Historical Appreciation: Reflecting on the 2016 Presidential Election - Higher Education
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Historical Appreciation: Reflecting on the 2016 Presidential Election

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by Roberto Rodriguez

On election night, I received hundreds of messages from friends and colleagues from throughout the country. Most seemed to be in utter disbelief. When I got to campus in the morning, I went into the student lounge where I came upon students who were crying.

All day, everyone kept asking me: “How do you feel?”

Strong and determined, primarily because I was prepared. In large part, because I come from peoples who were subjected to the worst genocide in human history (tens of millions) and thus, despair and hopelessness, which I initially have seen all around me, are not part of my reality.

“It is better to die on our feet than to live on our knees.” That was Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata’s admonition. This is the precise time we should be summonsing the wisdom and courage of our ancestors, whether they be indigenous, African or Asian, etc. Perhaps we will all soon be declaring: “We are all Zapatistas.”

Soy macehual and like millions like me, I come from the south, and I am related to all the original peoples of this continent, and I acknowledge that it is our ancestors who already have done the suffering for us.

While I have come across people who believe that the election was irrelevant and that both candidates were equally evil, most people I have come across appear to be genuinely horrified by the results. This is what caused me to remember that I come from peoples that have endured hundreds of years of efforts to exterminate us. As is commonly said in indigenous circles: “We were never meant to survive.” And yet we are here.

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In the Nahuatl language, a writer like myself in the ancient days might have been referred to as “In tlilli, in tlapalli,” or a “possessor of the red and black ink.” This is a metaphor for those that wrote books. Centuries ago, such books were confiscated and destroyed by the colonial priests, this in Mexico, Central America and the Andes (the Quipu). Those that wrote such books, or who even possessed them, were tortured and or put to death. Similarly, anyone that had medicinal or traditional knowledge, especially women, were deemed to be witches and satanic, and suffered a similar fate.

The objective of these practices was to disconnect the people from their elders and their thousands of years of connection to the land, their ceremonies and their ancestral knowledge. Such practices were referred to as reducciones, or forced assimilation into Spanish/Christian culture, also known as “de-indigenization.”

How do I feel?

I feel undaunted; it is my ancestors who, during the Colonial Era, were subjected to that physical, spiritual and cultural genocide, including forced migrations, forced slavery, forced conversions and imposed [Western] education. This included training the children to turn in their own parents.

I am not despondent, yet I do acknowledge that it is not a good day for this country, or for humanity itself. And yet, how do I feel?

It makes me appreciate my Black and indigenous relatives, their history and their current resistance. It makes me appreciate my Asian, Arab, Muslim, LGBT and disabled relatives also. It makes me appreciate all those who have had to endure hundreds of years of subjugation and dehumanization and ostracization, especially those that anonymously toil daily and thanklessly, particularly in the fields.

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We are on the brink of fascism, but am I scared? No. And yet, many around me are because of the president-elect’s promise to deport millions of brown people within 18 months, plus his promise to build a 2,000-mile wall and his vow to eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This includes many of my students and former students, and close friends. Yet many continue to be fearless despite the election that has already unleashed rage, fury, vigilante harassment and violence nationwide amid chants of “build the wall.”

This election has turned back the nation’s clock, embracing the worst aspects of its history, including xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, and especially the fear and hate of people of color. Worse, the election was dog-whistled as a last-ditch effort to protect the nation’s sovereignty and its White supremacist roots as part of a fear of the “browning of America.” With Congress and the Supreme Court also under his control, we now appear to be firmly on a generational path to apartheid.

How do I feel? I feel it is my duty to teach what my elders have taught me, that every square inch on this continent is part of Turtle Island or Abya Yala and not one inch has ever been ceded peacefully.

It is a time to reach deeply for that profound knowledge that we have inherited, including and especially our ancestral knowledge and our memories of resistance to be able to stand strong. Yet the next few years will be a time of creation-resistance. What we create will even be more important than what we resist. Oh, and yes, I can guarantee he will never be accepted as president by the peoples of Abya Yala.

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We were never meant to survive … yet here we are.

Roberto Rodriguez can be reached at [email protected]

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