The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature will be available via subscription on April 26. Visit About to learn more, meet the editorial board, or recommend to your librarian.

Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LITERATURE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 22 March 2018

The Indigenous Presence and Central American-American Writers in the United States

Summary and Keywords

The study of Native American and Indigenous literatures reveals how native knowledges resisted the Westernizing onslaught implemented forcefully since the beginning of the colonial era by colonial authorities, and after the 19th century by ruling national elites that shared with colonial authorities their belief that local Indigenous cultures needed to be Westernized to be saved. Despite its brutal enforcement, ancestral knowledges managed to resist and survived through the many social crises and transformations that took place from the 16th to the late 20th century. Their lingering effects are visible in this new literary corpus that began to appear in print since the 1960s. In the Latin American case, it is a literary production that is bilingual in nature, as all the authors publish in their own language and in Spanish. The authors in question have rescued their maternal languages in written form and standardized their systems of writing. As Central American-American Indigenous subjects migrate to the United States, they carry with them ancestral knowledges and written literatures as well.

Keywords: Mayas, colonialism, Central American-Americans, U.S. Central Americans, Mesoamerica, Mestizo, violence, Tsotsil, cultural

Central American-American Indigenous Subjects

In mid-February 2017, Maya K’iche’ scholar Floridalma Boj López gave a talk at the University of California, Merced. It was titled “Mobile Archives of Indigeneity: Building La Comunidad Ixim though Youth Organizing in the Maya Diaspora.”1 She argued that La Comunidad Ixim was a collective of second-generation Mayas and Guatemalans in Los Angeles. They bridged both the members’ family histories and the political insights they had gained in many other forms of social-justice organizing, to create what Boj López labeled “a mobile archive of indigeneity.” In her understanding, these archives documented the epistemologies and experiences of Maya migrants to the United States. Boj López claimed that the mobile archives became sites that enabled Mayas to document their own experiences, to “resist and challenge the erasure of indigeneity that occurs through displacement and migration by actually documenting the process of erasure and the possibilities for intergenerational continuities.”2

In turn, Maya K’iche’ scholar Giovanni Batz published an article titled “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles: The Recovery of Identity and Culture among Maya Youth.”3 He stated how it was only toward “the end of my undergraduate days I … began trying to recover my K’iche’-Maya roots and learn about my background by talking with my grandmother and other relatives.”4 Batz further explained,

Children of immigrants often find it difficult to become familiar with their parents’ history due to factors such as, poverty and the influence of the education system, which makes them reluctant to identify with languages and cultures that are associated with lower social status.

I cannot honestly say that I have never been ashamed of my parents’ immigrant background, my skin color, and my culture. I now recognize that this sentiment is a product of internalized racism and the legacy of colonialism. My experience has led me to ask how other children of Maya identify themselves and whether Maya identity and culture have persisted outside of Mesoamerica.5

These examples bring out the existing, yet highly difficult to obtain, evidence of the Indigenous presence among Central American-Americans in the United States. This article is an effort to analyze how this specific presence appears in literary works by US Central American writers, addressing the growth of this community alongside other Latina/Latino subjectivities, while also explaining its apparent discursive invisibility. The article in no way pretends to reflect Indigenous literary production or representation in Mesoamerica itself, nor will it address the 500-year decolonizing struggle in Mesoamerica by subalternized and racialized Indigenous subjects. The latter issues are the subject of two volumes about to appear, Recovering Lost Footprints: Contemporary Maya Narratives, which address not only the cultural history of diverse Maya communities in Mexico and Guatemala, but also their contemporary cultural production.6

There is no need to reproduce here the abject history of Mestizo violence against Indigenous populations in Mesoamerica. Enough has been said by many critics, myself included. Ongoing racism against Indigenous migrants in the United States—especially by fellow migrants—remains very little studied. Therefore, emerging contributions by social scientists who have looked at this phenomenon, such as sociologists Nancy Wellmeier, Cecilia Menjívar, and Eric Popkin, or young Central American-American scholars of Maya origin such as Giovanni Batz and Floridalma Boj López, are such a treasure. Testimonies or collected memoirs from Guatemalan migrants in the southern California area and academic articles or books addressing Maya immigrant issues in the United States are indicative of a problematic trend.7

When addressing Central American-Americans of Indigenous descent, subjects of Guatemalan origin tend to dominate, given the much smaller Indigenous populations in other Central American countries such as El Salvador or Honduras. As a result, whereas there is scholarship on the construction of blackness among Honduran immigrants to the United States, by way of example, there is none that I could find on the construction of Honduran Indigenous identities in the United States. In the Guatemalan case, Mayas constitute between 50 and 60 percent of the population. In Honduras, it is only 6.5 percent. In El Salvador, governmental statistics from 2013 claimed that there were only 40,000 Indigenous subjects left in their country, which would be the equivalent of 0.7 percent. Undoubtedly the numbers are wrong in the Salvadoran case, but there is precious little work on Indigenous cultures in these countries. It is thus not surprising that there is none on migrants who would identify as Indigenous subjects of Salvadoran or Honduran descent in the United States. Whereas scholar Gloria Chacón, a professor at the University of California–San Diego, is herself Central American-American as well as being partially Chortí, when she has written about Chortíes, they have been located in the Guatemalan–Honduras border, not in the United States. In the Guatemalan case, it is well known that Mayas are migrating at least in equal proportion to Mestizos. This would imply that if the estimated number of Guatemalans in the United States are 1.5 million, according to the Pew Research Center, there would be approximately 800,000 subjects of Guatemalan Maya origin in the United States. Indeed, other than East Los Angeles, some small US towns, such as Indiantown, Florida, Postville, Iowa, and others, are well known for their large Guatemalan Maya populations, as is Los Angeles, the Maya mecca in the United States, and seat of a sizable Maya K’anjob’al population that is larger in this city than in Guatemala itself.

Batz and Boj López mention in their articles how the de facto apartheid between Mayas and Ladinos—Guatemalans of mixed blood who consider themselves Western—is reproduced, if not in toto, when they settle in the United States. Other scholars have documented the same phenomenon. Hiller, Linstroth, and Ayala Vela’s “I am Maya, not Guatemalan, nor Hispanic” says it all in the title.8 The same is true, if to a lesser extent, with Alan LeBaron’s “When Latinos are not Latinos: The Case of Guatemalan Maya in the United States, the Southeast and Georgia.”9 LeBaron states,

To better understand attitudes about being Latino in the United States, we should look at inter-ethnic relations in Guatemala, because Maya self-identity maintains powerful connections to historic “ladino” dominance in Guatemala and to traditional stereotypes that considered Maya-indigenous culture unprogressive and primitive, and Hispanic–ladino culture to be more advanced and modern.10

In this racial hierarchy, Ladinos are located on the upper levels of Guatemalan society. Hiller, Linstroth, and Ayala Vela remind us in their analysis of Charles R. Hale’s seminal text Más que un Indio = More than an Indian (2006), where he asserts that Ladinos act either individually or collectively to defend their status and thereby oppose Maya cultural and political assertion.11 Toward the end of his article, LeBaron adds that “broadly speaking, self-identity is connected to growing up with self-awareness of being indigenous and not Ladino in Guatemala,” before concluding that a deeper discussion needs to take place when defining Mayas and other Latin-American Indigenous peoples in the United States as “Latinos.”12 Cutting-edge research such as Claudia Milian’s Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies (2013) is moving in exactly that direction.13 Indeed, Mestizos and Mayas rarely socialize with each other in the United States, even when acquainted with members of the other ethnic group due to sharing the same workplace.

