Opinion: Learning to love my Native roots

"My mom is Quechan Native American and grew up in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles, while my dad was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in New York. So, I have Indian from both sides. One side is Taino Indian, the people who were raped by Columbus and whose land he stole. Quechan Indians are from Arizona. Their land is right on the border of Mexico and Arizona and was occupied by the Spaniards. From what I’ve read on the Internet, the Quechans fought the Spaniards. They weren’t wiped out like many other tribes were. It makes me proud that they fought the conquerors. If I were around back then, I would have been one of the main warriors.

My mom’s immediate family has lived in Los Angeles since the early 1900s, while the rest of her family lived on the reservation in Arizona. In Los Angeles, they struggled growing up as Indians in the barrio. The Pachucos – Mexican gangsters in Los Angeles during the 1940s, famous for wearing Zoot Suits and fighting with sailors – used to beat up my grandma and my mom’s uncles just for being Indian. That just shows how ignorant people are about their own history and how their race came into existence. A lot of Latinos deny their Indian roots because they were brainwashed by Christianity and Spanish culture. In Mexican culture, “indio” is the same as “poor and stupid.”

Because of the pressure, my mom’s uncles converted into the Mexican culture and became hardcore cholos in the 1940s and 50s. One of my great-uncles even joined the Mexican Mafia while doing a 30-year sentence in prison. When the second-generation was born in L.A. – my mom, aunt and uncle – the same thing happened all over again.

My uncle was harassed for being Indian and he later became a cholo. Now, he’s a “veterano” – or an O.G. – and an alcoholic. My uncle finally found his roots late in life, after years of incarceration and two gunshots to the face. Now, he lives on an Indian reservation in Arizona with his girlfriend and paints Indian images."

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Alex Cantero: Indian Cholo -- Learning to Love My Native Root (YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia 7/19)