Thursday, March 15, 2012

Dear Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:

Throughout the history of this blog, “When Turtles Fly,” I have published both positive and negative comments in the interests of dialogue and conversation.  This morning, however, I received the following anonymous rant:

 “Thank you defenders of us teachers!! The problem that I have with this blog, coming from an educated person, is the generalization that is being implied which greatly offends me as a 4th great teacher. Get over it people, not all teachers teach the "wrong" way or the "wrong" facts or force everyone to build a mission. All the history books I've ever taught with include all the negative effects the mission system had on the missions so I don't know where you guys are looking. If what you are really upset about is building that mission, then don't do it and ask for an alternative. I had fun building my mission project and got to spend some quality/creative time with my daughter when we chose to build hers, so I guess the building might not be the real problem for some of you. Geeesh, what a waste of my time reading all these complaints... I guess some just need a place to vent.”

 Well Anonymous, because you posted anonymously, and will probably not visit the site again, there is no way for me to tell you that yes, “I guess the building [of a model mission diorama] might not be the real problem for some of you.”  No kidding!  I would like to reply that you need to read more of the blog posts, learning exactly WHY the 4th grade mission project is so very problematic (and it’s not because I don’t want parents to spend time having fun with their children, or because I think 4th grade teachers are stupid).  

 I would like to reply that I realize not all teachers teach the “wrong” way or the “wrong” facts; and that A) in fact it is in large part because of educational resources like this blog (not just this blog) that teacher awareness of California mythology about the missions has increased; and B) the teachers who are offering alternative projects and incorporating more of the truth about missionization into their 4th grade classrooms need the kind of support offered by this blog and other information in the resource lists I provide.  You wrote, "geeesh, what a waste of my time reading all these complaints ... I guess some just need a place to vent."  This kind of venting, Anonymous, is called COMMUNICATION.  I would like to tell you that Audre Lorde tells us, "Anger is full of information and energy," and that's it is a good idea to pay attention to anger, or venting, because it contains material you need to know about, and deal with.

 I would also like to reply that the 4th grade mission project is something that has had long-term effects on how California Indians are viewed in the mainstream press and population, and that those views are typically inaccurate, leading to the perpetuation of misrepresentations and stereotypes.  This blog, you would have noticed, Anonymous, had you read further, is not primarily about the 4th Grade Mission Project.  This blog is about exploring, exposing, and correcting the history of what really happened to California Indians during and after missionization.  It is about giving voice to California Indian experience, knowledge and pain.  Most importantly, it is about making connections between what happened THEN with the current conditions of California Indians (economic, educational, psychological, legal).  How many of the history books have you read actually do that?  or prepare students to think about these connections in their future?  How many texts used in the classroom contain the voices of California Indians?  How many texts teach children that Missionization was not good for Indians in any way, shape or form – not now, not then, not ever – and yet, the ideology behind Missionization continues to harm contemporary California Indians and the non-Indian children who grow up to be adults with no clue about that?

Southern California is covered in faux-Mission style buildings, red tile rooftops, tourist destinations that celebrate the Missions as cultural and civilizing successes.  The culture itself is deeply damaged by myths that celebrate Spanish/Mexican rule and thereby denigrate Native Californian lives and culture.  There is very little information available to the general public that even begins to question that mythology, let alone refute it.  This affects the efforts of Native Californians alive today in a multitude of damaging and negative ways.

That’s why I write this blog.  Not because I think 4th grade teachers can’t teach (I have my own elementary teaching degree) or because I’m seeking fame and fortune (don’t make me laugh!).  Not because I want to waste your time, dear Anonymous; but have you considered all the ways your time (and your daughter’s time, and your daughter’s education) has been wasted on material that has no relationship whatsoever to reality or intellectual validity?  If I were you, that’s what I’d be most worried about: why don’t I know this material?  why isn’t it being taught?  why don’t I have a curriculum that includes it?  what really happened to Southern California Indians when the Spanish (and later, Mexican) government ruled here?   Why did the Native California population drop from approximately one million to 5 or 10 thousand in less than 100 years?  What mistakes were made that future citizens of California would like to avoid, learn from, learn about, to help them grow as humane and aware people?

But I can’t have this conversation with you, Anonymous, nor any of the other folks who have left comments but no names or email addresses.  I can’t have this conversation because you don’t want to have it, and you have let me know that by posting your little rant (I hope it made you feel better; it certainly did nothing for me or, I’m fairly certain, for your daughter or the students in your classroom).  And I’m tired of having one-sided conversations with people who aren’t even in the room.

