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Invasion of the Americas and the making of the Mestizocoyote nation: heritage of the invasion.

I WAS BORN IN SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, ALMOST IN THE SHADOW OF THE ALAMO. BEFORE I was a year old, my family moved back to my father's hometown in Canadian County, western Oklahoma, a stone's throw from the Old Chisholm Trail. Canadian County, Oklahoma, part of the old Southern Cheyenne/Arapago treaty territory, partitioned for homesteading in the late-19th century, was the northern-most point of my family's many treks.

San Antonio was dead center.

The southern point was the Valley -- McAllen, Texas -- where my grandfather had taken my father's family in the early 1920s, from Canadian County, Oklahoma, where he had farmed. My grandparents on both sides had been born on the eastern periphery -- Joplin, Missouri; Mena, Arkansas. Three out of four of us children of that edge of the frontier moved west, as far as possible, to California.

In the middle of that territory lay New Mexico, a kind of mystical throbbing heart, for me anyway.


I found a name for my homeland, that territory that expanded from the Pacific Ocean to the Mississippi River, from the Rockies to the Rio Grande, when I met Chicanos, who had just begun to call themselves Chicanos, at UCLA during the late Sixties.

Aztlan. The North.

And living in San Francisco, I found that mid-California was called Big Sur, the South, south of Monterey, south of the Presidio at San Francisco. This was the geography of my upbringing, and remains the geography of my mind, the center from which I relate to the rest of the world. That ancient territory of the Aztecs, the north of the Spanish conquest, and finally liberated as a part of the Republic of Mexico, was annexed by the United States in 1848.

When I decided to write my doctoral dissertation in Latin American History at UCLA on one part of that territory, New Mexico during the precolonial and Spanish period, I was forced to transfer from Latin American to United States History! The region was called the "Borderlands" of the U.S. West. So much for academic objectivity. Borderlands. When I first heard that term, it rang a bell. I knew it meant me. Borderline, marginal, on the edge, neither this nor that, identity not certain.

In fact, my family on all sides was mostly Scots-Irish--the Dunbars, Jennings, Currys -- poor whites moving across a frontier forged by the United States expansion into indigenous America; farmers, peasants, fenced out, starved out of Europe, seeking cheap land, and, ending up sharecroppers, farm workers, drifters, ranch hands ("cowboys").

But there were others--the mysterious maternal grandmother whose family was unknown and who died when my mother was a toddler--an Indian, they said, actually they said a "squaw," married to or living with my drunken Irish itinerant grandfather, a "squawman," they called him. Then there was my father's paternal grandmother, Mexican, family name Angel. A few years ago, when my father was under sodium pentothal in surgery, he spoke for two hours in fluent Spanish (his surgeon was a native Spanish-speaker), "babbling Mexican," as my half-Cherokee stepmother put it. For the first time in my life, he informed me that his grandmother had been Mexican and always spoke to him in Spanish when he was little, calling him "my little angel" because he was dark like her.

During the valiant Sandinista decade in Nicaragua, I spent a lot of time there and found another borderland, the Mosquitia, the eastern region of Nicaragua and Honduras, filled with marginal peoples -- the Miskitos (mixed Indian, Black, white, who speak Miskito, an Indian language); the Creoles (same mixture but English speaking); and the Garifunos (same mixture speaking a patois). It was there that I finally comprehended my own historical/political theory of two decades -- the power of resistance, the importance of borderlands, the ultimate Achilles heel of colonialism and imperialism. Although the term may seem quaint today, "class" best captures the unity of such disparate peoples and cultures.

Chicanos yes, and those Genizaros of New Mexico and Metis of Canada, the Cajuns, the Appalachians. And then there are the Panamanian Cholos; the Paraguayans, the majority of whom speak the Guarani Indian language as their mother tongue; and those Morocucho in the Cangallo pampas and the poor whites of Pillpinto in the Andean province of Acomayo who speak only Quechua, the ancient Inca tongue.

And who knows what aspects of the cultures of the Seminole, the Choctaw, the Cubans, and the Brazilians are African or Indian or Portuguese or Spanish or Irish?

And all the others. Mestizos. The Cosmic People. The future of the world.

I do not like the concept of Mestizo or Metis or half-breed, in the sense that it refers to race. I prefer "new peoples." (Listen to the music!) The less academic metaphor I prefer is "coyote," that wily, tough hybrid of the New World born somehow in the ashes of conquest and genocide.

Out of the wreckage of genocide and colonization that followed in the wake of that fateful voyage a half millennium ago were born new peoples, new cultures, new art and music. Millions of Africans were hauled over to labor for the rich. Millions of native Americans -- the whole of the Natchez Nation of the Mississippi Valley, the indigenous farmers of western Nicaragua, most of the Cree of the north, and millions of others -- were forcibly transported to labor in mines and fields and woods. The destitute of Europe were also forced by a push-pull factor to emigrate, and they indeed make up the majority of the poor in many parts of the hemisphere today.

The descendants of the ancient Inca civilization speak of "rescuing the Mestizo." They have developed a kind of indigenous version of Bolivar's and Jefferson's ruling-class dreams of one, borderless America, but with a difference, the difference being the recognition of the roots of "our America." I believe the "Mestizo" or "new peoples/coyotes" have a special role to play in the future of our America and the world. In a way, I see that role as a heavy responsibility. Many who fall within that massive and disparate category may be able to choose sides: "Which side are you on?" Fidel Castro, speaking in 1986 to the issue of commemorating the Quincentenary of Columbus' voyage, said that all Americans must choose to identify with the conqueror or the conquered and that he chose to identify with the conquered.

The vast majority of the new peoples, from the Metis and Quebecers of Canada to the Chicanos, Cajuns, and borderlanders of the United States, to the "Mestizos" of Latin America and the African-Americans of the entire hemisphere, and this century's immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and from Asia, fall within the working class, employed or unemployed, and if they happen to slip out it may be temporary and limited.

It is there, at that cross-section of working for the man, that the Mestizo has a responsibility. For there are hundreds of indigenous nations throughout the hemisphere fighting for their dignity, their territories. The tough coyotes of the frontier should be in the front line in defense of the indigenous peoples, for it is those cultures surviving that have allowed the new peoples to be born and to persist, that keep the heart of America beating.

But more than anything, it is culture that will vindicate the conquest: language -- English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, and indigenous languages, too, in all their variations -- but resistance language transformed to literature that transcends conquest; music, that ubiquitous guitar, the flute, the human voice and the lyrics, language again, resistance, universal; drawing, painting, murals, sculpture. Communicating through the senses is what the coyote can do best, confounding, confusing, messing up every theory and strait jacket, and fighting to survive.

Resistance, that's the legacy, that's the heritage of those cruel 500 years, and that is the hope, the future. That is the proud and honorable legacy of the invasion --resistance and continuance--and therein lies the responsibility of the Mestizo.
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Title Annotation:Rethinking Race
Author:Ortiz, Roxanne Dunbar
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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