The best documentation to date on this problematic (yet not centered on Central American-American Indigenous subjects) is the special issue of Latino Studies on “Critical Latinx Indigeneities.”14 In their introduction, editors Maylei Blackwell, Floridalma Boj López, and Luis Urrieta Jr. state that “This special issue emerges out of a need to examine how Indigenous migrants from Latin America are transforming notions of Latinidad and indigeneity in the US.”15 They add that Indigenous subjects become

migrant populations that are forced to encounter new and old structures that seek to manage and erase indigeneity. Often the racism migrants experience is the entrenched anti-Indian hatred enacted by mestizos and Ladinos as they migrate from Southern Mexico and Central America through Mexico, as well as once they arrive in the United States.16

They add that Indigenous migrants earn less than Mestizo migrants for the same work and cite acts of immigrant Mestizo racism against immigrant Indigenous subjects, such as “the recent anti-hate speech campaign aimed at Latino youth who had been bullying their Oaxacan peers in the city of Oxnard as well as in other parts of California.”17 Still, the only article in the special issue that specifically addresses Central American-Americans of Indigenous descent is Floridalma Boj López’s “Mobile archives of Indigeneity,” previously cited. Whereas there are topics of relevance in the special issue, such as Lourdes Alberto’s examination of how Indigenous Mexicans “come out” to call attention to Indigenous subjectivity and articulate difference within Latinidad, the only article in Latino Studies’ special issue focusing on literature, written by Central American-American scholar Gloria Chacón, analyzes non–Central American Latina texts by Graciela Limón, Ana Castillo, and Demetria Martinez, to unpack hidden Indigenous subjectivities and racialized discourse in these texts, a process not unlike what I will do in this very article, yet limiting myself to Central American-American authors.18 I do include Maya Tsotsil author Mikel Ruiz, technically from Chiapas, Mexico, because of his close links to both Guatemalan Maya literary production, Central American-American writers and critics, and the relevance of the topic of his story, the only one so far written by an Indigenous author about crossing the US-Mexico border.

From the previous arguments it should be evident that representations of the Central American-American Indigenous presence among migrants to the United States are hard to find. Perhaps the best-known Maya character in a Central American-American work of fiction would be Guillermo Longoria in Hector Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier (2000).19 Longoria was a member of the Jaguar Battalion of the Guatemalan army. In Tobar’s novel, he killed Antonio Bernal’s wife and son in Guatemala. Bernal fled his country to the United States after he found his massacred family and feared for his own life. Longoria migrated to the United States after his time in the Guatemalan army. The Tattooed Soldier is the story of these two tormented, defeated men and the intersection of their lives in the Los Angeles area.

In his first novel, The Long Night of White Chickens (1992), Guatemalan-American author Francisco Goldman depicts the murder of a Maya woman, Flor de Mayo Puac, who moved to the United States to work as a maid with a Massachusetts mixed Guatemalan-American family.20 After studying and graduating from Wellesley College, Puac returned to her home country and became the director of a private orphanage in Guatemala. It was here that she was murdered.

Once we go past Tobar and Goldman, the material quickly gets much thinner. We have an important short story written by Guatemalan-American writer Omar S. Castañeda titled “Crossing the Border,” included in his collection Remembering To Say “Mouth” or “Face” (1993).21 The story narrates the travails of a group of Guatemalan Mayas, possibly Q’eqchi’—though their language is not named—who are returning the corpse of a fellow villager named Raúl Cáscara to the United States because they believe that this was his last request.

More recently, we have “Ta o’lol takin osil/In the Middle of the Desert,” written in both Maya Tsotsil and Spanish by Maya Tsotsil author Mikel Ruiz, which recently appeared in a book in English titled Chiapas Maya Awakening: Contemporary Poems and Short Stories (2017), edited and translated to English by Sean S. Sell.22 This story is the first-ever fictional account written by a Maya writer in his own language about migrating to the United States.

We could perhaps claim that Jakaltek Maya Víctor Montejo’s Testimony: Death of a Guatemalan Village (1987) may be, implicitly, another Indigenous migration story. He narrates how his village was attacked by the Guatemalan army on September 9, 1982. The soldiers took Montejo as a prisoner to the Huehuetenango army base, where he was interrogated, beaten, and expected to be executed. The text ends with Montejo’s quasi-miraculous survival, and subsequent escape across the border to Chiapas, Mexico, where he ended up in a UN-monitored refugee camp. There is no immigration to the United States in the text itself. However, it is public knowledge that Montejo later entered the United States, completed his B.A. at Bucknell University, then went on to obtain an M.A. in anthropology at the State University of New York–Albany (1988), and a Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut (1993). He became the first-ever Maya chair in a US research university before retiring and returning to Guatemala to enter national politics.23

The First Holocaust and the Ensuing Indigenous Haunting Legacies

Whether we include Montejo’s text or not, this list remains a thin sample. Yet it is also an issue that merits a critical reflection. There is a history that marks the Indigenous presence in the Americas: Columbus’s arrival. Decolonial studies use the Spanish invasion of the Americas as the emblematic date when the centrality and superiority of European knowledge were first posited for this reason. The day he landed, October 12, 1492, Columbus wrote in his journal about Indigenous peoples that “they should be good servants … I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses.”24 These captives were later paraded through the streets of Barcelona and Seville when Columbus returned to Spain.25 Thus, from his very first contact with native peoples, Columbus had their enslavement in mind. On October 14, 1492, Columbus wrote in his journal, “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”26 After his second voyage, he sent back a consignment of natives to be sold as slaves.27 Under Columbus’s orders, the Spanish attacked the Tainos, Indigenous peoples of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic), sparing neither men, women, nor children, and reducing Hispaniola’s Taino population, estimated at two million in 1492, to extinction within thirty years. Needing labor to replace the rapidly declining Tainos, the Spanish introduced African slaves to Hispaniola in 1502. By 1510, the slave trade was of critical importance to the Caribbean economy. Columbus bears responsibility for the first global Holocaust, a term used by historian David. E. Stannard in his text American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (1992), of which Indigenous and African peoples were the primary victims.28

Despite Henry F. Dobyns’s polemical contention that the Indigenous population of the Americas totaled about 100 million peoples in 1492 in his seminal article “An Appraisal of Techniques with a New Hemispheric Estimate”—an assertion that nevertheless changed the demographic field—most scholars estimate that the Indigenous population of the Americas hovered at around 50 to 70 million by 1492.29 An estimated 80 to 90 percent of this population—that is, a minimum of 40 million peoples—were dead fifty years after Columbus’s arrival, according to Stannard and other scholars reworking new data during the last twenty-five years, even if the high number was not the exclusive result of military violence, racism, and enslavement. To a large degree, diseases brought to the New World by white Europeans played a key role.30 Despite their differences, Indigenous peoples of the Americas share the common history of this Holocaust, one of haunting legacies, “things [pasts] hard to recount or even remember, the results of a violence that holds an unrelenting grip on memory yet is deemed unspeakable.”31

Peoples that survived the Spanish invasion were exploited as slave labor in hacienda-style agricultural production during the colonial period. Criollos (Spaniards born in the Americas) in turn developed ideologies of racial and cultural superiority, to the point that in 1537 Pope Paul III issued an apostolic brief recognizing the New World peoples as “true humans, eligible for conversion,” as quoted by Christy Rodgers.32

In 1550 and 1551, Friar Bartolomé de las Casas participated in a series of debates with the Spanish royal historian Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda before the Council of the Indies in Valladolid, on the putative humanity or inhumanity of Indigenous peoples.33 David Theo Goldberg has argued in The Racial State (2002) that this was the true beginning of the concept of race.34 Despite Las Casas’s spirited defense of Indigenous peoples, the Spanish colonial order, rooted in racism and segregation, and upheld through violence and antagonism, prevailed. Criollo historian Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán’s Recordación Florida (1690) consolidated the subalternization and racialization of Indigenous peoples in Central America, by portraying them as “those miserable, blind and savagely hopeless, primitive Indians of this Kingdom of Goathemala.”35

The consequence was one of ignominy for surviving native populations, and one of shame at having Indigenous blood by Mestizo (mixed Spanish-Indigenous) populations, which began to dominate the region in the 19th century. After independence from Spain, Indigenous peoples were not considered citizens and were seen with contempt. The perception continued that they were less-than-human beings. Nineteenth-century textual representations such as that of José Milla y Vidaurre’s La hija del adelantado (1866; The Adelantado’s Daughter)—Central America’s foundational fictional text—depicts them as demonic, dangerous non-subjects. Ruling elites thought of them as the ignorant, the residual, the inferior, the nonproductive, and condemned them to social forms of nonexistence.

