When applied to racially constructed identities in the United States of America, settler colonialism discourse lacks dialogue on decolonization. As more people of color and Indigenous people enter academia, communitarian and individualist worldviews come into conversation with each other, but do they ever intersect? As a Latine with colonialist European and Mexican Indigenous heritage, I have consistently wondered if higher academic vocabulary and post-structuralist frameworks of Latine identity can coexist with a collateral Indigenous worldview to form a liberating framework that creates space for hybrid identities like my own, that is, a Latine with colonialist European and Mexican Indigenous heritage.
Homi K. Bhaba’s definition of hybridity as “the interstitial passage between fixed identifications [which] opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy,” informs my understanding of hybridity. Bhaba’s definition of hybridity allows for two identities to co-exist and create new possibilities for those two (or three or more) identities previous “fixedness.” Additionally, the legacy of European invasion of North American lands and settler colonialism of Indigenous land and identity informs my critique of hybridity. Ultimately, the impact of settler colonialism problematizes hybridity because it disrupts the idea of mutuality across cultures.
Through research primarily on decolonization as a metaphorical framework as presented by Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, and coupled with a commitment to critical engagement with the work of Lara Medina, George E. “Tink” Tinker, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Miguel A. De La Torre, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Emma Peréz, and Gloria Anzaldúa, I argue academic theoretical vocabulary, specifically “hybridity,” on decolonization is incommensurable with a collateral Indigenous worldview. Furthermore, when Latine scholars with both European and Indigenous identities lean into their Indigenous identity, this can be a form of resistance. However, I argue that if the Indigenous community is left out of this reclamation or claims of decolonization are unsupported by authentic solidarity with Indigenous peoples, scholars run the risk of essentializing Indigenous identity and decolonization for cultural capital within higher academic institutions.
As an aspiring scholar, activist, and ethicist grappling with my Latine-Indigenous hybrid identity, I have an ethical obligation to call attention to the harm done to Indigenous communities beyond my own Mexican ancestral lands, specifically in systems of higher education that espouse prioritizing decolonization. In doing so, I attempt to hold myself accountable as an active member of the academy to prevent myself from participating in or benefiting from the same harm. After this acknowledgement and full understanding of the incommensurability of an Indigenous worldview with the theoretical nature of higher education, I argue that any claim to Indigenous identity, hybrid or not, causes harm if left to theory without honoring the embodied experiences of cultures interacting with each other or active tribal participation. Understanding why performative identity affiliation is harmful and how theoretical language surrounding identity, decolonization, and Indigenous worldview can serve the academy over the Indigenous community is essential.
In accordance with De La Torre’s “ethics of place” which critically engages social location, presence, and praxis, my aim is to present research on settler colonialist, Latine, and Indigenous identity in a way that explores how theorizing about hybrid identities and decolonization harms Indigenous peoples. Although this harm is possible via the academic pursuit of identity deconstruction, this does not negate the lived religio-cultural, embodied experiences at the intersection of these identities. Therefore, I suggest academic systems, specifically Latine studies on decolonization, prioritize engagement with Native worldview and the sharing of our own religio-cultural narratives at the intersection of Latine, Indigenous, and European identities in any discourse concerning decolonization.
When I reference a collateral Indigenous or Native worldview, I am drawing from George E. Tinker’s definitions of this worldview in distinction to a Eurochristian worldview. Tinker argues that a Eurochristian worldview operates on an “up-down cognitive image schema,” which “identifies a whole social imaginary,” “functions to structure the social whole around vertical hierarchies of power and authority,” and “creates the hierarchic notions that dominate our eurocolonial [sic] world of christian [sic] conquest.” Not only is this worldview distinct from a Native one, but Tinker argues that it has irrevocably changed and harmed North American Indigenous peoples. Whereas a Eurochristian worldview operates on a hierarchical cognitive model, Tinker argues that American Indians embody a “collateral-egalitarian image schema, which is more of a community-ist model.” Tinker’s distinction of these two worldviews has informed my own awareness and critique of the pervasive Eurochristian worldview in higher academia and in Latine studies. It also serves as the foundation for my understanding of the implicit Eurochristian values in the need to carve out a unique hybrid identity for myself in our current academic systems of identification.
