In April of 2019, the Texas House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing for the first time the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation as a Native American Indian Tribe. The resolution’s passage was a testament to the tribe’s participation in the history of South Texas and the City of San Antonio. Recognition was also consequential for the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s efforts to exercise greater power in negotiations with government agencies around projects to expand and reinterpret an historic area of downtown San Antonio: The Misión San Antonio de Valero, better known as “The Alamo.” As the most visited site in the second-largest state in the United States of America, The Alamo is central not only in Texas’ geography, economy, and politics but also in the struggle for recognition of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan buried there. The Alamo was designated a World Heritage Site at the 39th Session of UNESCO in 2015, and serves as a constant reminder of San Antonio’s competing identities as the southernmost city of the United States of America and the northernmost city of Mexico.
Disagreement as to what area of the Misión San Antonio de Valero should be designated a Texas Historic Cemetery has revived in the present a history of erasure, discrimination, and oppression. Furthermore, the discourse surrounding recognition of a historic cemetery on The Alamo grounds exemplifies pluralism’s failure to address adequately the challenge of crafting a representative and participatory polity inclusive of minoritized groups. I aim to influence the terms of negotiation by dismantling pluralism as an appealing objective. First, I establish working definitions for the term pluralism, the concept of religio-political architecture, and Indigeneity. In particular, I suggest that religio-political architecture presents a challenge to the pluralistic self-conception of the United States of America. My analysis then places the description and identification of Indigenous groups by governmental bodies in tension with how these groups describe and identify themselves. This tension yields insight into how group identities are constructed and employed towards religious and political ends.
Second, I provide a Pre-Columbian historical context for the network of Missions to which the Misión San Antonio de Valero belongs. The Alamo is one in a network of Missions established by Spanish colonizers throughout the Southwest of the United States of America. These Missions constitute religio-political architecture expressing the religious and political identities of those colonizers. The Missions’ continued existence shapes the lived identity and spirituality of those contemporary minoritized communities descended from the colonized.
Third, I describe the contemporary contest around the designation of an area of the Misión San Antonio de Valero grounds as a Historic Texas Cemetery. This designation has implications for recent efforts to expand and reinterpret The Alamo ground, placing the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan again in conflict with organs of the state.
Finally, I propose that the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan discard pluralism as a discursive logic in their efforts towards formal reverence and recognition of their burial sites on the Alamo grounds. I suggest that the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan instead organize around an identity politics of Latinx-Indigeneity by: 1) adopting such an identity and 2) engaging in coalition-building to establish a larger base with which to pressure governments for the reverence and recognition they so desire. The context of this work is theoretical and practical. It is theoretical insofar as pluralism is proliferating as an institutional value and is increasingly an object of theoretical critique. The context is practical in that the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s efforts towards governmental recognition of their identity and ancestors’ graves at the Misión San Antonio de Valero have been frustrated by governmental bodies that have accepted pluralism as a discursive logic when dealing with the tribe.
The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan annually celebrate a Semana de Recuerdos from September 9th to the 15th. The Semana de Recuerdos is a private celebration for Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan families. It culminates with a “Feast of Remembrance,” which members refer to as analogous to Memorial Day or Día de Los Muertos. Celebration of this ceremony began with the conception of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan as a people, connecting a reverence for the dead to communal identity and associating it with the tribe’s traditional homeland in the states of Texas, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and northern San Luis Potosí. Thus, governmental bodies refusing to recognize formally the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan or their ancestor’s graves strikes at the core of the tribe’s identity.
Anthropologist Richard Flores highlights The Alamo’s dominant narrative as centered on a battle between the forces of the Mexican General, Santa Anna, and members of the Texas Independence Movement in March of 1866. Flores notes that this battle is typically, though incorrectly, characterized as a battle between good and evil, represented by Texans and Mexicans respectively. In contrast, Flores offers two more inclusionary models of history for The Alamo. The first model builds on the work of Gilberto Hinojosa and Felix Almaráz, Jr., incorporating the role of Mexican Tejanos who participated in the defense of the Alamo. The second model expands the history of the Alamo to include the Spanish Colonial period. The present analysis follows Flores’ second model and focuses on how a broader representation of the Alamo’s past poses a challenge to the U.S.A.’s self-understanding as a pluralistic nation.