Present-Day Stigmas

The behavioral pattern outlined in the previous section explains the common Guatemalan saying “mejor pobre que indio” (better a poor Mestizo than an Indian). As anthropologist Mary Weismantel has observed in a different context, the allegedly “white” elites “pull the circle of whiteness inward toward themselves.”36 Numerous indigenous accounts of this nature articulate political and cultural critiques of the never-ending junctures of racism, violence, and overall abjection in which their communities have been submerged. “White” elites interpellate Mestizo urban residents as shumos, a Guatemalan term deployed to injuriously label Indigenous subjects who pretend to pass as Mestizos within a more systemic “repudiation of Indigenous people and ordinary mestizos,” as Jorge Ramón González-Ponciano has claimed.37 Shumos are Mestizoized indigenous subjects who have internalized the rejection of indigeneity. These subjects, says González-Ponciano, constitute

… the shumada, … the rabble, the scum, the lower-class people, non-exotic non-citizens or anti–citizens, who have fallen into invisibility between the “pure Indians” and the middle and upper class whites and Ladinos.38

In turn, urban shumos interpellate anybody in the provincial areas as Indian, thereby pushing Indianness away from themselves. Given that Los Angeles has been defined as the shumo capital of the world, in these characterizations transnational elements complicate perceptions about difference and social, cultural, and racial stratification with markers that have not appeared historically in the Indigenous-Mestizo binary.39 They are new embodiments of the space of the non-white Mestizo and of the processing of Mestizaje denied by “white” elites and made invisible by the aforementioned binary.

In this same spirit, the “Mongolian Spot” lingered among Mestizos as an epistemic metaphor of the trace of indigeneity. Dr. Erwin Bälz (1849–1913) was a German internist, anthropologist, and personal physician of the Japanese imperial family. In 1885 he published a paper in a German anthropological journal calling attention to an unrecorded feature among Japanese babies. They were often born with a dark blue stain, low down on the back, that gradually faded and disappeared after about a year. He called the stain Mongolische Flecken, Mongolian Spots, and associated it with all peoples he thought were of Mongolian origin. In Central America, this label—associated to Indigenous peoples, who indeed were born with a purplish spot in the small of the back—became highly popular in a negative sense. The Mongolian Spot was perceived as a phantasm of an ethnic inferiority, pointing to Mestizos’ difficulty in constituting themselves as “whites” of European descent.

All these factors may explain the apparent invisibility of Indigenous subjects as protagonists of Central American-American subjectivity in cultural representations. Not only are they less likely to write literature as a result of their own subalternization and racialization, which often implies illiteracy and lack of schooling—Indigenous migrants often being the poorest members of their communities, and many unable to speak Spanish, or speaking it insufficiently, because it is their second or third language—but Mestizo immigrant writers for the most part do not often view their culture in a positive way, or represent Indigenous subjects as protagonists of the US Central American population. Batz states that Mayas in Los Angeles suffer Mestizos’ “deeply embedded racist attitudes brought from their home countries.”40 He concludes that Mayas in Los Angeles “are resisting imposed identities (indio, Latino, Hispanic) by reaffirming their Maya roots and history through marimba playing, Maya-language use, talking with grandparents, literature, and religious celebrations.”41 Still, even in California, which houses the greatest number of Indigenous Mesoamerican immigrants, daily violence continues to make Indigenous peoples unsettled in their daily life. For the most part, they are still seen by fellow Mestizo immigrants as “invisible” individuals living on the fringes of society, and are often perceived as “without value” by many mainstream Americans.

The Tattooed Soldier

The Tattooed Soldier first stages ex-Sergeant Guillermo Longoria in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles. He is playing chess. As he lifts his arms to move a piece, Antonio Bernal sees his tattoo and recognizes the man: “For several seconds, the man’s bare arm was suspended above the table … The arm was raised just long enough for Antonio Bernal—once a middle-class government worker in his native land and now homeless in LA—to make out the tattoo of a yellow animal.”42 Seven years before, Bernal missed the death squad that came for him but instead killed his wife Elena and young son, a boy of two. Later, in the middle section where Elena’s obsession to learn Maya languages is detailed, the image of the jaguar is recast as B’alam, the ancient Maya symbol of the warrior. The narrative adds that “the tattoo was key to everything.”43 Guillermo Longoria is a Maya man who was forcibly conscripted into the Guatemalan army during the country’s civil war. Readers are told he had “angry eyes.”44 The text reminds us that “this was his practiced soldier’s gaze, his cara de matón … Anyone in Central America recognized this look.”45

Readers thus perceive Longoria as a killer. His Maya identity is effaced. As Crystine Miller has noted, “Longoria’s fellow Guatemalan soldiers immediately know the jaguar is ‘an American tattoo,’ a symbol of transgression, ‘fear,’ and ‘disgust.’”46 Longoria’s Mayaness is clearly depicted in the text. However, it takes a back seat to his more noticeable identity as a genocidal soldier. Regina Mills notes how Longoria is referenced by his last name, Longoria, when representing his military persona.47 The erasure of his first name becomes a part of the expunging of his Maya identity. Yet in part 1, the text clearly indicates how Longoria was a Maya subject, kidnaped when the Guatemalan army raided his village to catch young men and enroll them into military service.48 Forced conscription of underaged boys was the standard way to fill the soldiers’ ranks until the 1996 Peace Accords made this practice illegal. This begins a traumatic process that, often, accompanies all Indigenous subjects in the country. Guillermo will become “Sergeant Longoria,” a fragmented subject with severe emotional scars. Underneath his violent response and his killer gaze is a betrayal trauma in the sense defined by Jennifer J. Freyd as the kind that occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person’s trust or well-being.49

Longoria, however, will expunge his Mayaness, become a genocidal murderer, and then migrate to the United States, becoming a trans-American displaced outcast, in Amaryll Chanady’s terms.50 Once he turns into a dislocated subject, only the tattoo will remain. Paradoxically, it stands in the text for both his membership in the elite killer Jaguar Battalion of the Guatemalan army—one explaining his macho display of ultraviolence—but also as a totemic signifier that punctures what Ana Patricia Rodríguez labels his “heightened sense of masculinity and aggression.”51

The jaguar is B’alam, a trace of his ancestral lineage that marks the absence of a presence. The representation of jaguars in Mesoamerican cultures has a millennial history that Rodríguez details in her analysis.52 She has also been the first critic to focus on the importance of Longoria’s Mayaness. In her reading, “Longoria becomes the jaguar; he assumes its qualities and preys on weakness.”53 She adds that his identification with the jaguar is, paradoxically, “an attempt to deny his Maya identity and heritage, which he associates with inferiority, weakness, fear, and emasculation.”54 Rodríguez proceeds to elaborate how it is only in his death trance, after being shot by Bernal during the Los Angeles riots of 1992, that he reconciles himself with his Mayaness. Rodríguez states that “as he lays dying … Longoria is finally and conclusively taken back to the cornfield of his youth.”55 She then describes Longoria’s recollection of himself as a child, wearing his Maya clothes, his ensuing happiness, and the spirit of his mother calling him in his own language, before adding,

Hence in death and rebirth, the jaguar image, now resignified in Maya terms, connects Longoria to a greater cosmology, heritage, and identity embedded in him, which in his colonized mind he has tried to destroy in others and himself.56

Rodríguez will add how Longoria had stripped the jaguar in himself “of its spiritual and cosmological attributes.”57 The Guatemalan army formed and deformed Longoria’s subjectivity, making of him a brutal, macho destroyer of his own culture, much as Maya Kaqchikel novelist Luis de Lión depicts Pascual, one of his main characters, in Time Commences in Xibalbá (1985), the first-ever novel authored by a Maya writer, translated to English in 2012.58 Both characters evidence how the army made rape, killing, and pillaging instruments of destruction and “re-education,” employing it as a punitive counterinsurgency measure throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, along with the murder of Maya children.59 In both characters, the racial resentment became confounded with machismo in their dreams of revenge, an untidy and grotesque affirmation of violence offering an abject and self-destructive masculinist expression of agency. The lack of closure of the Central American wars’ suppurating wounds meant a transference of the conflict to the United States, by means of immigration. It is an “originary terror” in the sense of Lyotard, which comes home to the United States to roost, given the “traumatic representation that takes into account US imperialism and its consequences for the constitution of migration and US migrant identities” noted by Crystine Miller.60 The ongoing trauma within the US Central American diaspora falls within what Claudia Milian has labeled the economies of racialized Latinities when establishing “a link in the semiotic lines of race, culture, movement, and geography.”61 An important consequence of this ongoing cycle of violence and wretchedness is the inability to unravel the specter of US Central Americans’ “internal multiple Souths and their crossovers to other contexts, communities, and maps,” in Milian’s words.62

The Long Night of White Chickens

In The Long Night of White Chickens, Roger Graetz is the son of a US American Jewish man and a Mestizo Guatemalan upper-class woman. The novel begins with Roger’s return to Guatemala, to discover the truth behind the murder of his adopted sister and babysitter Flor de Mayo Puac. Flor was taken to the United States by Roger’s mother, who never truly adapted to living in the United States. He was then six years old, and recovering from tuberculosis. Roger’s father Ira decided that Flor had to receive an education, despite his wife Mirabel’s racist misgivings. Ira also treated her as a daughter and insisted that Roger consider her a sister, issues that offended his wife and generated a distancing between them. As previously indicated, Flor went on to Wellesley College. After graduation, she returned to her country and directed an orphanage and malnutrition clinic receiving international aid. Part of her job consisted of visiting the areas devastated by military massacres of Maya villages, and rescuing Maya children left behind. She is then found with her throat slit. Roger, shocked, returned to Guatemala to find out who murdered her. However, readers never find out who killed Flor.

