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  • Caballeros and Indians: Mexican American Whiteness, Hegemonic Mestizaje, and Ambivalent Indigeneity in Proto-Chicana/o Autobiographical Discourse, 1858–2008
  • B. V. Olguín (bio)

In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud historical heritage but also of the brutal gringo invasion of our territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlán from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare that the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable destiny.


I got up close with one of the enemy and after having pulled out lots of arrows he shot into me, I was able to fire a shot into his back, straight through from one side to the other. The Indian fell face down. Upon seeing this, Comelso Hernandez, who was close to me, ran towards the Indian saying “Now I’ll take away your fire!,” but since he was close, the Indian arose suddenly, fired an arrow shot hitting him below the Adam’s Apple, and going all the way through, the arrow stuck—the Indian, who perhaps had used his last bit of energy in this attack, fell dead, on his back—Hernandez, so terribly wounded as he was, dragged himself towards the corpse, took out a battle knife he carried and tried to stick it through his ribs, but it broke—Regardless, with the piece that remained he was able to make a big wound, and at the same time he was cutting towards the heart with his piece of knife, he said, as if the cadaver could hear: “I forgive you brother; I forgive you brother.”

—Juan Bernal (16–17)1

The evening a diminutive twenty-two-year-old dark brown man with black hair and goatee read “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” at the National Chicano Liberation Youth Conference in Denver on March 30, 1969 (excerpted as the first epigraph), Chicana/o indigeneity was transformed into a central trope in Chicana/o literature, historiography, and related social movements. The reader, Alberto Baltazar Urista Heredia—who took the penname Alurista—would become renowned for his Nahuatl glosses, white cotton frock, and calf-length pants characteristic of indigenous dress in southern Mexico. Such neo-indigenous performances became commonplace in the 1960s and 1970s cultural nationalist spectacles that punctuated the political mobilizations collectively known as the Chicano Movement. One half-century after Alurista’s performance and the subsequent reification of Chicana/o indigeneity in a multiplicity [End Page 30] of neo-indigenous paradigms and even more problematic indigenist discourses, a new mapping of ideology in Chicana/o and Native American encounters is in order.

While the Chicano cultural nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s has been thoroughly critiqued for its masculinism, its salient indigenist conceits persist, especially claims to the cultural capital of a model of indigeneity overdetermined as always already subaltern, which Curtis Marez calls a nostalgic “indigenismo of the antique” (267). Post-Alurista and Gloria Anzaldúa, we now have feminist, queer, and eco-Aztláns as well as transnational Aztlánesque paradigms.2 The resilience of Aztlán is enabled by the flexible nature of its root metaphor, mestizaje, or racial, cultural, and political hybridity. Alurista’s amalgamated metal bronze has since been supplanted by ever-expanding borderland epistemologies and newer attempts to map interstitial and Third Space modalities performed through an infinite number of intersections and negotiations. In many of these interventions into hegemonic power relations, a nostalgic indigenismo remains as the unacknowledged specter.

But mestizaje has always been a vexed concept, complex historical reality, and problematic praxis. Mestizaje embodies various local and global traumas as well as convoluted performances of power and counterpower. Josefina Saldaña-Portillo’s archaeology of Mexican and Chicana/o deployments of mestizaje-as-citizenship reveals the persistent transborder erasures of specific indigenous people. Antonia I. Castañeda and Tomás Almaguer remind us that mestizaje is undergirded by the mass rape of indigenous women. Albert L. Hurtado and Lisbeth Haas map the complex gendered, racial, cultural, and economic stratifications in the colonial southwest that are...


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