Academic Commodification of Decolonization
To clarify the phenomenon in higher education wherein decolonizing methodologies are espoused in order to gain cultural capital, De La Torre asks critical questions about the motives behind academic publications which claim solidarity with the oppressed without any praxis to back these claims. His suggestions signal a tendency in the academy to theorize the lived experiences of socially marginalized communities for profit and reputation within the academy. These questions on cultural capital in academia harken to Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s work as she demands critical consciousness from researchers when theorizing Indigenous experiences when theory itself is a product of colonial culture. She writes, “[t]he act, let alone the art and science, of theorizing our own existence and realities is not something which many indigenous people assume is possible.” Through a critique of the construction of the academy and writing from her lived experiences, Smith argues that research is “inextricably linked to colonialism,” thus acknowledging the incommensurability between an Indigenous worldview with identity theory and calling for decolonization beyond theory and metaphor.
Because I agree with Smith, a centerpiece for my argument is Tuck and Yang’s article, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor” where they call for decolonization through addressing settler colonialism and granting sovereignty and land rights to Indigenous people, thus calling attention to the detriment of theoretical frameworks in the pursuit of decolonization. Smith, Tuck, and Yang grapple with the ways in which knowledge systems and the academy participate in the continuation of colonization. Through Tuck and Yang, I understand that the act of colonizing in the academy is less about colonizing Indigenous lands and peoples than about gaining academic social capital. To resolve this, Tuck and Yang urge the academy to transfer material capital back to Indigenous communities – that is, granting sovereignty and land rights, which is akin to reparations.
This call is a result not only of harmful experience in colonization, but of the trend in the academy to casually apply decolonization to various social justice issues. Expanding on this critique, Tuck and Yang write on the growing ease with which the language of decolonization is employed both within higher education and about social justice. When the language of decolonization is used frivolously, it fails to accomplish that which is inherent to its existence, namely, address the harm of cultural genocide and return land rights to Indigenous people. Without this acknowledgement, we engage in what De La Torre calls “spectator-type ethics:”
I have argued that in spite of how clever or creative case studies may appear to be, they are useless to those residing on the margins of society because they fail to foster concrete acts that can bring about change. A spectator-type ethics is created where debating theory, rather than transforming society, becomes the ultimate intellectual goal. Ethics devoid of praxis may be philosophical or theological; but it is not ethics.
While De La Torre is addressing the undocumented immigrant community and immigration crisis at the border, his critique holds ground with Tuck and Yang’s critique of decolonization functioning as a metaphor in higher education. Pushing the critique of “doing ethics” from the ivory towers of the academy into the discourse on decolonization, Tuck and Yang urge scholars to not use the term, “decolonization,” lightly. When the term is used vaguely for other human rights-based issues, the unique integrity of Indigenous lived experience is compromised. In other words, using decolonization as a method in scholarship or as an empty signifier to include Indigenous people in other civil rights issues dishonors the reality of Indigenous experience in a colonial context. Decolonization requires action beyond empty inclusivity of Indigenous identity in any one social justice movement.
Academia’s authentic concerns for Indigenous contexts have also been called into question by Smith. Like De La Torre, Smith calls for an awareness of scholar embodiment or social location. In other words, both mark the dangers of claiming historically excluded social locations in the academy without being present with those very same communities. Without being present or occupying the same space with socially marginalized identities, theorists risk appropriating oppression and the ideal of solidarity for academic gain. According to Smith, “many researchers simply assume that they as individuals embody this ideal and are natural representatives of it when they work with other communities.” By putting Tuck and Yang in conversation with De La Torre and Smith, aspiring scholar activists with a Latine-Indigenous hybrid identity with commitments to decolonization are ethically obligated to push decolonization beyond the classroom and theoretical frameworks. Decolonization calls for immediate change, accountability, and action. Ultimately, “[w]hen metaphor invades decolonization, it kills the very possibility of decolonization; it recenters whiteness, it resettles theory, it extends innocence to the settler, it entertains a settler future.” Therefore, Latine-Indigenous hybrid identities in the academy must be cautious of the ways in which we engage decolonization as an identity formation methodology without praxis in Indigenous communities.