As James Dawes states, “Flor’s murder is the result of social breakdown so chaotic and severe … without any political or legal accounting” in war-torn Guatemala.63 Yet, as Dawes—as well as Cornelia Gräbner, who has also analyzed this text—state differently, Flor, the Maya subject, is also performing her identity.64 She was also an orphan. Her father was decapitated by a farmer. Dawes quotes how Flor and Roger are walking in front of FAO Schwarz in New York City. Ira has been hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. Flor asks him what he wants for Christmas. His response is banal. When Roger asks Flor, she replies, “All I want … is for Ira to get better.” Roger is “bothered more by what he calls a mysterious ‘ping’ in Flor’s voice, an odd, hollow noise that troubles him for reasons he cannot understand at the time.”65 Roger will only understand at the end of the text what this mysterious “ping” was. Dawes adds,

What Roger realizes here—and this, finally, is the explanation for the troubling “ping” in Flor’s voice—is that Flor was never in her life allowed to be more than the orphan who would embody his family’s … vision of rescue; that when Flor wished for Ira’s recovery she was performing the role assigned to her … she was in that moment, for Roger … a performance of what they needed to affirm their worldview. What Roger realizes here is that Flor, even in their most intimate moments, had intentionally performed the gratitude appropriate to a rescued orphan.66

In analogous fashion, Gräbner posits that “Flor … tells a repertoire of stories to build the ‘Public Flor’ (my term). Rogerio never makes up his mind as to whether these stories performatively construct her identity, or whether they hide her true identity.”67

According to Gräbner—who uses the name Rogerio, which the character used when in Guatemala—Flor may not have had an identity behind her performative self. She reinvented herself all the time according to the dialogic necessities of her interlocutors. Flor’s behavior is not that surprising. The concept of identity often signifies a binary opposition stressing the tension between a “self” and an “other” as part of a rhetorical continuum. In the Maya case, difference becomes a symbolic expression to determine agency. We must read testimonios such as Menchú’s—or Flor’s behavioral patterns in Goldman’s novel—as open-ended texts whose function is also exploratory and tentative: they are often a first attempt to frame a rhetoric of being.68 Maya subjectivities are constructed performatively and function metonymically. As I have argued elsewhere, Maya performativity is a function of the reiterative practice of regulatory discursive regimes that control the formation of personal and collective identity.69 The construction of Indigenous identity in a dialogical context is an activity whose effects are never firmly fixed; it is always re-presented and reiterated in the slippage of its own production. This continuous reiteration works as a “truth effect.” Its repetition—a sort of never-ending dress rehearsal—produces and sustains the power of the truth effect and the discursive regime that has constructed it and that operates in the production of racialized bodies.

As a literary character, Flor de Mayo Puac remains a trace in Goldman’s novel, instead of a true signifier. Indigenous subjects are often banished from Western epistemic forms of knowledge. Their literary discourses seldom configure Indigenous subjectivities, even when they haunt their texts. It is a signification they do not possess. Only Indigenous “ghosts” are reinscribed within modernity. They are, in Derrida’s words, “a signifying and substitutive reference inscribed in a system of differences and the movement of a chain. Play is always play of absence and presence.”70 Or else, “the simulacrum of a presence that dislocates, displaces, and refers beyond itself.”71

“Crossing the Border”

Omar Castañeda’s “Crossing the Border” is divided into three parts. In the first, Raúl Cáscara died of a heart attack in the salt river by his village, named Motagua. However, because he was known for pulling elaborate pranks on the neighborhood, local residents thought he was fooling them. In a comic tone, the story informed readers that villagers did not realize he was dead for days. The salt had preserved his body as if he had been embalmed. He was even named Lord of the Festival of the Saints, and on the day of the festival was placed on a float, seated on the Chair of Light and Retribution.72 Everyone then noticed something was wrong. An old ajk’ij (spiritual guide) named Juan Aguacero then stepped forward to figure it out.

Aguacero performed a ritual to verify that Raúl was dead.73 The story’s tone then shifts from the previous humor to one of tenderness and communal feeling for the passing of Raúl. Aguacero announced that he had “found inside himself (Raul) the name that rattles there.”74 To release it, he punctured Cáscara’s chest with a knife. “And in the sound of it, Juan Aguacero found the true name of the place To-Bend-Word. Klou-wer, it said.”75 Aguacero then stated that Cáscara “must be taken to Klouwer Town.”76 María Teresa decided it was their duty to take Raúl’s body there. A few villagers agreed to accompany her.

The second part of the story represents their trip across Mexico. The entire community was aware that those relational emplacements connecting the departing characters to their shared sense of common habitus were about to end. The text lists those indigenous ethnic groups whose lands they crossed in their voyage through Guatemala and Mexico, while adding that “the Maya world did not recognize the same border as Guatemala and Mexico, so in Chiapas they found echoes of their own world, echoes of an ancient walk from Zuyua of the seven caves,”77 the latter signifier pointing in the direction of the Olmec-Xicalanca-Nonoalca connections in the classical 16th-century Maya text Popol Wuj.78 Then, the lists continue, naming the Mexican states crossed, as well as those indigenous groups living in them, which “comprised the hundreds of native peoples between Motagua and Texas. They met people and customs as varied as the Taracatians and the Icaiche, Toquegua and Comanche.”79 Rhetorically, these lists serve to emphasize the fact that we are not talking about ordinary immigrants here. They stress their being Indigenous subjects moving within the confines of an Indigenous landscape. Castañeda puts the hierarchical binaries upside down. In his representation, epistemological dominance is placed on the colonialized side until the final scene. Its positionality is ratified primarily by the Indigenous group representing the only possibilities of solidarity and moral certainty within this pre-Hispanic landscape. Their representation as such already challenges Eurocentric master narratives and reclaims subjugated spaces.

Close to the US-Mexico border, the group arrived at a small village and asked a group of men for help. The villagers confused them with ordinary immigrants, but Diego insisted, “We want help for our friend only.”80 One of the man stated, “You’ll learn to hate yourself up in the United States.”81 Then, the narrative voice describes the Motagua group as “five pilgrims,” a critical phrase.82 It differentiates them from ordinary immigrants, localizing their quest within a spiritual framework. Yet this is not a Western religion but a Maya one, thus moving toward generative notions of Maya spirituality. The village people offered them food and drink, and asked why the Lord of Festival “seems more dead than alive.”83 Their explanation was linked to the deities governing Motagua, and to Cáscara’s spirit, which to the pilgrims expressed Maya’s residual spiritual values and a sense of belonging in the world that grounded them. After prying at Cáscara’s body, the villagers agreed to help the “pilgrims” get across and introduced themselves. The leader, Guerrero, stated that he did not think the pilgrims would find Klouwer Town, but added, “There are times when failure on the surface is actually success,” prefiguring with this lapidary phrase the end of the story.84 He seemed to understand that what was at stake was the very possibility of a future, of duration, of continuity. The third and last part of the story will then be an ontology of becoming. The second section ends with the pilgrims starting to cross, exhilarated by the chilly water, silent as a water snake, as Guerrero stated, their dark skins hiding them in the water.85

The last section begins as the crossing has ended and “their strength was ebbing with the weight of their clothes.”86 The narrative voice detailed the trip until they “pushed along to find the mouth of the Devils River.”87 The trope cannot be an accident. It signals not their trajectory, but rather the nature of their destination. It is a space of material deprivation, violence, environmental destruction, not to speak of exclusions based on gender and ethnicity. The narrative ensures that readers do not perceive it just as a physical space, but, by the discursivity itself pushing signs within a chain of signifiers signaling embodied spirituality, as a discursive field in which identities, practices, or subjectivities are challenged. The previous assertion fits within the description of Cáscara: “Raúl floated in his carriage as a Lord on his raft, snake-bound, with a promise to return.”88 The allusion to Quetzalcóatl is more than evident in this phrase.

