When Latinxs take action to preserve and reclaim their culture, what might they learn? To feel different, superior, or inferior? To detest oneself? Currently, the US political climate mirrors conservative sentiments expressed in the recent fight to ban Ethnic Studies (2010), by Tom Horne and John Huppenthal, who decided that learning about one’s otherwise invisible culture is equivalent to teaching anti-American separatist ideologies and tribal tendencies. They feared that Mexican American Studies would cause feelings of resentment and revive the trauma of a population with a colonial past. However, historically, Latinx civil rights student organizations, such as MEChA, have been predicated upon a reclamation of MesoAmerican culture and history while also demanding a recognition of the southwestern United States as their ancestral homeland, “Aztlán.” They further called for an end to the inferior and demeaning perception commonly held about them by xenophobic, racist white people also known as “settler-colonial” culture (Horne). In today’s political climate, these “identity” based political groups are thought of as being unnecessary “safe spaces” by people like Stephen Miller. Ironically, Miller, current Senior Advisor for Policy for the Trump Administration, advises the president upon important matters relating to these same Latinx, Aztlan-seeking and dwelling populations, those most commonly found in the southwestern United States and in Latin and Central American countries and who currently comprise the majority of our current immigration “waves” and so-called caravans. I say “ironic” because documentation shows Miller openly expressed virulent attitudes toward identity-based groups such as MEChA during his high school days (Gumbel).
Historically, before the genesis of student activist groups, such as MEChA, UNIDOS, the Black Student Unions and other identity-based groups, those who identified as Mexican, Mexican-American, and/or Chicana/o/x, have had a culture that is and was apart from and even dismissed by settler-colonial culture. Cultures such as Dutch, Irish, Welsh, Danish, and English, among many others. The dismissal is still evident today in the fact that settler-colonial schools have failed to account for MesoAmerican cultural accomplishments, memories, epistemologies, ways of knowing, writing, reading, healing, and other cultural attributes, which shows a clear disregard for those who have suffered these losses that are tantamount to discovering their own humanity and existence within the North American, South American, and Central American imaginary, or as José Martí would call it, “Nuestra América.” It seems to be faulty reasoning, then, to assume that these peoples’ attempts at cultural reclamation and sustainability is in inherent dialogue with and opposition to the “American” culture and that it is anti-American propaganda.
In my not too distant past, I, a self-proclaimed Chicana/x, also witnessed an attitude similar to the “safe space” annoyance professed by Stephen Miller by a high official in the administration of one of our most notable professional organizations, NCTE. This person called the NCTE/CCCC Latinx Caucus a “silo” and claimed that we participated in the promotion of identity-based political gatherings that were contrary to the organization’s greater mission of treating everyone as equals. Yet, ironically, when this same individual attended one of workshops, they commented that our work was “stellar.” I guess it would help to know that this person is “of color” (a problematic phrase that I begin to unpack in my chapter on “Race” (Ruiz, Sanchez). However, when one is in the game of what outsiders refer to as “silos,” one realizes that “identity politics” paradoxically has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with skin color, which is why I have to reveal the color issue here. It matters and it doesn’t.
This incident was my first bit of feedback as the new, incoming Latinx Caucus co-chair, with Raúl Sánchez by my side, and it left quite an impression on me because I think my elders had protected me up until that point. They were protecting me from the political tensions that I was about to experience and enter into full-force, starting on that day in Houston, the home of the organizations Nuestra Palabra and Librotraficante, at CCCC 2016. We were so thankful to host both of them, and we were in “awe” the whole time as we were blessed by their presence, showmanship, and literary talents throughout the workshop on April 6, 2016. Later that day, we received an informal email review where this same person referred to our workshop events as “stellar.” I was a bit confused because our events had started out with this same person referring to our Caucus as a “silo” in a private conversation with the former co-chair of the Caucus. This confusion was enough to throw me for a loop and that is how my experience began. I share this not to be contentious, but to demonstrate that there is not much that one can expect and/or control when taking on leadership positions. No one can by osmosis inherit the knowledge, experience, and skills needed to persevere in this environment of contradictions while also working toward improving the professional status of the Caucus. We aimed to be successful by encouraging professional mentorship, more publications, more speaking roles, and more leadership positions, while also encouraging and joining other “identity-based” groups in their own endeavors and creating coalitional relationships with other SIG’s, standing groups, and important stakeholders in both NCTE and CCCC.
