01/04/2007 11:58 AM EST
Roberto Rodríguez and Patrisia Gonzales
Each of the following books deserves a full critical review, but time and space prevents this. Yet, each is highly recommended. One thing to be noted here is that though the books are seemingly unrelated, in truth, war, violence forced migrations and injustice permeates through virtually all of them. And perhaps more accurately, what binds them
are stories of survival and resilience and peoples’ struggle for peace, dignity and justice in times of war and injustice.
Iroquois on Fire, Violence over the Land, The Republic of Poetry, Psst... I have something to tell you, Mi Amor, Tomochic Blood, Corridos in Migrant Memory , and Writing out of the Darkness
Iroquois on Fire: A Voice from the Mohawk Nation, Douglass M. George Kanentiio (Prager, 2006). When many native peoples were talking about gaming (gambling) as the New Buffalo, we remember hearing Doug George-Kanentiio of the Mohawk nation denounce gambling in 1994 as a threat to native peoples everywhere, particularly among the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee. His denunciation came at a well-attended session at the historic 1st journalism Unity conference in Atlanta – a gathering of journalists of color from throughout the country.
The session was controversial as gaming was then gaining a strong toehold in Indian country. He warned about the divisions and internal strife gambling was visiting upon native peoples everywhere. One of the other sessions which was equally controversial was the stranglehold Tribal councils had on tribally owned newspapers and how that was leading to the stifling of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in Indian Country.
The two sessions were deeply disturbing. How could the issue of gaming/gambling be honestly discussed when tribal newspapers were generally owned and controlled by tribes? And could the issue get any better if many of these same tribes were now owners of very profitable casinos?
In a sense that’s what this book is about... the ancient traditions of the Haudenosaunee – which are threatened by gambling -- and the conflicts and turmoil that has ensued among the Iroquois for the past generation. Whether one supports gaming/gambling, this is what Kanentiio warned about in 1994; that if not put in check, gambling -- and its often attendant corruption, graft and violence -- would divide families, communities and nations. Among many tribes, this has also led to bitter disenrollment debates and disputes as to who either is entitled to profit or receive benefits as a result of the lucrative casino business. Who is Indigenous or who is a member of a tribe is now a heated topic in Indian Country because imbued within this debate is who [possibly] benefits financially
Among the Iroquois, these armed and violent divisions have come to pass, yet as Kanentiio, a well-respected journalist writes, this story is still unfolding. In writing about a conflictive era and a controversial topic, no doubt, the author has his share of enemies and will be denounced for this book, but here, one can only admire his courage to bring to the fore what is now taboo among many in Indian Country.
Violence over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (Harvard University Press, 2006). Ned Blackhawk’s Violence over the Land, provides much more than a few missing pages of what came to be the northern frontier of the Spanish colonial empire -- or the early American West. More than that, it is a contribution to the living narrative of this continent… one that begins not with the arrival of three European ships in 1492 – not with conquistadors or soldiers and missionaries -- but rather far back to a
time before recorded history on this continent.
While some historians view U.S. history through Euro-American lenses, others view it through white-black lenses. His book is a reminder that one cannot speak of the idea of American history without first acknowledging the Indigenous presence, plus Indigenous memory and history. And yet, his contribution is to also note that European colonialism is not a thing of 500 years ago, but per U.S-Indian relations in the American West, something as recent as the 19th century, and arguably, something that continues on to the present in the form of continued land disputes.
Violence over the Land is complex, layered history that covers what is nowadays referred to as the Great Basin (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Eastern California). It is a region and a history that is normally ignored by U.S. historians. Unlike the Uto-Nahuatl peoples of the South, the peoples of the this region (Utes, Paiutes and Shoshones -- who are also Uto-Nahuatl peoples) held off Europeans for centuries. Much of this had to do with the introduction of the horse and superior military skills.
Additionally, (for those unfamiliar with the region’s history), he exposes the practice and history of Indian slavery in the region during the 1600s-1800s. Equally important is the reminder that similar to the rest of the Amerícas, the northern Spanish regions were also
guided by the principle of missionization or extermination... again, another legacy that continues to this day.