Therefore, I will continue to publish all comments, with one important change: I will no longer publish comments that are submitted anonymously.  If I can put my name, my tribe and my writing out there with full disclosure about who I am and how to reach me, then so can anyone who wants to comment.  So, from today (March 15, 2012) on, please sign your name to any remarks and leave your email address so that when I, or others, respond to your comments, we can be part of a conversation and not rants that expose how much you don’t know and how badly you don’t want to know it.

Deborah Miranda

Sunday, March 11, 2012



for the Librotraficantes y tod@s indi@s; Nimasianexelpasaleki to Leslie Marmon Silko

Literacy starts with flesh
ripped from the backs of my ancestors,
inscriptions by whips of soldiers,
a priest who doesn’t care to delegate;
scars scrawled at Indian Boarding Schools,
whips and clubs across knuckles, buttocks, shoulders, knees:
learn this holy language, it will make you

Scars written in wide lines laid out by leather straps. 
Scars sketched thin but deep,
cowhide tipped with sharp iron barbs. 
Scars, thick as rope, fattened on infection and fever:
alphabet of blood and bruises.

A, broken pieces of our lives they call artifacts. B, iron bound around our wrists.  C, the cupped hand that takes. D, demonic grin at our cries of pain.  E, the rake to excise weeds from the earth; F, the key to padlocked fences.  G, the open maw of genocide.  H, the locked gate of our hearts; I, government-issued identification required.  J, the shovel that jabs at our graves; K, a boot kicking us into the next relocation; L, the club that lashes us into submission. M, the path of our migration off your maps; N, for nits (they make lice). O:  we have no word for ownership. P, a salute between soldiers at the prison; Q, the quick breath of hope slipping out.  R, the rifle to hold back the ravenous savages; S, slick blood sliding down a cheek.  T, the oak tree where they hang us.  U, go back where you came from, only it’s not there anymore; V, the plow that validates the land, vindicates murder. W, barbed wire winning the west, or white fangs of a witch.  X for the crucifix that could not save us from itself; Y, yes from a forked tongue.  Z, the place they aim to drive us: Zero.

Spain and Mexico, France, England.  The many-headed Roman alphabets of syphilis: miscarriage, sterility, madness.  Alphabets of terror, of adobe, our own prison made from the mud of our own land, mixed with our own feet.  The alphabets of walls: this alphabet we never asked for.  They ‘gave’ it like a parasite in our guts, shackles around our wrists, gags in our mouths.  This alphabet a tattoo or a cattle brand: ownership, possession.  This alphabet never meant to let us speak!  Meant to strangle us like the umbilical cord of a mother who hates her bastard child. 

Uppercase, lowercase, block letter, cursive, all clattering chattering like teeth, nipping at our flesh, tasting us, gnawing at us with scythed edges and wide grinding surfaces.  They strip us of our names, one tiny peck at a time.  Eat through skin, muscle, fat, bone; head for the marrow, spreads through our skeleton.   Poison that erases memory, replaces it with obedience.

This alphabet that some of us endure.  Learn to bear.  Our skin grows more callused.  Our scars become our art.  This alphabet we chew on as starving children chew on grass or suck on pebbles to push back hunger.  This alphabet of conquest that was never meant to serve us, speak for us, fight for us.  This alphabet of razor wire we take into our hands, twist to our own bloody testimonies.  This alphabet that gnawed its way inside of us, and with which we now carve our way back out from silence. 

You ripped out our tongues:
language, prayer, song, medicine, history,
teachings, connection, home. 
You shoved this alphabet down our throats
so we could write the names you gave us
on treaties, add the names of our children
and our dead to the back of a Bible,
keep track of our numbers, remember our place.  
A special kind of literacy that grants us the right
to read your grocery lists, sweat in your factories,
drive your trucks, pay taxes, but never
tell our own stories.

You never thought we could learn
to wield these letters for ourselves,
write our humanity, make new songs,
become poets or lawyers  – redefine words
like warrior or strategy

This alphabet.  This charm. 
This code of conquest made into codex
of creation.  You never thought
we could appropriate your weapon,
re-shape it into a tool with our torn hands, carry it
on our scarred backs all this distance,
all these years. 

You never imagined this: 
your alphabet betraying its duty,
defecting to our cause, going Native,
becoming indigenous to this land because
we give birth to it with our blood.  No wonder
our books are banned, our children told
don’t read that, don’t write that.  Don’t read,
don’t write.  Don’t.  No wonder you want us
illiterate again.  We’ve learned too much.

You want your alphabet back;
all 26 letters, unharmed, unchanged,
well-behaved letters that don’t curse
or tell ugly truths.

Our Storyteller, she tried to warn you.
Like rape, like small pox,
like massacre:  that alphabet
is already turned loose.
It’s already coming.

And we won’t give it back.

-       Deborah Miranda

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