Conceptual Cartography: Mapping the Current State of Terms
Working definitions of pluralism, religio-political architecture, and Indigeneity may serve as an entryway to engaging the minoritization of ethnic and religious identity groups in the United States of America (henceforth US). I will accept the definition of pluralism provided by Diana L. Eck in her Presidential Address for the American Academy of Religion in 2006. As she wrote, pluralism is “the engagement of difference.” Pluralism does not seek to eliminate difference but acknowledges it as reality and works to foster peaceful discourse in societies of differences. The Harvard Pluralism Project, founded by Eck, further defines pluralism as “the engagement that creates a common society from all that diversity.” Pluralism is an active process in reaction to a state of diversity wherein diversity is not a desirable objective in itself. Rather, diversity must be harnessed as an instrument of social construction and aimed towards creating a common society, with all the negotiation, compromise, and exercise of power that the creation of something “common” entails.
Before understanding religio-political architecture, it is first necessary to highlight how alien these physical structures are, or should be, to a pluralistic liberal democracy such as the United States of America. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America declares the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This clause is conventionally understood as an expression of the separation between Church and State in the country. For the present work, my category religio-political architecture refers to structures that defy the notion of a separation between Church and State, having taken on such meaning as to be representative of both religious and political identity in a supposedly secular society.
Finally, I come to the term “Indigenous,” which is most challenging to describe. In many ways, the Pre-Columbian Americas were a quintessential example of what the contemporary pluralist/multiculturalist discourse of the academy would call “diversity.” As Ramón A. Gutiérrez notes in his piece, What’s in a Name? The History and Politics of Hispanic and Latino Panethnicities,
In 1491, on the eve of the Columbian voyages, there were some 123 distinct indigenous language families spoken in the Americas, with more than 260 different languages in Mexico alone. Perhaps as many as 20 million people were living in the Valley of Mexico in 1519, in hierarchical, complexly stratified theocratic states. But there were no Indians.
Gutiérrez is here stressing that the soon-to-be colonized civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas were by no means the linguistically, phenotypically, culturally, or theologically static and monolithic people constructed by the Spanish invention and imposition of the term “Indio.” Inventing and applying the label indios to the broad swath of Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas allowed imperial Spain to more easily erase their cultural diversity and complex political and religious systems. As such, in describing the term “Indigenous,” I will strive to hold in theoretical tension the capacity for such peoples to at once be grouped and classified as Indigenous while recognizing their inherent diversity.
The United States of America’s Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior has set forth criteria for recognition of a group as Native American Indians—the federal shorthand for Indigeneity—in the 25 Code of Federal Regulations Part 83 – Procedures for Federal Acknowledgment of Indian Tribes. This document requires that a petitioner for recognition provides evidence of its fulfillment of several criteria as described in the following abbreviated list: (1) Indian entity identification, in which the petitioner proves that, it has consistently been identified as an American Indian entity since 1900; (2) Community, in which the petitioner shows that it is a distinct community existing from 1900 to the present; (3) Political influence or authority, in which the petitioner demonstrates that it has autonomously maintained political authority over its members since 1900; (4) Governing document, in which the petitioner provides a copy of the group’s governing documents including its membership criteria, or provides a statement fully describing its membership criteria and governing procedures; (5) Descent, demonstrating that a petitioner’s membership comprises individuals descended from a historical Indian tribe, or from tribes which functioned as a single autonomous political entity; (6) Unique membership, in which the petitioner shows that its membership is mainly of persons not already members of any acknowledged North American Indian Tribe; and finally, (7) Congressional termination, in which, “The Department demonstrates that neither the petitioner nor its members are the subject of congressional legislation that has expressly terminated or forbidden the Federal relationship.”
Undoubtedly, the requirements for federal recognition as an American Indian Tribe are extensive, prohibitive, and hinge upon colonial and neo-imperialistic understandings of group identity, governance structures, and cataloged history. To use these requirements as theoretical standards for discussion of Indigeneity could only serve to perpetuate such problematic understandings, hindering efforts to construct a liberative discourse surrounding interactions between the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan, the City of San Antonio, and the State of Texas. The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan are currently not a federally recognized American Indian Tribe according to the standards set forth by the U.S. Department of the Interior, despite submitting their petition for federal recognition in 1997. Placing the federal terms for recognition in contrast with the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s membership application further illustrates the inadequacy of governmental mechanisms for group definition.