When they emerged from the river, they laid Raúl down on the grass, and “within minutes they all fell into a pitch-black sleep.”89 When they wake up, a group of young men with rifles threatened them, shouting drunkenly,

“Damn wetbacks,” the boy said.

There were seven of them, the eldest being just over twenty years old. The youngest, a gangly boy of seventeen, leaned against a truck parked above the bank. He wavered as though nauseatedly drunk. The smell of alcohol was strong.90

Violence begins almost immediately. The five “travelers,” a discursive term used here by the narrative voice, stood up. The eldest boy ordered Diego to get Raúl up. The pilgrims/travelers did not understand English. When the boy kicked Raúl’s side, Diego tried to stop him, “but the boy smashed Diego’s ribs with the rifle butt.”91 In the eyes of the white Texan boys, the travelers were ineligible for personhood because they were people of color. On the Texan Anglo side, discursivities remained within official local imaginaries, heavily policed by their being internalized as self-disciplinary mechanisms of determinative judgment. They implicitly understood that the travelers were perishable, displaying the vulnerability of despised others. The fact that they perceived Raúl as “dead” confirmed their instincts. Their conclusion was that “we could shoot ‘em right here and now and nobody’d say shit.”92 Castañeda’s indictment of white supremacist Eurocentric modernity flows with the boys’ exchange. On this side of the river, unlike in Guerrero’s village, the pilgrims are marginal to the system while revealing the trace of their exteriority. They are Fanon’s damnés.93

The inevitable ensues. “The boys laughed lewdly then, and stared at María Teresa. Without understanding any of their words, she felt what they were thinking.”94 María Teresa escaped her fate because the boys placed the youngest of them, Delbert, on top of her. He was so drunk that all he could do was to vomit on her chest. As the others turned away in disgust and then pulled Delbert, “she scrambled on her knees, her eyes doe with fear. She stood to run.”95 Tom still grabbed her and spun her back, but the others had had enough. Momentum had changed. Afterward, the boys threw the remaining travelers into the lake, and “Raúl’s body floated out like a log.”96

Jim, one of the boys, raised his rifle and shot the corpse of Raúl. The narrative voice informs readers that “the body spun like a coffee can, the name ‘Klouwer’ clinking inside.”97 Once more, this trope echoes a spiritual presence within a subject’s body, much like the K’iche’ word Loq’olaj, associated with the “sacred,” but also understood as “valued,” or even “loved.”98 In the juncture they experienced, the travelers heard the name “Klouwer” clinking inside Raúl’s body as it spun farther away with all the shots. If Castañeda had Q’eqchi’s in mind for his fictional town—given the origins of his own father, and the clues planted at the beginning of the story—the word would also be Loq’olaj, with the same connotation.99 The only difference would be that in Q’eqchi’, the corresponding verb is not used to designate “love.”100

It is in that instant when they understand that “separated and defeated” and … more pained by the harsh realization of the impossibility of their pilgrimage … that Klouwer Town was everywhere around them. It seemed to them, staring wide-eyed from the lake shallows, that all of the United States was a place of bending words.101

To the Western eye, based on paradigms of rationality and soundness grounded on circumscribed parameters of empirical evidence, the trip was an abject failure. For the Maya travelers/pilgrims, it was a success:

They had brought their lord and friend, and had left him fully immersed in this vast Klouwer place. Only northward. Only fish-road, only swan-path north. Northward the waves took him, rafting solemnly on.102

Readers may find the ending either puzzling, or poetic, but few may realize that Castañeda has resituated the travelers/pilgrims in an alternative knowledge system. This exposes indeed their precarious lives, yet, while physically damaged, they remained morally intact. “There are times when failure on the surface is actually success,” had prophesized Guerrero, and that is how the story ended.103

In “Crossing the Border,” Castañeda tears away the veil of indigenous ontologies. The author performs his truth inscription in that liminal space between the apparent contradictions of Eurocentric, disembodied thinking, and his own excavation of Indigenous knowledge production, thus recognizing the multiple realities in his work. Of course, this is a gift engaged in a symbolic sacrificial structure, yet one that would annul Raúl Cáscara’s spirit becoming lost in the many-layered cosmic structure of the Maya heaven.104 Ultimately, Castañeda’s story also evidences that those sites under construction in the United States Latino/Latina imaginary still remain—as well they should—as approximations to a vast and complex challenge that requires multiple strategies and interventions. Thinking beyond Castañeda’s representation, as Indigenous subjects move toward nomadic and migrant spaces, they become more racialized. The situation articulated via Castañeda’s story dramatically shifts those cartographies always in need of being redrafted, as Milian states in her book when speaking of “Central Americanness as a site of neglected multiple subjectivities and geographies that move and alter.”105 Identitary categories inevitably mutate in manifold directions, however evanescent this may be. They can slide beyond Latinidad itself. Ultimately, we can see that Omar Castañeda, despite being a Mestizo, does manage to convey genuine Maya subjectivities in his story, a product of both his research, his sensibility, and his inclinations to depict the beingness of damnés.

“Ta o’lol takin osil/In the Middle of the Desert”

Mikel Ruiz begins his story literally in the middle of the desert, as his title indicates. From the start, it is hell, a “burning comal,” the metal flat pan used to make tortillas.106 The narrator’s eyes sting, the blood stinks of death, and there are skeletons behind the bushes. This could be any other narrative about subjects without papers crossing the desert, until the narrative voice of Mateo informs readers that they were supposed to take sixty days to Jlumaltik to cross the desert, and they had not yet accomplished it. That signifier forces a pause on hypothetical readers engaging the text solely in English or Spanish. It automatically implies a different system of notation. I say “hypothetical,” since this illusion would have presupposed ignoring both the paratext—what forms the frame for the main text, which has already notified readers that this book is an anthology of Chiapanecan Maya poems and short stories—as well as the initial version of the story, written in Maya Tsotsil, titled “Ta o’lol takin osil,” which begins with the following words: “Stuil anima. Chtuch’bun kich’ob ik’ ti yik’e, chchik’ilanbun sbek’ jsat. Ti jch’ulele chk’unibxa ta yeloval sat li jtatatike, muxa xkuch yu’un.”107 We are here following the trace that overturns the domination, if not the demotion, of Western languages. We find it in Jlumaltik. In the following page we will find out that they will “die far away from Jlumaltik.”108 We soon learn that Jtatatik “is with us,” and that the group includes a man named Pedro Arias, who, we are told, is “from Chenalhó,” a Maya Tsotsil town in the state of Chiapas, Mexico.109 These figures of speech ground the text as Indigenous. They create their own place of transcendence, one where people have their own deities, share cultural patterns, and confirm their place in the world. Eventually, a note will explain that Jlumaltik “is Tsotsil for Chamula,” another town in Chiapas.110 This chain of signifiers evidences that Western readers are located outside this web of language. Yet the telling appears to differ little from non-Indigenous narratives on the same subject, or so it would seem. The phrase “Jtatatik is with us” as a motivational utterance to go on despite the exhaustion connotes already non-Western referents. Jtatatik is an authority figure, a reference to San Juan, the patron saint of San Juan Chamula. The name “San Juan” was imposed by Spanish colonial authorities. As a Maya deity, however, he represents the sun, moving from east to west. The Tsotsil name Chamula means “Thick Water.”

The explanation provided by Mateo for finding himself in the travails of the dessert is the conventional one. The crops failed, the family is bankrupt, Uncle Manuel convinced him to head north, and his parents look forward to having foreign exchange wired to them. Mateo could be from anywhere in Mesoamerica, that motley assortment of migrants of the Global South, caught in the contradiction depicted by Agamben in Homo Sacer, one where they are excluded from the protection of the law while remaining subject to it.111 That is, until Mateo informs readers that Mario, the group’s coyote, “makes him mad that we talk in bats’i k’op, he doesn’t understand us.”112 Bats’i k’op means “true language,” the language of the Bats’i vinik, the “true peoples,” as the Tsotsil Mayas call themselves. That comment marks an identitary and racial difference. This brief scene evidences the multiple and shifting positionalities of Latinos/Latinas, the brownness and dark-brownness Claudia Milian articulates as a nuanced understanding of the overarching category of “brownness” to move understandings of Latino/Latina racial identities in a new direction. Ruiz’s line evidences the racialization within brownness indeed. Mestizos and Indigenous subjects live a hierarchized social structure, one where the latter remain inevitably in a subalternized and racialized position.

