IN SEARCH OF AZTLÁN
Dr. Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez Interview
July 31, 1999
Q: Why is it important for Aztlán to be a place on a map? What
is the significance for Chicanos and Chicanas?
A: The existence of the maps, and existence of the concept of Aztlán
. . . I dont think means that we own the land in that strict sense.
I think that this concept means that we have this ancestral heritage.
[Its] marked on the maps, but at the same time I think Aztlán
has taught us, through the immersion in our ancestral heritage, we have
learned to always be very respectful of the people of the land wherever
There are different tribal peoples. There are many tribes in the Americas,
and here, as I speak, I am conscious of the Chumash tribal peoples being
the people of the land of where we are right now [Santa Barbara, California].
And all of these tribal people have their own origin stories, their mythologies.
And they correspond to certain geographic phenomena, to certain land bases,
to certain things that you can locate on maps. And so this term, Aztlán,
in no way should represent an encroachment upon the multiplicity of tribal
peoples and tribal cultures in the Americas and in Mexico. And I think,
if anything, it has deepened our understanding of the interconnection
between tribal peoples, because we know that theres a long history
of migrations of tribal peoples and that in these migrations there has
been a lot of exchange, a lot of mutual influence and learning, [an] exchange
of different knowledge that has happened for thousands and thousands of
And so Aztlán does not mean well here we are, and we own
this U.S. Southwest. Not at all. It means many things about our
civil rights movement and about our having opened a window into our self-understanding,
but also to the understanding of the many other tribal peoples.
Q: How do you respond to those who say that Chicano people should not
focus on being separate from the mainstream, that we should focus on just
A: There are people who might feel that the Chicano and Chicana revitalization
of indigenous culture is in some way un-American, or in contradiction
to our status of U.S. citizens or Mexican citizens. But, I dont
think so. I dont think theres any contradiction. I think the
strength of any people is in its roots. And in its understanding of being
rooted, deeply rooted, in a culture. To be a Native American does not
in any way imply that you are not American. It means that you have a particular
take on what it means to be American. It means that we understand what
is normally taught as American history. We understand it to be something
else. Because we know that the history of this continent extends far beyond
1848, 1836, beyond the Mayflower. The history of this land is thousands
and thousands of years old. And if anything, I think that Chicanas and
Chicanos and other tribal peoples can bring to this country a deepening
of an understanding of what history is. Our strength is certainly with
our ancestral history and with our understanding of where we come from.
I think the Euro-Americans stand to learn a great deal by also deepening
their understanding of who they are in their own tribal cultures. I think
everyone on the planet has these origins in tribal cultures, whether they
come from Scotland or Ireland or Germany. To be American cannot possibly,
I hope, be restricted to being something that was only existing in the
last two or three hundred years. Theres nothing more American than
tamales. Theres nothing more American than corn and beans. These
are just symbolic of the kinds of contributions that we have made to this
nation, and to nations around the planet. We have contributed any number
of cultural goods of humanistic understanding, of foods, and this is part
of what has to become part of the American equation and of our understanding
of what it means to be American. It has to go back much deeper, in time.
In fact, I would propose a history of the United States that begins with
Meso-America, allowing us to fill in many of the blank spaces that are
currently found in American history books.
Q: By the year 2050, the U.S. census projects that a quarter of the population
of the United States is going to be Latino. If this, indeed, happens,
might that be seen as the Aztlán-ization of America?
A: Well, if we are talking about the Aztlán-ization of America,
to me it would be the re-Indian-ization of the Americas. And I think that
would be healthy for everyone. I have noticed it isnt simply a matter
of how long youve been in the Americas. I know many people who have
Euro-American roots who go to Native American ceremonies and are able
to connect to the ancestral cultures of the Americas. I think it will
be a healthy step for more and more people to connect to the ancestral
knowledge that has been in the Americas for thousands of years. I think
that kind of knowledge is going to help save the planet. We have in the
Americas, in the ancestral knowledge, in the Native American knowledge,
a very profound ecological learning that has come down across the generations
about how to do sustainable agriculture, how to live in harmony with the
environment. This is the kind of knowledge, I think, that is going to,
hopefully, become more prevalent with this re-Indian-zation of the United
States of America. I think it will be to the benefit of everyone to try
to reverse some of the ecological damage that exists as a result of going
in directions that are a departure from the knowledge that we have received
about how to live on the land in harmony. So I dont think theres
anything to fear for the year 2050 when they say that that Latinas or
Latinos or Chicanas and Chicanos are going to be a twenty-five or thirty
percent or forty percent of the U.S. population. I think that the sooner
we return to a culture that knows how to respect this planet, the better.
And I think part of the profound respect of native peoples is the knowledge
of how to get along with others. Not just how to deal harmoniously with
the land, but how to live in harmony with other peoples, so I dont
think other peoples have anything to fear from that.