The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Membership Application is nine pages long, comprising nine sections: (1) An Application Cover Page, where the applicant indicates whether she is applying as a Coahuiltecan person wishing to be recognized by the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation, or as a Native American wishing to place her citizenship with the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan; (2) Instructions for Application is a particularly interesting section for the present analysis as it encourages a full description of one’s Indigenous heritage, but the simple sentence “I am Coahuiltecan” is also acceptable. It also cites oral tradition as “fully acceptable in determining Indian Identity under federal law.” Moreover,
Your information will not normally be challenged but will be accepted. The membership committee has the right to require strict genealogical evidence, but each person is the best judge of his/her ancestry… The Tribe is known as the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation and recognizes all the Coahuiltecan bands of Coahuila [Mexico] and Texas as members of our Nation… Your application to the Nation may be made entirely by verbal means. Oral histories and testimony of oral tradition to the Nation are fully acceptable.
(3) Membership Criteria, in which the applicant may indicate under which criteria she is submitting her application; (4) Personal Information, including Name, Address, Date of Birth, etc.; (5) Personal History, consisting of a blank page on which the applicant may write the narrative of her heritage/identity; (6) Native American Heritage, where the applicant may recount family stories of Indigeneity; (7) Native American Ancestry, in which the applicant may provide the names and Tribal/Band affiliation of relatives as evidence of their biological link to their indigenous identity; (8) Missions/Pueblos, where the applicant indicates whether any of their ancestors ever resided at any of the Missions; finally, the (9) Signature Page, which must be notarized and where the applicant formally requests inclusion in the Tribal Roll of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation.
The criteria in the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation Membership Application may be understood as less stringent than those articulated by the federal government. However, such an understanding relies on an imperialistic weighing of information, privileging written history over oral history, governmental naming over personal identification, and genealogical documentation over community and family tradition. The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan value personal narrative in the construction of identity, as expressed in the fifth and sixth sections of their Membership Application. Allowing substantial space for the applicant to provide her personal narrative of Indigeneity in section 5, and family histories in section 6, follows the Nation’s communal valuing of narrative in constructing identity. At the communal level, identity is manifested in their celebration of the Semana de Recuerdos and their connection to the lands of South Texas and Northern Mexico. That is, this celebration is understood by the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan to extend to “time immemorial” and chronologically links their inception as a people with the land they consider their home. This ceremony celebrates not only the memory of their deceased ancestors but is tied to a specific reverence for the land in which they are buried, thus involving those specific burial sites into a larger land-identity narrative of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan.
I find that a working definition of Indigeneity deferential to the self-description of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan themselves, as articulated in their Membership Application, is appropriate. Such a definition is entirely subject to later revision in recognition of the community’s and identity’s inherent and necessary fluidity, and as a means of accommodating potential extension of my analysis to other groups in the “Americas” that may claim or be ascribed the label of “Indigenous.” That is, the present work understands and employs the term “Indigenous” to identify any individual or group which, whether by oral, geographic, genealogical, or written tradition or history, understands themselves or itself to be, and claims the identity, “Indigenous.”
On Earth as it is in Heaven: Religio-Political Architecture as Social Expression of Value
The question of whether and to what degree the United States of America may be understood as a secular nation is an enduring and polemic one. The establishment clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution declares that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Thus, any challenge to the First Amendment strikes at the core of the U.S.A.’s self-conception and may be a more meaningful, potentially existential challenge than war, economic hardship, or natural disaster. Religio-political architecture presents questions worthy of analysis regarding which values they propagate and whether those values are or should be reflective of the Nation.
Just as the communities of Pre-Columbian Indigenous peoples were linguistically heterodox and phenotypically diverse, so, too, were the Iberian colonizers disparate in their makeup, bound together more by their religious identity than any kind of “national consciousness.” The Iberian Peninsula from which the colonizers set voyage had only been united by the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Ferdinand of Castille in 1469. For almost eight centuries the diverse Spanish groups had been under Muslim rule until the Reconquista (between 711 and 1492). The religious crucible of the new alliance were the Crusades, which heightened the Iberian colonizer’s religious fervor. Colonizers flattened the civilizations they found by the invention and imposition of the term indio. They discarded the Pre-Columbian taxonomy of reality in the Americas through the destruction and construction of physical spaces to reflect and enforce the colonizer’s political dominance and religious identities.
