Indian sentiments continued to be conveyed.

The text is separated into two major sections; the first is an attempt to counter the historiography surrounding Indian identity, culture, and history, and, the second half reveals Gómez-Quiñones’ theory of Indigenitude and how it may challenge current curricula. To accurately define his concept and theory of Indigenitude, Gómez-Quiñones begins with an examination of the term itself. “For example, the English term Indigenitude is likely to be confused with the older usage of the Spanish term “indigenismo,” which refers to early and mid-twentieth century trends centered on applied government social policies or arts inspirational motifs in the republic of Mexico.” However, like many other labels used to identify the Indigenous, there remains the possibility of re-appropriation. Gómez-Quiñones engages in such a re-appropriation of the term Indigenitude, asserting that his usage of the concept focuses on the “thoughts and ideas of the pro-Indigenistas of the late twentieth century in both the United States and Mexico who upheld the social welfare and intellectual heritage of the Indigenous as high personal and public values.”

Part of this theory includes the incorporation of “testable statements,” which offer stories as explanations for history, similar to testimonios in which one testifies in order to bring light to certain injustices. Gómez-Quiñones further insists that the exploration of the spaces and sites in which Native Americans existed and continue to exist are needed. Especially important are explorations of Indigenous who either chose to migrate from their original locations or were forcibly moved. Once again, an exploration of these moving patterns may allow for a discussion of the mestizaje of Native American cultures, thereby inviting a discussion that scholars of mestizaje and Native American studies may involve themselves in. Included within this mestizaje, Gómez-Quiñones argues are issues of identity in the context of sexuality and gender. To therefore engage in a theory of Indigenitude, Gómez-Quiñones reveals that one must reach consciousness of the aforementioned concepts. To reach consciousness, Gómez-Quiñones explains “we must listen to past voices and also pose questions to answer for our own times.”

Indigenous Quotient Stalking Words encourages readers to engage in a critical reflection of what it means to be Indigenous through an examination grounded in colonialist history. A thorough reading of such a text may allow any reader the chance to contemplate such complex issues that arise with being Indigenous, including but not limited to gender, sexuality, consciousness-raising, Indigenous epistemologies, and transborder/transcultural ideas. Such a text offers vital information to those critical readers just beginning to engage in Mestizaje and Native American Studies, while also offering scholars a point of reference to further their own research involving the incorporation of Indigenous cultural ideas into their classroom.

“Indigenous Knowledge” and Imagined Communities

[Return to Nakum 2011]

By: Nicole Guidotti-Hernández

1. Benedict Anderson argues that communities are “not judged by falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined” (6). This now oft-cited rumination on nationalism is the best way to characterize the commonalities between the essays for this issue of Nakum. Many scholars of American Indian Studies, myself included, would argue that we need to maintain the separation between the status of American Indians and the Mexican national idea of mestizaje and la raza cósmica because of their nationalistic origins outside of the United States, but also because they tend to erase the importance of nation and tribal identities in the U.S. But these essays show a varied range of how the lives of Native Americans, Chicana/os, and Latina/os overlap, conflict, and remain distinct.

2. These points of intersection and conflict for some might provide an opportunity for thinking about theories of sovereignty, space, and autonomy that come from American Indian Studies, while others might see such sites as the perfect moment to use mestizaje (the mixture of race, culture, and language via Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera) as a critical methodology to analyze such political issues. While these two possibilities represent a binary, I want to suggest that there is in fact a way to respect both the theories of sovereignty, space, and autonomy from American Indian Studies while thinking about the effects, consequences, and possibilities for applying mestizaje as a theory. My own book, Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries, is a project that I often describe as a feminist intervention in borderlands history or as a transnational feminist study of violence in the U.S./Mexico borderlands during the nineteenth century. It argues that violence is an ongoing social process of differentiation for racialized, sexualized, gendered subjects, particularly focusing on instances where Mexicans used violence against Indigenous populations, firstly, to mark their non-Indianness (even if they were themselves, in fact, Indigenous) and, secondly, to gain access to state power and citizenship. As the work explores the stories of four distinct episodes of borderlands violence—Josefa/Juanita’s 1851 lynching in California, the 1871 Camp Grant Indian massacre in Arizona, anthropological erasures of racialized and sexualized violence in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South Texas/Chihuahua border, and the Yaqui Indian Wars of 1880-1910 in Sonora/Arizona—I am constantly following the cue of Native studies scholars as they have insisted upon a critique of place-centeredness, autonomy, and rights. My scholarly desire is always to think of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands (California, Arizona, Texas, Sonora, and Chihuahua) as revealing how regionally situated ethnic groups had varied relationships to colonialism and capitalism and that it is very dangerous to conflate them. So even though my scholarly work provides a narrative of systematic patterns of violence as social transformation, I always use the terminologies and identifiers that emerge from the archival documents and the individuals because we have an ethical responsibility to their lived experiences. Regional identities, government policies, and economic conditions must be understood as both U.S. and Mexican colonial residues, and we need to honor the specificity and distinction between Native peoples who fought and continue to fight against their own genocide as being distinct from the Chicana/o claims to indigeneity via mestizaje. Overall, by attending to the potential epistemic violence of grafting an anachronistic narrative of mestizje onto Indigenous peoples, Unspeakable Violence concludes that racial positioning, gender, sexual practices, and class alliances were fragile, shifting based on need and economic conditions.

3. The other thing that the book takes up is a critique of resistance to dominant cultures of Anglo hegemony. More often than not, histories of the American west and Chicana/o history, alongside borderlands history in particular, are, as fields, all very invested in the idea of an always already resistant ethnic racialized working class subject. The figures of the resistant Indian or Mexican, I think, have become problematic tropes that we cannot break away from, preventing us from seeing say, how middle- and upper-class Mexicans in places like Arizona in the nineteenth century were state actors of violence against their Indigenous neighbors (and some of these same people were part Indian themselves).1 My own work in borderlands history engages and integrates the rich body of scholarship in Native Studies as part of what I see as my own feminist charge as a researcher. I chose the case studies in the first book precisely because they have, or easily could be, part of a resistance narrative that I cautiously avoid reproducing.

4. Thus, given my own intellectual work, I must question the degree to which mapping American Indian experience as mestizaje or saying it is reflective of something like Anzaldúa’s Coatlicue state elides what Lakota scholar Elizabeth Cook-Lynn has argued about Native studies, that “[t]he intellectual information, the knowledge itself, . . . is grounded in language and geography” (10). In other words, does using a term, “mestizaje,” that came from the Mexican Ministry of Education in the early twentieth century and that was therefore part of a eugenics project of eliminating Indianness from the Mexican ethnic/racial character, embody its own act of discursive violence? At the same time, what are the benefits and harm in using Indigenous epistemologies to describe the Chicana/o experience? Is this a recolonizing of Indigenous knowledge? The essays in this volume most certainly stage the tensions inherent in these questions in their argumentative claims.

5. In addition, all of the articles from this issue of Nakum engage, whether directly or indirectly, a kind of decolonial methodology by drawing on Emma Pérez’s (1999) work and that of Linda Tuhiwai Smith (2002). Both Smith and Pérez argue that imperialism and discursive violence frame Indigenous and Chicana/o experience in gendered and sexualized ways. Pérez proposes that “[d]econstructing systems of thought and the manner in which they frame Chicana stories—whether linearly, which is the sanctioned European and Euroamerican historical method; or vertically, which is Foucauldian; or cyclically, which is pre-Columbian” (xii). Smith similarly advocates for “[d]ecolonization [as] a process which engages with imperialism and colonialism at multiple levels. [O]ne of those levels is concerned with having a more critical understanding of the underlying assumptions, motivations and values which inform research practices” (20). Taken together we can glean three key points from these texts: 1) we cannot discuss Indigenous peoples or Chicana/os without a discussion of imperialism; 2) we must question how epistemology or knowledge formations have their own underlying set of assumptions that are often founded in the idea of coloniality; and 3) we can shift these epistemologies through the social justice project of producing materials that do not rely upon but instead question Eurocentric ideas that continue to subjugate the bodies, minds, and knowledges of the racialized Other.

6. Keeping in mind the robust conversations and possibilities that can emerge by thinking through Chicana/o and Borderlands Studies alongside American Indian Studies as decolonizing intellectual projects, the essays by Roberto Rodriguez on the maíz-based pedagogy of the TUSD Mexican American Studies Program and Margaret Cantú-Sánchez’s reading of Leslie Marmon Silko and Zitkala-Ŝa as a mestizaje of epistemologies in the third space of education advocate for the collapsing of these ideas as the basis of their arguments. Valenzuela, on the other hand, maintains that the United States Census and current political pressures about the visibility of Latina/os as a minority group, and her own band of the Tejon Chumash living in California’s Central Valley in particular, serve as homogenizing forces to undermine the existence of Native peoples and their claims of nationhood in the eyes of the U.S. government. While all of these articles suggest that there is an inherent kind of colonial violence that undergirds the lives of ethnic minorities in this country, there is a clear divergence in how Valenzuela, Rodriguez, and Cantú-Sánchez stake their critical ground in imagining their respective communities, the role of epistemology, and decolonization projects.