Despite this -- despite suffering at the hands of successive nations and empires... the peoples of the region managed to create history -- and to contribute to the trade and commerce of the region (by holding their own militarily).
The Republic of Poetry, Martin Espada – Poems, Norton, 2006
At a time when Agusto Pinochet is now actually buried... having escaped justice in the courtroom, along comes Martin Espada’s collection of poetry that centers on Pablo Neruda, Chile, and the dictator himself, Pinochet. Here, the dictator does not escape
judgement, rendered guilty of not simply stealing democracy, but of silencing the people of Chile. But as Espada makes clear, there never was a total silence. In his collection, he illustrates why poetry has always been a powerful weapon against tyrants. This is most poingnatly illustrated in: The Soldier’s in the Garden (Isla Negra, Chile, Sept. 1973)
After the coup, the soldiers appeared in Neruda’s garden one night, raising lanterns to interrogate the trees, cursing at the rocks that tripped them. From the bedroom window
they could have been the conquistadores of drowned galleons, back to the sea to finish
plundering the coast./The poet was dying; cancer flashed through his body and left him rolling in the bed to kill the flames. Still, when the lieutenant stormed upstairs, Neruda faced him and said: There is only one danger for you here; poetry...
The poem goes on... the soldiers apologize to Neruda... but the reader is left to wonder about where is the poetry... where are the poems to confront President Bush’s call for permanent war? The answer is easy. Espada is one such poet, in a sense, channeling
Neruda’s spirit. And the poems are in this book.
Psst... I have something to tell you, Mi Amor, (Two Plays) Ana
Castillo (Wings Press 2005). Psst... I have something to tell you, Mi Amor... with these words, Sister Diana Ortiz from New Mexico was whisked away, kidnapped, then tortured in Guatemala in 1989. The ringleader was apparently an American, most likely associated with the U.S. government/military. The subject of a book penned by the Sister, here, Chicana writer Ana Castillo also brings to light the same ordeal in the form of a play in
Of worthy mention, today, the Sister heads an international organization (Torture Aboliton and Survivor’s Support Coalition) dedicated to abolishing torture worldwide. If these plays were not important enough on their own, they are more so because the issue of torture has since 2001 catapulted unto the international arena. As a result of 9-11, president Bush has been instrumental in attempting to legitimize torture and make it acceptable.
Castillo’s plays and Ortiz’s life-long dedication to eliminate torture worldwide makes these plays both a gift an instrument of creation and resistance – this at a time when shows such as -24- which also legitimizes torture, is an incredibly popular on prime-time TV. Perhaps these plays will get the airing they deserve.
An excerpt from Castillo’s Introductory poem, written in Chicago, 1996:
Like the people of Guatemala, I want to be free of these memories: /...Let us shout louder than her memory, louder than the unheard cries, of 200,000 disappeared, buried alive in pits, thrown alive from planes, butchered and bayoneted, defenseless and blindfolded
in the name of democracy.
It is real, the nightmare, and without end. How can we sleep? How can we sleep?
Raza Si! Guerra No!: Chicano Protest and Patriotism during the Viet Nam era, Lorena Oropeza (University of California Press 2005). Along with Aztlan and Viet Nam (Jorge Mariscal) Raza Si! Guerra No! serves to explain a large part of the urban Chicano Movement of the 1960s-1970s. This is one book that should be read by every high school
and college student... especially those contemplating joined the armed services.
At a time when the discredited political right wing has taken to rewriting the history of the Chicano movement (by attacking groups such as MEChA and La Raza), this book serves to inform the readers of the struggles, pitfalls, conflicts and efforts of peoples who chose to fight for the human dignity of their communities first, before sacrificing their lives in an illegal war.
Raza Si! Guerra No! is a primer not simply of the Chicano anti-war Movement, but also a historical account of the relationship between the military and war and the Mexican American community. Yet, more than that, it is also about today... about the war against immigrants, about the war in Iraq and the War on Terror.
One of the things that Oropeza is to be commended for is touching upon the topic of the Chicano Movement in relationship to Mexicanos and other peoples of the Americas. This is a topic that has been often ignored in Chicano history. Contrary to popular perception, the concerns of Chicanos have not always been of concern to Mexicanos/Mexcanas. Or better still, the concerns of Mexicanos have not always been a priority for the Chicano community. The current war is changing this as the military is nowadays engaged in high-stakes recruitment of non-citizens and citizens alike in our communities.
