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UT presenter links Native American, Latino History & Heritage

By La Prensa Staff


The University of Toledo, Office of Multicultural Student Success, hosted an online presentation Nov. 24 that featured a speaker who made a direct link between Native American and Latino history and heritage.


Bobby González spoke virtually to a local audience in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. His hour-long presentation was entitled “¡Somos Indigenas!: The Native American Heritage Of Latinos.” González is a nationally-known multicultural motivational speaker, storyteller and poet. He grew up in the Bronx section of New York City in a bicultural home.

Bobby González


“More than 90 percent of the native peoples of the Americas come from Latin America,” he said. “So, in Central and South America and the Caribbean, there are between 40 and 50 million indigenous people.”


González draws on his Native American (Taino) and Latino (Puerto Rican) roots to offer talks that celebrate his indigenous heritage. For example, he pointed out Puerto Rico had one of the most advanced civilizations in when the Spaniards landed there around 1492, including its most influential leader being a woman and daily communal baths, which led Europeans to question why island dwellers bathed so often.


He also pointed out the Caribbean islands exposed Spaniards to corn, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and the pineapple, which originated there, not Hawaii. González also spoke of native islanders introducing their “European invaders” to tobacco.


“When we burned the tobacco, we believed that the smoke would carry our prayers up to the Creator,” he said. “For most of you, the Creator was a man. But for my ancestors, the Creator was a woman. More than 200 words in the Spanish language came from Taino culture.”


González even drew a parallel with the Spaniards arrival in the New World and the current coronavirus pandemic. He stated disease is what killed most indigenous people following the arrival of a “lost” Christopher Columbus, especially “smallpox, yellow fever, and malaria, because we had lived in total isolation for thousands of years.” He stated 90 percent of the native peoples of the Western hemisphere perished, mostly due to disease, in the next 200 years.


“Native people are accustomed to pandemics. The one today is bad, but not as bad as smallpox,” he said, pointing out some Caribbean tribes fled to southwest Florida to escape the Spaniards. The Europeans also forcibly removed some tribes, repatriating them to Central American countries such as Nicaragua.


González stated many people confuse the Aztec and Mayan empires, because history books contain many mistruths about each native culture. He pointed out Aztecs hailed from central Mexico, while Mayans called the Yucatan peninsula their home.


The presentation by González served as a historical time machine of sorts. He stated indigenous languages have survived the test of time, explaining that 50 such languages are still spoken throughout Mexico and another 20 are used in Guatemala—not just Spanish.


The Incan empire stretched across modern-day Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia and parts of several other nations.

González pointed out Egyptians weren’t the only ones to make mummies of their leaders. Incans did the same with tribal chiefs. However, occupying European forces wrote off the cultural custom as “idol worship and ordered the mummies destroyed,” according to González. He also stated the Incans pioneered brain surgeries.


One common theme of the presentation is how Spanish conquistadores destroyed much of the native traditions and customs, infusing their own European influences, some of which lasted.


For centuries, indigenous people in Latin America were persecuted for their spiritual rituals. But 

González described “a revival” of those practices in recent years, as many native people “feel comfortable” participating in both Christianity and indigenous rituals.


While historians pegged the 1500s for the extinction of native people with a Taino background,

González stated DNA tests show 60 percent of the populations of Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic still show Taino roots. He added there has been a revival of indigenous culture in the island territory, with the restoration of some indigenous burial grounds and monuments. He also said the language and pow wows are seeing a revival there as well.


As part of its month-long observance, UT officials issued a “land acknowledgement statement,”

Recognizing the region of Ohio where the university sits “is the ancestral homeland of the Odawa, Seneca, and Erie and as well as places of trade of indigenous peoples, including the Anishinaabe (Ojibwa, Potawatomi), Eel River, Lenape, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Miami, Munsee, Peoria, Piankashaw, Shawnee, Wea and Wyandot.”


“As a steward of public lands, it is our responsibility to understand the history of the land, the peoples who came before us and their continuing ties to this place,” the statement read in part. “We thank them for their strength and resilience in protecting this land and aspire to uphold our responsibilities according to their example.”



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Revised: 12/01/20 20:02:34 -0800.




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