From this point on in the story, Tsotsil identitary traits begin to take over. Mateo states that they heard about Mario in Jobel, the Tsotsil name of San Cristóbal de las Casas—Chiapas’s colonial and “spiritual” capital—meaning the “place in the clouds.” When a pickup arrives, and a gringo comes out armed, Pedro starts talking in bats’i k’op out of nervousness.113 Mateo is convinced the Jtatatik had abandoned them, despite the fact that he had “prayed to him with … pox, and a mountain of candles and incense before I left my parents’ house.”114 Then, Mateo kneels in front of the “evil güero, like I used to pray to Jtotik,” and his uncle Manuel calls the man a tsajal tson (red beard).115 All these rhetorical devices convey to the reader a Tsotsil spiritual world. They work almost as anaphoras that articulate a perspectival construct and political situatedness of the story’s Tsotsil actors to mark their place in the world, giving meaning and value to their life. It works as a “Tsotsilscape,” in Appadurai’s sense of ethnoscape, a framework where relatively stable communities and networks or kinship are impacted by the realities of having to move, or the fantasies of wanting to move.116

The group is kidnaped and taken to a holding pen, where they are told, “Go back to your land, leave now pinche Indians! … with words full of fire and fury.”117 The blatant racism uttered by a “fat guy, dark-skinned and short,” evidently a Latino, brings attention to the negative framing of racialized and subalternized individuals by US Latino authorities, as well as illustrating the liminal positions from which the rightless struggle to assert their personhood.118

Expelled back to Mexico, yet encouraged by Manuel, they decided to try to cross the border once more, this time without a coyote. Pedro joined them. The three got lost in the desert. After much struggle, Uncle Manuel finally began to collapse. Mateo and Pedro carried him on their backs for a while, while the uncle yelled, “Keremetik, leave me here!”119 He died while carried by Pedro, who murmured, “Ch’ul tot, ch’ul me,” that is, holy father, holy mother.120 After Mateo says they left him in Kits’an bak, they half buried him.121 Mateo and Pedro were then picked up by a man, who promised them work the next day. Starving to death, they were left adrift in the unknown town. While Mateo desperately looked for food in a garbage can, Pedro sat down and drifted into unconsciousness, likely to die as well. Mateo stared at him in horror and yelled for him to get up.

Ruiz’s story evidences how Indigenous peoples, while remaining vulnerable to US sovereign power, are equally subjected to its deployment by racialized others as a form of structuring violence. Mestizos, Latinos, and others have internalized racism by colonialism’s enabling even those others located at the bottom of the heap to conceive of them as residual nonsubjects condemned to social forms of nonexistence. Indigenous migrants are treated as mere biological residues bereft of legal protections of citizenship, in Agamben’s terms.122 They are indeed “bare life without bare habitance,” as Mark Rifkin labels this in “Indigenizing Agamben.”123 He also makes an important contribution to the archives of cross-border violence by producing the first-ever Indigenous-authored story on border crossing.

Last Thoughts

Floridalma Boj López argues in her work that La Comunidad Ixim is “an effort to analyze how their work generates critical possibilities for thinking about indigeneity across generations and borders.”124 We could, in analogous fashion, understand this article along similar terms. It is an effort to come to terms with the scant, often abject or blurred representations of Mesoamerican Indigenous subjectivities in Central American-American literatures. After all, when it comes to scripted identitary representations, the agency deploying power and generating knowledge is exercised by the subject performing the writerly tasks. As stated, up to this point the only Maya migrant version published is that of Tsotsil author Mikel Ruiz. Otherwise, all other discursive enactments have been articulated by Mestizo or Guatemalan-American authors, who inevitably favor their own subjectivities, while exhibiting difficulties to capture Indigenous beingness. The latter more often remain underrepresented or else reified or subordinated as “a culture of exoticism” crafted by Mestizo authors less familiar with their cultures. To this day, Indigenous Central Americans in the United States are still located in liminal positions from which they struggle to assert their personhood. If Central Americans were the “new” Latinos who remained invisible even in the eyes of many Latino scholars in the post–Cold War period, how do Indigenous subjects, who are not even Latino either culturally or by blood, fit in this overall scheme? We would have to locate this problematic in the intersectionalities of race, and further plunge into the instabilities of racial geographies throughout the Americas emphasized by Milian. As Giovanni Batz wrote, “Many of us will never settle in Guatemala permanently.”125 This implies that Indigenous identitary constructs will often emerge much like the described Tsotsilscape, within the confines of the United States, as Indigenous immigrants not only keep their identity and culture alive, but often discover it, come gradually to value it, and then rebuild it—if not reinvent it—within the borders of the United States. Ultimately, this will also yield—as happened in Mesoamerica itself in the 1990s—a gradual emergence of US Central American Indigenous writers and cultural producers.

Discussion of the Literature

Indigenous studies may be the last trend to arrive to a saturated theoretical field. It did so in the wake of the coloniality of power and decolonial trends, which functioned to some extent as epistemic metaphors deployed to move thinking beyond Western and Eurocentric conceptualizations. The reemergence of Indigenous issues in both the Americas and around the globe contributed to renewed interest in this topic. This is best exemplified by Indigenous mobilizations to oppose Spain’s quincentennial celebration of what they euphemistically called “the discovery of the Americas” in 1992, the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Maya K’iche’ human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú in that same year, and the role she subsequently played as global ambassador for Indigenous issues, combined with the emergence of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, on January 1, 1994, and the election of an Indigenous president, Evo Morales, in Bolivia’s 2004 elections, after years of grassroots agitation in the Andes. In this same logic, the United Nations created a Special Rapporteur on the Right of Indigenous Peoples by its Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council) in 2001, and the UN General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. In the United States, the mobilization at Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota, to prevent an oil pipeline from crossing their territory became the largest in decades.

Argentine scholar Walter Mignolo stated on his seminal text The Darker Side of the Renaissance (1995) how the epistemic effects of colonialism are among the most damaging, far-reaching, and least understood problems impacting Westernization and modernity.126 Whether speaking truth to power, or engaging in a myriad of other activities, decolonial processes can only be implemented from the perspective of subalternized knowledges. These are the only repositories from which a transformation of Western-centric ways of being can be challenged, to generate a more inclusive understanding of knowledges, in the plural. Thus the importance of better comprehending what Indigenous knowledges are since, together with Afro-descendant populations, they represent the bulk of the subalternized population of the Americas.

A new generation of scholars, of which some are already beginning to burst forth, are undoubtedly expanding this disciplinary horizon, raising seminal questions, and debating Indigenous studies. The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association was founded in 2007 as the youngest of all learned societies, open to any scholar working on Indigenous, Native American, or Indian studies. In Latin America and Latina/Latino circles, anthropologists have moved further in this direction, as perhaps may be natural in a field concerned with native or Indoamerican discourses. The number of US-centered Indigenous theorists working on Latina/Latino issues remains small to this date. So does their literary production. Still, we do have already some notable publications. We can cite Comparative Indigeneities of the Américas: Toward a Hemispheric Approach (2012), edited by M. Bianet Castellanos, Lourdes Gutiérrez Nájera, and Arturo J. Aldama, or Roberto Cintli Rodriguez’s Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas (2014), among examples of scholarship in this area. There is also new interest on the part of university presses on the subject, from traditional bastions such as the University of Texas Press, the University of Oklahoma Press, or the University of Arizona Press, to new collections in the State University of New York Press, or Lexington Books, a not insignificant factor in times of difficulty for university presses.

In Sandra Gonzales’s article “Colonial Borders, Native Fences” in Comparative Indigeneities of the Américas, she claims that “the metanarrative of the precontact, precolonial history of this continent is written by Western scholars who align their theoretical assumptions with academic itineraries couched in nationalistic discourses.”127 In consequence, she problematizes that

By internalizing these nationalized identities we—Chicanos and other native people of the Americas—are internalizing borders imposed by foreign powers. By internalizing these borders we are performing the separation of our own histories, our own knowledge structures. We are performing the separation of our own people, and in many cases our own families.128

As late as 1988, Yaqui Juaneño scholar M. A. Jaimes-Guerrero argued how in the United States, Native American groups had lost their identification with their culture. From that time to the present, the panorama is very different regarding Native American scholars concerned with analyzing literatures written by Native American authors. As stated, and despite the quote from Sandra Gonzales cited previously, the number of Latina/Latino scholars is smaller, and those of Central American-Americans working on this field even more so. Yet we can already cite some names, such as Emilio del Valle Escalante (University of North Carolina), Gloria Chacón (University of California–San Diego), or Alicia Ivonne Estrada (CSU Northridge) among the Central American-American pioneers in this field.