7. Rodriguez’s reading of the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program adheres to Cook-Lynn’s assertion about place-centered forms of Indigenous knowledge, arguing that the outlaw liberation Chicana/o Studies curriculum is based on a trans-regional and historical knowledge based in thousands of years of cultivating maiz(e) in the Americas. While Rodriguez does not historicize the 700 years between the maiz(e) origin narratives of Uto-Aztecan and Mayan peoples, which some scholars will find problematic, he does in fact show how contemporary re-imaginings of collective Mexican and Mexican American history and culture are linked as a liberation curriculum for Mexican American youth, increasing their graduation rates, standardized test achievement and admission to universities. The academic success of Mexican American youth, at this violently tense moment in immmigration policy where Mexicans and Mexican Americans are demonized as taking the resources and jobs in this country is doubly dangerous to the political right, as Rodriguez argues. The corn is not so much the issue, nor the history itself, but the problem for the political right lies in the fact that MAS-TUSD educators “teach a way of critical thinking, and in effect, a respectful way to live” (4). In a political moment that narrates Mexicans as an economic drain and their children as anchor babies and a pathway to their parents’ citizenship, nothing could be more dangerous than critical thinking brown teenagers who question the value of democracy and citizenship in this nation.

8. Further, that the major proponents of HB 2281, like Tom Horne, now the Arizona State Attorney General, advocate for a K-12 curriculum where “[s]tudents get a content-rich curriculum in American history, the Greco-Roman basis for Western civilization, and science beginning in kindergarten, first and second grades,” relies on huge historical slippages in what constitutes valid forms of knowledge. First, as Rodriguez rightfully argues, this statement locates “MAS-TUSD outside of Western Civilization” and therefore as savage and uncivilized (para. 3). Hence, there is a racial and class component to such statements: Mexican Americans and their history are unruly objects, not subjects, who need to be civilized through the teaching of ancient civilizations in Europe and American history. But where this “acceptable” curriculum is most interesting in gesturing toward the Greco-Roman is the outright acceptance of teaching the history of empire as a normative political practice. In other words, teaching U.S. and Greco-Roman History as the foundations of civility elides a concrete discussion of imperial and colonial violence, both physical and ideological, that a field like Mexican American Studies critiques.

9. Not only is the conflict over Mexican American Studies in TUSD an epistemological fight about what counts as valid knowledge, but it is also a reminder of the revolutionary potential of Freire’s concientización, that young people have the power to transform their education and their lives (Rodriguez, para. 20). While one might see the uniform acceptance of the MAS-TUSD curriculum as “Maya-Nahua knowledge, thousands of years of accumulated knowledge, all based on maiz(e)” (para. 27), as historically suspect, the effects of “teaching things that are not only unrelated to Western Civilization, but also relics from conquered people” represent an alternative epistemology that uses critiques of both imperialism and epistemic violence as its foundation, imagining another form of nation and being an educated American citizen (para. 28).

10. Decolonized scholarly practices have also been described, as Cantú-Sánchez’s essay points out, by Chela Sandoval as a form of oppositional consciousness. According to Sandoval,

Differential social movement and the forms of praxis it produces are not simply part and parcel of the cultural superstructure of our age, deeply connected as they are to the methodology developed by the oppressed under previous social formations, and which is now reemerging as useful to all citizen-subjects who must learn to negotiate, survive, and transform present social conditions into better worlds come to life. The self-conscious operation of differential social movement represents the opportunity to engage in social praxis through the constant surveying of social powers and interjection in them by a new kind of repoliticized citizen-warrior” (178).

In Cantú-Sánchez’s essay, the new repoliticized citizen-warrior is embodied in Silko’s character Tayo from her first novel Ceremony and Zitkala-Ŝa’s experience as a teacher at the Pratt Institute and later as an oral historian of her people. Both authors address the fact that Native people are often challenged to “write/reflect themselves and their respective tribe’s culture back into history” (Cantú-Sánchez, para. 16). Since both Silko and Zitkala-Ŝa are invested in representing the complicated and contentious nature of being an Indian in a white man’s world, both writers, according to Cantú-Sánchez, turn to education as the site where such conflicts are worked through. While representative of the real effects of colonialism in the daily lives of Indigenous people, where one questions both the value of the self and his/her relationship to community and multiple nations, Cantú-Sánchez argues that “Zitkala-Ŝa’s story begins with her initial desire to attend school, though ironically it is there that she is separated from family, culture, and identity. [She] does not reach this realization until she begins college and works as a teacher herself” (para. 17). As the American Indian boarding school was designed to “kill the Indian but save the man,” Zitkala-Ŝa never fully resolves the tension between the colonizing function of education and how that very same education becomes the means by which she is “qualified” to advocate for her people and enact social change. Further, it seems that it is the very separation from family, daily cultural practices, and affirmations that make Zitkala-Ŝa realize that these things actually have use-value despite the fact that Indian educational institutions were designed to colonize minds, making young Indian children believe that they, their families, knowledge formations, and cultural practices were savage and inferior. What American Indian Stories reveals is that one is never truly separated from one’s identity but that social, cultural, and political isolation from communities and insertion into an education system that does not value Indigenous ways of knowing was the consciousness-raising moment for Zitkala-Ŝa. The separation and isolation make here a conscientious agent of social change both within the boarding school structure and when she returns home to record the stories of her people because she sees them as having use-value in the preservation of community and collective memory in the face of genocide.

11. Similarly, in her discussion of Ceremony, Cantú-Sánchez views the protagonist Tayo’s issue as being a metaphysical conflict about identity. But the very symptoms that make Tayo believe he is going mad suggest that he has not completely forgotten or separated from traditional Laguna cultural practices, but rather, these things haunt him so fervently precisely because he cannot put them into an ordered sense of meaning. In part, as Cantú-Sánchez argues, Tayo must rectify his cultural shame about not “knowing” what these spiritual hauntings mean in the Laguna context and seek out a Navajo medicine man, Betonie, to help him “adapt and survive” (para. 41). These traditions that must be adapted to create new forms of self and communal knowledge, including Tayo’s own ceremony, represent a symbolic “acceptance of his Laguna identity as well as the acceptance that a mestizaje of epistemologies is necessary for his tribal traditions to survive and thrive” (para. 42).

12. While Cantú-Sánchez describes the mestizaje of epistemologies as the “negotiat[ion] between the multiple knowledges of [Indian] home/cultural community and institutions of learning,” it seems that Silko and Zitkala-Ŝa, in their very place-centered narratives of New Mexico and the Dakotas adhere to the kind of geography and language that Cook-Lynn has argued form the basis of American Indian Studies (para. 2). Cook-Lynn further suggests that there is a “tacit theory of mythologies of origin” that “results in a system of implicit ideology that if defined in appropriate ways, motivates the peoples from which the knowledge originates” (11). Cantú-Sánchez relies on Chicana feminist theories of Third Space Feminism, differential consciousness, and mestizaje as decolonial methodologies in Chicana Studies, which contradicts how Silko and Zitkala-Ŝa portrayed the geographically-situated customs, traditions, ideologies, and beliefs of their respective tribes and not mestiza/o Mexicans.

13. In contrast, Valenzuela’s “Imputing Out the Native” also takes the question of epistemology and what counts as imagined community by turning our attention to the U.S. Census, and in particular, to how the practice of imputation is itself a form of epistemic violence, producing a skewed vision of Native communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Following Ronzio, Valenzuela defines imputation as “involv[ing] the filling in of missing data under the guise of accounting for the undercount of certain people or populations” (para. 11). The practice of filling in data about Native populations in the census, she argues, does not fully represent undercounts of Native people, but, moreso, the haphazard ways Native people have and have not been counted historically in the census data “has extreme implications for Federal recognition, a basic right many tribes are still trying to regain” (para. 16). With this important observation, Valenzuela reminds us that we need not take the data of the census as a pro forma truth and, further, that the role of Indians has and will continue to be precarious as this is the data upon which resources and recognition are generated.

