Much of the history of the Americas has been determined by a legacy of colonization and imperialism.

One of the most controversial pieces of this legacy is the debate over who counts as indigenous peoples – and in particular, the dispute concerning whether Mexicans qualify as indigenous. This article will provide an in-depth look into the current debate over whether Mexicans are considered indigenous and its origins.

What Does it Mean to be Indigenous?

Before delving into the particular question concerning whether Mexicans are considered to be indigenous, it is important to establish a broad definition of the term “indigenous.” In very general terms, to be indigenous is to be of a population native to a certain region, with cultural and economic ties to that particular geographic location. This definition highlights the importance of context, as what counts as indigenous may vary from culture to culture.

Furthermore, this definition does not provide a full picture of the complexity surrounding terminology. For instance, some scholars have argued that a people do not need to inhabit the same land as their ancestors to qualify as indigenous, instead relying on a sense of shared ancestry and shared cultural practices in order to confer a sense of belonging and identity.

History of Discourse concerning Indigenous Mexicans

The dispute over who is considered to be an indigenous Mexican has been longstanding, with many scholars tracing the start of the debate to the 16th century. During this period, Spanish conquistadors drew strict racial distinctions between European settlers and “indios” (Indians) in Mexico. This concept of “Indianness” was bolstered by its enshrinement in the 1824 Mexican Constitution, which declared that the land belonged to “Indians, Mestizos, and Castizos.”

These categories were based largely on beliefs concerning racial categories, rather than any concrete definition of indigenousness. For instance, malinchismo– the valorization of foreign people, objects, and cultures– was utilized as a tool by imperialist powers to differentiate between those who were “Indians” and those who were not. Furthermore, being labeled as an “Indian” was generally associated with poverty and backwardness during this time period.

This racialized concept of indigenousness was further complicated by the fact that there was no consensus as to who, precisely, counted as an “Indian.” For the most part, this decision was left up to local authorities, who would assess an individual or a family in order to decide whether or not they were considered to be indigenous. This subjectivity resulted in many families of indigenous backgrounds not being recognized as such.

The Debate Today

The debate over who can be considered an indigenous Mexican is still ongoing today, with many scholars making a case for regionally-based definitions of indigenousness. Such a definition draws from many of the same cultural practices that were accepted during the colonial period, including language and traditional ceremonies. This definition also highlights the importance of acknowledging the individuality of indigenous identity for individuals and communities, as well as respecting the local context.

The recent debate over the concept of “indigenousness” has been further complicated by the fact that many Mexican communities have historically lacked a sense of collective identity. This is evidenced by the fact that in 2002, a census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography found that only 2% of Mexicans identified themselves as “Indigenous, Autochthonous, Indigenous-Mexican, Mayo, or Yaqui.”

In addition, the concept of “indigenousness” continues to be hotly contested as a result of the legacy of racism that persists in Mexico today. For instance, in 2012 the government of Mexico City declared that all people living in the capital who could prove an indigenous background would be allowed to register in their municipality and benefit from policies geared towards indigenous wellbeing. However, some have argued that such policies publicly label those of indigenous background and perpetuate the idea that they should differentiate themselves from their non-indigenous counterparts.

Ultimately, whether a Mexican is considered to be indigenous or not is a complex and multifaceted question. While many scholars have argued that Mexicans can be considered indigenous based on a range of cultural practices and local connections, such a definition is clouded by historically rooted and ongoing issues of racism, colonialism, and inequality. As such, it is important to continue to acknowledge that indigenous identity is subject to context and to focus on protecting the rights and dignity of all people regardless of their background.