Saytown Lowdown

Next week, the 7th Annual Indigenous Human Rights March will take place with Aztec ceremonial dance, native drumming, and poetry by Chicano Indigenous poets Alurista and Anthony Flores. At a time when politicians debate the merits of a border wall that funnels families fleeing drug-war violence in Mexico into the Arizona deserts and increasingly anti-immigrant legislation seeks to further dehumanize and penalize the peoples who have crossed these borders freely for thousands of years — the original peoples — we must still struggle to explain the past 500 years of genocide that arrived with the European march across these lands.

If we study the history of the Americas since the arrival of Christopher Columbus, it is plain that it is a history filled with atrocity. It does not matter what part of the continent you study: you find the same history, first of tentative trade agreements followed by limited settlement agreements turning into full blown conflict and war. Native People succumbed to the diseases that European immigrants brought from the so-called Old World, ultimately leading to the notion of Manifest Destiny. The plagues that struck Native Peoples were interpreted by greedy Europeans as a sign from their God that they were to take all the land.

In the 1400s, papal decrees declared Christian explorers were to plunder non-Christian lands. I bring this history up because it is at the root of all the injustice suffered by the Native People of the Americas at the hands of the European. The Doctrine of Discovery is embedded within the U.S. Constitution and is what the government used to expand its ever-encroaching borders onto Indian Lands. The papal decree informed early U.S. domestic policy by holding the indigenous peoples as soulless animals, savage brutes to be enslaved, conquered, and converted to Christianity — never met as an equal. That is how the Native People of America became refugees in their ancestral homelands. 

This is the root of all Indian removal, deportation, and detention that continues in our current immigration practices. Over the past hundreds of years, Indians from the North, East, Northeast, and Southeast were forced Southwest into Mexico. What is today known as Texas was claimed by New Spain, later becoming Mexico after a popular revolt against Spain. As more Anglo settlers moved into Texas, Indians resisted because there was no place left. The Spanish Mexicans were constantly driving Indians northward while this new Anglo conglomeration pushed them to the west and south.

So Indians stopped being Indians. They adopted Spanish surnames, becoming, over time, Mexicans. Understanding this history, conservative political shifts intended to demonize migrants (California’s Prop 187, 287 the E-Verification Act, Save Act, and SB1070) are intended to divide and conquer our people through forced assimilation to a national identity rather then an ethnic identity, allowing for more atrocities.

If you find yourself wondering why we are marching next week, you have my answer — with far too much left unsaid to fit this space. We remember Ezekiel Hernandez, Cirela Cruz, the Juarez teenager shot by the El Paso Border Patrol whose last name was also Hernandez, the 72 Centro- and Sur Americanos dead because of the sham Drug War that feeds the U.S. bureaucracy and old-money families. It feels endless, but we are Human Beings: if we stay quiet we lose that spark that unites and connects us all with the true bounty and beauty of Creation.

Join us at 2pm, Saturday, October 9, at Columbus Park, and help us urge the U.S. to sign the UN Declaration for Indigenous Human Rights. Bring canned foods to help feed the children in the flooded mining towns of Coahuila. We can be One People again.

Antonio Diaz represents the Texas Indigenous Council and is the host and producer of the Public Access TV show Mestizo Experience.

Saytown Lowdown is a regular San Antonio Current feature that allows thinkers from across the community spectrum to expound upon the vital issues of our day. Submit your ideas to [email protected].

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