15. Valenzuela’s greatest scholarly contribution with this piece comes in her examination of census data over three decades for Kern County California. She writes, “[c]onsidering the higher rates of imputation in 1990 versus 1980, and in 2000 versus 1990, this can be reflective of population changes, personal identity changes, and/or the general shift of opinions of the enumerators in the Central Valley who may have increasingly allocated brown-skinned people the label of ‘Latina/o’ instead of ‘Native’” (para. 20). The shifting of identity categories where it is more favorable to identify with the dominant group (Latina/os) in the region so that one can be legible to peers and the state, or that enumerators may only see brownness as essentially Latina/o points to the larger history of erasing Indians in California’s present and thinking of them as extinct relics of the past. Thanks to the success of the California school curriculum and heritage trails like the Camino Real, and the larger tourist industry centered around the Missions, places like Kern county are narrated as void of Yokut, Shoshone, and Chumash Indian histories and, further, would have us believe that Indians were wiped out in the region. Valenzuela’s article is testament to the work of statecraft in imagining one county and its inhabitants as non-Indian. Moreover, as she points out, these practices work in both directions:

Since Native Americans experience some of the highest poverty rates and lowest levels of education attainment of any ethnic group in America [. . .], I feel that Native communities—perhaps more so in the Central Valley than in other regions—experience acculturation at a higher rate than other other groups. Many Natives find it difficult to achieve socioeconomic success in the dominant society while maintaining membership with their tribes, for the identity of a group continuing to struggle for basic rights and recognition from the government is increasingly difficult to reconcile with personal success. (para. 30)

Not only does imputation misrepresent Native peoples in the census, but Native peoples also distance themselves from the ways in which their Indigeneity is imagined as always already impoverished and uneducated through acculturation. In their identification with Latina/os, Native peoples can find it difficult to maintain a tribal identity in the face of socioeconomic pressures to succeed, much like the invidividuals discussed in Cantú-Sánchez’s essay. Further, acculturation of Tejon Chumash peoples to a Latina/o identity position suggests that there is a racial/cultural hegemony, even in a place like Kern County, where being Latina/o and not Native means having access to rights and collective power as a community. Thus, Indigenous sovereignty becomes even more difficult to fight for based on the small numbers.

14. Together, these essays provide a divergent, yet much needed conversation about mestizaje and imagined community as methodological frameworks in American Indian and Chicana/o Studies. In Valenzuela, Cantú-Sánchez, and Rodriguez’s respective works, we see that American Indian literary texts, the MAS-TUSD education setting, or census data all become the basis upon which rights-based claims are launched. As each essay imagines a particular communal formation, the distinctions and struggles need to be respected as distinct. Further, each author shows what is lost and/or gained with such theoretical claims about epistemology, ethnic and racial identities, and reading Native Studies and Chicana/o Studies methodologies side by side. Ultimately, the essays provoke a conversation about Chicana/o and Indigenous knowledge formations in the face of neocolonial systems trying to discredit them.


1. See the article, “Embodied Forms of State Domination: Gender and Camp Grant” for the exact argumentation on this point.

Works Cited

Cook-Lynn, Elizabeth. 1997. “Who Stole Native American Studies.” Wicazo Sa Review. 12.1 (Spring): 9-28.

Guidotti-Hernández, Nicole. 2010. “Embodied Forms of State Domination: Gender and Camp Grant.” Social Text. 28.3: 91-117.

—. 2011. Unspeakable Violence: Remapping U.S. and Mexican National Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke UP.

Pérez, Emma. 1999. The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History. Bloomington: Indiana UP.

Sandoval, Chela. 2000. Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.

Tucson’s Maiz-Based Curriculum: MAS-TUSD Profundo

[Return to Nakum 2011]

By: Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodríguez

1. At a time of sky-high dropout rates nationwide, the Mexican American Studies (MAS-TUSD) K-12 program in Tucson Unified School District is a highly successful department that graduates nearly 95% of its students and sends more than 70% of them to college.1 MAS-TUSD students also score higher on state-mandated standardized tests in English, History and Math.2 By all rights, the nation’s premiere Mexican American Studies K-12 program should be exported nationwide; instead, it is embattled and on an inexplicable path to eventual extermination. The conflict over Tucson’s Mexican American Studies has been a six-year-long struggle, including several courtroom battles, and continues with no end in sight. Despite its phenomenal success, the MAS-TUSD curriculum has raised the ire of the state of Arizona because, according to the former State Schools’ Superintendent Tom Horne, the intellectual author of the anti-ethnic studies measure HB 2281, it purportedly teaches hate and separatism and advocates the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. The objective of this essay is thus to examine the MAS-TUSD curriculum, a curriculum that Horne as well as Governor Jan Brewer and current Superintendent John Huppenthal have actively disparaged for the past several years, and one that is generally unknown to the public because the media deals primarily in sound bites. As a result, few people other than TUSD educators are familiar with its contents beyond the caricature, an effect I hope to correct in this essay.

2. Before proceeding further, I should mention that I have been far from a disinterested observer on this topic. I have actually been associated with the program by way of the curriculum, even before the creation of MAS-TUSD in 1997 when its founders worked at a Tucson charter school called Calli Ollin. Much of my association with MAS-TUSD has been as a writer and as a nationally syndicated columnist who has written on this topic for more than a generation. My involvement today with MAS-TUSD is in the realm of defending not just this program, but the discipline (Raza-Indigenous-Ethnic Studies) as well. I teach at the University of Arizona’s Department of Mexican American Studies and am a member of the TUSD-Mexican American Studies Community Advisory Board. In response to the attacks, those of us involved in defending and supporting MAS- TUSD, particularly students, community members and the teachers, contribute daily to the development of the MAS-TUSD discipline.

3. At the core of the MAS-TUSD conflict are Tom Horne’s arguments that the program’s success is irrelevant. What is important to him and his supporters is that the curriculum teaches an American and Indigenous-based knowledge rather than Greco-Roman knowledge. As such, he has argued for the elimination of the MAS-TUSD department for years because the curriculum lies outside of “Western Civilization,” meaning, implicitly, European civilization, and therefore purportedly teaches hate and anti-Americanism. For instance, in 2007, Horne addressed the conservative Heritage Foundation, where he said, “I am a proponent of a curriculum developed by E. D. Hirsch, called Core Knowledge. Students get a content-rich curriculum in American history, the Greco-Roman basis for Western civilization, and science beginning in kindergarten, first and second grades” (Lecture #1023). While Tom Horne has been attacking Raza Studies since 2006, it was in 2008, 2009 and 2010 that he engineered legislation that would declare Ethnic Studies illegal, culminating with Gov. Jan Brewer signing the anti-Ethnic Studies bill HB 2281 in May 2010.

4. The day after Brewer signed the bill, Horne came to Tucson to TUSD headquarters, but was met by close to a thousand students who had circled and surrounded both the building and the block. He called an impromptu press conference at the state building where hundreds of students and community members followed him. Fifteen students and several community members were arrested that day. The previous week, students had staged a 24-hour vigil in front of Tucson High School. A few months before that, MAS-TUSD high school students marched 13 miles from one end of the city to the other to bring attention to the battle to defend Ethnic Studies. From 2006 to the present, students have continued to protest the criminalization of their Mexican American Studies curriculum in one form or another.

5. But as I will demonstrate throughout this essay, the students’ determination to save their curriculum does not support Horne’s arguments. Indeed, a 2011 independent Cambium (Curriculum Audit of the Mexican American Studies Department Tucson Unified School District) study of MAS-TUSD concluded that, contrary to what Horne had long asserted,3 there is no evidence that hate is being taught and that the program is in full compliance with HB 2281.4 On the contrary, the philosophical foundation of the MAS-TUSD curriculum is similar to, if not an extension of, Guillermo Bonfil Batalla’s concept of “México Profundo,” introduced in his book of the same title. That is, at the root of Mexican American culture and knowledge is Indigenous or maiz-based culture and knowledge. The MAS-TUSD curriculum is also deeply profound: more than history, MAS-TUSD educators teach critical thinking and, in effect, a respectful way to live. The MAS-TUSD curriculum defies simple characterization or description because, metaphorically, the MAS-TUSD curriculum is derived from 7,000 years of maiz-based or Mesoamerican knowledge.5

6. The concept of Mesoamerica is not a Native concept. It was first advanced by Paul Kirchhoff in 1943. Its general meaning is Middle America, alluding to the ancient cultures of this continent that share similar characteristics, with the primary ones being Nahua-Maya societies organized around maiz. His definition includes: maiz cultivation, similar political organization, the use of calendars, similar writing systems, similar myth-origin stories and the playing of the ballgame. While the definition is limiting, he advised his colleagues to challenge his definition (Florescano, 2006). In effect, his colleagues to this day have not generally challenged the definition of Mesoamerica, instead generally accepting it as fact. In Un continente y una cultura (1960), Maya scholar, Domingo Martinez Paredez, does challenge the artificial concept, arguing that virtually the entire continent is culturally one, with maiz as the common denominator. This idea that essentially all peoples of this continent are united by corn, or that they are part of maiz-based cultures, is much broader than Kirchhoff’s conception of “Mesoamerica.” Whether accepting Kirchhoff’s or Paredez’s arguments, both point to rich and unique civilizations that developed for millennia, independent of Europe.

