A photo of a man participating in a protest in Farmington, New Mexico against Governor Lujan Grisham’s stay at home orders and business closures has been circulating on FACEBOOK. The man is holding in one hand a protest sign that says “WHAT’S NEXT? CONCENTRATION CAMPS? CLIMATE CHANGE LOCKDOWN? GUN CONFISCATION?” The handmade sign was inflammatory enough, but the protester took it a step further by desecrating the official New Mexico state flag. The red ZIA symbol on the yellow New Mexico State flag was altered with a matching red bar emblazoned to the right of each grouping of four bar spikes resulting in the ZIA symbol taking on the appearance of a swastika. Coupled with the signs message, the unmistakable image conveyed was that of a World War II Nazi Swaztika. The protester should be shamed and told to go to hell in no uncertain terms.
There are 23 Indian tribes located in New Mexico consisting of 19 Pueblos, three Apache tribes consisting of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, the Jicarilla Apache Nation and the Mescalero Apache Tribe and part of the Navajo Nation. New Mexico’s Native American population makes up nearly 10.5% of the state’s entire population. Both the Zia symbol and the swastika have far more significance to the New Mexico Native American tribes and pueblos than most people, especially newcomers to the state, do not know about or who are plain ignorant about the significance of the symbols. Both symbols deserve a short explanation as to their historical and traditional meaning.
THE ZIA SYMBOL
The people of the Zia Pueblo in New Mexico regard the sun as sacred. The ZIA symbol consists of a circle symbolizing the sun with 4 groups of 4 rays pointing in 4 directions, right and left, top and bottom, radiating outward from the circle. The Zia symbol can be found painted on ceremonial vases, used to introduce newborns to the sun, and is featured in red on the bright yellow New Mexico state flag.
The circle of the ZIA symbol represents the ever-revolving sacred aspects one must develop throughout life consisting of a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the well-being of others.
The number four is embodied in the 4 separate groupings radiating from the circle that symbolizes:
• The 4 directions of north, south, east, and west
• The 4 seasons of the year of spring, summer, autumn and winter
• The 4 periods of each day of morning, noon, evening and night
• The 4 stages of life of childhood, youth, middle years and elderhood
THE NATIVE AMERICAN SWASTIKA
The swastika in the form of an upright X with the ends bent to the right direction is a widely used Native American symbol. It was used by many southwestern tribes, most notably the Navajo. Among different Indian tribes the swastika carried various meanings. To the Hopi it represented the wandering Hopi clans, to the Navajo it represented a whirling log ( tsil no’oli’ ), a sacred image representing a legend that was used in healing rituals.
The original meaning of this ancient sacred symbol is one of life and prosperity. The swastika is one of the oldest symbols made by humans, and dates back some 6,000 years to rock and cave paintings. Scholars generally agree it originated in India. With the emergence of the Sanskrit language came the term ‘swastika’, a combination of ‘su’, or good, and ‘asti’, to be; in other words, well-being.” The swastika is also an important symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism, among others, and was also used in Native American and Jewish faiths prior to World War II. By the early twentieth century it was regarded worldwide as symbol of good luck and auspiciousness.
THE NAZI GERMANY SWASTIKA
During World War II, Adolph Hitler adopted a hideous use of the swastika totally contrary to its original meaning. The flag of Nazi Germany, officially the flag of the German Reich, is a very bright red flag with a very black swastika on a white disc. Following the rise to power of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor in 1933, the flag was adopted as one of Germany’s dual national flags, the other being the black-white-red horizontal tricolor of the German Empire.
Hitler was convinced that a potent symbol would rally the masses to his very sick xenophobic cause. Hitler was attracted to the swastika because it conveyed the image of ongoing movement. With a black swastika, called the Hakenkreuz in German, or hooked cross, tilted 45 degrees on a white circle set against a red background, the Nazi banner modernized the ancient symbol while evoking the colors of the recently defeated German empire. Today, the images from Charlottesville, Virgnia with white supremacists marching with Nazi banners is a reminder that the swastika remains a potent symbol of racist hate contrary to its historical meaning.
NEW MEXICO STATUTE MADE IT A CRIME TO DESECRATE OR BURN FLAG BUT IT IS A FORM OF PROTECTED FREE SPEECH
In 1953, the State of New Mexico like many states made it a crime for anyone to desecrate the state or national flags by “painting, printing, stamping or otherwise placing any name or object not connected with the patriotic history of the nation or the state.” (30-21-4. Improper use of official symbols.) The New Mexico statute in unenforceable because of subsequent United States Supreme Court Rulings, but the state law has never been repealed.
