The Return of Native Americans as Immigrants

New America Media, Commentary, Louis E.V. Nevaer Posted: Oct 24, 2007

The United States is seeing a resurgence of Native Americans in the form of immigrants who are descendents of North America’s indigenous populations. As Native Americans, they are terrifying precisely because they have a moral claim to cross the borders imposed on their lands, writes NAM contributor Louis E.V. Nevaer.

As the immigration debate rages throughout the nation, the lingering, but unspoken, fear is that illegal immigration from Mexico heralds the return of the Native American.

“The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages,” Samuel Huntington famously argued in Foreign Affairs magazine in March 2004, unleashing a firestorm of protests among U.S. Hispanics and Latinos. “Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves — from Los Angeles to Miami — and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream.”

In fact, almost all Mexican immigrants are descendents of North America’s indigenous peoples. As Native Americans, they are terrifying precisely because they have a moral claim to migrate throughout the nation-states imposed on their lands.

This vilification of immigrants differs from the same sentiment of earlier generations. Previously, Americans debated and settled immigration issues through legislation: the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to keep French and Irish Catholics out, the anti-Papist sentiment that fueled Nativism in the 19th century aimed at Italian, Irish and German immigrants, the xenophobia that culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of 1907 aimed at the Japanese.

In “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” Huntington argued that the Mexican state was complementary to the American one, both heirs of Europe and the Enlightenment. This suggests that the cultural conflict he fears is between Western versus Native American.

He is correct. Native Americans are indifferent to the Western values used to obliterate them, and he recognizes the moral authority with which they challenge the very concept of the nation-state.

To refuse entry to immigrants from across the oceans, from Europe or Asia, is one thing; to stand against the internal movements of Native American people, Americans find unsettling. They can’t forget that efforts to transplant and expand European civilization in the New World have been the driving force behind the settling of the West in the 19th century and the exclusion of Native Americans from the mainstream of society in the 20th.

It almost worked: There are no Manhattans on the island of Manhattan, no Coast Miwok in San Francisco.

“The only good Injun is a dead Injun,” is a line in a Hollywood Western that sums up the nation’s attitude during the 19th century, and it is true that Native Americans were massacred, subjected to forced migrations and deliberately infected with contagious diseases so as to reduce their numbers. It is also true that during the last century, the establishment of reservations created marginalized communities where alcoholism, substance abuse and unemployment demoralized Native Americans into early graves.

Now, peoples rendered almost irrelevant to American society are thriving in such large numbers that they are once again on the move across the continent.

The return of the Native American began in earnest in the 1980s, during the Sanctuary Movement in California. Suddenly, people apprehended at the borders spoke neither English nor Spanish. Isa Gucciardi, who managed a translation company in San Francisco, reported getting calls from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as it was called then, with requests for interpreters who spoke “Indian” languages from southern Mexico and Central America. “We had to double the rate, since it was so difficult to find anyone who spoke English and Tzotzil Maya,” she said.

Despite their best efforts to wipe them out, at the start of the 21st century, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and scores of other indigenous peoples have returned.

They are working in our restaurants, stocking shelves in our stores, building houses and doing our landscaping. They are taking care of our kids while we’re at the office, and giving birth to more Native Americans in our hospitals. They are fueling the economic expansion, contributing to a society that looks upon them with disdain.

Yet in the second half of 20th century, it was Europeans who looked on Americans with disdain. Walt Whitman celebrated America being one people out of many – “Of every hue and caste am I” – but to the Europeans, hyphenated Americans are mongrels and half-breeds: Irish-Americans, African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Anglo-Americans.

The realization that Native Americans are crossing the borders that crossed them is alarming even Jesse Jackson. Interviewed on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” he complained that the workers streaming into New Orleans were “outside workers,” since he could not bring himself to say “Native Americans from Latin America.”

