Friday, May 20, 2016



I drove Margo to the airport this morning; it was dark all over the place with a huge yellow-orange moon setting.  We drove into the fog’s long skirts and I was glad for the lack of traffic.  We listened to NPR until a clip featuring a particular politician came on; then I had to reach out and hit the power button. 

We pulled into the “Kiss and Fly Zone” at Roanoke Regional Airport, and opened our doors to the chilly air.  Margo put on her motion-sickness patch (“too late,” she worried, “you’re supposed to put it on 3 hours before the flight”) and I pulled her suitcase out of the back of the car.  We embraced and said goodbye.  I remember when I moved to Virginia in 2004, we still said our goodbyes inside the car.  Two women kissing like that were quite rare in our part of the world; we felt self-conscious and yes, a little fearful.  It’s still a big deal for us to hold hands on the street.  This morning, I waited for an airport employee to walk past before putting my arms around Margo.  Progress is all relative, right?  As Margo quips, “Well, it SAYS ‘kiss and fly,’ we’re just following directions.  It doesn’t say, ‘heterosexually kiss and fly.’”

Kind of like those t-shirts, bumper stickers and mugs that all say, “Virginia is for Lovers” with the big red heart.  What they really mean is “Virginia is for HETEROSEXUAL lovers.”  Before the Supreme Court decision that same-sex marriages must be viewed as legal in all states, I used to fantasize about using a big chisel-tipped Sharpie to draw an arrow on one of these shirts with the word “heterosexual” inserted between for and lovers.  Just to be clear that I knew MY love and I were not included, and I loved her in Virginia, anyway, as well as everywhere else.

So we kissed and told each other to take care, and she walked into the airport pulling the shiny blueberry rolling bag, her back pack on her shoulders. Once through security, I knew Margo would have to go into a restroom and put on all of her braces: a big back brace (it has to go under her jeans in order to work), wrists, maybe her neck brace, though that can wait until she’s actually on the plane.  I sat for a few minutes and checked my email on my phone, waiting – as I always do – to see if Margo came back for something she’d forgotten, or if there’s some complication ...  She never does, but I always wait.  Finally I put away my phone, belted up, checked my mirrors, and pulled out of the Kiss & Fly zone.  Headed home slowly in the fog as the sun rose and the darkness pulled back like a thick tide.  After about 20 minutes, the dashboard of our little car lit up with an incoming text from Margo.  I hit “listen” and a robotic voice said, “So far so good.  Boarding area without setting off any alarms.”  I had to smile to myself.  She knows I worry.

I’m not the only wife who worries about her wife going out into the world of gendered rest rooms.

Yesterday, Margo and I had “the talk.”  The talk that anyone who loves a transgender person or butch-identified woman must have with their beloved these days: please be careful when and where you pee; have Megan (Margo’s daughter) go with you if she’s there; look for unisex restrooms; prepare yourself emotionally so you won’t be taken by surprise if you ARE challenged; think about what you might say …

It was a talk about being realistic.  But it was also a talk about fear.

Even though restrooms have always been fraught with possible confrontations for anyone whose gendered appearance seems outside the norm, I have more reason to worry than ever.  Here in Virginia, we live next door to North Carolina and the unbelievable yet frighteningly real “Bathroom Bill” (H.B. 2), stating that everyone must pee in the bathroom that matches their original birth certificate.  Although she didn’t plan it that way, this time my wife’s connecting flight is through Philly; normally, she goes through Charlotte, North Carolina.  Also, due to her disability, we usually fly together, so I often serve as a kind of deflector in bathroom situations (we’ve gotten some dirty looks when people realize we’re ‘together,’ but we’ve never had anyone mistake Margo for a man when I’m at her side in a public restroom).  I’m really relieved that she’s avoiding Charlotte, even though Philly is NOT my favorite connecting hub.  Still, the stories I’m hearing and reading about come from all over the U.S.; North Carolina’s state law speaks quite clearly to those susceptible to mob mentality everywhere.

My wife is not trans, but she was born butch.  That means, she gets “sirred” at least once a week (this happened most of her life, even before she cut her waist-length straight black hair to a short and curly ‘do), wears dark Sauconeys, jeans and t-shirts or button-up shirts marketed as men’s clothing.  The only jewelry she wears is a pair of small silver hoops in her ears, and our wedding band – nothing particularly feminine.  Her voice is a little husky and deep.  She’s a small person, 5’2” (“AND A QUARTER”), slender, not threatening; she just has this butch vibe going on.  Friends and family (including myself) who buy her clothing as gifts often mistakenly get Large sizes because that’s how we think of Margo.  She jokes that she’s really 6’2” and 160 pounds; the truth is, she projects a big presence, one of the many things I love about her.  Still, it would take a big imagination to see Margo as a predator of anything more than a handful of delicious alfalfa sprouts.

She took her earrings out a month ago for an MRI and we never put them back in.  Now I’m sitting here worrying about that, wondering if that would prove a key part of someone else’s perceptions about her, if that little touch of bling might tip the scales in favor of seeing my wife as a biological woman if someone challenged her.  You just never know, and in the current climate about binary gender, now folks seem to feel they have permission to police gender in loud, aggressive, bullying ways.

As I see the stories about these kinds of bullying appear in my FB feed, or read news stories about straight women with short hair, lesbians with hats (?!), and actual trans people, all being harassed in or around restrooms, I see all too clearly how fragile the safe space around us has always been.  The transphobia around public bathrooms encourages the same phobic people to unleash their homophobia as well.  Now it can show itself under the guise of “protecting” women and children who appear heteronormative.  As Shannon Minter writes, “But while HB2’s attack on transgender people has attracted the lion’s share of attention, its negative impact on others is just as real. Among the many groups harmed by HB2, gender-nonconforming women, including many who are lesbian or bisexual, are especially at risk.  In the words of one butch blogger, ‘Bathrooms are spaces of extreme vulnerability for gender nonconforming folk.’”