7. MAS-TUSD educator Norma Gonzalez characterizes the Indigenous component of the MAS-TUSD curriculum as a form of decolonization of Chicano Studies. More than that, she says, “it provides students a path toward humanization” (personal communication, August 2011). Indeed, the MAS-TUSD curriculum does differ from other public Mexican American Studies programs. Traditionally, the discipline, created in the 1960s, traces the beginnings of Mexican Americans to 1848 and the Mexican American War. A second wave of primarily feminist scholars pushed the date back in the late 1970s to 1519 and the creation of the first mestizo/mestiza. The MAS-TUSD program, on the other hand, is anchored in maiz-based knowledge that is part of a lived experience, rather than limited to myth-legend. Most people of Mexican-Central American and Chicana-Chicano descent continue to adhere to this maiz-based knowledge. For example, they continue to enjoy the ancient maiz-beans-squash and chile diet. This form of knowledge promotes an identity not based on war or conquest, but on that which defines a large part of the continent: maiz. MAS-TUSD anchors its curriculum around the maiz-derived concepts of In Lak Ech (You are my other Self), Panche Be (To seek the root of the Truth), and Hunab Ku (Grand Architect of the Universe). These three concepts form the philosophical foundation for the program and are metaphorically traced back 7,000 years to the creation of maiz. While these ideas, associated with the ancient Maya, have been given wider exposure in the 2011 Precious Knowledge documentary, the concepts are still not well known by the general public, especially in their relationship to each other and their connection to other maiz-based knowledge. The documentary has given nationwide exposure to the MAS program, countering, in effect, unchallenged media distortions that have falsely depicted both the MAS program and its curriculum. Much of the knowledge of these three concepts in this country comes from the works of Yucatec Maya scholar, Domingo Martinez Paredez. Additionally, Florencio Yescas and Maestra Angelbertha Cobb (Aztec-Mexica tradition), Andres Segura (Conchero tradition) and Tlakaele (Mexicayotl tradition) are other Indigenous elders from Mexico who have given and shared over the past generation the same or similar concepts to Indigenous peoples in the United States, including Mexican-Chicana-Chicano and Central American peoples.

8. Other maiz-based knowledge includes the Four Tezcatlipocas, also known as the four compañeros. They include: Tezcatlipoca-reflection, Quetzalcoatl-wisdom, Huichtlipochtli-will and Xipetotec-transformation. These ideas are associated with the Aztec-Mexica peoples, who are also maiz-based peoples. While the concepts are normally associated with the transformation of human beings, at MAS-TUSD, the Four Tezcatlipocas are also associated with a transformative educational process, a process that results in the creation of academically superior and critically compassionate students.

9. Still yet another form of maiz-based knowledge that is incorporated into the MAS-TUSD curriculum is the study of the Aztec Calendar. Well-known Mexican scholar Enrique Florescano has observed that the most radical disruption that the ancient Mexicans experienced after the arrival of Europeans to this continent, beyond their language, was their disconnection from their daily calendar (2006, 124). The peoples’ disconnection from it was the result of both a very violent process and the literal demonization of the knowledge. At MAS-TUSD, educators, who co-create the curriculum, team up with Calpolli Teoxicalli to teach the significance and relevance of the ceremonial Aztec Calendar today.6

10. That said, it is important to note that the conflict in Arizona involving Mexican American Studies includes but is not limited to the curriculum. By way of the heated immigration debate, Mexicans/Mexican Americans and virtually everything associated with Mexicans and Mexican American culture is under constant attack there. In terms of the MAS-TUSD conflict, attacks are directed against Mexican American history and terms of identification such as Mexican-American, Raza, Aztlán, organizations such as the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Brown Berets and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán or MEChA, and even certain books and popular musical groups.7

11. In Arizona, demonization of maiz-based or Mesoamerican knowledge continues to this day, much of it based on malicious distortion and outright deception. For example, the term Raza has been distorted to the point that the Mexican American Studies Department-TUSD, formerly known as the Raza Studies- Department-TUSD, was forced to drop the term Raza from its name. The anti-Mexican political right wing in the United States appears to be ignorant of both the meaning and origin of the word. Raza translates to “people,” not “race,” and its usage on paper, in reference to Mexican peoples, goes back to the early 20th century Mexican education minister, José Vasconcelos. In 1925 he wrote a book and coined the term by the same name: La Raza Cósmica or “the cosmic race,” meaning the amalgamation of all the peoples of the world, forming one new mixed race. Contrary to what MAS-TUSD opponents assert, it is the antithesis of racial purity. The idea is that Mexican peoples are a combination of Indigenous, Asian (by way of ancient migration from Asia to the Americas), European and African. The name change does not appear to have affected the attempts to eliminate MAS-TUSD.

12. The topic of Aztlán, the purported homeland of the Aztec-Mexica, has also been badly distorted. The Aztlán to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) migration story is actually complex, with a myth-history at least 1,000 years old (Boturini Codex, 1746). Even before the arrival of Europeans, the Mexica were preoccupied with knowing their origins. Through the 1960s and 1970s, some historians and many activists argued that Aztlán was located in what is today the U.S. Southwest; this idea was central to the Chicano Movement.8 The idea was handed down in codices and chronicles such as Cronica Mexicayotl (1576) that located Aztlán in the Southwest. In the United States, the anti-Mexican political right wing has distorted virtually everything about the topic, equating it simplistically with the idea of the “reconquista” or the reconquest of the lands Mexico lost to the United States in the war of 1846-1848. Because Aztlán was reputedly in the same region, the two concepts were in fact merged by Chicanos such as Alurista in his 1969 El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán (Aztlán, 1970). Today MAS-TUSD opponents cite the teaching of Aztlán as evidence that its educators are inculcating students and recruiting them to reclaim those lost lands. However, this idea of Chicanos one day reclaiming the land and reuniting it with Mexico has few adherents in 2011. It appears to have more adherents among, and functions more as a straw man argument, for the political right wing. Right wing groups such as American Patrol cite the organization MEChA as the prime mover in the so-called reconquista. This student group, like the term Raza, has also been demonized to the point that it is viewed as seditious and anti-American and the one group paving the way for the future Chicano homeland of Aztlán.

13. Another element of the attack against Mexican American Studies has been to mischaracterize and misconstrue virtually everything else about MAS-TUSD. Both Horne and Huppenthal have repeatedly stated that the only way to bring MAS-TUSD into compliance is its elimination. The objective of the essay here is to bring clarity to the MAS-TUSD controversy. Aside from distorting topics such as Aztlan, part of the drive, primarily by non-educators, to ban Ethnic Studies, has involved also singling out books such as Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America (2010), Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000), and The Mexican American Heritage (2nd ed. 1994). Horne did this on Dec. 30, 2010 when he created a report finding MAS-TUSD out of compliance with HB 2281. He even pointed to lyrics from hip hop groups El Vuh9 and Aztlán Underground10 (misidentifying songs as poems) as further evidence that MAS-TUSD is plotting to overthrow the U.S. government. That a state superintendent would attempt to cite lyrics as evidence of a massive conspiracy to overthrow the government points to the silliness of the debate. The Cambium Study exonerated MAS-TUSD of all charges, and in particular, in response to the study, even Huppenthal found that charge without merit.

14. In response to the heated political controversy that has resulted from the distortion of the mission of MAS-TUSD, countless protests, marches, rallies and vigils in defense of the program and discipline have been held over the past several years. Some of the events have resulted in arrests, the use of excessive force, and the issuance of numerous death threats against both high school students and community members.11 More importantly, the attacks against MAS-TUSD have given rise to not simply a resistance culture, but what I term a creation-resistance culture. In the face of continual attacks, the teachers and students of MAS-TUSD continue to create in this hostile atmosphere. In what follows, I focus on the relationship between the curriculum and its creative forces, that is, how and why the students and community relentlessly fight in defense of the program.

In Lak Ech, Panche Be and Hunab Ku: Philosophical Bases for the MAS-TUSD Curriculum

15. At MAS-TUSD many of the classes begin with the concept of In Lak Ech. Maya scholar Domingo Martinez Paredez writes of this and the other two concepts that form the basis for the curriculum in Un Continente y Una Cultura (1960).12 This is how many of the MAS-TUSD educators begin their classes:

In Lak Ech
Tú eres mi otro yo.
Si te hago daño a ti, me hago daño a mí mismo.
Si te amo y respeto, me amo y respeto yo
You are my other me.
If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself.
If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.13

This ethos forms part of the philosophical foundation for MAS-TUSD. As such, it is difficult to find the “hate” that the program is accused of teaching. In Lak Ech actually resembles what is universally referred to as “The Golden Rule.” Virtually all cultures have a similar concept, such as the Judeo-Christian ethos: “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you.”