The landmark United States Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), ruled that flag burning is symbolic free speech protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In the wake of the Texas v. Johnson decision, congress enacted a law that prohibited flag burning. In order to try to get around constitutional challenges, the law prohibited all types of flag desecration, with the exception of burning and burying a worn-out flag, regardless of whether the action upset others. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 that this did not cure the constitutional defect and by a 7-3 majority held that the law still impermissibly discriminated upon viewpoint and struck it down.
COVID-19 DISPROPORTIONATELY HITS NEW MEXICO NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES
On May 20, it was reported that the Navajo Nation has a higher rate of reported COVID-19 cases than New York City and has the highest rates in the country, surpassing New York state and New Jersey. According to the Navajo Department of Health, the reservation had 4,253 cases of the illness caused by coronavirus. This means it has a rate of 2,449 cases per 100,000 based on 2010 census data that reported 173,667 people living on the reservation, which spans parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. One hundred forty-six people have died and at least 1,026 have recovered.
On May 13, the on line news agency New Mexico In Depth reported that while Navajo people represent the worst hit by COVID-19 in absolute numbers with Navajos representing 45% of all New Mexico’s positive cases, two of New Mexico’s Pueblo communities are being hit harder, by percentage of their population. About 11% of Zia Pueblo and 4% of San Felipe members have contracted the virus compared to about 2% of Navajo Nation members who live in New Mexico.
The largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in Pueblo tribes continue to be in Zia, San Felipe, Zuni and Kewa (Santo Domingo). An additional nine Pueblos plus the Jicarilla Apache tribe each have a handful of cases. The reported cases among tribal communities, combined, make up almost 60% of all positive cases in New Mexico. As of Monday, May 11, 50% of all people who had died of COVID-19 in New Mexico were Native American. As a group, New Mexico’s 23 tribes compose just 11% of the state population.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
There is no doubt that the State of New Mexico is one of the most diversified states in the United State. It is a major source of pride to many. Some New Mexicans would no doubt argue that racism does exist in the state. However, the racism that exists in New Mexico is not as overt as you find in other parts of the country. The extent of the racism in New Mexico does not even approach the level of the racist hate in large cities and in the deep south where white supremist organizations exist. The Southern Poverty Law Institute went so far to report that New Mexico is the only state in the country that in 2018 had no organized hate groups. For more see:
Native Americans have long endured unspeakable acts of hate, violence and racism. Now New Mexico Native Americans are suffering from the ravages of the corona virus to the point it has become a major threat to the pueblo’s and tribe’s sure existence and preserving their culture and traditions. The elders of the pueblos and tribes are highly respected and carry on and preserve the many traditions of their culture, including their unwritten languages and traditions. It’s the Native American elder who live on the reservations that are the most threatened by the virus.
Least anyone forget, the Navajo Code talkers were instrumental during World War II and this country’s fight to preserve our freedoms from Hitler’s Nazi Germany. It was the Navajo language that proved to be an “unbreakable code” by the Nazi’s during World War II. The World War II Navajo Code talkers who are still alive today are in their 90’s and will soon no longer be with us, but their traditions must be preserved by their tribes.
The idiots that desecrated the New Mexico flag and the ZIA symbol to make it look like a Nazi Swastika no doubt think they are patriots but they are within their rights. They are exercising their first amendment rights of free speech and expression, but that does not make is morally correct. What they are really doing is showing a degree of racism and exhibiting a form of hate speech that in no uncertain terms needs to be condemned.
The last thing New Mexico needs in these difficult times dealing with a pandemic is a bunch of idiots and fools that are insensitive to New Mexico’s symbols, cultural history and Native American traditions. The protesters who desecrated the New Mexico State Flag with a Nazi Swastika need to be told in no uncertain terms to take their hate speech elsewhere because it does not belong here. While they are at it, they can go to hell and take their Nazi Swastika with them.
On May 26, this blog article was posted on the Farmington Tribune FACEBOOK page. Within a few hours, the newspaper sent a single short question “What is “hate speech”? Following is the response sent:
“Thank you for your question. A newspaper asking for a definition of a term used in a political commentary article is a new one for me.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects speech no matter how offensive its content. Hate speech is not confined to speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, or disability. Symbols can be a form of hate speech.
Under US Supreme Court rulings, the desecration of the New Mexico flag to convert the Native American ZIA symbol to a swastika was protected free speech as were the written words on the placard “WHAT’S NEXT? CONCENTRATION CAMPS? … . Combined, the desecrated flag and the reference to concentration camps conveyed the Nazi Swastika.
The Nazi Swastika is a hate symbol, a form of hate speech. According to the Anti Defamations League (ADL), “Since 1945, the swastika has served as the most significant and notorious of hate symbols, anti-Semitism and white supremacy for most of the world …”.
White Supremacy is not confined to anti-Semitism, but includes most minorities, including native Americans.