Pushing the critique forward, Tuck and Yang argue that decolonization as metaphor leads to empty solidarity and even supports settler “moves to innocence” in the form of cultural appropriation. While in higher education, we are not dealing with the obvious red face as portrayed in popular media, the very presence of it in the media reveals a settler obsession with adopting Indigeneity. Furthermore, decolonization as metaphor used by those with false claims to Indigenous identity or lack of actual proximity to Indigenous community is a form of cultural appropriation or red face that often goes unchallenged by systems of higher education because of the cultural capital and diversity element these scholars may bring to institutions.
Latine-Indigenous Hybrid Scholars Resisting Colonization in the Academy and Beyond
Without dismissing the power of identity deconstruction and social consciousness raising which occurs in the academy, Latine-Indigenous hybrid scholars are called to resist essentializing ourselves for the benefit of the institution or offering ourselves as objective representation for entire communities. Returning to De La Torre’s critique of spectator ethics, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s chapter “Can the Subaltern Speak?” cautions scholars to not claim expertise on cultures or adopt an authoritative position in translating lived experiences into theory. She explains the dangers when researchers oscillate “between theoretical catachresis and practical naive realism” as a harmful process of universalizing unique experiences of oppression. This practice positions subjects of social justice and ethics as far away and voiceless, which is counter-productive to the intent of the study. In Spivak’s words:
This reintroduces the constitutive subject on at least two levels: the Subject of desire and power as an irreducible methodological presupposition; and the…subject of the oppressed. Further, the intellectuals, who are neither of these S/subjects, become transparent in the relay race, for they merely report on the non-represented subject and analyze (without analyzing) the workings of (the unnamed Subject irreducibly presupposed by) power and desire.
This critical analysis of how those on the fringes of society are intellectualized is precisely what Tuck and Yang employ when critiquing decolonization as a metaphor used to soothe settler guilt. They write, “[t]he absorption of decolonization by settler social justice frameworks is one way the settler, disturbed by her own settler status, tries to escape or contain the unbearable searchlight of complicity…” Beyond guilt and impatient needs for reconciliation, the desire to belong fuels scholarship on decolonization. This need for belonging can find its roots in early formations of a United States identity. It is important to highlight how this identity formation is not lost on non-native people of color. As much as white settlers seek quick, guilt-free reconciliation, non-native people of color are quick to assimilate to the settler colonist system as it benefits them.
In his book Playing Indian, Philip Deloria successfully demonstrates the origins of a United States identity’s obsession with authentic belonging and the colonial project behind the label “American.” He credits this obsession as a response to Indigenous presence and a need to justify European presence in the so-called “Americas.” An example he references is the Boston Tea Party where the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Indigenous people, protested against the taxes in the Townshend Act by throwing untaxed tea from China into the Boston Harbor. This is an early instance of Euro-Americans “playing Indian” to assert their belonging and authority in the new (to them) world. Later in the introduction to his book, Deloria goes on to explain how although these Indigenous “performances” have changed over time, this practice finds its roots in the Revolution when establishing an authentic national identity was necessary. Beyond these origins, Deloria also argues that modernity has encouraged a new form of “playing Indian” where Euro-Americans lean into Indigenous identity “amidst the anxiety” in a “postindustrial life.” Here, Deloria is not only addressing popular appropriation of Indigenous culture in clothing, jewelry, and spiritual practices, he is addressing the subconscious pull toward claiming or reclaiming Indigenous identity as a sense of security in a land we know is stolen.
This settler anxiety in conversation with reclaiming Indigenous identity upon educationally-induced consciousness-raising requires a closer look into the racialization of the “Native American.” This racialization has two effects. First, it functions to provide space for white and non-native people (including Latine identities) to claim Indigeneity based on heritage, not community commitment and/or worldview. Second, and more devastatingly, it functions to extinguish authentic Indigenous identity and community. This is where Latine claims to Indigenous identity has the potential to cause harm, which grounds my argument that reclaiming Indigenous identity without commitment to community upholds settler colonialism.