16. University of Texas professor Dr. Arnoldo Vento, who has studied with a number of the aforementioned elders since the 1970s, describes In Lak Ech in the following manner: “In Lak Ech is the principle of love and respect for your fellow human being. It humanizes humankind by eliminating the ego. It unites as opposed to disuniting; it humanizes as opposed to dehumanization and fragmentation. It is the ultimate principle of spiritual love” (Rodriguez 2010, 7). In Lak Ech actually is a concept that goes beyond human relations and teaches about one’s relationship to all living things. Finding no grounds by which to label it as hate, critics of MAS-TUSD have instead decided to rule it outside of the bounds of Western Civilization. What MAS-TUSD is guilty of is teaching a concept that is technically not in the Bible, though because of the universality of the In Lak Ech ethos (The Golden Rule), in a sense, it is absolutely the same ethos as found in the “Good Book.”14

17. The second concept that forms the philosophical basis of the MAS-TUSD curriculum is Panche Be. It perhaps is more objectionable to MAS-TUSD critics because beyond teaching students “to seek the root of the truth,” students also interpret it as a call to social justice. Norma Gonzalez, a teacher with MAS-TUSD for eight years, says that the call to justice comes from the work of Paolo Freire, who teaches that the purpose of education isn’t simply to know things, but about praxis or action, which leads to change. Translated into Indigenous concepts, this is also Panche Be (Norma Gonzalez, in conversation with author, August, 2011.

18. Within the context of the battle to defend Ethnic/Indigenous or Mexican American Studies, TUSD students have valiantly defended their own program since 2006. No one has told them that they have to do so, yet doing so appears to be a seamless extension of their studies. Students read and learn about In Lak Ech, but they also learn about Panche Be. As they read and learn about oppression and social injustices and in times of intense conflict, the students often take it upon themselves to do something about these social injustices. The majority of those arrested (or publicly threatened with arrest) in defense of MAS-TUSD, at the state building in 2010 and at TUSD headquarters in 2011, have ranged from middle school to high school to college students. They have all been taught or have been exposed to the concepts of In Lak Ech, but also Panche Be.

19. MAS-TUSD Pueblo High School teacher Sally Rusk says that if the students did not act upon an injustice, that would equal failure on the part of MAS-TUSD educators. Rusk scoffs at critics who say that MAS-TUSD teachers brainwash their students. Students on their own understand that it is their responsibility to act upon an injustice, but as far as students acting during any given situation, that is up to the students. For example, in the battle to defend Ethnic Studies, most of the protests, rallies, runs, walks, and vigils take place in the evening or on weekends. No one forces the students to attend, she says, and yet, most of the major actions the past several years have been student led and initiated (Sally Rusk, in conversation with author, August, 2011).

20. All of these forms of protest have relied on the kind of moral power that Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta used in fighting for the rights of farm workers or that students used during the nationwide 1968-1969 walkouts throughout the U.S. Southwest, including in Tucson. This is taught in current MAS-TUSD classes. Rusk says that what motivates students to defend their program is not one thing, but a combination of the foundational teachings of In Lak Ech and Panche Be and the Four Tezcatlipocas, in combination with the Paulo Freireian concept of concientizacion (becoming conscious).For Rusk, she says not a day goes by that she doesn’t go over one of those concepts in her class.

21. Regarding the third concept in the curriculum, Hunab Ku, Vento writes:

In Native American traditions, the teachings of the Four Directions (Aztec Nahpatekuhtli) takes many years to comprehend and yet, it is only a fragment of the understanding of Hunab Ku, Manitou, Ipalnemouani. (Rodriguez 2010, 8 )

Such a concept can be construed or misconstrued as a religious concept, but as Vento further explains: “[T]here are no Gods as Western man has reiterated conveniently through the years. This notion has regrettably remained ingrained in the Western mind and is applied erroneously to all cultures” (Rodriguez 2010, 8). Hunab Ku is not taught at the University of Arizona or at MAS-TUSD for its theological dimensions, but rather as simple evidence that all peoples and all cultures have developed an explanation for how the universe functions. In many societies, God functions as the answer as to how the universe functions. In other societies, different names and concepts provide the same answer. Martinez Paredez explains that Hunab Ku is not the name for the Maya God:

That is, Hunab Ku was not conceived of as a God, specifically for the Maya, in the same way that there is a Hebrew, German, Assyrian, Chaldean, Greek or Roman God(s). No. That Creator of the Maya as conceived by them was for everyone. The Supreme Being of the Maya unquestionably represented the dynamic energy of the cosmos, and the unity and totality that Hunab Ku represented, was cosmic. (Martinez Paredez 1963, 59-60).

When Europeans first came to the Americas, Indigenous peoples were viewed as heathen, pagan, godless and demonic. The purpose of teaching Hunab Ku is to teach all students and to reassure young Mexican American/Central American students that like other peoples and cultures, they are not “godless” nor do they have demonic roots. Beyond that, to teach In Lak Ech and Panche Be without teaching Hunab Ku is to take the concepts out of their proper context. The three combine to give an AmerIndigenous definition to what it means to be human.15

The Meaning of The Four Tezcatlipocas

22. Students learn the concepts of the Four Tezcatlipocas in MAS-TUSD classes. In some classes, they recite the concepts from memory. Tezcatlipoca has four manifestations related to the transformation of human beings and each is related to a direction—east, west, north and south. The four include: Tezcatlipoca-reflection, Quetzalcoatl-wisdom, Huichtlipochtli-will and Xipetotec-transformation. Their meanings, according to the MAS-TUSD (unpublished) curriculum, created in 2006 primarily by MAS-TUSD teacher Norma Gonzalez are listed below, in collaboration with Tupac Enrique Acosta of Tonatierra in Phoenix, Arizona.16 Also below are quotes by Acosta, which help explain the concepts:

Gonzalez: The first concept is Tezcatlipoca and is primarily associated with memory. Tezcatlipoca: Tezcatl = Mirror Popoca = Smoke. Tezcatl + Popoca = The Smoking Mirror: A concept meaning memory as well as self-reflection.

Acosta: A reflection, a moment of reconciliation of the past with the possibilities of the future—not a vision of light but an awareness of the shadow that is the smoke of light’s passing. It is the smoking mirror into which the individual, the family, the clan, the barrio, the tribe and the nation must gaze to acquire the sense of history that calls for liberation.

Gonzalez: The second concept is Quezalcoatl: A title given to those who achieved the highest understanding of righteousness and humility. Quetzal = Precious/Beautiful and Coatl = Serpent (symbolic of knowledge). Combined: Quetzal + Coatl = The beautiful Serpent or Precious/Beautiful Knowledge[,] a concept meaning beautiful knowledge.

Acosta: From the memory of our identity, the knowledge of our collective history we draw the perspective that draws us to the contemporary reality. From this orientation we achieve stability, a direction found in time tested precepts that allows our awareness and knowledge of the surrounding environment to develop. This awareness and knowledge merge to form the “conciencia” of a mature human being …. (Gonzalez 2006, 1)

The third concept is Huizilopochtli, the hummingbird that guided the Mexica on their migration journey. Gonzalez explains:

Huitzilin = Hummingbird and Opochtli = Left. Huitzilin + Opochtli = Hummingbird to the left. A hummingbird representing inner strength because of its efforts to hover while maintaining a sense of balance and stability. To the left refers to and is symbolic of the sun rising in the wintertime. Left also referring to the physical location of the human heart, which is where human desire and passion derives from. This concept has meaning for the will of a person or people to be positive, progressive, and creative.

In Tenochtitlan, the Teocalli or temple-pyramid on the left was dedicated to Huizilopochtli. The one on the right was dedicated to Tlaloc (water). A further explanation of the concept of Huizilopochtli by Acosta:

La Voluntad. Will: The Warrior spirit born with the first breath taken by each newborn infant in the realization that this human life we are blessed with is a struggle requiring physical effort for survival. The exertion of this life sustaining effort evolves into a discipline, a means of maximizing the energy resources available at the human command which in order to have their full effect must be synchronized natural cycles …. (Gonzalez, 2006 1)

Finally, the concept of Xipetotec is one that is generally misunderstood and misinterpreted by western scholars, beginning with the earliest Catholic friars.17 Regarding its meaning, Gonzalez writes: “Xipe (from Xipehua)= Shedding of skin(symbolic of transformation); To = Our; Tec (from Tecultli) = Guide.” She further explains: “Xipe + To + Tec = Our guide of shedding and transformation: A concept meaning shedding of the old; leaving behind that which hinders us. An acceptance of the new; embracing and utilizing that which evolves us and prepares us for progress” (2006, 1). Acosta describes Xipetotec in this way:

The constant rejuvenating energy that brings new life, a new start, and hope. Just as nature is affected by this energy during the annual Equinox of the Spring season, we as individuals are affected during milestone phases in our lives. With new eyes we are able to see things por la primera vez … Primavera. (Gonzalez, 2006 1)

While the concepts are ancient, they are also dynamic, adapted to our present day reality. For example, MAS-TUSD teacher, Curtis Acosta offers his 2007 interpretation of the Four Tezcatlipocas.

