2. “They Are Coming to Conquer Us!” The Nativist Aztlán, and the Fears and Fantasies of Whiteness
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73 2 “They Are Coming to Conquer Us!” The Nativist Aztlán, and the Fears and Fantasies of Whiteness This is myth and fabricated nonsense. —Patrick J. Buchanan, State of Emergency Anxieties about a potential or ongoing Mexican invasion, framed around the national incorporation of Mexican-descent people, have long pervaded the U.S. racial imagination. In the lead-up to and during the U.S.-Mexican War, nativists warned that national expansion would dramatically increase the nonwhite population: what would become of the U.S. national and racial character? With the large-scale migration spurred by the Mexican Revolution, the creation of U.S. Mexican enclaves, and competing nationalization campaigns, early twentiethcentury social scientists, politicians, and nativists were concerned with the Mexican Problem.1 A complement to the white supremacist discourse of the Negro Problem, the Mexican Problem expressed concern over the increasing U.S. Mexican population, their presumed resistance to assimilation, and the potential social ills that were said to come with them. In recent decades, articulations of a Mexican invasion have gone beyond merely expressing fears of increased immigration and unassimilability . Rather, contemporary nativists have also incorporated a central narrative of the 1960s and 1970s Chicano movement. While the story of Aztlán allowed Chicanas/os to claim Indigenous ancestry and historical precedence in the U.S. Southwest, this nativist Aztlán organizes the logics of fear and belonging that are key components in forging the U.S. nation-state as a racial state. Here, an example is telling. On May 23, 2006, the CNN program Lou Dobbs Tonight displayed a map of Aztlán to frame immigration with Mexican governmental aggression and “radical Latino” politics. In a brief segment, after detailing the growth in Utah’s undocumented popu- 74 | “They Are Coming to Conquer Us!” lation, correspondent Casey Wian characterized then Mexican President Vicente Fox’s U.S. visit as a “Mexican military incursion” and suggested that the trip could be called Fox’s “Aztlán tour, since the three states he’ll visit—Utah, Washington, and California—are all part of some radical groups’ vision of the mythical indigenous homeland.” In swift fashion, Dobbs’s broadcast linked the Mexican government and Chicano nationalism to the ongoing immigration debate. Importantly, the connective tissue of Wian’s argument went unquestioned: that the Mexican government and “radical” Latinas/os are pushing for immigration reform as a means of taking over the U.S. Southwest. Moreover, deploying the discourse of “military incursion” and “reconquest” simultaneously worked to justify and elide the long, ongoing process of militarizing the U.S.Mexico border. Walls, electronic sensors, drones, volunteer militias become naturalized responses to the perceived threat. As the Dobbs example suggests, the immigration debate has been marked by a return to Aztlán. Beginning in the late 1960s, Chicano nationalists articulated their presence in the Southwest as an ancestral homecoming. Embracing the concept of Indigenous identity and claiming lineage to the Aztecs, Chicanas/os asserted a historical primacy and contested their positioning as “perpetually foreign.” Today, in an era when nativists consistently defend themselves against charges of racism , this reemergence and refashioning of Aztlán by the political right signifies a coded strategy for racial attack. Thus, the nativist fascination with Aztlán raises significant questions: How did a narrative foundation of the Chicano movement become a tool of contemporary nativism? More specifically, if Aztlán was used to contest white supremacist narratives of U.S. nationalism, then how has it been transformed to reinforce those selfsame narratives by forging a basis for white grievances? To address these questions, this chapter contends that nativist deployments of Aztlán emerge out of the political exigencies of an era marked by heightened globalization and multicultural gains. In the appropriation of a foundational Chicano trope, nativists have strategically fashioned a safe form for articulating and emplotting white nationalism, the expression of white supremacy through a model of ethnic nationalism wherein the nation and full citizen subjects are imagined as white, both phenotypically and ideologically. Indeed, white supremacist narratives that Aztlán was used to contest have been repackaged in the legitimat- “They Are Coming to Conquer Us!” | 75 ing cloak of Chicano discourse. This chapter explores the rise and reign of the Aztlán scare, examining its circulation in political discourse as manifestations of the fears, fantasies, and anxieties of whiteness on the border. Ultimately, this interrogation of the nativist Aztlán provides the analytic tools needed to develop a response. Aztlán: Then...


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Race identity.
  • Mexicans -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Whites -- United States -- Race identity.
  • Mexican Americans in popular culture -- United States.
  • Chicano movement.
  • Stereotypes (Social psychology).
  • Racism -- United States.
  • United States -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • Mexico -- Emigration and immigration -- Social aspects.
  • United States -- Race relations.
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