The colonizers established their political control of the land through capitulaciones—writs of incorporation that afforded them the “legal” means to establish towns, granted aristocratic titles, land, and tributary indios they could exploit and Christianize. The Spanish Missions were a critical mechanism by which the colonizers erased indigenous identities, languages, and cosmologies in favor of their own Ibero-Christian ordering of the universe. Physical structures and architecture transcended the material plane in representing both political and religious control. The geographic situation of Catholic Churches in the center of towns, the tone of Church bells to count the hours of the day, the baptism and burial of indios in Christian cemeteries all served to cement in the communal consciousness a new world order claiming to better reflect the Kingdom of Heaven. This new Ibero-Christian taxonomy of reality was violently proselytizing and hegemonic in its ambition, made manifest in the physical world by the construction and mapping of these communities to intentionally raze any pre-existing apprehensions of reality.
Evidence of this process exists from the network of Spanish Missions to which the Misión San Antonio de Valero belongs. Below, I include three such instructions given to missionaries of Mission Concepción in San Antonio. These instructions show that the San Antonio Missions imposed the Spanish language on “Indians” from an early age. It also shows that the Indigenous were not allowed to leave the Missions, and that they would be returned if they escaped:
The missionary should see to it also that the small children speak Spanish in order to meet the demands of various decrees, and because of the facility it promotes both for the missionary to understand what they are saying and for the Indians to understand him. The missionary has worked so hard on this that it is a pleasure to listen to the Indian children, even the tiniest ones speaking Spanish…
From time to time the missionary should journey to the coast to bring back the fugitives who regularly leave the mission trying at the same time to gain some recruits, if possible, so that more conversions are realized and the mission does not come to an end because of lack of natives…
The submission of the inferiors to the superior and subjects to the prelate is indispensable in communities and pueblos. Without it nothing would be well managed, but all would end up in confusion and disorder. The missionary must so conduct himself toward the Indians that all will show him respect, submission, and obedience. He must punish the disobedient, the rebellious and the arrogant without losing his usual gentleness, affability, and prudence in governing.
Conversion to Christianity was not only the metric of success but a fundamental and existential concern for the Missions, where all aspects of Mission life were ordered by a strict hierarchy, namely, the superiority of the Spanish over the native Indians. As such, the Missions formed part of a system of oppressive logics by which the land being colonized and society being constructed could be mapped and navigated. Through the rise and fall of governments, the Battle of The Alamo, the Texan War of Independence from Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and subsequently joining the United States of America in 1845, these sites of religio-political architecture have endured.
A Narrative of Conflict: The Misión San Antonio de Valero as Contemporary Contest
The Historic Texas Cemetery designation was created in 1998 by the Texas Historical Commission as a means of protecting historic cemeteries, recording their boundaries, and alerting present and future neighbors to their existence. The designation is a prerequisite for applying for an Official Texas History Marker for the cemetery. The description of this designation explicitly states that “The designation imposes no restrictions on private owners’ use of the land adjacent to the cemetery or daily operations of the cemetery.” Nonetheless, the designation has become a flashpoint in the ongoing process of determining what histories to preserve, honor, and memorialize at the Misión San Antonio de Valero.
The Texas Historical Commission heard a request from the Texas General Land Office [GLO] to designate the Church on The Alamo grounds a historic cemetery in April of 2019. This request would cover only the ground under the most iconic building of the Misión San Antonio de Valero, the shrine, and ignore a larger area containing an “abundance of historical, archeological, archival and ethnohistorical evidence that a cemetery exists on The Alamo grounds.” The GLO request came after The Texas Historical Commission had tabled another request from the San Antonio Missions Cemetery Association [SAMCA] and the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation to designate a more extensive area on the grounds a Historic Texas Cemetery. The GLO request has been characterized as an effort to circumvent the request from SAMCA and the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation. Moreover, The Alamo Trust (which manages operation at The Alamo and is overseen by the GLO) has stated that “a ‘historic cemetery,’ as defined by Texas law, does not exist on Alamo property.”