Tezkatlipoka – self-reflection. Smoking mirror. We must vigorously search within ourselves, by silencing the distractions and obstacles in our lives, in order to be warriors for our gente and justice.
Quetzalkoatl – precious and beautiful knowledge. Gaining perspective on events and experiences that our ancestors endured, allows us to become more fully realized human beings. We must listen to each other and our elders with humility and love in order to hear the indigenous wisdom in our hearts.
Huitzilopochtli – the will to act. As we grow in consciousness, we must be willing to act with a revolutionary spirit that is positive, progressive and creative.
Xipe Totek – transformation. Our source of strength that allows us to transform and renew. We must have the strength to shed the old, which may hinder us, while embracing and accepting our new consciousness in order to transform the world. (C. Acosta qtd. in Gonzalez 2006, 1)

The above version is the one I heard students at Wakefield Middle School recite from memory, after first reciting In Lak Ech from memory at an assembly in May 2011.18

23. The MAS-TUSD curriculum is always evolving. These four compañeros are masculine energies. Also taught at different levels, are the feminine energies or personages of Coatlicue: Earth Mother; her name means “lady of the serpent skirt” (Carrasco, 2000); Coyolxauqui: she is considered to be a dismembered goddess of the moon (Carrasco, 2000); Tlazoteotl: she is associated with fertility and cleansing and is considered protector of midwives (Lopez Austin, 1997); and, Tonantzin-Guadalupe (Tonantzin or “Our Venerable Mother” continues to this day to be associated with the Virgen de Guadalupe, “The Patroness of the Americas”(Lopez Austin, 1997). While they are taught individually, at the moment, to my knowledge, they are not yet taught collectively as feminine energies as part of MAS-TUSD curriculum by MAS-TUSD educators.19

The Nahuatl Language and the Aztec Calendar

24. At MAS-TUSD, students are also taught the Nahuatl language, much of it which contains the root of Mesoamerican or maiz-based knowledge.20 They are basic lessons, as opposed to complete immersion. Lessons include numbers, plants, foods and animals. The Nahuatl language was the lingua franca of Mesoamerica and several languages belonging to the same family group (Uto-Azteca) were spoken and understood from Canada to Central America.21 In learning Nahuatl, students are able to access not simply a language, but also a worldview that is not generally taught in U.S. schools. While one can learn to “read” or interpret the Aztec Calendar (Tonalmachiotl) without the knowledge of Nahuatl, doing so brings the student closer to that worldview or cosmovision. For someone who has never learned to read or interpret it, it may appear to be simply a piece of artwork, yet the Tonalmachiotl has a logic to it and it is complex. What is referred to as the calendar is actually two calendars. One is the Tonalpoualli or sacred calendar, which measures 260 ritual days (human gestation) and the other one, Xiuhpohualli, counts the days of the sun, 365.25 days. When the two are meshed or joined (numbers and days), they create what is called a calendar round of 52 years. MAS-TUSD teachers consult with a number of experts in reference to teaching the Aztec Calendar. The MAS-TUSD educators utilize the expertise of Calpolli Teoxicalli and collaborate with them in the presentation of the knowledge within the calendar. Knowledge about the calendar is not new and is easily accessible via the internet or a whole array of books, but the source and the philosophy behind the teaching is what makes the MAS-TUSD-Aztec calendar curriculum unique.

25. Students are taught the science (astronomy and math) behind the calendar in addition to the meaning associated with each day of the calendar. Each of these days has characteristics attributed to it. Chucho Ruiz of Calpolli Teoxicalli, who teaches and collaborates with the MAS-TUSD teachers, says that the characteristics attributed to each day contain values that are taught to the students. The following are the twenty day signs taken from Codex Magliabechiano:

cipactli-crocodile-cocodrilo, ehecatl-wind-viento, calli-house-casa, cuetzpallin-lizard-lagartija, coatl-serpent-serpiente, miquitzli-death-muerte, mazatl-deer-venado, tochtli-rabbit-conejo, atl-water-agua, itzcuintli-dog-perro, ozomatli-monkey-mono, malinalli-grass-zacate, acatl-reed-carrizo, ocelotl-jaguar-jaguar, cuauhtli-eagle-aguila, cozcacuauhtli-vulture-zopilote, ollin-movement-movimiento, tecpatl-flint-pedernal, quiahuitl-rain-lluvia, xochitl-flower-flor.

Neither the teachers nor the Calpolli expect that all those who learn the calendar will live or regulate their lives by it, but Ruiz says that by giving students the knowledge of the calendar, they are giving them back something that is theirs, something they can call their very own; “They get their stories and memory back” (Chucho Ruiz , email message to author, in discussion with author, Aug 13, 2011).

26. Maria Molina, also a member of Calpolli Teoxicalli explains the importance of the calendar in this manner:

The calendar system is referred to as the Cuauhxxicalli eagle bowl, which refers to the bend in the fabric of space/time created by the earth and the influence of solar/cosmic (eagle) energy on the earth’s atmosphere. Cuauhxxicalli is the story of creation beginning with the vastness and darkness of space; it is the testament to our existence, and the predictor of future events. All this information delivered to us in the language of harmony, Nahuatl, the lens of our Indigenous human insight. Aside from its complex mathematics and science, following the calendar brings about a beautiful philosophy and structure for teaching/learning and life. (Maria Molina, email message to author, Aug 17, 2011).

What is important about the calendar is that teaching it isn’t simply a rote task, but it centers students in ancient knowledge and connects them to the entire continent.

27. That is, knowledge of the calendar is not actually uniquely Aztec in origin. Martinez Paredez (1960) refers to it as Maya-Nahua knowledge, thousands of years of accumulated knowledge all based on maiz. Citing petroglyph evidence, retired California State University Fresno professor Cecilio Orozco has written that the Aztec calendar, or the book of Tonatiuh or the Book of the Sun, as he refers to it, is actually a calendrical system that developed on different parts of the continent over the course of several thousand years. 22 He also posits that it is a book and device that documents the ancient north to south migrations and the five ages (The Five Suns), spanning the Americas, including what is today the United States (Orozco 1992). Mexican scholar Enrique Florescano argues that despite efforts to destroy them, the calendrical systems, most often referred to as the Aztec or Maya calendars, continue to be a part of this continent’s landscape (Florescano 2006). Certainly, they are part of MAS-TUSD.

28. Maria Molina of the Teoxicalli Calpolli says that it is easy to understand why the state would suppress the knowledge of the calendar. Teaching the calendar, she says:

…would open eyes to the oppression of the collective knowledge of a people that surpasses the achievements of today’s science, and to the psychological genocide in the form of disgusting lies taught in today’s schools about our respected intellectual ancestors. It is a threat to the linear thought, underlying the American dream. People feel this knowledge is history although it is evolution and the reality of our physical and cosmic existence. Some might not think it relevant because we have a modern version of science explaining our reality. However, this is a colonized explanation translated in a language missing the element of harmony and beauty. Some may not identify with the calendar, yet the knowledge is universal and Indigenous to the planet. (Maria Molina, email message to author, Aug 17, 2011).

Teaching the calendar, Molina adds, permits students to build their characters based on this complex culture, knowledge and history. Those opposed to MAS-TUSD perhaps see the Aztec Calendar as further evidence of teaching things that are not only unrelated to “Western Civilization,” but also relics from a conquered people.


29. For peoples who trace their ancestry to Mesoamerica, Aztlán is a complex, serious and legitimate topic to research and teach. In effect, as a field of study, it can be divided into at least three basic topics. 1) History-myth-legend of Aztlán; 2) 1960s-1970s Aztlán and the Chicano Movement; and 3) The future of Aztlán. All three of these areas have always been contentious and there is no shortage of literature on them; however, for opponents of Mexican American Studies, the very notion of Aztlán appears to cause great anger and discomfort. 23

30. A serious scholarly study of the topic would not dismiss the history-myth-legend of Aztlán as something fanciful. Whether one agrees with the 1960s-1970s Chicano context of the topic, there should be no legitimate grounds to oppose or discourage the teaching of the complex ancient history-myth-legend of Aztlán in U.S. schools. It would be akin to prohibiting the teaching of Greek-Roman myths and legends in high school classes. Virtually every Mesoamerican codex mentions the topic, though not all the accounts are uniform. However, the Aztlán migration story is undeniably embedded within the Mexican/Mexican American psyche and consciousness. To the chagrin of right wing opponents of Aztlán and MAS-TUSD, the vast majority of 16th-19th century chronicles regarding what is today Mexico, written either by Spanish friars or Indigenous writers, located Aztlán, the purported homeland of the Aztec-Mexica, in what was then referred to as the territory of New Mexico or what we today call the greater U.S. Southwest or the Northwest part of Mexico.24 Whether the codices or chronicles are accurate is a separate and complicated research topic. However, there is no denying that many maps, codices, and chronicles from that era do in fact cite the ancient homeland of the ancient Mexicans or Aztecs in what is today the U.S. Southwest.25 Modern Mexican scholars tend to locate Aztlán in Northwest Mexico, in Mexcaltitlán, Nayarit. Manuel Orozco y Berra (1880) is credited with pinpointing this location in the 19th century. Mexican scholar Alfonso Rivas Salmon, who has dedicated his life to the topic of Aztlán, also concurs with the island of Mexcaltitlán, Nayarit as the location of Aztlán (Orozco 1997).