Further Reading

Arias, Arturo. Recovering Lost Footprints: Contemporary Maya Narratives. Vol. 1. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Arias, Arturo. “TransMayas Transitioning: Vicissitudes of Racialized Indigeneities When Crossing the Line.” Journal of Commonwealth and Postcolonial Studies 5, no. 2 (Spring 2017): 121–138.Find this resource:

Batz, Giovanni. “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles: The Recovery of Identity and Culture among Maya Youth.” Latin American Perspectives 41, no. 3 (May 2014): 194–207.Find this resource:

Blackwell Maylei, Floridalma Boj Lopez, and Luis Urrieta Jr. “Special Issue: Critical Latinx Indigeneities.” Latino Studies 15, no. 2 (July 2017): 126–137.Find this resource:

Boj López, Floridalma. “Mobile Archives of Indigeneity: Building La Comunidad Ixim through Youth Organizing in the Maya Diaspora.” Latino Studies 15, no. 2 (July 2017):201–218.Find this resource:

Burns, Allan. Maya in Exile: Guatemalans in Florida. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Castañeda, Omar S. Remembering to Say “Mouth” or “Face.” Boulder, CO: Fiction Collective Two, 1993.Find this resource:

Castellanos, M. Bianet, Lourdes Gutiérrez Nájera, and Arturo J. Aldama, eds. Comparative Indigeneities of the Américas: Toward a Hemispheric Approach. Tucson: University of Arizona, Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Dawes, James. “The Novel of Human Rights.” American Literature 88, no. 1 (March 2016): 127–157.Find this resource:

De Lión, Luis. Time Commences in Xibalbá. Translated by Nathan C. Henne. Tucson: University Arizona Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Fink, Leon. The Maya of Morganton: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Goldman, Francisco. The Long Night of White Chickens. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Gräbner, Cornelia. “‘But How to Speak of Such Things?’: Decolonial Love, the Coloniality of Gender, and Political Struggle in Francisco Goldman’s The Long Night of White Chickens (1992) and Jennifer Harbury’s Bridge of Courage (1994) and Searching for Everardo (1997).” Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 20, no. 1 (2014): 51–74.Find this resource:

Hagan, Jacqueline Maria. Deciding to Be Legal: A Maya Community in Houston. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Hiller, Patrick T., J. P. Linstroth, and Paloma Ayala Vela. “‘I Am Maya, Not Guatemalan, nor Hispanic’—the Belongingness of Mayas in Southern Florida.” FQS 10, no. 3 (September 2009).Find this resource:

Jonas, Susanne, and Nestor Rodríguez. Guatemala-U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014.Find this resource:

LeBaron, Alan. “When Latinos Are Not Latinos: The Case of Guatemalan Maya in the United States, the Southeast and Georgia.” Latino Studies 10, no. 1–2 (Spring 2012): 179–195.Find this resource:

Loucky, James, and Marilyn M. Moors. The Maya Diaspora: Guatemalan Roots, New American Lives. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Miller, Crystine. “Héctor Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier and the Latino/a Trauma Narrative.” Latino Studies 14, no. 3 (October 2016): 364–383.Find this resource:

Rodriguez, Roberto Cintli. Our Sacred Maíz Is Our Mother: Indigeneity and Belonging in the Americas. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Ruiz, Mikel. “Ta o’lol takin osil/En medio del desierto/In the Middle of the Desert.” In Chiapas Maya Awakening: Contemporary Poems and Short Stories. Edited by Sean S. Sell and Nicolás Huet Bautista, Translated by Sean S. Sell, 121–147. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.Find this resource:

Tobar, Héctor. The Tattooed Solider. New York: Penguin, 2000.Find this resource:


(1.) Floridalma Boj López, “Mobile Archives of Indigeneity: Building La Comunidad Ixim through Youth Organizing in the Maya Diaspora.” This talk was taken from her article of the same title, recently published in Latino Studies 15, no. 2 (July 2017): 201–218.

(2.) Boj López, “Mobile Archives of Indigeneity,” 2.

(3.) Giovanni Batz, “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles: The Recovery of Identity and Culture among Maya Youth,” Latin American Perspectives 41, no. 3 (May 2014): 194–207.

(4.) Batz, “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles,” 195.

(5.) Batz, “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles,” 195.

(6.) Arturo Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints: Contemporary Maya Narratives, vol. 1 (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2017). Volume 2 is scheduled for fall 2018.

(7.) The publications are too numerous to list. Books alone include Jonas Susanne and Nestor Rodríguez, Guatemala–U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014); Leon Fink, The Maya of Morganton: Work and Community in the Nuevo New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); James Loucky and Marilyn M. Moors, The Maya Diaspora: Guatemalan Roots, New American Lives (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000); Jacqueline Maria Hagan, Deciding to Be Legal: A Maya Community in Houston (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994); or Allan Burns, Maya in Exile: Guatemalans in Florida (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993). This list does not exhaust the topic in question.

(8.) Patrick T. Hiller, J. P. Linstroth, and Paloma Ayala Vela, “‘I Am Maya, Not Guatemalan, nor Hispanic’—the Belongingness of Mayas in Southern Florida,” FQS 10, no. 3 (September 2009).

(9.) Alan LeBaron, “When Latinos Are Not Latinos: The Case of Guatemalan Maya in the United States, the Southeast and Georgia,” Latino Studies 10, no. 1–2 (Spring 2012): 179–195.

(10.) LeBaron, “When Latinos Are Not Latinos,” 182.

(11.) LeBaron, When Latinos Are Not Latinos,” 191.

(12.) Charles R. Hale, Más que un Indio = More than an Indian: Racial Ambivalence and Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Guatemala (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2006), 17–18.

(13.) Claudia Milian, Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013).

(14.) Blackwell Maylei, Floridalma Boj Lopez, and Luis Urrieta Jr., “Special Issue: Critical Latinx Indigeneities,” Latino Studies 15, no. 2 (July 2017): 126–137.

(15.) Maylei, Lopez, and Urrieta, “Special Issue: Critical Latinix Indigeneities,” 126.

(16.) Maylei, Lopez, and Urrieta, “Special Issue: Critical Latinix Indigeneities,” 127.

(17.) Maylei, Lopez, and Urrieta, “Special Issue: Critical Latinix Indigeneities,” 128.

(18.) Lourdes Alberto, “Coming Out as Indian: On Being an Indigenous Latina in the US,” Latino Studies 15, no. 2 (July 2017): 247–253; and Gloria Chacón, “Metamestizaje and the Narration of Political Movements from the South,” Latino Studies 15, no. 2 (July 2017): 182–200.

(19.) Héctor Tobar, The Tattooed Solider (New York: Penguin, 2000).

(20.) Francisco Goldman, The Long Night of White Chickens (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992).

(21.) Omar S. Castañeda, Remembering to Say “Mouth” or “Face” (Boulder, CO: Fiction Collective Two, 1993).

(22.) Mikel Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil/En medio del desierto/In the Middle of the Desert,” in Chiapas Maya Awakening: Contemporary Poems and Short Stories, ed. Sean S. Sell and Nicolás Huet Bautista, trans. Sean S. Sell (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017).

(23.) Montejo chaired the Department of Native American Studies, University of California–Davis.

(24.) Christopher Columbus, The Diario of Christopher Columbus’s First Voyage to America, 1492–1493, Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, ed. and trans. Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley Jr. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989), 69.

(25.) Lewis Hanke, The Spanish Struggle for Justice in the Conquest of America (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2002), 18.

(26.) Columbus, Diario, 72.

(27.) Hanke, Spanish Struggle for Justice, 19.

(28.) David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

(29.) Henry F. Dobyns, “An Appraisal of Techniques with a New Hemispheric Estimate,” Current Anthropology 7, no. 4 (September 1966): 395–416; Alan Taylor, American Colonies (New York: Viking, 2001); Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987); also, “Population History of Native North Americans,” A Population History of North America, ed. Michael R. Haines and Richard H. Steckel (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 9–50.