My office in New York is in the Citigroup Center where the only Native American used to be the “Manna-Hata” Indian on the seal stenciled on the flag of the City of New York, standing next to an early Dutch colonist.

Not anymore. Now when I go to the lobby and downstairs into the subway concourse that connects the Uptown Number 6 train with the E and V subways, there are Maya women, wearing their traditional textiles. Their babies strapped on their backs in shawls, with a blanket made of blue basket, they lay out before them for sale probably the last thing that is actually made in New York City: pirated DVDs of Hollywood movies.

Having rid ourselves of the Manna-Hata people, we import Native Americans from Mexico.

Given this demographic trend, it’s only a matter of time before we hear, “Press three to continue in Zapotec.”


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Walter Morales on Nov 10, 2007 at 21:57:48 said:

It is true that the vast majority of our southern neighbors are of mixed ancestry. I, however, am a Pokomam Mayan born in El Salvador. During 1994, when the Zapatista movement was gaining momentum, my uncle; member of the Colorado Indian tribes of Arizona and also, co-chairman of the Blue Water Casino and Resort, along with other tribes in the states helped my people arm my Mexican Mayan brothers. Racism in Central America and in Mexico is bad, but not as terrible as in the States. At least, in Central America and in Mexico; people know Indians exist, in the United States, citizens believe American Indians are non-existent.

My grandfather a Yaqui Indian of Sonora has family members in Arizona who speak Spanish as well as English. He remembers the time when crossing the U.S\Mexican border was no problem; now, problems abound in the border from drug smuggling and human trafficking.

What Latinos need to do is feed the good dog (Indian) not the bad (Spanish) dog to do what is right . Latinos and Indians of the South should band together like my brothers the Zapatistas, Evo Morales, and our North American Indian brothers have done in trying to oust corrupt states and government policies.

Let's remember the words of our beloved, Vine Deloria Jr., who once said that what makes us American Indians is our sacred places, our history, and customs. Our Mayan codices speak of my people traveling to the north; East of the Rio Grand for the introduction of corn, since my people genetically engineered it within 7 years.

"Go tribal, live well"


Indian on Nov 02, 2007 at 09:36:18 said:

Black Bear, Neza and all posters here. Thanks a lot for your engaging and well- considered posts. They really challenged me on certain concepts and events that trouble me. I can't say it has resolved them for me; but really gave me some considerable insight and stretched my awareness beyond my initial one. So thanks for that!

Black Bear, you have spirit of bear...in best sense. I will reconsider certain reactionary views I hold, and I accept your words as they were offered. Many thanks!


Black Bear on Nov 01, 2007 at 14:18:34 said:

White people are not the enemy it's their system that has kept our people under genocide and opression! I have white friends with good hearts and indian friends who act like "fat takers" cause that is wasicu-it has nothing to do with color see! As a native woman you carry a nation on your back and we are always connected to our ancestors sometimes we forget but the spirits always reminds us. I encourage you to be more spiritual and know your peoples ways because with what will happen we will all need this knowledge!! Our Spirits or Tunkasila are not Christ we have a way as old as this universe and we should never mix them up: The CREATOR is not a two-legged to us and star man is a star not a human entity-no beginning and no end no definite shape or form. We respect other peoples ways but ours has nothing to do with christianity-the only thing christianity has done for us is cause suffering and broken up families by driving FEAR based ideals into the minds of weak people, but we will live as we lived free from hell:hell is in the mind-a power greater than any will bring balance: its already coming. Cante Waste Nanpe Icuzapelo' Shake your hand with a good heart.
Mato Sapa
Lakota "BLACK HILLS NOT FOR SALE" never were!!


Indian on Oct 31, 2007 at 15:36:06 said:

Hi Black Bear. I admit that I greatly envy your direct connection to your Lakota culture and heritage. Funny, I consider my respected ancestors to be connected to me but it is truly difficult to keep them in the foreground.

When mommy & daddy are Wasicu, it is impossible to declare them as an "enemy" or even want to. Can you see that?

