How the term “BIPOC” helped me discover my indigenous ancestry

By Ichtaca Lira

Before I’d heard of the acronym BIPOC, or Black, Indigenous, and person/people of color, I didn’t think the term POC, or Person of Color, was missing anything. But increased visibility of the acronym BIPOC changed my perspective. The additional “BI” calls extra attention to the unique experiences that Black and Indigenous communities have historically faced around the world.

Until now, I didn’t realize that I am a living example of why that extra attention is important. Within the POC umbrella, I identify as Latinx. When I mentioned the acronym BIPOC to my mom, she told me of a time where she was instructed to introduce her name, heritage, and skin-color to a group, so she chose to mention that she was of Indigenous ancestry. And in that moment, a tight, uncomfortable feeling found its way into my throat.

“Why would you claim to be Indigenous?” I demanded.

“Tatiana, The Mixtecs are Indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico.” 

I was immediately embarrassed. The American education system had never taught me that Mixtec, Zapotec, Taino, Inca, and other groups could be considered as indigenous to Latin America. I was so used to hearing Indigenous being used in reference to Native American peoples that I had completely forgotten that the definition of indigenous could be used in any context or country. To be indigenous just means “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place.” Talking to my mom, I was still skeptical.

“If we’re indigenous, why don’t we have a tribe?” I asked.

My mom explained: “ Despite the American view of all indigenous people, many of us do not have tribal affiliations. Instead, some of us use regional associations.”

Shame suddenly washed over me. Even with this new information, I still considered my Mixtec ancestry to be too foreign, far-back, or even mythical in the sense that I thought I’d never “seen” it before. But as my mom continued to educate me, there are elements of my past and present that are reminiscent of Mixtec culture. For example, the ruda we grow in our garden plays a key part of many cleansing rituals and in improving women’s reproductive health. 

Despite all of this, I still will not explicitly identify as “Indigenous”. This is because I do not know what it is like to be first and foremost oppressed as an Indigenous person. However, I find it crazy to believe that I would not have acknowledged my ancestry as Indigenous without the recently increased visibility for Black and Indigenous communities. It feels incredibly empowering to learn more about where I come from, and I implore other youth of color to take it upon themselves to ask whoever they can about their own history. What you learn just might surprise you!