This piece provides a fairly comprehensive look at what many see as a renaissance of indigeneity or indigenous identity in the U.S. One wonders about the impact of DNA analysis, too, that is awakening folks to it. It's an imprecise science but it improves with more people doing their estimates, as well as with picking a vendor that produces valid results. I found this piece by Roberta Estes along these lines to be the most helpful in this regard.
by Esmeralda Ojeda // October 24, 2013 // Arts & Culture
A US Census brief, titled “The American Indian and Native Population: 2010,” states that there are 175,494 Mexican-American Indians nationwide, 14,435 in Texas, and 578 in El Paso County.
These figures do not include members of the Tigua tribe in El Paso. As of 2012, there were 1,717 members of the tribe.
According to a July 3, 2011 New York Times article, “The trend is part of a demographic growth taking place nationwide of Hispanics using ‘American Indian’ to identify their race. The number of Amerindians—a blanket term for indigenous people of the Americas, North and South—who also identify themselves as Hispanic has tripled since 2000, to 1.2 million from 400,000.”
The “Mexican” category is a subset of the “Hispanic” category under US Census rules.
Dr. Howard Campbell, a professor of anthropology at UTEP, said that there are various factors that may attribute to the growth of people self-identifying as Mexican-American Indians.
One factor may be the US Census itself. “It’s making it possible for many to identify with more labels, such as black and Hispanic, and so forth,” said Dr. Campbell. However, he said that calling Mexican-American Indians a “tribe” can be misleading.
“Given that Mexico is a Mestizo country, most people of Mexican descent are part Indian. They just don’t convalesce as a unit as they do in the US. Mexican Indian isn’t considered Native American in the US. It becomes a symbolical matter rather than a political one,” he said.
Another factor at play may be growing pride of indigenous ancestry in the Mexican-American community, said Dr. Campbell. “We know that Indians in the past were terribly mistreated, but now people are starting to realize that the culture is important. There is a growing pride of indigenous people here and in Mexico. And that’s a good thing.”
An additional reason for the growth of people indentifying as Mexican-American Indian may stem from the growth of awareness.
Spencer Herrera is an associate professor for the Department of Languages and Linguistics at New Mexico State University with a focus on Chicano Literature. He talked about a local group of people from New Mexico beginning to identify as American Indian, known as the Genizaros.
In 2010, Herrera helped host a symposium titled, “Los Comanches de los Ranchos de Taos: An Hispanicized Native American Cultural Tradition.” The symposium consisted of exhibitions and cultural dances by the Genizaros.
He mentioned that many Genizaros are aware of their Native American heritage, but are shy about it because they are not recognized by other Native American groups. Although they are recognized as a tribe by the state, they have yet to be recognized nationally.
“The Genizaros took on Hispanic last names, but throughout history, they have been able to maintain their culture,” said Herrera. “It’s a weird thing to be Genizaro. They speak Spanish, but they’re not accepted by other Indians because they don’t have papers. They’re kind of a group to their own.”
A Certificate of Degree of Indian or Alaska Native Blood (CDIB) is required in order to become an enrolled member of a federally recognized Indian tribe.
Herrera is hoping to spread more awareness with another symposium in the coming years.
“A lot of people don’t accept Genizaros because they don’t have BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) papers. They don’t need papers to know (who they) are. They look Hispanic, but they’re still Indian. They live it. They practice it.”
Another critical factor attributing to the growth of Mexican-American Indians is the growing numbers of indigenous immigrants from Mexico, especially in California, New York, and Florida.
According to a Census Bureau American Community Survey, 70 percent of American Indians in New York are of Hispanic origin.
In another example, the Indigenous Farmworker Study or IFS—a partnership conceived by California Rural Legal Assistance and Dr. Rick Mines—found that California is home to 120,000 indigenous Mexican farmworkers. The research notes that the figure may actually be higher, because it doesn’t include those who work outside of the agriculture field.
One other factor attributing to the growth of Mexican-American Indians is the changing demographics of Mexican migrants due to the effects of NAFTA, or North American Free Trade Agreement, which was implemented in 1994.
According to a report by Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, “NAFTA-required changes have resulted in millions of Mexican peasant farmers leaving their small farms and their livelihoods and being forced to migrate. Projections range up to 15 million displaced Mexican small farmers because of NAFTA’s agriculture provisions.”
The World Bank reports that between 1994 and 2004, Mexico’s indigenous population was predominantly rural and lived in small communities of fewer than 15,000 people.
“While only 35 percent of the non-indigenous population lives in rural areas, over 72 percent of the indigenous population lives in rural communities,” the World Bank states.
The World Bank goes on to say that in 2002, 89.7 percent of Mexico’s indigenous peoples lived in poverty.
In a February 2003 discussion paper, the International Fund for Agricultural Development or IFAD, a United Nations financial institution, said that poor indigenous peoples in Mexico and other Latin American countries are an at-risk group.
“They are also among the most vulnerable and marginalized of the rural poor,” the paper says.
The Census Bureau plans to release a report consisting of the latest estimate of Mexican-American Indians in the El Paso area this coming November.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 29, 2013
A quote from Spencer Herrera, associate professor for the Department of Languages and Linguistics at New Mexico State University, was corrected to reflect his view that Genizaros appear Hispanic, not White.