I am not a white man; for one thing I am a woman. Interestingly, I have been profoundly enriched by your exact culture since the 70’s back when I lived in Nebraska. I saw Mr. Niehart lecture then. He may have had deficits; but he did bring a great deal of knowledge to a wider public. He lived in my adopted family’s town for a time. A nice gesture to honor this author and poet, who in turn, greatly honored the venerable Black Elk.

If I classify people I stand corrected and apologize; however the so-called white people are not my enemy and never have been. As I understand it, Star Man & Christ are same entity…and in my vision they are not Nordic or Northern European!


Black Bear on Oct 31, 2007 at 14:28:00 said:

ALL I HAVE TO SAY INDIAN IS FIND OUT WHO YOU REALLY ARE BEFORE TRYING TO CLASSIFY OTHERS CAUSE YOU SOUND LIKE A WHITE MAN TO ME INDIAN, AND WALLACE WAS A GREAT SPIRITUAL MAN AMONG THE LAKOTA!
Mato Sapa
WE NEVER SURRENDERED OUR SPIRIT IF YOU DONT KNOW THE PROPHECIES GO TO CEREMONIES ASK AND FIND OUT: THE EAGLE AND THE CONDOR JOINING AS TOLD BY WALLACE BLACK ELK AND BY the way some of our spiritual people look down on that niehart and his romanticized ideas about our way of life! I never asked you about your religion and that's yours but we don't kneel down to a white man on a cross and claim to know it all like a mad scientist-there are no facts but the Tunkasila-go to sweat and see for your self but make sure the guy pouring isn't blond and blue!!!


Indian on Oct 29, 2007 at 20:44:22 said:

Black Bear: I am a direct descendent of Yuq’Hdnil’anen “SkyReader”and Qeshqa “Respected Man”. I was adopted at age 2 1/2. Assimilation options were not granted to me.

My religion is my own business; although I have been honored to attend sacred ceremony with the late Wallace Black Elk, and others. Also, an adopted relative of mine built a John Neihart museum in Nebraska.

Unfortunately, I do not own a car. A 29 yr old undocumented, uninsured women totalled my car and seriously injured my ankle (with complete impunity) in July 2006. But if I could...just like Janis sang about; I would love to drive a Mercedes Benz. And why not?

I don't know about the prophesy you mention. I don't know who "the real enemy" is either. Could it be pious, insensitive cusses? A fated assimilation is an impoverishment; don't rub it in!


Black Bear on Oct 29, 2007 at 15:00:20 said:

I can see that many of you natives have been assimilated and probably drive mercedes and go to catholic mass on Sundays,just by your entrees!! You should be proud mexicans made this country better for your conquered lazy greedy english speakiing indios! You must not speak to the spiritual elders cause you probably dont have none-Learn about what they say as they are coming to pass as was told in ceremonies!
SO WAKE UP AND SEE WHO THE ENEMIES REALLY ARE-than again don't want the government taking your commods away!!
MITAKUYE OYASIN
Mato Sapa
OGLALA/SICANGU LAKOTA


Indian on Oct 29, 2007 at 00:08:59 said:

The dialog generated here on this highly polarizing topic is more reflective than most blogs. I am grateful for that.

I am an absolute fundamentalist on the irrefutable legal factors regarding this issue. The myriad often-stated justifications and reinterpretations of current immigration laws are often illogical, insulting and baseless. Comparing notes on both continents’ painful colonial pasts can't solve today's legal riddles. Exploiting the significance of past ills to support or justify a claim to become a "new" Native American is as I have stated earlier: pure bathos.

I make no claim to know who in the Latin Americas is, or is not, indigenous or Indian. It is interesting to consider; but it has no bearing whatsoever on any US immigration policy. The author's new-fangled kinship theory (as a legal argument), is disingenuous and flippant.

