Indian Was the Name Used to Subjugate Us, Indian Is the Name by Which We Will Be Liberated

FROM THE EDITORS: During the October 2019 protests in Ecuador led by indigenous groups and social justice organizations, politicians made openly racist statements, replicated by the media and promoted by social networks, that deeply polarized the country. Below we share a clear response to racist comments made on a popular podcast, raising calls for inquiries from human rights organizations. Subtitled, “Co-reasoned letter for Luis Eduardo Vivanco and Andersson Boscán de La Posta,” academic Verónica Yuquilema exposes the colonialist and classist roots of this type of comments and actions, made under the veil of “freedom of expression.”

SOURCE: Published originally in Riksinakuy** and Línea de Fuego

As a child, the word Indian excluded me, hurt me, vexed me, humiliated me, and that’s why I fought, I fight, and I will continue fighting so that no one dares to use it indiscriminately.

However, the Indian term itself, dear Luis Eduardo and Andersson, does not offend us, does not hurt us, does not reproduce racism. In fact, the great leader Domitila Quispe in Bolivia gave a new meaning to this colonial adjectivation by declaring: “Indian was the name used to subjugate us, Indian is the name by which we will be liberated.”

No, it is not the term. What does constitute racism is those who say it in a racist manner, and the colonial system that perpetuates it, that is, the meaning, form, context, and power that this word engenders, which on this occasion, you shout at the four winds in the shows transmitted by the La Posta. It isn’t funny and it is not a joke. It is racism, the purest form of colonialism. For you, from your privileged space of heterosexual, white-mestizos men, you use Indian to persecute a determined group that has been historically imprisoned, murdered, violated, and enslaved by the privileged class that still governs the country.

Your intention to “come after the leaders” of the Indigenous and Popular Uprising is biased and racist, and begs to ask the question: Why don’t you use the same amount of time and money to fight the real culprits of this economic debacle? Which incidentally dates from the beginning of the Republic―is not a symptom of recent years―and has become more acute because every ruler who has not been an Indian, by the way, has sold our country to the highest bidder?

Certainly, those who were not born Indian, in a country where the Indian was animalized and labeled as savage until just last century, could never understand the dimension of living with that weight on one’s back. You will never understand what the word Indian means to a boy or a girl who is struggling to be treated as a person in school, not being able to fully live their childhood. This text is not to demand your understanding but respect. I demand that you put aside your comfortable place that has condemned you to the deepest ignorance, and see the story that exists beyond your eyes of white-mestizo men.

Reading and rewriting history through the memory of our ancestors, we are taught that the word Indian―evoked mercilessly by you in your show, and invented in the fifteenth century by the Spanish colonizers―was the moral and legal justification to commit one of the greatest genocides and epistemicides in the world.

It is not Leonidas Iza. It is not Jaime Vargas. [Two indigenous leaders persecuted for their activism.] It is not the highlands. It is not the feathers. What condemns the country to backwardness is the colonialism, hetero-patriarchy, and capitalism that you disseminate in your show.

When you, Luis Eduardo and Andersson, repeat incessantly without qualms: “Indian found, Indian prisoner,” or we will put you in jail until you cease to exist, or dare to speak of Nazism, you make it clear to us that your mind is immersed in excessive and daring ignorance.

We are more than a million “Indians,” self-determined as such, and if we retell the brutal history of social and cultural whitening and mestizaje [acculturation] imposed on us, we could say that your words directly violate the majority of Ecuadorians and Ecuadorians.

I know you are going to say that this is another crutch used to victimize ourselves and cover the sun with a finger, that you are not racist because Mr. Vivanco has an Indian tattooed on his back. How he honors us! At this point, we are ashamed and even terrified by the idea that at the pretext of your tattooed Indian, you continue to plunge the entire population into your colonial thought.

I also know you are going to say this declaration is coming from a place of resentment and low self-esteem. We already know these arguments well because the history we read and learn with our fathers and mothers―and also in the books of non-“indian” academics who are aware and reflective of the epistemicide of which we remain objects―show us that what you do is simply give continuity to a historical libretto of perpetuation of colonialism.

Indigenous leaders gathered at the Parlamento de los Pueblos (the People´s Parlament) in Ecuador, februrary 2020. Fuente: Ecuarunari.

The same colonialism that labeled us as Indians, and now as indigenous, is the one that tried and tries to eliminate our philosophies, epistemologies, and ontologies of life. It is the same that sold Indians as farm animals in auctions by expropriating landowners. That colonialism that you boast in repeating, “We jail another 200 and so on, until there’s no more of them”, suggested “bravely” by Mr. Boscan, was the same colonialism that jailed, killed, and raped us and sought our extinction. It was the word Indian which was used and is still used to subdue us, trample on us, kill, persecute, imprison, prosecute us, and as you suggest: make us disappear.

On your program on November 21, 2019, you were not attacking one or two people, you were trampling over each and every person who is runakuna―”Indian”―and mestizos who celebrate their “Indian side.” You are committing a criminal act when you make an ode to violence against Indians and that, dear journalists, is a historical aberration. It is total ignorance of the nefarious history that pierces through us as Ecuadorians. The monster called racism has already done enough damage throughout the world but apparently, it continues to run through your veins and unconsciously―at least I want to think so―you are reproducing it without the slightest shame.

