Re-Kindling the Fire of Chicanismo: The Imperative for Xican@ Liberation Encuentros
by Kristian Emiliano Vasquez
527 years of Indigenous resistance in las Américas against the globalizing world-system of capitalism, modernity, and the West (as a project) is an ongoing struggle that appears to also have a global impact. From Mauna Kea, to Puerto Rico, to Haiti, to Oakflat, to Guerrero, to the Amazon, and to El Salvador; to Hong Kong, to France, and to Kashmir; the world over has responded to these crises created out of the death impulses of Western civilization. There is a spirit of global rebellion that reaches far back to Palestine to the movements in Venezuela to the rejection of the settler national project of Canada. In the global north, particularly the third-space of the borderlands that encapsulates dispossessed bodies, cultures, and lived experiences, we find resistance to be fragmented and organized simultaneously. It is in this place of the settler-colonial metropole of the United States of Amerikkka where resistance and autonomy projects are not easy.
I speak here of Xican@ freedom struggles that every day are more and more undiscernable and unintelligible with the advent of a growing US Latinx multiculturalism. The desire to be pan-Latinx and to be absorbed into a US-based project of Latinidad is an attractive and dangerous terrain that we are currently witnessing. The Xican@ struggle, in all its articulations and manifestations across the US (and the continent), is in a dire position that necessitates revitalization and intergenerational engagement. I write for the desire to re-kindle the fire of Chicanismo, as a philosophical and transgressive praxis, that seeks new relationships of becoming Xican@ and that of being human. I write for the imperative for the manifestation of Xican@ liberation encuentros, where the emergence of familial gatherings can ignite the orientation toward a decolonial spirit of working toward justice, dignity, and collective freedom.
Much work today is being done in the name of Chicanismo: clandestine warriors, radical organizers, and spiritual artists who engage the world to build another, working toward solutions and imagining concrete practice. Yet, this work is constantly disavowed and deemed “problematic” and “exclusive.” What are the conditions that prompt youth and young people to respond to Xican@ politics in such a manner? Xican@ liberation encuentros have never been more necessary to respond to these accusations and modalities of lateral hostility.
While this imperative I desire is not new, it is an effort to consolidate and synthesize the issues that have culminated in our current era that have not been addressed with a collective voice. Many might point to the national dissolution of the national student organization of El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA) as the climax point of a dying Chicanismo amongst student organizers. While this analysis might have weight, it is shortsighted to suggest that a student group is the vanguard of Chicanismo. The National MEChA 2019 conference was only an example of the changing politics within the university and college campuses across the United States. In part of this is the ahistorical approach of these student organizers who neglect their own foundational papers and documents that have articulated the purpose and potential of such a group. MEChA was caught in the web of US Latinx multiculturalism, or rather, the growing cultural and political fragmentation amongst young People of Color in the United States. MEChA was never a Latinx organization and was not meant to be subsumed into those politics that reifies national identities of nation-states. Chicanismo, as a driving principle in MEChA, is an orientation that is supposed to guide students organizationally with an ethos, ethics, and responsibility. MEChA’s student membership fell short in maintaining this philosophical and ideological perspective and praxis. The national student organization allowed itself to disappear in an attempt to reconcile with communities that wanted to dictate the politics and viewpoints of Xican@s. This was a historic mistake; yet, MEChA does not die with the advent of national resolutions, MEChA is a Xican@ spirit that will rebuild itself from the ashes of estranged student organizers.
It should be noted that many MEChA chapters are continuing their projects and their movements for educational and political justice. The youth are not completely disillusioned. We all have something to learn from those MEChA chapters that continue to organize despite a “critical” critique of MEChA as being anti-XYZ.
For us to continue our work that carries the spirit of collective struggle for freedom we must connect and build our networks across communities that manifest in ways that dream of pueblos libres across the continent. In this effort, we must envision a transgressive, relational, and horizontal encuentro for Xican@s to convene and congregate to create visions and continental strategies for self-determination, decoloniality, and autonomy. We have a radical responsibility to re-work our analyses in a time of global unrest and growing oppressive powers. We have an urgency to build with a decolonial love.
The symbolic death of MEChA signals the relevance of revitalizing and re-wiring Xican@ politics. If anything, it also signals the decolonial imperative to propose a specificity to those Xican@ politics that are iterated through a particular notion of Xican@ Indigenista praxis. The persistence and strength of master narratives surrounding Chicanismo and Xican@ politics are what poisons the movements across the United States. We have a lot of work to do, and we must take that position with all its seriousness.