Americans are staunchly proud, protective and generous. Poking them in the eye with flagrant, manipulative gimmickry does not forward a case for revising our laws.

I agree, Neza, laws are elastic and reflexive; based on responsible, rational objective debate and consensus.


Neza on Oct 28, 2007 at 14:51:24 said:

Indian: You know, I can see and agree to some extent on your interpretation of this article. In a way it almost paints this picture of a dying U.S. Native American population being replaced/usurped by an overwhelming Native/Not-Native immigrant population. But at the very least I'm glad the issue of Native American/Or Not Native American immigrants is raised, and it adds another layer to an already complex immigration issue.

Within this issue there are questions/factors that we don't consider and sadly opt for easy one-sentence sounds bites. These factors include U.S. Immigration History and how it influenced our current immigration laws, Globalization/Free-Trade/Demand for Labor vs Demand for Goods, Displacement of Native peoples in Latin America through war-poverty-economics, the history of "Indianness" in Latin America and how it influenced/affects Native and Mixed-Blooded communities and many more.

And I tend to view this "law-abiding citizen" argument negatively. U.S. citizenship has never been a static thing, it changes over time. There were moments in our history where U.S. Native Americans, African Americans and Women were not considered/not viewed by the eyes of the "law" as citizens. I think the following point I'm going to make is so overused but I'm going to state it anyways...what is legal is not always just and what is just is not always legal. Am I advocating for the complete disregard of "laws"? Not necessarily, but I do hope that we are critical and compassionate.

Thank You for the dialogue, lets continue it!

: )


Indian on Oct 27, 2007 at 21:25:22 said:

Neza: Thank you for your thoughtful, measured response. I do consider this a dialog; perhaps not one where there are many agreements posed.

Our late, collective grandparents can not speak for us now; so that's a highly speculative concept. (Personally I honor their possible shared commonalities.) However for me that does not conclude we dismiss our current objective laws and grant the author's "new American Indian" blanket assessments: that because there are "no" Indian people left here; we should excuse "new" ones. To what?...Fill in?...Take their place? 12-20M is not nothing! Hyper-patriotic? I make no apology.

It is outrageous that brazen and sometimes craven abuses be lent credence to disobey US law by a newly-contrived "kinship" theory. I would ask that my ancestors/relatives not be used as rhetorical gimmick; one that discounts them and at the same time uses them as a specious rationale to reinterpret current immigration laws. In the name of ALL MY RELATIONS I ask this to be so.


Neza on Oct 27, 2007 at 13:55:58 said:

I find it disheartening that instead of this article generating a real dialogue between Native Americans in the U.S. and Indigenous Peoples in Mexico (or anywhere else in Latin America), we find ourselves generating arguments over who is a "real" Indian/Native and it saddens me that what I believe to be true statements (made by some of you) are coupled/overwhelmed with anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican and hyper-patriotic sentiments.

As an Undocumented Tepehuano Indian from Mexico all these words are simply a testament to the internalized (neo)colonialism transnational Natives face. My grandparents may not even ever heard of the Cook Inlet people of Alaska, but I know they would share the same heartfelt desire to see our unique traditions continue and our people live in today's world.

In Lak Ech (You are the other me)

Neza


FREEREALNATIVES on Oct 26, 2007 at 19:10:42 said:

Here's the problem, "In fact, almost all Mexican immigrants are descendents of North America’s indigenous peoples"

This sounds like a false statement based on opinion not fact. If it is true, then please PROVE IT and I promise I will stand with you for the right of return of all indigenous peoples, BUT otherwise it's a cheap anti-intellectual argument that DISRESPECTS true Natives and you should be ASHAMED.

There was no big Indian pride movement in Mexico, in fact Mexico is RACIST against any dark-skinned peoples including Indian and African descendant Mexicans! You have a shameful history in Mexico that celebrates the white skin vestige of Spanish colonisation!

The people that are real Indians in Mexico, not 1/64th or whatever the hell you fakes are claiming, should have the right to return..NO ONE ELSE.

