By Vanesa Gutierrez, with Shaylan Dolmo, Etelbina Houser, and Antonio Flores Quin
Every year, many people across the United States with cultural ties to Latin America kick off Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating their country’s independence from Spanish rule. Latin America, however, is more than its ties to Spanish colonization.
“Podemos reconocer la historia violenta como parte de la colonización, el abuso que sufrieron nuestros antecesores, principalmente las mujeres, pero también podemos enaltar a las comunidades afrodescendientes e indígenas. Hemos hecho mucho trabajo para ser reconocidos, y si el censo lo hizo, también pueden enaltecer a las comunidades originarias en estos días de herencia hispana para recordar el suelo que pisamos,”1 explains Antonio Flores Quin, a Purhepecha and a member of the Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios. Pueblos Originarios is a multicultural group of Indigenous communities—mainly the Ñuu Savi, Purhepecha, and Kichwa—that advocates for displaced Indigenous people who currently reside in Coast Salish Land, known as Western Washington.
It is vital we honor the Indigenous, African, and Afro-Indigenous people who have built and sustained a legacy of resistance in Latin American and beyond. Afro-indigenous and Indigenous peoples continue resisting the erasure of their cultures by preserving their customs, uplifting and empowering their communities, and building coalition among other communities.
“Nuestra cultura trae riqueza a nivel mundial,”2 proclaims Etelbina Houser, the Board Director at Anichigu Luma Amenigini (ALA) Garifuna Women, an organization empowering the Garifuna community through education and community building throughout Washington. In Central America the Garifuna are known for Punta, a traditional dance, but Shaylan Dolmo, President of ALA Garifuna Women, invites people to learn about the Garifuna people to combat stereotypes about their community. “Fuera de la comunidad Garífuna, no nos conoce mucha gente. Somos la minoría en todos los aspectos. Pero conocernos honestamente ayuda a evitar el mito de que solo somos morenas que bailan punta.” 3
Antonio Flores Quin is a comunero4 working with the Indigenous and Latino communities to improve social conditions in Washington. In 2009, Antonio participated in conversations encouraging King County to adopt sanctuary policies to ensure undocumented people have equal access to healthcare services. In 2010, Antonio received an award from the Washington State Commission of Hispanic Affairs for his work organizing Indigenous and Latino communities against local law enforcement cooperating with the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the city of Pacific. Though, Antonio is proud to build power among all communities experiencing marginalization, he is not Hispanic. He requested the award recognize his identity before he accepted. The Commission obliged, and Antonio received his award with a letter signed by then-Governor Christine Gregoire correctly identifying him as Purhepecha.
This Hispanic Heritage Month, Seattle Foundation invites our community to learn about these cultures often obscured and omitted by the concept of latinidad.
We can start by recognizing Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous people beyond the stereotypes present in media and society. “Quiero que sepan que existimos,”5 says Shaylan. “La cultura Garífuna es rica. La lengua, la comida, la danza incluso. La identificación que otros nos dan los demás no ofende, porque es nuestra cultura. Pero queremos que se nos reconozca también por lo que podemos desarrollar como profesionales, como mujeres, como seres humanos.”6
We must also learn that honoring Indigenous people means honoring the land. For the Purhepecha, people come from nature—“la naturaleza nos da la vida, nos sostiene y cura.” 7 To understand the relationship between land and people, Antonio retells a story told to him by an Indigenous friend and teacher from Ecuador. “The same way there are trees with thin trunks and giant trunks, and animals who fly and those who swim, so too are humans diverse—la naturaleza es la diversidad.”8 Forcing people into categories they did not create or choose for themselves dishonors the diversity of people.
Learn more about El Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios through the Learning from Community Stories project, funded by Communities of Opportunity, to hear their stories of communal resilience throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Indigenous people and cultures are not a monolith. Learning with humility and compassion is the first step in true allyship. Etelbina and Shaylan remind us, “Juntos podemos. Cuando conocemos la historia y la cultura de los demás podemos aliarnos y luchar juntos.”9
Vanesa Gutierrez is a Seattle Foundation Program Officer. Shaylan Dolmo and Etelbina Houser of ALA Garifuna Women and Antonio Flores Quin of Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios contributed.