Naming, A Coming Home: Latinidad and Indigeneity in the Settler Colony

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In this powerful text, Floridalma Boj Lopez describes how the identity concepts of Latinx and Indigenous are forged in the relation with the U.S. settler colony. As such, they often obscure and flatten the particularities of Indigenous nations from the south of the U.S. colonial border, as well as their specific relationship with the specific settler states that dispossessed them. Far from an absolutist account however, Floridalma invites us to adopt an “extensive gaze,” that of the Kab’awil.

In 2007, I started doing return trips from Los Angeles, where I have lived most of my life, to my home place of Quetzaltenango in Guatemala. Quetzaltenango has taught me so much since then. Quetzaltenango taught me about having a double view, usually anchored in the entity of the Kab’awil. The Kab’awil is most often represented by a two-headed bird where the heads do not face each other but, instead, look out to the universe. According to my elders, including literary critic Gloria Chacón who uses the Kab’awil as a framework for her work, this bird/concept is about expanding our possibility to see the complexity of life and recognize that the natural order of things is complementary multiplicity, not singularity. Growing up, I knew Quetzaltenango simply as “Xela.” I never questioned why it had two names and why one existed on official maps and the other existed in our everyday conversations and stories. It wasn’t until many years later on one of my return trips that my elders explained that Xela is short for “Xe Lajuj’ Noj” (the ten wise ones), and refers to the mountain range that surrounds the valley my family has lived in for as long as we can remember. In other words, my family practiced this double gaze in its own naming practices that continued in the diaspora after we were displaced multiple times first to Guatemala City and, later, to occupied Tongva territory.

In 2019, I traveled to Xela while leading a group of Guatemalan high school girls living in Los Angeles. We connected with a migrant-led organization that had a community center/café in my hometown. As we toured the space and the lead organizer explained why he had left Guatemala and then returned years later to create a space for returned migrants, I thought over and over about my own dad who had been deported by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in the 1970s. Here was a space dedicated to deportees and returned migrants that sought to be a gentler landing place, where returnees could discuss the hardships they faced as migrants, where they could express their fear and heartache, and get support if they had been child migrants that didn’t have family in Guatemala anymore. I thought about how much grief one small piece of land that had two names could hold. I thought about the loss returnees felt at losing their status as undocumented immigrants. I thought about how criminalized they were both for leaving Guatemala and for returning. I thought about my father and how his return was not cushioned, there was no gentle landing place, and those years when he was a deportee who formed a family after his deportation are lost to us now. We, I, don’t know what that was like for him because he passed away while I was an undocumented child in Los Angeles. In 1993, when I was seven years old, my dad joined the ancestors.

For the past several years, I have worked to have my students understand that Latinidad and Indigeneity are not just categories of identification: they are relationships to the settler state, to power, to history.