The Brown Berets have a storied history in this country, somewhat akin to the Black Panthers. But for this story, what concerns us is their recent history in Tucson, Arizona. Two weeks ago, two members were assaulted and arrested, charged with aggravated assault against police officers, while part of a protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies. And it was not the first time they had been singled out, assaulted and arrested.
These particular arrests were different. That is, within 45 seconds of the beginning of a march, police swept in and went straight for the Berets. At this time a Black Lives Matter activist was also assaulted and arrested along with an 84-year-old woman. A number of people were also maced, including several University of Arizona students.
There is a long list of similar instances where the Berets have been singled out. Most notably, this is true during the ethnic studies struggle in which the state superintendent charged that Raza studies was outside of Western Civilization.
The irony of this logic is that the superintendent asserted that peoples that are indigenous to this continent were somehow interlopers. His primary argument was that Greco-Roman culture (from Europe) should be taught in Arizona, but not the indigenous culture of Mexican peoples or Chicanas/Chicanos. The superintendent went so far as to single out the Berets and to blow up photographs of them for the media, as representing that “alienness.”
Also, during one of the highly militarized board meetings in 2011, two Berets were assaulted, resulting in broken ankles and wrists. But beyond the physical assault, it was the assertion by the superintendent that highlighted an absurdity: peoples that are native to these lands had become the foreigners, while the actual foreigners became the “natives.”
This absurdity resulted in one of my colleagues, Norma Gonzalez, being forced to take down a presentation regarding the Aztec calendar by the principal, who asserted that, as a result of the HB 2281 legislation, it had become illegal to teach that lesson.
The ethnic studies lawsuit still is being litigated and is expected to go to trial, perhaps this spring. However, what has not been litigated is whether Mexicans in this country are part of a foreign and illegitimate culture. With the recent arrest of the Berets, perhaps it is time to take that assertion to court. The fiction that European descendants and European culture are native to these lands has been normalized and has never really been contested in court.
That one would have to prove that brown peoples are indigenous to these lands is actually upside down. Perhaps what should be taken to court is the reverse: how did people from Europe become “natives” in the eyes of the law, and how did people that are clearly native become foreigners (bigger guns)?
It is a question that is 100 percent relevant today, given the new president’s immigration executive orders, which, in effect, has authorized ethnic cleansing. The question that would arise is, how does one prove that Mexican peoples are native to these lands? The very fact that they are primarily native should suffice (should we use DNA or a simple mirror?)
Interestingly, a series of maps can be introduced that clearly depict an ancient presence of Mexican indigenous peoples to these lands that pre-exist the United States. There are several hundred maps, covering a span of hundreds of years that depict this.
For example, the 1847 Disturnell Map is actually part of the living Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Near the Confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers, there is a citation that reads: “Antigua Residencia de los Aztecas (Ancient residence of the Aztecs).” If one goes back some 80 years to the 1768 Alzate Map, there is a citation from the Salt Lake region: “de los contornos de esta laguna dicen haver salido los Yndios Mexicanos para fundar su imperio.” It says here that “Mexican Indians left the Salk Lake region to found their empire in Mexico.”
Forty years further back, and the 1729 Barreiro Map has this citation, also from the Salt Lake region: “Laguna de Teguaio o ostero azul de donde salieron los Yndios Mexicanos con su Principe a Poblar a mexico.” This map also says that the Mexican Indians left from this region “with their prince to found Mexico.”
Not to be forgotten is that the United States did not yet exist in either 1768 or 1729. Also not to be forgotten is that today’s borders are not only arbitrary, but a product of imperialism and land theft.
It is possible that these maps are inaccurate, but it seems like a good time to put them to a test, if not in these trials, perhaps another one. It should be up to the government to explain these maps away. Please tell us why we should not believe these maps that appear to establish a prior presence of Mexican peoples in what is today the United States. And if the government does not believe the maps, please check the origin of maiz, and when and how it arrived in what is today the United States. Who do they think brought this ancient crop here, a crop that was apparently created in Southern Mexico near Central America?
Dr. Roberto Rodriguez is an associate professor in Mexican American studies at the University of Arizona.