This stands in stark contrast to the stated goals of The Alamo Master Plan, which was approved by the San Antonio City Council in May of 2017. The Alamo Master Plan describes the overall plan for restoring the church and the long barracks, delineating the historic footprint of the area, “Recaptur[ing] the Historic Mission Plaza,” and repurposing a number of buildings into a visitor center, thus creating a sense of arrival to the site. The stated goal of The Alamo Master Plan is to, “restore the reverence and dignity of the site and recapture and celebrate its real identity, based on evidence and the best principles of heritage conservation planning and design.”
Privileging evidence and best principles of heritage conservation in the goal of The Alamo Master Plan replicates the same privileging observed in the criteria for recognition outlined by 25 CFR Part 83 – Procedures for Federal Acknowledgment of Indian Tribes mentioned earlier. Determining the site’s “real identity, based on the evidence and best principles of heritage conservation” begs the question: evidence of whose heritage? If the historical significance of the area is determined by the structural, archaeological, and architectural evidence left by a colonizing force that deliberately sought to raze any pre-existing evidence of civilization, it is difficult to accept that such evidence could serve to justly memorialize the area with the respect and participation Indigenous communities deserve. Proceeding in this manner reinscribes the privileging of written history over oral history, governmental naming over personal identification, and genealogical documentation over community and family tradition seen in the Procedures for Federal Acknowledgment of Indian Tribes. This is further demonstrated when one considers The Alamo Master Plan’s guiding principle of “Preservation based on historical and archaeological evidence.” That is, the evidence that The Alamo Master Plan values is produced by work that has been government-sanctioned and conducted according to Western, colonial understandings of historiography, when weighing historical evidence.
The manner in which the issue of what area to designate a Texas Historical Cemetery has been discussed reveals oppressive logics embedded in the discourse surrounding Indigenous peoples, land to be memorialized, and how competing interests are weighted. Any attempt to extricate such oppressive logics presents its own challenges and suggests that the discursive logic of pluralism be discarded. The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s continued acceptance of such discursive logics—in guiding their efforts for governmental recognition of their group identity and burial sites at The Alamo—is to continue to play by the rules of a rigged game.
Oppression in Sheep’s Clothing: Pluralism’s Inadequacy as a Discursive Logic
As per the definition provided by the Harvard Pluralism Project, pluralism is inherently responsive and is not inevitable. Rather, pluralism is one of three ways Americans have approached increasing cultural and religious diversity, the other two being exclusion and assimilation. The Pluralism Project cites efforts by the U.S.A. to prohibit entrance to Jewish, Asian, and Catholic immigrants as exemplary of the exclusionary approach. It further cites the “melting pot” understanding of the country in which immigrants are welcomed but encouraged to abandon their differences and particularities as exemplary of the assimilationist approach. Finally, the Harvard Pluralism Project describes the pluralistic approach as the U.S.A. promises to accept immigrants as they are, provided those immigrants pledge to fulfill the civic demands of citizenship. In this respect, pluralism appears to be the most desirable of the three approaches to diversity. When reflecting on the Iberian colonization as possibly exemplifying the assimilation option, and the prohibitive categories for recognition of the Procedures for Federal Acknowledgment of Indian Tribes as a manifestation of the exclusion option, pluralism becomes an attractive choice, allowing for the creation of a just society out of diverse communities.
The Alamo Master Plan abides by a discursive logic of pluralism. The first aspect of its goal aims to restore dignity and reverence to the site. A second aspect intends to recapture and celebrate the Alamo’s “real identity.” These may be admirable pluralistic objectives, aiming to restore and memorialize a site of complicated history. However, a closer examination of the logics by which these goals are articulated demonstrates that, pluralism serves as a convenient means of obfuscating the replicated oppressions suffered by Indigenous communities in the United States of America from before its founding. Addressing the first aspect, one must question whose dignity and whose reverence does The Alamo Master Plan aim to restore? The Alamo Master Plan proposes to, “Celebrate the 1836 battlefield for its significance in Texas, the United States, and the World, and the ultimate sacrifice made by the Alamo defenders.” It is apparent that the lives valued in re-constructing a spirit of reverence at the site are those of the Texans who died in the fight for independence—men who were in many ways heirs to the political hegemony over Indigenous populations instituted by the Iberian colonizers—not the lives of the many Indigenous people that lived, struggled, died, and were buried at the Misión San Antonio de Valero. The conflict between the Texas GLO and the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan regarding the designation of a Texas Historical Cemetery further demonstrates that the reverence extended to the site does not include the graves of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan, or those of other Indigenous people buried at the Misión San Antonio de Valero.