Don't try to take the moral high ground now just because your "invasion" is getting more difficult because the white man's sophistication at institutionalized racism is better then Mexico's.

And don't get me wrong, personally I really don't care how many Mexicans cross the border as long as they come to make positive contributions to our economy, and the vast majority do!

What I do care about is cheap "la raza" hacks making a mockery of civil and human rights history in this country. A lot of Native Americans(real ones), African-Americans and Chinese-Americans suffered and died making this country great. Don't show up now and try to belittle this history and all of our peoples' struggle and investment in blood, sweat and tears by claiming something you weren't even a part of.

You should be ASHAMED at your lack of moral character!


Chicana on Oct 26, 2007 at 18:33:30 said:

I find the article interesting, but do agree that it does not acknowledge the natives of this continent.
I do believe that Mexicans are indigenous, most of them at least. Unfortunetely, being colonized has made many Mexicans ashamed of their indian roots, or have no record of the tribes their families are from. This is the sad reality of colonialism.

I wish there could be solidarity and understanding between Mexicans, Latinos and the native peoples of this land. Why should we be divided? Why is any human being considered "illegal"? Who gave us that label anyway. I think Indian (blogger name) has valid points but that the enemy is not the "free-for-all illegal immigrant's that he/she speaks of.


Indian on Oct 26, 2007 at 11:29:35 said:

Mark and Louis: Erase the borders or not you are still wrong. If you state there are percentage-wise few Indian people then that, by itself, is correct. But to discount (un-count) me and my relatives and all other Indian people makes my blood boil. Soppy rationales for your so- called "return" of natives are inaccurate and a shoddy false argument. Indian people and present day Mexican nationals entering our sovereign borders illegally have very little in common and, BTW you really cheapen the utter deep, deep loss and sorrow of the actual Trail of Tears with comparisons to the present day freebie free-for-all happening today. How do these two events equate? To reiterate, Indian people live here; are legal; and many resent their historical plight being used as a goofy rationale for today's law breakers. Also the irony is that to be referred to as "indio" to our Southern neighbors is considered an insult since their self-reference preference is Spanish. AND if there is only ONE, just ONE Yelamu in SF or in Kalamazoo; THEY COUNT and God bless them !! Was Ishi not significant to count as he was a last of his tribal group? Sensational, sappy rhetoric does not make you accurate or correct.


Mark Santiago on Oct 26, 2007 at 03:38:10 said:

Hmmm, the Bureau of Indian Affairs recognizes 652 Miwok throughout California, out of 33 million people in California, and zero Yelamu. So it´s clear there really are no Native Americans in San Francisco. It´s pretty clear that if the author is right in saying that if you erase the borders for Canada, the US and Mexico, the only numerous Native American peoples are in Mexico, and if they want to move in a 21st century version of the Trail of Tears, this time a Hike for Work, let them! Proud to be one-sixty-fourth Choctaw Nation!


Beverly Ortiz on Oct 25, 2007 at 15:53:31 said:

The author is making an assumption when he states that there are "no Coast Miwok in San Francisco." I know several Coast Miwok who have lived in San Francisco, but that is beside the point, since the place now known as San Francisco is located in the homeland of the Yelamu, an Ohlone tribe, not the Coast Miwok, and there are Ohlone who live in San Francisco today.


Indian on Oct 25, 2007 at 15:15:36 said:

You are confusing American Indians with Latino/Hispanic people and culture. My anscestors are from Cook Inlet in Alaska. We have as much in common with Mexican Nationals as a Finn does to a Frenchman (in Europe)...Eurocentric definitions of my peoples, their past and merit can not be used to neatly skew some half baked comparison. My people still live here; have a stake in our country and many are very patriotic. I find your argument idiotic. Indian people are not convenient concepts from the past....They live here now and don't want it flooded with illegal entrants even if they were clones!

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