Supporting complicated claims to Indigenous identity, U.S. governmental bodies have historically and continue to use blood quantum mechanics to erase Indigenous peoples. In considering the racialization of Indigenous peoples, especially through the use of blood quantum classification, J. Kēhualani Kauanui argues these mechanics function as a “genocidal logic of disappearance” that prioritizes claims to heritage over authentic community participation and membership. In this way, blood quantum is a colonial project because it ultimately functions to disregard Indigenous land rights. Because ancestry is different from active tribal membership and blood quantum mechanics have been used to maintain current and ongoing U.S. government land acquisition, questions of identity and belonging are entirely up to specific Indigenous communities.
In this light, I argue commitment to community engagement and participation is a necessary component to any form of identity deconstruction and reclamation. Depending on the context, we need to ask ourselves who is benefiting from this identity reclamation and who is not? Ultimately, when a marginalized identity is claimed for reputation or recognition instead of community participation and with no awareness of settler complicity, “even the ability to be a minority citizen in the settler nation means an option to become a brown settler.” In a time where epistemological privileges in higher education are granted to those with specific identities, we need to be vigilant about whether identity reclamation functions to uplift the community or the individual at the expense of the community, even if that individual is a person of color.
Blood quantum also allows white people with no clear affiliation to Indigenous community or tribal membership claim Indigeneity based on distant heritage. Not only do blood quantum regulations function to elevate white settlers over Indigenous communities, but they support and uphold current settler colonialist systems of land ownership like the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (HHCA) of 1921. This act defined native Hawaiians as “people with at least one-half blood quantum of individuals inhabiting Hawaiian islands prior to 1778.” Through a critical historical analysis of the U.S. relationship with native Hawaiians and American Indians, Kauanui concludes that blood quantum classifications like the one present in the HHCA function to “appropriate Native lands and to promote cultural and biological assimilation to the advantage of whiteness.” This form of identity reclamation is another way in which the critique of decolonization as a theoretical framework is worthwhile because decolonization requires specific attention to active Indigenous communities. Instead of uplifting reclamations of a romanticized Indigenous past, decolonization must address the Indigenous present.
Through examining the colonial origins of blood quantum, legal scholar David Wilkins of the Lumbee nation reveals how blood mechanics have shifted and complicated tribal enrollment, dismemberment, and sense of belonging. Ultimately, blood quantum was introduced by U.S. policymakers in partnership with tribal leaders over concerns of private property and resource allotment. In other words, organizing “Indian” territory and deciding who would be eligible for these lands was the primary concern for the construction of blood quantum mechanics. Because of the pressures on Native communities to protect their lands and resources, blood quantum became a way of dividing themselves from non-Native people. In the early 1900s, for example, Wilkins writes on the “White Man’s Case,” which was a series of cases wherein Cherokee Indians were able to file a claim on the basis of their “blood” against 3,627 white people who desired Cherokee land. What began as a means to advocate for Indigenous sovereignty in the face of settler colonialism has now granted non-participating community members to identify as Indigenous on the basis of having 25% Indigenous blood.
The obsession with claiming Indigeneity persists and is supported by popular culture. Tuck and Yang delve into the protagonist in the movie The Last of the Mohicans, as an example of a white settler being “adopted” into Indigenous community to highlight this settler cultural obsession. Beyond Daniel Day Lewis’ character, there are many more films including and not limited to Annie Get Your Gun, Peter Pan, and Isabella Swan in Twilight. Tuck and Yang acknowledge the prevalence of the Indigenous adoption narrative in Western media and are interested in how “this narrative spins a fantasy that an individual settler can become innocent.” Creating stories where non-Native people are adopted by Indigenous communities is one way that colonial guilt is managed. In this way, the United States identity becomes hybridized to both reconcile white settler guilt and establish the superiority of hybridity. This is the backdrop of hybrid identities with which Latine scholars wrestling with issues of identity need to consider in a U.S. context.