31. On the topic of Aztlán, right wing opposition appears to stem more from the 1960s-1970s interpretation of Aztlán as the former homeland of the Aztecs being equated with the lands Mexico lost to the United States as a result of the U.S./Mexico War of 1846-1848. However, opponents of MAS-TUSD dismiss the topic of the origins of Aztlán as, at best, the product of a drug-induced hallucination. The militant era of the 1960s and 1970s did in fact look at the land lost by Mexico as Aztlán, yet no major national organization developed that espoused the actual “taking back of Aztlán.” Aztlán, more than anything, appeared to be part of a poetic longing and imaginings of the era. Two of the most well-known writings on this subtopic are The Mexican Heritage of Aztlán (1961-1962), written by the late, foremost American Indian scholar, Jack Forbes. He wrote his treatise, which connects Mesoamerica to the U.S. Southwest, almost 10 years before Alurista’s historic “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán,” written during the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver. The document does engage in revolutionary musings and leanings, however, what the right wing never seems to comprehend is that a serious political movement or national organization with the goal of taking back or liberating Aztlán never emerged. The relative exception would be MEChA or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, a student organization that is found on most college campuses nationwide with a substantial enrollment of Mexican/Mexican American students. However, MEChA was never the student wing of a major national organization with that goal in mind; upon graduation, there was/is no post-MEChA.

32. If there could be such a thing as post-MEChA, the right wing might find it in the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Council of La Raza or the Brown Berets.26 The two corporate funded organizations, while mainstream organizations within the “Hispanic/Latino” community, hardly qualify as separatist or organizations that will lead Mexicans in the “reconquista.” Beyond that, they have no linkages to MAS-TUSD and its educators do not promote the idea of a “reconquista,” though like any demographer, they are not oblivious to the nation’s changing demographics. Much of the rhetoric of the right wing in Arizona always alludes to the “browning of America,” and invasions, whether the topic is immigration or education.

33. Aztlán in 2011 does not serve the same function as in the 1960s-1970s where much of its relevancy stemmed from the need to belong in lands where Mexicans/Mexican Americans were treated as hostile aliens. Politically, these populations are still treated in the same manner, but the idea of Aztlán as a future homeland no longer resonates for several reasons. Within the territory generally defined as Aztlán lie hundreds of Indigenous nations, peoples and pueblos. The idea of Chicanos/Chicanas using colonial borders to create a nation within this territory is not likely. Such an impetus would have to come from the Indigenous nations of the region, in conjunction with Chicanos/Chicanas, and since the 1970s, there has been little or no enthusiasm for such a nation. The issue is a complex one, but another reason Aztlán does not resonate in the same way as the 1960s-1970s is because Mexicans/Mexican Americans no longer are confined to what is today the U.S. Southwest. They live in every part of the United States, and thus Aztlán as the Southwest does not resonate with all Mexicans/Mexican Americans in this country. In that context, Aztlán would be viewed as something regional, not representing the reality of all of Mexicans/Mexican Americans in the United States. Beyond that, the emergence of the Peace and Dignity Journeys in 1992 have created, minimally, a continental consciousness among Mexicans/Mexican Americans, as opposed to an Aztlán-U.S. Southwest consciousness.27 This change in consciousness has come about through direct relations with Indigenous peoples across the continent, as opposed to simply issuing unilateral proclamations.

34. This continental consciousness affects the notion of a future Aztlán; no one can say with certainty what could happen in the future, but a 1960s-1970s vision of a future Aztlán is probably no longer on the horizon.28 The right wing, of course, appears to be ignorant of this reality and these developments since the 1970s, so for them, the idea of Aztlán, as a 1960s-1970s separatist scheme, conveniently continues to function as a political piñata.


35. At the root of the problem in regard to the Mexican American Studies conflict is the issue of demographics; the increase in the Mexican/Latino populations in this country leads to fears of the browning of the state and nation. Couple these fears with the volatile migration issues that are central to Arizona, and the result is not simply rabid xenophobia but the attempt to eliminate Mexican American Studies. It can also be interpreted as an effort to silence peoples. In effect, the battle over the MAS-TUSD curriculum can be seen as part of a proxy war over memory and over the control of “The Master Narrative of History.” MAS-TUSD educators are not interested in controlling or competing with that Master Narrative nor are they interested in eliminating Greco-Roman knowledge or culture. However, conscious of the thousands-of-years maiz narrative of this continent, neither MAS-TUSD educators nor students are willing to give up that maiz narrative or memory. This consciousness and this will to defend MAS-TUSD and its curriculum is arguably part of the ethos learned as a result of knowing In Lak Ech-Panche Be-Hunab Ku. While students have been taught to see themselves in all of humanity, they have also been taught to seek the root of the truth. In the context of attempts to eliminate Mexican American Studies, and given the six-year struggle to defend the program, most likely means that this battle will not end anytime soon.


