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On Rejecting Colonization and Reclaiming My Brown Identity

Gloria Lucas

We are nearing the end of Hispanic Heritage Month (also known as Latino Heritage Month), and although this month purports to celebrate and honor brown culture, it is a time that evokes feelings of dissociation for me. Yes, I am of Mexican-indigenous descent, and I genuinely appreciate recognition and celebration of people of the brown diaspora. I don’t, however, understand the logic behind the language used—Hispanic, Latino, Latinx—to describe a group of people that I have felt forced to identify with all these years. 

More importantly, the dates that were chosen for Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15th to October 15th, celebrate “Hispanization,” or in other words, colonialism. The official government website for Hispanic Heritage Month states that these specific days coincide with many “Latin” American countries’ independence days and also include Columbus Day on October 12th. This is especially egregious because over and over again, many indigenous groups make it clear that Columbus Day is no celebration at all.

By addressing the language we use to designate brown peoples of the Americas, we can begin to understand the ongoing legacy of colonialism that troubles me when I think of “Hispanic” Heritage Month. What’s wrong with the terms “Hispanic” and “Latinx?” “Hispanic” is a term associated with Spain and the Spanish people. “Latinx,” too, is a European term; it is associated with Rome and the Latin language. 

Why should a group of people who have indigenous American ancestry—some more than others—be classified under a European designation? It feels paradoxical for peoples whose ancestors experienced unimaginable atrocities at the hands of Europeans to be defined in a way that emphasizes the erasure of their indigeneity. Why should a forced European identity supercede that of the organic origins?

European colonialism was a barbaric, genocidal acquisition of land, people, and spirit, causing one of the worst holocausts in human history beginning over 500 years ago. Some argue that the term originated due to “Latinxs” speaking Spanish, but our people speak Spanish because they were victims of brutal acculturation; our ancestors, grandparents, and parents had no other option but to align with the violent force of colonization in order to survive, and that meant forgetting our native tongues. In our recent generation, a lot of us struggle with what I call ancestral and historical amnesia, which disables us from understanding the complexity of our identities and bodies.

The ongoing legacies of colonialism and racism make it too easy for us to forget who we are. Some of the traumas our “abuelitxs” endured were too painful for their stories to be repeated to their children, and the silence of their suffering made it difficult for the generations to follow to recognize and understand colonization. Our elders and many younger generations have been taught to be ashamed of any resemblance to our indigenous roots because it's associated with uncleanliness, ignorance, inferiority, ugliness, and death: all ideas established by colonialism and white supremacy. Many history books erase natives and native history to the extent that some people believe modern natives are non-existent. Ultimately, many of us in the brown diaspora have a distorted sense of identity and being labeled “Latinxs” or “Hispanics” glosses over the intrinsic truth of indigenous genocide and violence.

Xicana-feminist scholar and author Ana Castillo argues, “A crucial distinction between labels we have been given by officials of the state and our own self-naming process is that only doing the latter serves us. The very act of self-definition is a rejection of colonization.” I firmly believe that knowing where one comes from, knowing our authentic identity, and reconnecting with our ancestors are strong factors that help aid eating disorder recovery for people of color and indigenous peoples. I don’t believe that we need to ask permission to redefine ourselves.

Reclaiming my identity as brown*—away from European terms—has been a journey of finding not only autonomy but healing. By not identifying primarily as European, I don’t forget the ancestors. I am still in this journey of identity because as Xicanas and people with indigenous descent, our identity has many layers and we navigate through many worlds. It’s a journey that I cherish and in which I am comfortable not having all the answers. I embrace the idea that I can deconstruct everything I have been told to believe and create a name for my own self. I identify as an ongoing process of redefinition to my liking.

*Brown referring to the mixed descendants of indigenous peoples from (what people consider) the Americas.

Gloria is a Xicana womxn from California and the person behind Nalgona Positivity Pride. Gloria’s work has been featured on the Huffington Post, MiTú, Bitch Magazine, and The Body is not an Apology. She lives in Los Angeles with her partner and their cats, Pepita and Mister Orange.