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Remarks at Indigenous Peoples Day 2020 in Des Moines

Iowa State Capitol grounds, October 12, 2020

Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz speaking at Indigenous Peoples Day 2020 in Des Moines
Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz speaking at Indigenous Peoples Day 2020 in Des Moines Photo: Jon Krieg / AFSC

Hi, my name is Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz, he/they pronouns, I am a community organizer with AFSC Iowa/Iowa JFON (soon to be Iowa MMJ – Migrant Movement for Justice). We fight to keep families together and we fight for liberation. I’m gonna to talk about migration and history erasure.

Facebook racists say that the tearing down of statues means erasing our history, but it is this very statue that represents Indigenous genocide and the violent erasure of history. The beautiful and powerful history of those who cared for and enriched the lands we walk on today. 

When I was asked to speak, I was asked about my identity. How do I identify? Sadly I don’t have an answer. I don’t have an answer for you and I don’t have an answer for myself either. Am I Hispanic, Latinx, Latino, Latine, Chicano, Mexican-American, Indigenous, Meztizo? Am I brown, am I white? I don’t know but I wish I did.

My parents have never really had an answer for this and Google has never been much help either.  My parents like many others migrated here from different conquered lands. The state of Jalisco, Mexico. A state in which a single family can have children with varying amounts of melanin. Lands once roamed by Cazcanes, Cocas, Coras, Cuyutecos, Guachichiles, Huicholes, Otomíes, Purépecha, Tecuexes, and the Tepehuanes. So much rich history but much of which has essentially been erased. Tribes that can no longer be distinguished and history that has not been adequately conserved nor recognized. Instead it’s been replaced by tales of violent Indians and brave cowboys. Does that sound familiar?

The Spanish enslaved the Indigenous in exchange for Christianity and a false sense of unity. A false sense of unity that exists to this day. Meztizaje is not a beautiful reflection of different worlds coming together. It is the reflection of violent Anti-Blackness and Indigenous genocide. 

Mexico, the USA, and Canada in many ways represent forced assimilation, forced migration, history erasure and stolen lands. And all of that is of course still happening today.

Sometimes it’s trade deals written by mega corporations forcefully taking Indigenous lands and forcing my parents and many others to leave their families in order to find a job in the US so they can send money home. Other times, it’s climate change caused by corporate greed that is pushing communities from lands they’ve inhabited for centuries. Or maybe it’s imperialist military coups creating instability across the globe. What these colonists are saying is that you have to leave your lands, you just can’t come here. If you do come here, you have to act and sound like us and we can kick you out when we want. 

That mentality lives in our communities. It lives in our laws. Immigration laws that tell Indigenous communities that they are not free to roam the land that belongs to them. English only laws like the one in Iowa that say that in order to survive and succeed you must assimilate. A police state that incarcerates and enslaves BIPOC.  And economic laws that say that our communities can never be equal.

The Americas have also seen beautiful acts of solidarity and Black and Indigenous-led movements of decolonization. The Zapatistas of Chiapas chanted “Ya Basta!” and demanded their land and their liberation, and they won. So can we.

We are not demanding that we take down statues in order to erase history, we are doing so that we can finally start to restore and celebrate the history that for many generations has been purposely and forcefully erased. We are decolonizing. We are asking for liberation. Some people choose to migrate, others don’t. But that decision should no longer be in the hands of the colonizers.

Here are more photos of this event as well as Quaker blogger Jeff Kisling's blog and photos. Coverage included the Des Moines Register and KCCI-TV.

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