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 don’t think means that we own the land in that strict sense. I think that this concept means that we have this ancestral heritage. [It’s] 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 we are.
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 there’s 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 years.
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 being “American”?

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 don’t think so. I don’t think there’s 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. There’s nothing more American than tamales. There’s 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 isn’t simply a matter of how long you’ve 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 don’t think there’s 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 don’t think other peoples have anything to fear from that.