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Indegenous Population: Where Do They Fit?

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©IXMATI Communications, 2023. The unauthorized use or duplication of this material without permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mari D. González or IXMATI Communications with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

By Mari D. González

It is becoming more and more common to encounter indigenous people from Latin America in the U.S. who speak their indigenous languages and do not speak Spanish, yet they are learning English. They are mostly young men from Southern Mexico or Central America.

Last month, I interpreted for two young men in their early twenties for a recorded statement related to a car accident. Both were from Guatemala. The youngest seemed very shy. Although he understood most of the questions I asked in Spanish, he needed further interpretation from his cousin who was fluent in Spanish and three other indigenous languages from Guatemala.

According to scholars (Elliot, Adams, & Sockalingam, 1999) indigenous people in the Americas should not be “counted” as Latinos. From their comprehensive study on cultural groups in the U.S. in the communications field, they conclude that,

Latino is used to refer to people with a lineage or cultural heritage related to Latin America, but should not be used to refer to the millions of Native Americans in the region. [Furthermore] members of indigenous groups in Mexico… object to being referred as ‘Mexicans’ (Multicultural Toolkit Summary, Hispanic American Communication Patterns,  3).


  1. Joe Ray says:

    Interesting point here. I’ve heard the commentary that the scholars are quoting here and it makes sense from an academic standpoint. I have to chuckle on thinking back on this because being Latino (born in Mexico but raised in the US) and growing up on an Indian reservation in Arizona comprised of 4 different tribes- it was common to see Indios from Zacatecas, HIdalgo, Nayarit, etc. To the tribal members (US), they looked Indian, but were curious because they were Mexican, although they looked like them. In an area that was as mixed as this, there were a number of languages spoken, and lots of miscommunication as well as good communication. All of these people that I met said they were “Indio de Mexico”, after stating their tribal nationality. There are tribes in AZ that have inhabited the US and Mexico for centuries, their reservations and tribal governments are in AZ. Small detail in the big picture but an important one.

    I recommend watching El Norte, the 1983 movie directed by Gregory Nava. Great social and political tragedies and observations presented poignantly.

    • Mari D. Gonzalez says:

      Joe: Muchas gracias por su comentario. I love personal stories and to see how they are part of that bigger picture. I have always been fascinated by the history of the “borderlands.” Although I majored in Business Management and Communications, I was allowed to do my senior research project on Chicano and Mexican-American literature. For a lighter-skin Mexican who had grown up believing the myth of having French ancestry, this project was a real eye opening. The more I learn about the “other” history, the more I connect with my indigenous side. Culturally, we are more indigenous yet, “hay una directriz que nos separa” as a result of, still rooted, colonialist ideas. I hope the time will come when we reconcile with and embrace our indigenous people (and Mexicans of African-descent) as part of who we are culturally and nationally and to see them as equal citizens in a country where most of us feel so proud of our “mestizaje.” Then, and only then, we Mexicans will have a new and more positive ethnic identity as a whole.

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