(30.) See, for example, Eeric Hinderaker and Rebecca Horn, “Territorial Crossings: Histories and Historiographies of the Early Americas,” William and Mary Quarterly 67, no. 3 (2010): 395–432. Also, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 by Russell Thornton (1987), as well as Thornton’s article “Population History of Native North Americans” in Michael R. Haines and Richard H. Steckel, eds., A Population History of North America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); and in Donna M. Wilson and Herbert C. Northcott, Dying and Death in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008), among others.

(31.) Gabriele Schwab, Haunting Legacies: Violent Histories and Transgenerational Trauma (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 1.

(32.) Christy Rodgers, “Deconstructing the Barbarian: Polemical Ethnography and Identity in Las Casas and Montaigne,” Portals: A Journal in Comparative Literature 5 (Spring 2007).

(33.) Bartolomé de las Casas, Historia de las Indias (México-Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1951).

(34.) David Theo Goldberg, The Racial State (Oxford: Blackwell, 2002).

(35.) Francisco Antonio Fuentes y Guzmán, Recordación florida: Discurso historial y demostración natural, material, militar, y política del reyno de Goathemala: libros primero, segundo y tercero de la primera parte de la obra (Guatemala City: Editorial José de Pineda Ibarra, 1967), 16.

(36.) Mary J. Weismantel, Cholas and Pishtacos: Stories of Race and Sex in the Andes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 326. I name them allegedly “white” elites because, though they claim to be white, and to be direct descendants of Europeans, they are indeed Mestizos. Most of them built their wealth and acquired oligarchic status in the wake of the liberal revolution of 1871, which disempowered the old Criollos, who were the colonial ruling class. See Marta Casaus Arzú, Guatemala: Linaje y racismo (Guatemala City: F&G, 2007).

(37.) Jorge Ramón González-Ponciano, De la patria del criollo a la patria del shumo: Whiteness and the Criminalization of the Dark Plebeian in Modern Guatemala (Austin: University of Texas at Austin, 2005), 22.

(38.) González-Ponciano, De la patria del criollo a la patria del shumo, 24.

(39.) González-Ponciano, De la patria del criollo a la patria del shumo, 123.

(40.) Batz, “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles,” 198.

(41.) Batz, “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles,” 205.

(42.) Tobar, The Tattooed Soldier, 77.

(43.) Tobar, The Tattooed Soldier, 164.

(44.) Tobar, The Tattooed Solider, 25.

(45.) Tobar, The Tattooed Solider, 25–26.

(46.) Crystine Miller, “Héctor Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier and the Latino/a Trauma Narrative,” Latino Studies 14, no. 3 (October 2016): 364–383. Quote appears on page 366.

(47.) Regina Marie Mills, “Guatemalan Diasporic Fiction as Refugee Literature: An Analysis of Héctor Tobar’s The Tattooed Soldier and Tanya Maria Barrientos’s Family Resemblance” (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 2014), 11.

(48.) Mills, “Guatemalan Diasporic Fiction as Refugee Literature,” 34–37.

(49.) Jennifer J. Freyd, Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996).

(50.) Amaryll Chanady, “The Trans-American Outcast and Figurations of Displacement,” Comparative Literature 61, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 335–345.

(51.) Ana Patricia Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus: Central American Transnational Histories, Literatures and Cultures (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 121.

(52.) Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus, 123–124.

(53.) Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus, 121.

(54.) Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus, 121.

(55.) Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus, 122.

(56.) Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus, 122, 123.

(57.) Rodríguez, Dividing the Isthmus, 125.

(58.) Luis De Lión, Time Commences in Xibalbá, trans. Nathan C. Henne (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012).

(59.) Suffice in this respect to quote the many testimonies offered by Ixil women—and part of the public record—during the trial for genocide of Guatemala’s ex–head of government, General Efraín Ríos Montt, in 2013.

(60.) Jean-François Lyotard, Heidegger and “the Jews,” trans. Andreas Michel and Mark Roberts (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990), 365.

(61.) Claudia Milian, Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2013), 123.

(62.) Milian, Latining America, 125.

(63.) James Dawes, “The Novel of Human Rights,” American Literature 88, no. 1 (March 2016): 127–157. Quote on page 145.

(64.) Cornelia Gräbner, “‘But How to Speak of Such Things?’: Decolonial Love, the Coloniality of Gender, and Political Struggle in Francisco Goldman’s The Long Night of White Chickens (1992) and Jennifer Harbury’s Bridge of Courage (1994) and Searching for Everardo (1997),” Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies 20, no. 1 (2014): 51–74.

(65.) Dawes, “The Novel of Human Rights,” 147.

(66.) Dawes, “The Novel of Human Rights,” 148.

(67.) Gräbner, “‘But How to Speak of Such Things?,’” 58.

(68.) Arturo Arias, “Authoring Ethnicized Subjects: Rigoberta Menchú and the Performative Production of the Subaltern Self,” PMLA 116, no. 1 (January 2001): 75–88.

(69.) See Arias, “Authoring Ethnicized Subjects.”

(70.) Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 292.

(71.) Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena: And Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. David Allison (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 156.

(72.) Omar Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” in Remembering to Say “Mouth” or “Face,” 74, 75.

(73.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 77.

(74.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 78.

(75.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 78.

(76.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 78.

(77.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 82.

(78.) See Ruud Van Akkeren, Xib’alb’a y el nacimiento del nuevo sol (Guatemala City: Piedra Santa, 2012).

(79.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 82.

(80.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 83.

(81.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 85.

(82.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 85.

(83.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 85.

(84.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 86.

(85.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 88.

(86.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 88.

(87.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 88.

(88.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 88.

(89.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 88.

(90.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 89.

(91.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 89.

(92.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 89.

(93.) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove, 1963).

(94.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 90.

(95.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 91.

(96.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 92.

(97.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 92.

(98.) The root [-loq] means to love, in the sense of display affection for someone. For example, Katinloq’oj—I like you, I love you, Aj loq’—Affectionate, Loq’ chire—is appreciated/loved by him. Sergio Romero, personal communication, February 24, 2015.

(99.) Héctor-Neri Castañeda, Omar’s father, was born in San Vicente, Zacapa, on Guatemala’s eastern part, adjacent to Q’eqchi’ territory, by the Motagua River. At the beginning of “Crossing the Border,” Castañeda gives clues to indicate that his fictional “Motagua” village is modeled on San Vicente Zacapa, including the salty nature of the river that naturally embalmed Raul Cáscara.

(100.) In Q’eqchi’, loq’olaj also means “sacred,” “something loved,” or “valued.” However, the corresponding verb -loq’onink- differs from -loq’oj in K’iche’. It is not used for “love” in a personal sense as in K’iche’. “I love you” in K’iche’ is katinloq’oj, whereas in Q’eqchi’ it is nakatinra, where the verbal root is [-ra] from the verb “want/love.” Sergio Romero, personal communication, February 26, 2015.

(101.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 92–93.

(102.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 93.

(103.) Castañeda, “Crossing the Border,” 86.

(104.) For Mayas and other Mesoamerican cultures, there existed thirteen heavens ruled by thirteen deities.

(105.) Milian, Latining America, 148.

(106.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 139.

(107.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 121.

(108.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 140.

(109.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 140.

(110.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 140.

(111.) Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).

(112.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 141.

(113.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 142.

(114.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 142. Pox is a liquor made of corn, sugarcane, and wheat. It is used for ceremonial purposes. The word means “medicine” or “cure” in Tsotsil.

(115.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 142.

(116.) Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

(117.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 143.

(118.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 143.

(119.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 146.

(120.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 146.

(121.) Ruiz, “Ta o’lol takin osil,” 147.

(122.) Agamben, Homo Sacer, 28-29.

(123.) Mark Rifkin, “Indigenizing Agamben: Rethinking Sovereignty in Light of the ‘Peculiar’ Status of Native Peoples,” Cultural Critique 73 (Fall 2009): 88–124. Quote on page 94.

(124.) Boj López, “Mobile Archives of Indigeneity,” 2.

(125.) Batz, “Maya Cultural Resistance in Los Angeles,” 205.

(126.) Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).

(127.) Sandra Gonzales, “Colonial Borders, Native Fences,” in Comparative Indigeneities of the Américas (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press), 309.

(128.) Gonzales, “Colonial Borders, Native Fences,” 309.