1.TUSD March 11, 2011 Study : Save Ethnic Studies.
2.I should note that MAS-TUSD does not teach math. See TUSD March 11, 2011 Study: Save Ethnic Studies.
3.On Jan. 3, 2011, outgoing state superintendent Horne made public his Dec. 30, 2010 report that purportedly found MAS- TUSD out of compliance with HB 2281.
4.The Cambium audit was commissioned in March 2011 by Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal to determine whether MAS was out of compliance with HB 2281. This measure prohibits the teaching of topics that: (1) Promote overthrowing the U.S. government; (2) Promote resentment towards a race or class of people; (3) Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic race; and (4) Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In June 2011, Huppenthal distorted the audit’s findings, claiming that the audit had found MAS-TUSD out of compliance. The audit’s findings, released the following day, found the opposite; MAS-TUSD was in full compliance.
5. Hugh Iltis, a leading botanist and foremost expert on the subject of maiz origins agrees that maiz was created in Southern Mexico some 7,000 years ago (Iltis, 2000). Many Mexican historians, such as Enrique Florescano, also believe that the continent was radically altered as a result of the introduction of maiz, which resulted in the eventual creation of large-scale cities and civilizations (Florescano, 2006). It is generally believed that maiz has been present in what is today the United States for at least 6,000 years. The oldest corn has been found at Bat Cave, New Mexico (Fussell, 1992).
6. Calpolli Teoxicalli is a group of families in Tucson or Tlamanalca that live ceremonial lives, based on the Aztec-Mexica calendar, also known as the Tonalmachiotl. The Calpolli teaches the calendar to the community, including to MAS-TUSD students.
7. The anti-Mexican political right wing in Arizona, similar to the rest of the nation, includes extremist political groups such as neo-Nazis, anti-immigrant militias, patriot networks, Tea Party members and members of the Republican Party, including elected officials. One local group that continually distorts the work of and attacks MAS-TUSD-TUSD is TU4SD or Tucsonans United for Sound Districts. Websites that continually distort things related to Mexican American Studies, Aztlán, the Brown Berets, La Raza and MEChA include the American Patrol Report, which is fairly representative of the many U.S.-right-wing groups:
8. While the poet Alurista is credited with popularizing the idea of Aztl´an in 1969, locating it in the U.S. Southwest, (Aztlán, 1970), there are other references to Aztlán by Jack Forbes in The Mexican Heritage of Aztlán, as part of his work with the Southern California-based Native American Movement (1961-1962).
9. These are the cited lyrics from Victor E and the group El Vuh’s “Going Back”:
“We’re going back, back to where we came from, back to where the truth dwells,
AZTLAN…We suffer colonial incarceration so we foster resistance of our own
Occupation” (as cited in Horne, 2010).
10. These are the cited lyrics from the group Aztlán Underground’s “Decolonize”:
“Some feel this oppression no longer exists Well here’s something they missed – Self D means self determination…Stranger in your own land under exploitation…This is the state of the indigena today…WE DIDN’T CROSS THE BORDERS, THE BORDERS CROSSED US! YET THE SETTLER NATION LIVES IN DISGUST! The American dream only for some WASP – White Anglo Saxon Protestant…the frame of mind that keeps our oppression constant…Cihuatl is reclaiming…We have returned to Aztlán!!! We have returned to Aztlán!!!” (as cited in Horne, 2010).
11. I was arrested along with 14 other students and community activists the day after HB 2281 was signed in May 2010. Having been isolated by the right wing as “the ringleader,” I also received a series of death threats in 2011. In a related situation, a colleague, Dr. Sandy Soto was booed off the stage and received plenty of hate mail as a result of bringing up the issue of the Ethnic Studies controversy at the College of Social and Behavioral Science 2010 graduation ceremony (Soto and Joseph, 2010).
12. Martinez Paredez had an association with Luis Valdez and Teatro Campesino in the 1960s. Many people know of In Lak Ech through the work of Valdez.
13. I have seen and heard this recited in high school classrooms, at middle school assemblies, at a national conference (by pre-schoolers) and even at protests. Precisely because of this political controversy in which media consumers are misinformed about the MAS-TUSD curriculum, in 2011, I wrote Amoxtli X – The X Codex. This small book more fully discusses these three concepts, including the 1524 debate between 12 Spanish friars and several Indigenous elders on the topic of theology.
14. Dr. Vento interprets the Maya concept of In Lak Ech in Nahuatl as Tloque Nauake. “It referred to the natural force connecting humanity, to live close and together, like the fingers of the hand with mutual respect and love for one another” (Rodriguez 2010, 7). In Nahuatl, the equivalent concept for Panche Be is Neltilitzli, and the equivalent concept for Hunab Ku is The Grand Architect of the Universe or the Giver of Life or Ipalnemouani.
15. I borrow the term AmerIndigenous from Yaqui scholar, Dr. Vivian Garcia Lopez, who uses it to refer to the Indigenous peoples of what is today known as the Americas (Dr. Vivian Lopez, in conversation with author, January, 2010).
16. Gonzalez is a member of Calpoli Teoxicalli; her understanding of these concepts comes from interaction with Tupak Enrique Acosta and other elders, such as Arturo Meza of Kalpulli Toltecayotl. Tonatierra is a collective of Nican Tlaca or Indigenous families in Phoenix, Arizona. Acosta has been an integral part of the Indigenous Rights movement throughout Abya Yalla (Americas) and the world, culminating with the passage of the UN Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007).
17. Spanish friars from the 16th century and many anthropologists today associate Xipetotec with human sacrifice and the wearing of the skin of sacrificial victims.
18. It was students from Wakefield Middle School who participated in large numbers on May 12 when Superintendent Horne came to Tucson the day after Governor Brewer signed the anti-Ethnic Studies HB 2281. Several were arrested.
19. Oftentimes, the three feminine energies or personages that are taught together in Chicana Studies classes are Malinztin (or La Malinche), La Llorona and Tonantzin or the Virgen de Guadalupe (Anzaldua, 2007). The attacks against the MAS-TUSD curriculum are generic, objecting to its Mesoamerican roots, as opposed to singling out pre-Colombian masculine or feminine concepts.
20. In a state that abhors the Spanish language, it must be presumed that the teaching of Mesoamerican knowledge, including the Nahuatl language, must bring discomfort to the opponents of MAS-TUSD.
21. Uto-Azteca or Uto-Nahuatl is still spoken by many dozens of peoples from the same region. Peoples from what is today the U.S. Southwest or Northwest Mexico that are part of the same language family include, the Utes, the Paiutes, Shoshone, Comanche, the Hopi, Papago, Opata, Yaqui, Mayo, Concho, Huichol and Tepehuán. Peoples from Central and Southern Mexico include: Tepaneca, Xochimilca, Tlahuica, Matlatzinca, and the Tlaxcalans, along with many others. For more information on the evolution of these language families, see Jack Forbes (1973).
22. The teaching of the Aztec Calendar is complex, and there are various disagreements about aspects of the calendar. For instance, not all agree that the central figure of the calendar represents the sun. Mazatzin Aztekayolokalli, who also collaborates with MAS-TUSD educators, asserts that the central figure is actually Tlaltecuhtli, who represents the earth. Mazatzin Aztekayolokalli, in discussion with the author, December, 2010.
23. Sources on Aztlán are too numerous to cite in full, but one book that generally reflects the accumulated thinking by Chicanos/Chicanas on the topic from the 1960s-1980s is Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland (1989). Another book from a decade later that advances many of the ideas in the aforementioned book is The Road to Aztlán: Art From a Mythic Homeland (2001). On the topic of Aztlán, numerous right wing websites predominate which make oft-discredited claims associated with the impending “reconquista.” Here are several sites: Illegal Aliens; American Patrol; and Immigration Watchdog Video. All repeat outlandish claims of invasions, reconquests, sedition and general anti-Americanism.
24. Primary codices that mention Aztlán include Codex Aubin and Codex Boturini. Chronicles that point to New Mexico as the location of Aztlán or Aztatlán are many, including Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc’s Cronica Mexicayotl (1576) and Codice Ramirez (anonymous Indigenous writer, 16th century).
25. The topic of Aztlán was a tangential research interest relative to my Master’s and Ph.D. work on the origins of maiz. My Master’s project resulted in the documentary, Amoxtli San Ce Tojuan – We Are One (Rodriguez, R. and Gonzales, P. 2005). This research project located some 200 maps from the 1500s-1800s that make notations in reference to ancient homelands or ancient residences of Mexican Indians or Aztecs, all in what is today the U.S. Southwest. This is not offered as proof regarding the location of Aztlán, but rather as acknowledgment that these maps, similar to the codices and chronicles, do exist.
26. Because of its name, the right wing assumes that the National Council of La Raza is the leader of “La Raza.” The right wing likes to demonize the Brown Berets as that “radical” organization that will lead to the “reconquista”; however, the organization was always small, and is even smaller now than it was in the 1960s and ‘70s. There is no infrastructure in place for the endeavor that the right wing imagines as a reconquista.
27. The Peace and Dignity Journeys are runs that begin on both ends of the continent, Alaska and Argentina, and end in the center. In 1992, the P&D Journeys met in Teotihuacan, Mexico. The runs, which take place every four years, are reputed to be part of a prophesy of uniting the eagle and the condor, or North and South America (Gustavo Gutierrez, founder of the P&D Journeys), in conversation with author, August, 2011).
28. There are individuals and groups that still adhere to the idea of a future homeland of Aztlán, but the idea does not predominate in Mexican/Mexican American circles. One related idea, the future “Republica del Norte,” offered up by University of New Mexico professor Charles Truxillo since at least 2000, envisions a Hispanic nation, comprised of Northwest Mexico and what is today the U.S. Southwest. While it appears to have few adherents, the right wing uses it as evidence of a future Aztlán on U.S. land (Truxillo, pers. comm. 2000).

Works Cited

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Aubin Códice. 1963. Ed. and Trans. Charles E. Dibble. Madrid: Ediciones Jose Porrúa Turanzas.

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Boturini, B.L. 1746. Idea de una nueva historia general de la America Septentrional. Madrid: En la Imprenta de Juan de Zuñiga.

Carrasco, D. 2000. Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire: Myths and Prophecies in the Aztec Tradition. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.

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Crónica Mexicayotl. 1998. Trans. Adrian Leon. Mexico City: UNAM.

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Florescano, Enrique. 2006. National Narratives in Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Forbes, Jack. 1961. The Mexican Heritage of Aztlán (The Southwest). Los Angeles: Native American Movement (NAM).

—. 1973. Aztecas del Norte: The Chicanos of Aztlán. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett.

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Horne, Tom. 2007. “Lecture #1023.” Heritage Foundation. 14 May, 2007..

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Letter from the Editor

[Return to Nakum 2011]

Kāmmam Manām, Welcome to Nakum
1. The year since we launched Nakum has been one of tremendous growth and excitement for both the journal and the Indigenous Cultures Institute. Because of the almost-immediate positive response from readers and contributors, the Institute was able to host many of the authors in this issue at a Native American-Hispanic Heritage Festival and Symposium on October 1st. During the symposium, three of our authors, Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodríguez, Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, and Margaret Cantú-Sánchez, each presented on aspects of their work to a local San Marcos audience. The papers were enthusiastically received, and we’re happy to present them in full to you in this issue.

2. The weekend of the symposium was capped off with the debut performance of Asawan, a moving collaboration of Native musicians, dancers, storytellers, and singers. “Asawan” means “heart” in Coahuiltecan, and the performance delved into the heart of Indigenous America throughout. But it was during the last number, when the trio that forms the Hakloka Music Ensemble, along with Apache storyteller Emma Ortega and Indigenous Cultures Chair Mario Garza joined Cuicani in Xochitl, the Aztec dance company, that I truly felt the heartbeat in that space. For the entirety of the last song, the audience got up and stomped to the rhythm of the drums and the harmonies of the flute blending with Ortega’s beautiful voice. Anyone who may have walked in at that moment would have known immediately what “Asawan” means; the heartbeat was palpable.

3. The intensity of Asawan continues in this issue of Nakum, as Katie Valenzuela, Margaret Cantú-Sánchez, Roberto Rodríguez, Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, and myself join our voices to that heartfelt chorus. Though from places as disparate as Oildale, California, San Antonio, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, we gather in this space so that we may, in the tradition of Nakum, share our voices with you.

21 December 2011
Austin, Texas