While this stands as a dream (as I cannot as an individual manifest these encuentros), the possibilities it encapsulates can be considered for the futures of Xican@ struggles and movements.
The most influential gatherings in Xican@ history, situated in the year 1969, is a dominant narrative of how people gathered and what historical documents would be produced. Popular history has no mention of subsequent gatherings, ones that would define and re-articulate Xican@ politics with shifting times, worldviews, and orientations. This might be a result of my own not doing the homework necessary, but I know through oral storywork that convenings did manifest, yet, their impact on today’s politics is unclear. Perhaps what I can offer at this moment is a call for some decentralized “Xican@ Intercontinental Committee” to form and think these issues through with the purpose of creating localized or regional encuentros. The horizon for these gatherings is already here, it is in our capacity to follow them through.
This call and desire for an encuentro is not meant to imagine an exhaustive gathering that will produce manifestos, plans of actions, and a continental movement. On the contrary, it is a gathering to share palabra, to offer seminar and engagement, and to organize ourselves toward that work needed in order to manifest our pueblos libres throughout the Americas, not only the southwest. It is the conscious work toward those formerly mentioned activities that will give life to our politics, cultural production, and organizing that can re-insert itself into the popular imagination for a world where many worlds fit, where Xican@s are encouraged to offer gifts to the world rather than being told not to exist.
From wherever these words resonate, from the barrio to the university, if we are to take seriously our Xican@ political identities I am proposing we begin these encuentros to meet each other face to face, dialogue, and dream together. In the spirit of Zapatismo, I offer this dream that I dreamt, coming from my time in MEChA (2016-2017).
It should be apparent that these encuentros are intergenerational, invite Indigenous nations from the lands they are hosted on, and consider the radical People of Color political formations of the area to partake in the same dialogue. Our interdependence amongst Xican@s is also with others committed to struggle. The re-possession of our own destiny is in our hands. With the potential of academic conferences such as the 2020 National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies calling for a New Fire and flowering of a union of free pueblos, the spirit of Chicanismo and of Xican@ politics are being called forth.
Here are potential topics or points of discussion that might assist (not the end-all):
To unpack, synthesize, and create an action plan in response to our current era.
To build new networks, coalitions, and alliances amongst Xican@ youth, students, activists, and organizations with other struggles and what this means for us.
To center a decolonial intersectionality that does not heed toward (neo)liberal discourses of inclusivity/exclusivity and identity politics.
To root at the center of our work Indigenous struggle and Black liberation.
To produce manifestos and writings that address a continental, hemispheric, and global analysis of Xican@s and our imperative for interdependence with all our relations, i.e. to ground ourselves in decolonial notions of life and humanity.
To tackle the ideas that (re)produce oppression and death: coloniality, settler colonialism, anti-Black racism, Queerphobia, Transphobia, westernized structures of power, borders, empire, white supremacy and whiteness, etc.
To tackle the ideas that move us toward a Black and Indigenous futures: decoloniality, Indigenous survivance, radical sovereignty and autonomy, Black liberation, pluriversal epistemologies, decentralization/disassembly of power, etc.
To discuss the living synthesis of Chicanismo as a project for life.
To discuss what it means to be/become Xican@.
To engage the idea of futurity as Xican@ people.
To unpack the diverse and multiple subjectivities of Xican@ consciousness.
To re-wire popular notions of Aztlan (i.e. unmap the colonial 1848-Chicano Aztlan).
Our analysis and organization as a people struggling for liberation from psychological terror, material fantasies, and spiritual alienation are needed for future generations and the current youth who are bombarded with a regime of disidentification and Indigenous dispossession. Who we are as peoples of diverse and complicated histories from coloniality must be re-visited as an interaction of decolonial love and horizontal engagements of futurity. The spirit of the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference lives on in our work and our dreams.
About the author: Kristian (he/him/his) is a Xicano Punk of Mexican-origin, born and raised in South Gate, California (Tongva-Gabrielino land). He is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UC Santa Barbara (Chumash land). He is a writer/zinester/podcaster for Xicana Tiahui and an organizer for the Eagle and the Condor Liberation Front in Los Angeles. Kristian enjoys writing, reading, and listening to obscure vinyls on his spare time.