Moving beyond post-structuralist theoretical frameworks, those in the academy with justice-oriented values have ethical obligations to question in what ways we support settler colonialism. For hybrid identities, this praxis involves presence with community paired with translating these lived experiences into the academic discourse. First, Indigenous identity reclamation and worldview involves prioritizing community, tribal participation, and tradition and is incompatible with higher academic theoretical systems because of the colonial origins of those systems. Second, relying heavily on lived experiences in nepantla, informed by Gloria Anzaldúa, Mariana Ortega, Lara Medina, and Emma Pérez, I put this work in conversation with my own lived experiences. In doing this, I find the intersection of Eurochristian ideology and an Indigenous worldview exist in embodied experiences, not theoretical frameworks. Finally, I intentionally do not identify as primarily Indigenous though there are specific Indigenous ancestral influences on my affinity with nepantla and religio-cultural experiences in Mexican Catholicism. I do not embrace an Indigenous identity because I address the ways in which my scholarship, even scholarship embracing nepantla, supports systems of settler colonialism. Still, I push back on the theoretical academic discourse on identity by sharing personal religio-cultural experiences, which ultimately align me primarily with a Latine identity dedicated to decolonization.
Indigenous, European, and Latine: Where do our voices fit in the Discourse on Decolonization?
“The ancestors guide the living, offer protection, and renew the living. Constructing sacred space in their honor, leaving them gifts of food and drink, spending time with their spirits, and sharing in oral traditions ensures family stability and most importantly reminds the living of their historical lineage.”
Sage wafts through the brick hallways the day before El Día de Muertos. Tía Adriana instructs me to take a taxi downtown to buy as many caléndulas as I can carry. Prima Sofia is making papel picado at the kitchen table and La Señora Licha is dusting off the frames of our ancestors for the ofrenda. The bells from the Catholic church at la Plaza de Ciudad Fernández ring in our house and I’m anxious to share space with the dead for the first time. This annual reunion was never mentioned at the Church of Saint Benedict in northeastern Iowa that I attended as a child but was celebrated in every plaza in México. There is a balance living in these communities as we express both our cultural Catholicism and reverence for the pungent marigold that guides our ancestors back home.
“Pero Tía…” I ask, “I thought only Jesús could come back from the dead?”
She responds, “Bueno, si mijita, es que somos católicos, pero también somos Indios.”
Here, an unpacking of the contradictory identity dynamic occurring in my familia is necessary to understand how conflicting worldviews are embodied experiences. Using Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands, La Frontera, I can provide a critical analysis of this phenomenon. Within a U.S. context, Anzaldúa writes on the embodied experience of living at the intersection of white, Mexican, and Indigenous culture. Through poetry and critical social analysis, Anzaldúa demonstrates how freedom from this psychological turmoil is found in embracing nepantla, which requires excavating and releasing our inner indigeneity. To honor her artistic expression, I provide a longer excerpt here:
Caught between the sudden contraction, the breath sucked in and the endless spaces, the brown woman stands still, looks at the sky. She decides to go down, digging her way along the roots of trees. Sifting through the bones, she shakes them to see if there is any marrow in them. Then, touching the dirt to her forehead, to her tongue, she takes a few bones, leaves the rest in their burial place…Her first step is to take inventory. Despojando, desgranando, quitando paja. Just what did she inherit from her ancestors? This weight on her back – which is the baggage from the Indian mother, which the baggage from the Spanish father, which the baggage from the Anglo?
In an attempt to reconcile all aspects of identity, nepantla provides a unique space for a hybrid Latine-Indigenous identity. While I strongly identify with the healing capacities in nepantla, I would not suggest it as a framework for all Indigenous peoples. Lara Medina and George E. Tinker’s exchange in Wading Through Many Voices: Toward a Theology of Public Conversation informs this position. Medina writes, “[f]or Chicano/as who are products of cultural mestizaje within a legacy of colonization, reconciling the differences and discovering the similarities between Christian and Indigenous traditions offers healing.” I would argue this mode of healing does not extend to our American Indian relatives.
