Mexican is not an Insult

joeBy Joseph Iratxeta

I know that for a long time, especially recently, Mexican has been used as a pejorative. One can debate for hours on why. One can also debate for hours as to the nature of Mexican-ness : 1) A bloodline 2) Culture and Ethnicity bourne from admixture, or 3) a nationality with no lineage or specific culture tied to it.

The thing that cannot be debated is that the word Mexican comes from the Nahuatl word Meshica. The Spanish had a bad habit of putting an X where ever there was a sound they didn’t have in their language or could not mimic or for which they could not derive a spelling. Often these were guttural or slurred S or Th sounds. This is the reason there is a town called Mexico in the Philippines; the sound in the middle was something different. The SH in Meshica? Well, some say its a CH and others say a SH, and still others say it is a lost sound.

The other thing that cannot be debated is that Natives of Mexico had a very different history than those of the USA. In the USA the policy was separation then extermination followed by segregation. In Mexico the whole history was one of assimilation or swift extermination. There were far less European immigrants into Mexico and the population density of Mexican Indians was too high to exterminate them completely. So conversion by religion, education or on paper (Indigenous status was removed if you spoke Spanish, had an education, or wore shoes) was the way toward subjugation. Imagine a United States where European immigration was halted early in the colonization process by climate, insects or the fall of the British Empire. Imagine a mostly brown United States named Cherokee, Dinetah, Sik Sika, or Lakota. That is Mexico.

Furthermore, Meshica does not mean Aztec. The Aztec were one people that happened to migrate into the Valley of Mexico only to find that other Uto-Aztecan speakers had beat them there. Even amongst the Meshica, the Azteca (White Crane) people, were the stuff of legend who had come from the fabled White Crane Lake (Aztlan). The Meshica more appropriately denote the Triple Alliance of the cities of Texcoco (Alcohuan people), Tlacopan (Tepanec people) and Tenochtitlan (The Tenochca people, Aztec descendants). The meaning of the word Meshica is debated and either means “The Belly Button of the Moon” or “The Belly Button of the Maguey”. Both symbols having much to do with various Nahua origin stories. Moreover, remember that the Meshica empire may have had a predominance of Nahuatl speakers around the lake but they were not the only people in the vicinity.

Notable tribes were given a special status around the lake, such as the Otomi, who wielded semi-autonomous power just southeast of the lake and the relatively near Tlaxcalans who were directly east of Tenochtitlan. The Tlaxcalans were surrounded by the Meshica empire but were never a tributary to it. This political reality helped the Spanish utilize the Tlaxcalans to subdue the Meshica, the Purepecha and most other areas of Mexico. The Meshica Empire, just like most other empires were multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and always subject to change by war, alliances, economy, natural catastrophe, and internal feuding.

As problematic as Jared Diamond’s book, Gun, Germs and Steel, is for some people an important concept was framed. In the Americas the axis of migration, change and innovation was South to North and North to South. Because crops, animals and people had to adapt to quickly changing climates across latitudes it almost guaranteed smart, strong, highly adaptive and highly mixed people. This allowed expansion over geographic obstacles that usually were not worth the trouble in the EuroAfroAsian landmass. The Meshica and the Mexicans just happen to be the most recent manifestation of that resiliency, intelligence and strength.

Those who read this can continue to believe what they believe about the word Mexican and about people who call themselves Mexican. I am aware that many Indigenous Mexicans prefer to call themselves by their ethnic appellation but seeing that our history contained no sequestration or segregation onto reservations and that lands were held by sheer numbers and popular will coupled with the pre-columbian and post-columbian mixing ( I myself am of at least 4 lineages: Purepecha, Raramuri and others), I am proud to call myself Mexican as a proxy for the term Indigenous.

Those Indigenous groups are right to assert themselves politically against the mestizaje that has built up in Mexico after the horrible and deadly Porfiriato. But now, I wish that Mestizo and Indigenas alike would embrace our common heritage and ancestral ties to the land and our plant relatives on that land and move out from under European and Criollo control. Its Ours and we should not be poor while someone else sells the fruits and labors of our ancestors and our living populations.

We are Yaqui, Otomi, Huichol, Tarahumara, Tarascan, Triqui, Chocho-poploca, Mayo, Cocopa, Apache, Papago, Tzotzil, Cora, Mixtec Zapotec, and we are “North” Americans. The Inca (Quechua, Quichua, and Aymara) though we love them, are South Americans.

I remark upon this because the massive and explosive Native American and First Nations political movements of the past few years have left us out, when arguably, they cannot afford too. Although they have the political clout provided by recognition of their sovereignty, they do not have the sheer numbers. In the last census, Mexicans now make up 55 million of the US population and significant numbers of them identify as Indigenous people. While we personally see our connections to the Condor people of the South, because of distance and economics we cannot help them. In fact, from the news reports and personal stories of constant war and political genocides there, we see they are fighting this fight all the time and in greater numbers than in the USA.

Mexicans, Natives of the USA & Canada and Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere would do well to recognize and embrace each other in the ultimate act of decolonization; undoing those first acts by the Tlaxcalans and others who ushered the Europeans onto these continents.

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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://mexi-can.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/joe.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Joseph Iratxeta, MS Pharmaceutics Purepecha & Raramuri (Mexican Natives: Tarascan & Tarahumara) Joseph makes his home in South Dakota, where his wife and kids are enrolled Lakota members. He graduated from the Loyola University of Chicago with a B.S. in Psychology and minor in Biology. He has been a biomedical technician for 16 years in fields spanning neuroendocrinology, drug abuse, cardiovascular endocrinology, kidney transplant and immunology. Joeseph has been a high school science teacher in Lakota (Sioux) communities for 3 years. Most recently, he spent the last 4 years studying pharmaceutics, genomics, public health and the bioethics of research in Native communities. His interests lie in closing the health disparity gap for Native Americans and all Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere. Joseph hopes to do that in a culturally appropriate and ethical manner via science or social reform. One of his interests is in helping to educate and empower Native groups to make Genomics a tool they use at their own discretion and benefit.[/author_info] [/author]

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