Nevertheless, Raúl and I began, and we began with full-force. We soon co-edited a collection of “decolonized keywords” in Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords for Theory and Pedagogy. The collection is a direct attempt to mentor, publish, and expose more of our Latinx “gente.” We were invited to present at the Conference on Community Writing in the fall of 2017, where Steven Alvarez, Candace Espinoza-Zepeda, and Jose Cortez spoke about the empowering process of being able to write for this collection from a decolonial lens. In addition, we saw the Caucus continue to grow. In 1968, the Caucus was only a handful of people struggling with many of the same issues we experience today, we now have over 100 members, and we are experiencing a Latinx literary and scholarly renaissance that I will refer to as the third movement of the Nahui Ollin: Huitzilopochtli. Within the past decade, it is apparent that we’ve discovered our “will to act” in addition to our previous moments of deep self-reflection (Tezcatlipoca), gaining precious knowledge (Quetzalcoatl). I predict that as with the fourth movement of the Nahui Ollin, our Caucus is now moving into the fourth state of transformation (Xipe Totec) (Arce).
I want to touch briefly on each of these movements as experienced. With my first experience noted above, I began the process of deep self-reflection about my role, about the Caucus membership, about the civil rights struggle, about OUR place within the academy, and about my being a colonized Latina, now representative of many other gente with colonial pasts. I began to reflect on what all of this meant to me, and about how intimidation and crass behavior would be obstacles to overcome. With Raúl by my side to help me shrug off things that should have been titled microaggressions, we kept our eyes on the prize: greater representation, greater visibility, and greater conscious group identity. We began on the path to knowledge attainment through studying what had happened in the past, where we were headed, and how NCTE and CCCC represented us and valued us. With that goal in mind, we went to Oregon in 2017. We had another spectacular workshop, “Latinxs Taking Action In and Out of the Academy,” with local activists, poets, writers, peers, and even musicians performing culturally conscious rhetorics to showcase the Latinx voice and presence in Portland, Oregon. The knowledge gained there was the continued distance between the way we were holding our workshops and the broader conference proceedings. I think as a more seasoned Caucus leader, I was compelled to start decolonizing this divide, the way I saw it affecting members, myself, and the divide in the larger conference itself, and I tried to do something with these observations in a review I wrote and published “rogue” through Latino Rebels. Now the third movement, which is our collective will to act, has begun and it is visible through our work on racism and white supremacy. In 2018, we voted to boycott CCCC 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. We initiated what became the Joint Caucus Statement on the NAACP Travel Advisory, and we contributed to the Joint Caucus Response as well. Without going into too much detail with these documents because they speak for themselves, we witnessed our initial will to act spread out to the organization’s responses to our concerns with the creation of the Social Justice Action Committee (SJAC) and the SJAC all-conference event that we feel emulates our regular Wednesday workshops where we invite local activists, writers, poets, musicians, and scholars. While still in our third movement, we are veering on the fourth: transformative change through collective action, and we welcome everyone aboard!
Arce, Sean Martin. “Xicana/o Indigenous Epistemologies: Toward a Decolonizing and
Liberatory Education for Xicana/o Youth.” White Washing American Education: The New
Culture Wars in Ethnic Studies. Praeger ABCCLIO: CA, 2016, 11-42.
Horne, Gerald. The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy,
and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean. Monthly Review. Press, 2018.
Ruiz, Iris D. “Race” Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords for
Theory and Pedagogy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
—. Reclaiming Composition for Chicano/as and Other Ethnic Minorities. Palgrave Macmillan,
Sánchez, Raúl. “Writing” Decolonizing Rhetoric and Composition Studies: New Latinx Keywords
for Theory and Pedagogy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.