Medina goes on to explain how through nepantla, hybrid Latine-Indigenous identities disrupt boundaries and create distinct worldviews that speak to the complexity of lived experiences belonging to both Indigenous and European ancestry. In this instance, Medina is elevating nepantla over mestizaje as an effective framework for identity deconstruction and understanding, thus pushing back on Virgilio Elizondo and Ada María Isasi-Díaz. These scholars’ presentation of mestizaje failed to fully acknowledge and incorporate the indigeneity it sought to represent. Additionally, due to the regional origins of mestizaje in the United States, it functioned to universalize a specific experience of “intermixture,” thus excluding other diverse mixtures of Indigenous and Afro-Latine identities. Elizondo, who wrote extensively on U.S. mestizo identity, heavily emphasized a Christian paradigm over an Indigenous one. Additionally, Isasi-Díaz fails to delve into the complexities of a mulatez identity by not critically engaging with African culture and worldview. In La Lucha Continues, she spoke of mestizaje-mulatez as an attempt to address the Afro-Indigenous roots and influence on Latine culture. However, upon further speculation and as noted by other Latine scholars, throughout the entire chapter dedicated to mestizaje-mulatez, Isasi-Díaz does not reference or engage with a single Afro-Latine scholar.
Ultimately, Latine theologians who have heavily identified with mestizaje have failed to uphold Indigenous roots whereas Latine scholars embracing nepantla are doing so as a choice to honor their indigeneity. The key point for my argument that nepantla is not liberating for North American Indigenous peoples is the notion of choice to align with oneself with both their colonizer heritage and their indigeneity. For example, when engaging with Tinker’s thoughts on American Indian healing, I do not witness the same self-determinant relationship with the colonized-self as the relationship expressed through Medina’s understanding of nepantla. Consequently, I agree with Tinker’s understanding that an American Indian reconciliation between the colonizer and the colonized simply is impossible because there was never a semblance of conciliation. According to Tinker, American Indians do not and have never been given the choice to participate in a Christian paradigm; rather, it has consistently been enforced upon them.
Instead of extending liberation, this “choice” narrative has the capacity to extend further harm to North American Indigenous communities. Tinker’s response to the healing capacities in a nepantla or “in-between” state is in the following: “[i]t has and continues to eviscerate our cultures and our systems of values, precisely by putting our cultural traditions…into diametric tension with the cultural values and habits of behavior of our colonizers.” The exchange between Medina and Tinker exemplifies how it is entirely up to a specific community to decide the parameters of their healing. Additionally, Tinker calls attention to the harmful impact of theoretical frameworks for identity, especially nepantla, in Latine studies on Indigenous peoples in the United States.
While I agree with Tinker’s warning of nepantla as a theoretical framework, I am not asking Latine-Indigenous hybrid identities to disregard it. According to Anzaldúa, in nepantla, both Spanish and white European influences on identity formation are acknowledged, but the liberating work comes from unleashing the inner “India.” Loving the India within reconciles the imbalance which arose out of generational trauma that functioned to stifle her. In my culture, Dia de los Muertos is an example of our Indigeneity persevering through cultural Catholicism without completely dismissing our Eurochristian heritage. This holiday is an embodied and cultural experience of nepantla, which cannot be understood through theoretical frameworks, but through community participation, mentorship from familial elders, and active cultural membership.
For example, sitting at a crowded cloth and glass-covered table at my great aunt’s home in Mexico, passing tortillas in talaveras, and bringing a thumb over pointer finger to my mouth to kiss a miniature cross made from my own bones is in my spirit as much as the smell of sage, painting bracelets made of corn kernels, and believing those who have passed on continue to share physical space with us. The purpose of sharing my lived experience is not to throw out theory and methodology as academic practices. These are still needed to communicate and speak the language of academia, but the work of hybrid identities is to translate embodied experiences into academic vocabulary without causing harm via essentialization or overgeneralization to our communities and not to posit proximity to Indigeneity for cultural capital.
