For the next few months, the world will be focusing on Arizona’s SB 1070 – the state’s new racial profiling law. However, in this insane asylum known as Arizona, where conservatives have concocted one reactionary scheme after another, another law in particular stands out for its embrace of Dark Ages-era censorship – the 2010 anti-ethnic studies HB 2281 – a law that seeks to codify the “triumph” of Western Civilization with its emphasis on Greco-Roman culture.
Unless it is blocked, HB 2281 – which creates an Inquisitorial mechanism that will determine which books and curriculums are acceptable in the state – will go into effect on Jan 1, 2011. Books such as Occupied America by Rodolfo Acuña and Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, have already been singled out as being un-American and preaching the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
Both laws are genocidal: one law attacks the physical presence of red-brown peoples; the other one, our minds and spirits.
Lost in the tumultuous debate regarding what can be taught in the state’s schools is the topic of what actually constitutes Ethnic/Raza Studies.
In general, the philosophical foundation for Raza Studies are several Indigenous concepts, including: In Lak Ech, Panche Be and Hunab Ku. Over the past generation, the first two concepts have become fairly well known in the Mexican/Chicana/Chicano communities of the United States. The third concept, Hunab Ku, is relatively less well known, though it actually forms the foundation for In Lak Ech – ‘Tu eres mi otro yo – You are my other self’ and Panche Be – ‘to seek the root of the truth’ or ‘to find the truth in the roots’. As explained by Maya scholar, Domingo Martínez Paredez, Hunab Ku is the name the Maya gave in their language to the equivalence of the Supreme Being or the Grand Architect of the Universe (Hunab Ku, 1970). Such concept is an understanding of how the universe functions.
These three concepts are rooted in a philosophy based on maiz. Maiz, incidentally, is the only crop in the history of humanity that was created by humans. Also, the Indigenous peoples of this continent are the only peoples in the history of humanity to have created their/our own food – maiz – a food so special that it is what virtually unites not simply this continent, but this era. These three maiz-based concepts, in effect, constitute the essence of who we are or who we can be; human beings connected to each other, to all of life and creation. Part of creation; not outside of it. This is the definition of what it means to be human. While these concepts are Indigenous to this continent, they also exist generally in all cultures.
Despite the destruction of the many thousands of the ancient books of the Maya (along with those of the Aztecs-Mexica) by Spanish priests during the colonial era, these Maya-Nahua concepts were not destroyed, nor are they consigned to the past. Today, they continue to be preserved and conveyed via ceremony, oral traditions, poetry and song (In Xochitl – In Cuicatl) and danza. And they continue to be developed by life’s experiences.
In Raza Studies, these ideas are designed to reach those that are unfamiliar with these concepts, including and in particular, Mexicans/Chicanos and Central Americans and other peoples from the Americas who live in the United States and who are maiz-based peoples or gente de maiz, albeit, sometimes far-removed from the cornfield or milpa. Despite their disconnection from the fields and despite the disconnection from the planting cycles and accompanying ceremonies – and in many cases the ancestral stories – their/our daily diet consciously and unconsciously keeps us connected to this continent and to the other original peoples and cultures of this continent.
In part, this effort to understand these concepts is an attempt to reclaim a creation/resistance culture, as opposed to viewing themselves/ourselves as foreigners or merely as U.S. minorities. It is also an affirmation that de-Indigenized Mexicans/Chicana/Chicano and Central and South American peoples are not trying to revive or learn from dead cultures. Instead, as elders from throughout this continent generally affirm, these cultures have never died and neither have these concepts; peoples have simply been disconnected from them. That is one definition of colonization and/or de-Indigenization. The effort to understand these and similar concepts and to embrace and live by them, is also one definition of de-colonization. And to be sure, it is elders from throughout the Americas that have for more than a generation reached out to these communities, imploring them/us to “return to our roots.”
Asserting the right to this knowledge that is Indigenous to this very continent is an effort to proclaim both the humanity and Indigeneity of peoples who are matter-of-factly treated as unwelcome and considered alien in this society. HB 2281 bizarrely treats this knowledge as “un-American.”
Additionally, asserting the right to write modern amoxtlis or codices – is also part of an effort to proclaim that all peoples – including de-Indigenized peoples – also have the right not simply to repeat (or recreate) things ancient, but to produce their/our own living knowledge. And in the case of Arizona – with red-brown peoples continuously under siege – these concepts can help us bring about peace, dignity and justice, with the potential to create better human beings of all of us.