Indigenous Student Union and Latino Cultural Society invite Taíno speakers as QU grapples with colonial legacies

Julius Millan, Contributing Writer

LCS Secretary Genesis Paulino emphasized the importance of remembering Indigenous roots as whitewashing runs rampant. Photo by (Aidan Sheedy)

Quinnipiac University’s Indigenous Student Union and Latino Cultural Society invited speakers on Feb. 24, to talk about Taíno culture and colonial legacies.

Assistant professor of political science Marcos Scauso and Gabriella Colello, the president of the ISU, spoke about the legacies of colonialism at Quinnipiac and losing touch with Indigenous cultures.

Stephanie Bailey and Sanakori Ramos, the casique, chief, and behique, medicine man, of the Arayeke Yukayek, a self-determined Taíno tribe focused on fostering a revival of Taíno customs and culture in New York and the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean, advocated the importance of connecting with your roots.

Before European colonization, the Taíno people mainly lived in the Greater Antilles — chiefly Puerto Rice, modern- day Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. They were the first to come into contact with Christopher Columbus and the Spanish before being subjugated, killed and enslaved by the thousands. There were countless more who died of disease.

Genesis Paulino, secretary of the LCS and a sophomore sociology major, thought the event was an excellent chance for the ISU and LCS to cooperate with each other since Indigenous and Caribbean cultures are intermixed.

“It was a great way for both groups to learn about Taíno culture and for others to change their mindset on Indigenous influence in the Caribbean,” Paulino said.

Colello, a senior political science major, saw this event as a chance to give an Indigenous culture a spotlight at a university whose land once belonged to Indigenous people.

“Especially at QU, there’s a mindset that some native cultures are dead and should be left in the past,” Colello said. “I believe that having members of the Taíno community speak about their culture is a great way to change that.”

Before the event officially began, songs such as “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” by Celia Cruz played in Echlin Center 101 as guests conversed with each other. Attendees enjoyed staple Dominican foods like tostones, which are fried plantains and a dried passion fruit dish called chinola.

ISU President Gabriella Colello said she’s noticed students using microaggressions toward Quinnipiac’s Indigenous population. Photo by (Aidan Sheedy)

After introducing the ISU and LCS, Colello also spoke about the notion of erasing Indigenous cultures at Quinnipiac. During her speech, she mentioned the mindset of students using a personal experience she had when sitting by a group of students who chatted about the good that came from removing the Indigenous people from their lands.

“People were speaking about Indigenous people in the past and how it justifies present harms against them,” Colello said.

After Colello finished, Scauso took the floor to speak about colonial legacies at Quinnipiac.

Scauso mentioned how historically, there is a long legacy of taking things from Indigenous people to benefit the colonizers in the U.S. Throughout the Americas, using a “construction of others as inferior as justification to rule (Indigenous people).”

In his speech, Scauso also discussed the mission of Quinnipiac and how “the citizen we are trying to teach is the citizen of market demand.”

Scauso argued that in order for the university, where 74.2% of students are white as of 2019, to become more inclusive, it must teach more than one approach to humanity.

“By teaching one method, all others become excluded,” Scauso said.

Paulino remarked on cultural disconnection before turning the floor over to the Taíno speakers.

“A lot of the time we don’t have the resources to connect to our Indigenous heritage because of colonization,” Paulino said. Before they gave their speeches on Taíno culture and the importance of connecting with Indigenous ancestors, however, Bailey said they would bless the space with a Taíno song.

“Every time we walk into a ceremony or we walk into a space where we have to exchange energy, we like to bless the space in some fashion,” Bailey said.

Ramos described the song as “depicting the many manifestations of the highest power.”

“For us, God is multifaceted,” Ramos said. “God is everywhere. Everything you see has this energy, this power, and our ancestors, the Taíno had this understanding as well.”

Ramos sang a traditional Taíno song, with the audience clapping once the song reached its conclusion.

Bailey made many points during her speech, including one where schools teach children that Taínos are all dead.

“Academia has taught for quite an extensive period of time that Taínos are extinct,” Bailey said. “We hear it, we learn it from as young as kindergarten when they tell us about Christopher Columbus coming over, ‘discovering America’ and the Taíno people, or the Indigenous people he found, being wiped out.”

Ramos mentioned certain aspects of Taíno culture, such as old ways of fishing where Taíno people would cast nets into the sea, or keeping pet turtles as a sign of good luck. He advocated the importance of reviving Indigenous traditions in the face of American culture.

“A lot of people want to be connected in a tribal way, and the tribal way is against the American way or the capitalistic way,” Ramos said. “It’s the ‘we’ versus the ‘I’, and that’s very difficult for all of us. We all struggle with that.”