It may be that a similar book such as this may soon be needed to document the relationship between people of color and this war.
Tomochic Blood – Shirley Hill Witt & Gilberto Chavez Ballejos - (Authorhouse, 2006). Long-time Indigenous and civil rights activists, Gilberto Chavez Ballejos and Shirley Hill Witt deliver another riveting account in Tomóchic Blood of land grabs, dispossession and endurance by the survivors, descendants and relatives of the Tomochic massacre in
Chihuahua, México, in the late 1800s. Tomóchic Blood is a prequel to the writing team’s previous novel El Indio Jesus.
Through the memorable character of the Apache Benaja, the novel also portrays the hardship of Native children “captured” by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and placed in boarding schools. The novel conveys the shared experience of Native North America: “The Métis, the Indians, and the Mestizos incurred the wrath of their government by defying attempts to make then surrender their lands, their cultures, and their autonomy.” Though they are “broken up” throughout the land, indigenous peoples of this story continue with a spirit of self determination.
Corridos in Migrant Memory, Martha Chew Sanchez (University of New Mexico Press, 2006). Corridos is a special topic for peoples of Mexican ancestry. In one sense, it is the hip-hop of early Mexican history. In Corridos in Migrant Memory, Sanchez reminds us that the history of peoples can often be found in art, poetry and song. Here, though the peoples are supposed to live in fear and anonymity, their lives are freely
celebrated and depicted in corridos. While there is of course some blues elements in the music... and also romanticization, one can not under-estimate the power these corridos have for the migrants themselves.
In the realm of migrant history and migrant memory, many are writing and many are singing, but no doubt, per Sanchez, the best known practicioners are Los Tigres del Norte. Truly, before the Tigres began singing about the trials and tribulations of migrants – and their encounters with racist gringos – migrants were viewed simply as downtrodden and peoples who lived primarily in the shadows. Nowadays, corridos speak of epic journeys and even ballads about the civil and human rights struggles of migrants – especially the huge pro-migrant marches of 2006.
An excerpt from The Tomb of the Wetback:
... The tortilla wall is an offense to the people in México people go and travel Frenchmen, Chinese and Greeks and some Americans are even landlords of the Mexican towns. The rose of Mexicali and the blood of the Rio Grande are two different things but they are brothers by color and the political line is the tomb of the wetback.
While the study of corridos is not new, including migrant corridos -- the writing of this book takes on a special significance both because a giant in the field of corridos – UCLA’s Guillermo Hernandez – died suddenly while traveling in México. And also, the explosion of the immigrant rights movement in 2006 gives new importance to these
stories as they generally are sung at rallies. As noted, they no longer are confined to stories of victimhood, but often revel in humor and defiance, particularly when up against the Migra and other would-be border guardians.
Chew Sanchez’s work is a great contribution to the study of this
Writing out of the Darkness: An anthology of poetry by refugees in
transition - Edited by Ann Dernier - (The Tucson’s Writer’s Project at
the Tucson-Pima Public Library, 2006). Somehow, books that seem unrelated are. Writing out of the Darkness is a collection of poetry, written by mostly Indigenous youth from Central America, but also different parts of the Americas. I met them at the same time of a vigil several years ago against torture organized by the Torture Abolition and Survivor’s Support Coalition (TASSC).
This collection, is both memories of torture and memories of surviving torture. They are written not by survivors of torture and political violence, but primarily by the children of such survivors.
The connection for me here is that in Washington DC for the vigil against torture, I heard a young girl, Victoria Hernandez, from Guatemala recite an incredibly powerful and inspirational poem:Revolutionary souls. I spontaneously responded to her, telling her
that as child from the land of the Quetzal, to never again refer to herself as an immigrant. She isn’t. She is Maya and a powerful young writer.
The uniqueness of this book is that it is a grassroots effort, supported by the Center for Prevention and Resolution of Violence under the Hopi Foundation. For more info on the book and how to purchase it, go to: owlandpanther.org.
Roberto Rodríguez and Patrisia Gonzales can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com.
© 2006 Column of the Américas