Listening to you I am convinced that saying we have lived 527 years of resistance against colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy is not rhetoric. I am also convinced that pointing out a racist act, however “tiny” it may seem, is not victimhood. It is not an inferiority complex or lack of self-love. It is not.

It is not simply because your bodies do not live or feel what ours endure day by day, minute by minute. You’ve never had the courage nor strength to have to cope with insults like “your Indian is coming out” or “do not behave like an Indian,” to which we are subjected to every day, not 500 years ago, but today in the XXI century. You do not know what it is like to live abused in a body stripped of its humanity. They don’t know and that’s why they shout the Indian word in their social networks the way they do.

For years I’ve been feeling and fighting against the traces left by colonialism and its most visible face: racism. I carry out this task because bodies like mine have had to fight not only against the current colonial republicanism but also their predecessor, the colonial, heteropatriarchal and capitalist Crown of Castile.

The time I have spent on this struggle is nothing compared to what all my predecessors have had to endure. And yet, I confess, I am really tired of shouting, exhorting, demanding, saying that in Ecuador there is racism, and it is so violent that those who profess it do not have enough common sense and hide their racism under freedom of expression when saying “Indian found, Indian prisoner.” It is so violent that privileged ladies, somewhere in Ecuador, play at “place the feather on Indian Jaime Vargas” and nobody, nobody condemns it. On the contrary, they see it as a joke.

It is so violent that they urge, as always, to imprison the “inciting, vandal Indians” as responsible for the economic crisis. Let’s imprison them until they cease to exist, they say, and say it without any scruples. What a shame!

If they want to give us lessons on ethics, they should start at home. Why not dedicate their wisdom as independent, objective, and transparent journalists to condemn, as they have “indigenous ringleaders,” the leaders of the Social Christian party, Cynthia Viteri and Jaime Nebot who incited open confrontations last October? There is enough evidence about the violence unleashed by their inciting statements and, in fact, the polarization experience today in our country is largely due to those racist, classist, regionalist, and separatist statements.

Why not condemn with the same firmness the statements and actions of Minister of Defense Oswaldo Jarrín who, without hesitation at the height of the Uprising, publicly stated that the armed forces were permitted to use firearms against the population in resistance, stirring and polarizing the Ecuadorian society? Why have they not dared to interview the distinguished ladies of the Ecuadorian coast who play at “place the feather on Indian Jaime Vargas” and condemn their racism? If you want to give us lessons on ethics, begin by digging up the history of honorable and honest families who support your alleged freedom of expression.

When I write I take care of each word to avoid being accused of presenting myself as a “hung-up victim of social resentment.” But I also do it to avoid creating or expanding the mental and affective dividing lines that today, as centuries ago, has made our country so fragile. I do it because although my words do not have much echo, nor funding for their dissemination, I know that I have a responsibility to promote unity, respect and, above all, a little humanity.

The responsibility I take upon myself, not being a journalist, is what I’m demanding from you who call yourselves journalists. If you boast of being good journalists, take responsibility for your actions and do us a favor, to all Ecuadorians: read some history and read it with an open heart and mind.

Read and educate yourselves well, which is what we are doing, to thus avoid repeating the harmful history of this country under the white-mestizo political elite in power that keeps us on the path of impoverishment and debt, and continue to lead us to believe that Ecuadorians are not capable of building a different project for this country, without outside mirrors, but with other southern countries in horizontal collaboration.

Read about those who have ruled us for almost 200 years of this Republic and you’ll realize it hasn’t been the Indians who have impoverished this country, quite the contrary, we are the ones who have sustained their class, “race” and gender privileges . Yes, we recognize your classist discourse too.

These words I write will wear out under their eyes and hearts, they will lack meaning for them. When I decided to write it, I did not know the tone I should use: of rage and indignation or awareness. The first came up and, as a complement, an appeal to human sense. Well, we are tired of appealing to the common sense of people who irresponsibly, and perhaps even intentionally, insist on dividing the Ecuadorian population by encouraging racism. We are tired because it seems reason is useless against wounded and foolish hearts. We’re then left with awareness as we seek some empathy in light of indifference.

You will never understand what the word Indian means to a girl who is beginning her childhood. You will never understand, we know that. That is why, if there is any humanity left, we only demand that in order to begin to heal the colonial wounds that manifest themselves in your racism, you must recognize your colonialism, reflect, reason, and decolonize your thought and thus, at some point, make us proud to call you Ecuadorian journalists.

Enough of racism! We reject colonialism!

* Revista RIKSINAKUY: We are an open space to internal and rousing voices as indigneous peoples and nationalities, that seek pluralize and de-hegemonize the dominant and unique universal thought. Through its authors and actors, it assumes itself as a subject and from their own feelings and thoughts writes and rewrites the story untold and invisible for centuries.

Verónica Yuquilema Yupangui

Verónica Yuquilema Yupangui

Abogada y candidata a doctorado en Poscolonialismos y Ciudadanía Global en la Universidad de la Universidad de Coimbra en Portugal. Kichwa Puruwa de Ecuador, sus intereses académicos incluyen el pluralismo jurídico, el derecho indígena y la sociología jurídica, y los derechos humanos.

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