Regarding the second aspect of The Alamo Master Plan’s goal, to recapture and celebrate its real identity, one should consider that The Alamo, together with the other four missions along the San Antonio River, constitutes “one of the most complete examples of the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize the indigenous population and defend the northern frontier of New Spain.” If The Alamo Master Plan seeks to recapture and celebrate the Misión San Antonio de Valero’s identity as part of the San Antonio Missions, including Misión Concepción, then it seeks celebrate a community of structures that comprise the original systems of oppression and colonialization of the Iberian conquerors. Celebrating this identity thus reinscribes the very dehumanizing logics by which that system was ordered, as described in the Instructions for the Missionary of Mission Concepción in San Antonio.
The Alamo Master Plan’s phrasing may be an innocent mistake in word choice of an otherwise well-intentioned group seeking to articulate respect for what it deems relevant history at the site. However, that the Master Plan Team chose to employ language of “recapturing” in its description of the overall plan belies an intentional preference for the historical narrative of the oppressor, at worst, or an ignorant tone-deafness that inspires little confidence in its ability to carry out The Alamo Master Plan with any semblance of justice for the historical and contemporary experiences of the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan, at best.
Porque ya no hay Pueblos Aislados: Latinx-Indigenous and a New Logic of Indigeneity
Contextualizing The Alamo grounds as a site of contested recognition, as well as noting the degree to which the location of burial grounds is tied to the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan identity, my aim was to demonstrate that the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s construction of identity is narrative-driven, and as such, abstract. This understanding is supported when the Procedures for Federal Acknowledgment of Indian Tribes are placed in contrast with the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s Application for Membership to the Nation. Moreover, Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan identity and its connection to the burial grounds of their ancestors becomes concrete when considering how contemporary discourse minoritizes this identity group by privileging the insufficient discursive logic of pluralism over the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s valuing of a subject-determined narrative of Indigeneity in constructing and justifying identity.
The present analysis encouragement of the term “Latinx-Indigenous” to describe the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan is a final issue of concern. Although the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan allow for a subject-driven narrative of Indigeneity, at no point in their Membership Application do they use “Latinx” or related terms to describe themselves. As I have so-far privileged their self-description over that of the federal government and the State of Texas, to label them Latinx-Indigenous without any evidence they have done so themselves merits explanation. One may point to a shared history of colonization, a shared familiarity with the Spanish language, geographic transcendence of the U.S./Mexico border, and the prevalence of Spanish surnames among the Tribal Council, as justification for classifying the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan as not just Indigenous but also as Latinx. My reason for classifying them as such, however, is political. The Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s contemporary struggle with governmental bodies is constricted by a need to satisfy the structural demands of pluralism’s naming them Indigenous, and doing so according to how the U.S.A. government has historically named and dealt with Native Americans/American Indians or First Nations.
Should the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan abide by this constriction of their Indigenous identity, they accept a narrower identity around which to politically mobilize. They may appeal to other Indigenous groups in forming coalitions but risk distancing themselves from the vast majority of U.S.A. citizens who do not identify as Indigenous. Moreover, to do so would be to accept that the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan are one amongst a number of Indigenous groups, necessarily competing for time, attention, and recognition from state and local governments of the United States of America. Adopting a Latinx-Indigenous identity would allow the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan to appeal to a growing Latinx segment of the population, a community that is on its way to becoming a demographic and political majority in Southwest Texas.
Organizing around a Latinx-Indigenous identity, the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan could more forcefully argue that the lives and graves being discounted by the state at the Misión San Antonio de Valero are not only deserving of reverence because they are Indigenous, but also because they are Latinx. This makes the issue more relevant to more people, expanding its appeal beyond the Indigenous communities of the Southwest U.S.A. to every Latinx individual and community in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—all states with significant Latinx populations. Additionally, the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s identity is tied to lands that transcend the U.S.A./Mexico border, making them potentially powerful voices in the discourse around the issue of immigration, an issue conventionally characterized as being particularly relevant to the Latinx communities. Thus, Latinx-Indigenous may be understood as a mutually beneficial bridge identity, derived from the fluid and subject-determined narrative logic emphasized in the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan’s Membership Application.