Inclusive language or historical erasure?
[ Kurly Tlapoyawa ]
Note: This article was updated on February 25, 2018.
There is a popular video floating around the Internet about the Chicano Moratorium March of August 29, 1970. This event was a watershed moment in the Chicano Movement, in which the Los Angeles Police met a peaceful Chicano-led protest against the Vietnam War with extreme violence. The ensuing police riot claimed three lives, most notably that of Journalist Ruben Salazar. It remains an important chapter in Chicano history. Yet the video claims that the Chicano Moratorium “sparked a movement in defense of Latinx lives.”
I have to admit, this rewriting of Chicano history caught me by surprise. While it may be currently en vogue to adopt trendy terms like “Latinx” in an attempt to be more inclusive, this video is in effect erasing a part of history that many consider very important. I am not alone in feeling this way. The participants in the Chicano Moratorium most certainly did not identify as “Latinx” or “Chicanx,” and no amount of historical revisionism is going to change that.
Historical Revisionism In Action
After watching the video I had many questions. Why did the makers of this video feel entitled to effectively erase an identity that so many fought to gain respect for? Why did they feel the need to retroactively assign an identity to people who had never adopted it? But mainly, I wondered why the promoters of the Latinx term feel the need to cling to a Eurocentric/anti-indigenous identity in the first place?
The X in Latinx is an attempt to ungender the term Latino, yet it still pays deference to a Eurocentric ideology that actively denies the Indigenous and African heritage of the people it claims to represent. If one is serious about non-gendered terminology, why cling to a European language as the basis of your identity? Why not simply adopt a term in an indigenous language? After all, this would be more reflective of our cultural inheritance as native people. Personally, I prefer to identify as “Mazewalli,” a term in the Nawatl language that means “Indigenous person.” Like most Mesoamerican languages, Nawatl is a non-gender specific language. I think the message would be far more powerful and meaningful if an indigenous term was used. Remember, Mexico is one of the most linguistically diverse nations on the planet, with 62 indigenous languages still being spoken. This means that there are a multitude of authentic, indigenous terms we can use to describe ourselves that better reflect our cultural inheritance.
The very idea of a “Latin America” and “latin” people comes from the French intellectual Michel Chevalier, who sought to create an umbrella term in the late 1800s in order to unite colonial subjects under a generic “latin” identity. In doing so, Chevalier hoped to assist Napoleon III in expanding the French empire. Chevalier hoped that if he could convince Mexicans to adopt a “latin” view of themselves, they would be more inclined to ally themselves with French interests. After all, the French would now be their “latin” brethren, as opposed to the “Saxons” who also had interests in Mexico. As Historian Thomas Holloway notes, “Napoleon III was particularly interested in using the concept to help justify his intrusion into Mexican politics that led to the imposition of Archduke Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico…”
Knowing the origin of this term, I cannot bring myself to embrace it. No matter how you slice it, terms like “Latin,” Latino,” “Latina,” and “Latinx” represent a racist-colonialist mindset that actively erases people of Indigenous and African origin. But in the race to be inclusive, a variety of alphabet-twisting terminology has emerged.
Some promote the usage of “Chicanx,” but this strikes me as just a trendy response to “Latinx.” And as we have seen in the case of the unfortunate Chicano Moratorium Video, it can lead to the actual erasure of Chicano history. By renaming the historical Chicano Movement the “Chicanx Movement,” well-meaning folks are attributing to the Chicano Movement an idea that did not even exist at the time. By appropriating and retrofitting the past for purposes of the present, the “Chicanx Movement” proponents are creating a false narrative that reeks of an Orwellian rewriting of history. Well-intentioned or not, this is dangerous. I think simply using the term “El Movimiento” would be a reasonable solution that both respects our history and serves as an all-inclusive term.
A recent notice from the National Association of Chicano Studies even employs the term “Chican@/X.” I won’t even hazard a guess as to how that nonsense is supposed to be pronounced. It appears that the Chicano identity is destined to be revamped over and over again until it’s just a meaningless jumble of nonsensical letters and symbols. I have often joked that #Xkn@/X is just around the corner. I find this trend both unfortunate and misguided. Perhaps the next iteration of our identity can be decided by having a cat run across a keyboard?
Just a suggesti@nx…
Requiem 29: The Chicano Moratorium
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Kurly Tlapoyawa is an archaeologist, author, and ethnohistorian. His research focuses primarily on the interaction between Mesoamerica, Western Mexico, and the American Southwest. Kurly has lectured at UNLV, University of Houston, and Yale University on topics related to Mesoamerica. His recent book, “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” was published in 2017. In addition to his work in Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Kurly is a professional stuntman with over 35 credits to his name.
Follow Kurly on twitter @KurlyTlapoyawa
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