Not only by sharing our lived experiences, but by being critical of the theoretical background of “hybridity” as an academic concept is necessary too. When grappling with ‘hybrid’ as a label, it is important to signal how this word serves a euro-formed identity framework. The term ‘hybrid’ serves the Latine community by providing a label for those, like myself, who identify with a post-conquest culture by connecting our ancestry to both Indigenous people and Europeans. Upon further interrogation and with an American Indian collateral worldview in mind, ‘hybrid’ still operates on a purity scale or an “up-down image schema.” As Barbara Mann speaks of purity concerns as built-in assumptions of Euro-forming that include “A predisposition to monotheism, yielding a belief that “Truth” is unitary, leading to a fixation on “purity” of descent, resulting in a contempt for Native culture.” In response to purity concerns, hybridity can allow people with European ancestry to cloak a history of genocide and adheres to a monolithic identity framework. ‘Hybrid,’ ‘mestizo,’ or ‘mixed-race’ all feed into a Western framework of reference wherein those who are not only European or only Indigenous merit a separate term, thus enforcing conformity into the system even when they do not fit.
This critical interrogation of hybridity is not meant to dismiss identity deconstruction and mental decolonization in the academy; rather it is encouraging individual scholars with affinity to Indigeneity to engage in authentic relationships and dialogue with Indigenous communities and not flippantly declare ourselves as colonized or decolonized with no acknowledgement of settler colonialism. Tuck and Yang expand on this in the following:
Vocalizing a ‘multicultural’ approach to oppressions or remaining silent on settler colonialism while talking about colonialism or tacking on a gesture towards Indigenous people without addressing Indigenous sovereignty or rights, or forwarding a thesis on decolonization without regard to unsettling/deoccupying land, are equivocations” in that “they ambiguously avoid engaging with settler colonialism.
As we move away from theoretical frameworks in relation to decolonization, we are forced to create new signifiers for our individual journeys toward liberation. Simply put, decolonization can only refer to land ownership or, in other words, “…decolonization in the settler context must involve repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted; that is, all of the land, and not just symbolically…” The critical dialogue occurring around social justice issues, primarily by women and theorists of color, is still an important element of higher education. Tossing out the intellectual labor of scholars that have dedicated their careers to “decolonizing” various justice issues is not within the scope of my argument; rather, I am invested in calling attention to how and when theoretical frameworks for identity (specifically in a Latine-Indigenous hybrid context) have the potential to further perpetuate systems of colonization in the academy.
As I demonstrated with my own religio-cultural experiences, testimony and sharing of the day to day (lo cotidiano) is an example of how a Latine identity can support the academic discourse on decolonization in higher education. This practice is heavily influenced by Latine feminist scholars such as Mariana Ortega and Emma Pérez. Ortega writes on efforts to decolonize feminist theory, recognizing that this project is predominantly led by theorists from the global South and uplifting the role that Latina feminists have played. While I agree Latine theorists have pushed the dial forward on topics of critical race theory, gender, and sexuality, we must caution ourselves when adopting “decolonization” as a method for our critical engagement with colonial contexts, especially if the voices of our American Indian and Latine-Indigenous siblings are going unheard or if the application of decolonization is not directly addressing settler colonialism.
For example, Emma Pérez defines this imaginary as intangible, which runs the risk of over-theorizing decolonization. For Pérez, the decolonial imaginary “acts much like a shadow in the dark…The shadow is the figure between the subject and the object on which it is cast, moving and breathing through an in-between space.” While resonant with the poetic nature of occupying in-between spaces, this excerpt neglects the reality of what decolonization requires for Indigenous peoples in settler colonialist contexts, which is land rights and sovereignty. By maintaining decolonization as something of the imaginary world for Chicana identities, and not incorporating the reality of colonization on Indigenous peoples before Mexican migration (forced or not), Pérez’s “decolonial imaginary” remains in a theoretical framework and runs the risk of perpetuating decolonization as a metaphor.
In calling attention to this risk, I do not dismiss Pérez’s argument that Chicanas deserve to tell their own stories from the unique colonial history and context of their identities and lived experiences, thus creating a “third-space feminist consciousness.” One of the many strengths of Pérez’s work is in her articulation of the geo-political complexity of the United States-Mexico borderlands and its impact on Mexican-American or Chicano identity. Specifically on Texas, she writes about a population molded and moved by Spanish colonialists, Mexicans, and Euroamericans. Texas has been “named, renamed, bordered, measured, mapped, and fenced to restrict more movement.” Here, Pérez is referencing how the Apaches and Comanches migrated through these ancestral Tejas tribal lands before Spanish, Mexican, or Euroamerican involvement and how movement and travel persists regardless of geo-political borders. At this point in her argument on the decolonial imaginary, I want to see more engagement of the colonial connection between Mexicans and Texas natives because this would address the impact of settler colonialism on Mexican migrants and Indigenous peoples.
In addition to this engagement, I want to see more incorporation of Chicana and Indigenous voices on the impact of settler colonialism in Texas. Sharing lived cultural experiences would only strengthen her argument on “third-space feminist consciousness.” In her conclusion, she cites Karl Marx and Michel Foucault as inspirations for this Chicana consciousness where I would rather see more lived experiences and how the Chicana identity interacts with Native worldview. Moving forward, although I find resonance in Pérez’s argument in carving out space for Chicanas in the historical narrative of the United States, I would suggest prioritizing lived experience over European theoretical frameworks in the construction of a decolonial imaginary.
Similarly, upon engaging with Ortega’s thesis on “Decolonizing Feminist Theory,” I find resonance because she is speaking to my intersecting identities in an academic vocabulary, but there are similar issues around applying decolonization to Western theories such as feminism. To clarify, Tuck and Yang write that decolonization “is not converting Indigenous politics to a Western doctrine of liberation; it is not a generic term for struggle against oppressive conditions and outcomes. The broad umbrella of social justice may have room underneath for all these efforts. By contrast, decolonization specifically requires the repatriation of Indigenous land and life. Decolonization is not a metonym for social justice.” This is the missing piece from the theories arising from my affinity communities that have propelled me along my academic journey. It is with the utmost respect that I turn to my academic pillars in Latine Studies and Transformative Feminism and ask what Ortega asks herself, “What of our concepts and categories carry an implicit legacy of their colonial genealogy?” And, as a follow up, before we adopt decolonization, have we addressed the settler colonizer in ourselves?
Still embedded in the nepantla and lo cotidiano as theoretical concepts for communicating the specific lived experiences of my identity and affinity community in the United States, I wonder why I am so invested in critically engaging with decolonization. At times, I embrace it as a methodology. At other times, I reject it as a harmful signifier, functioning to equivocate and avoid settler colonialism. While I’m pushing for us to move beyond broad applications of decolonization in higher academic theory, I rely on these very same theories to identify myself within the academy. Ultimately, “to be Latino/a is to be aware that colonialism is a central feature of the contemporary world, not a relic of the past.” For us, colonialism is not only an embodied reality in nepantla and expressed through lo cotidiano, but also embedded in our very understanding of place, land, and geography. Because of this, I am confident we can continue to function as productive conversation partners with the academy by moving decolonization away from theoretical frameworks in addressing settler colonialism and demanding land sovereignty for Indigenous peoples.
By now, I have engaged with Native, Latine, and decolonial scholars with various intersections of all or two of the three. By engaging with the varying voices in this article in partnership with sharing my own religio-cultural experiences as a Latine-Indigenous hybrid identity, I exemplified the benefit and detriment of decolonial theoretical frameworks in academia, particularly in Latine Studies. From an ethics of place, I have called attention to my various identities in the context of both higher education and my argument to be critical of my own complicity in maintaining settler colonialist systems in academia. In dialogue with Native worldview, I have pointed out the potential harm Latine Studies engages when leaning into theoretical identity frameworks like “hybridity” or relying on decolonization as a metaphor without authentic solidarity with Indigenous communities and their land rights. Ultimately, I have highlighted the complex duality of a Latine-Indigenous hybrid experience, which both benefits and suffers from theoretical frameworks of identity. My hope is that the future of Latine Studies embraces more conversations of internal critique in partnership with our Native siblings in the academy and continues to push the dial on actualizing decolonization beyond theory and methodology.