I said earlier that “Margo and I had ‘the talk’.”  But the truth is, I was doing all the talking.  My wife didn’t have much to say.  She ducked her head and nodded a lot.  I hope I didn’t scare her.  I wonder what was going on in her head.  She has spent a lifetime being independent, mobile, and brave.  Now, in addition to her genetic disability slowing her down with loss of mobility and severe, chronic pain, there is the very real possibility of having to defend herself if she needs to adjust her brace, take a pain pill, or god forbid, actually pee.  Yet I couldn’t send her out into the world without warning her, could I?  We live in a small southeastern college town where most people have known my wife for years; it’s a safe little bubble in many ways.  Leaving it reminds us of that fact.

A suit against H.B. 2 asserts that the law is unconstitutional in that it allows discrimination on the basis of gender.  I’m glad that some North Carolinians have stepped up to fight the law, but that doesn’t protect my wife or other non-binary/trans folks from being harassed or even physically escorted out of a bathroom by security or police, being asked to “prove” their gender identity matches that of the bathroom in question, and all sorts of traumatizing and potentially explosive situations. 

And no, I’m not bashing ALL of North Carolina by association.  Many North Carolinians are taking stands as allies and compassionate human beings. 

(Interestingly, the FB page where the owners of that pizza parlor posted their sign has been made private since the sign appeared in January.  I’m pretty sure that harassment about the sign caused that to happen.  How many businesses have to make their FB site private?)  And on my own campus, the Hillel House bathrooms have recently been re-signed:

Hillel Restroom

All in all, I’m glad that once my wife arrives at her destination, she’ll be in the company of family for the remainder of the trip, until she flies out alone again to come home.  I mean, it helps a little.  She’d have back-up.  My anger and anxiety levels are exhausted by the tone and political climate that has made using a public restroom one more thing to keep me awake at night because of someone else’s whacked-out imagination. 

Because the truth of the matter is, if a woman or child is going to be harassed anywhere – bathroom, waiting room, dark hallway, parking deck, library, school, public transportation – sheer statistics point not at a transgender person, but the predictable straight, white male.  Demetrios Psichopaidas, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California, writes that “As of 2014, there has not been a reported incident of violence or peeping by trans men or women in bathrooms in the U.S., according to data from Media Matters. There is absolutely zero evidence of any violence ever committed in a restroom by such individuals. However,” – and this is an important point – “violence against these persons [transgender individuals] is quite commonplace,” (TakePart). 

That’s right.  In fact, Justice Department statistics show that 8 out of 10 of sexual assaults are committed by people already known to the victim, not strangers, while 64% of transgender people will experience sexual assault in their lifetime (study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality). 

I’m sure someday, some brilliant psychologist will connect the dots about this restroom rage in a way that helps us understand the psychosis behind it, similar to the way we know that the loudest homophobic voices typically belong to people who doubt their own heterosexuality.  In other words, those who are so vigorous about “defending” women and children in public bathrooms may quite likely be the very ones who fantasize about attacking women and children in public bathrooms. 

Fear, as always, is the monster here.  Not someone looking for a place to empty a bladder with a little dignity and comfort before simply going on with their lives. 

One of those someones is my wife. 

So I worry.  And write.  Oh yeah – and I vote. 

Take care, everyone.  Take care.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Find a Better Word

I snapped.  At a colleague, that is.  ‘Snapped’ as in, barked out an objection without pre-thinking, pre-phrasing, or otherwise considering how my comment might sound or be received by that colleague.  ‘Snapped’ as in, not stopping to carefully construct my objection in such a way as to avoid hurting this colleague’s feelings or making sure my remark didn’t make this colleague feel targeted or called out.  ‘Snapped’ as in, when you hit my kneecap with a little silver hammer, my foot is going to catch you in the crotch if you don’t move out of the way.

My colleague was fighting the good fight.  Making a case for not moving a very important program out of a primo piece of campus real estate and relocating it somewhere else difficult to access (both for able-bodied and disabled-bodied folks), and all the implications about devaluing that program that would come with such a move.  But what my colleague said was, “So the solution is not, hey, let’s move them out into a tipi.”

Now, I don’t teach at a tribal college.  In fact the most North American tribal things around my university are myself, one Native student about to graduate, and the land upon which the university sits.  So the use of ‘tipi’ was not a casual reference to a familiar Indigenous piece of culture used to house Indian families. 

‘Tipi’ was used, in this case, as a pejorative, the way we might say “out in the boonies” or “beyond civilization.”  Someplace where nobody wants to go, someplace where only savages live.  There be dragons.  That sort of thing.

My mouth popped open and my clever retort sang out like the proverbial arrow: “HEY! … find a better word.”

Damn!  Who said that?!  I guess it was me, because everyone turned and looked.  
Yes.  You see the problem, don’t you?  I wasn’t polite, or quiet; I didn’t even have the grace to frame my comment as a question (“could you please find a better word, please?”). 

“Well, whatever,” replied my colleague before he deflated back into his seat.

What just happened? I asked myself, feeling my heart accelerate, my face blush, and my body coming to full alert.  What the heck just happened here?

A.     I called out a senior colleague who is well-known for being liberal and progressive.

B.     I told this colleague to ‘find a better word.’  Demanded, in fact.

C.     I wasn’t nice.

During a discussion break, my colleague came over and said, “Deborah, I didn’t say that to be intentionally racist.”

That was not an apology.  I replied, “I know you didn’t say that to be intentionally racist.  But as the sole Native professor present, it’s my job to redirect language that perpetuates stereotypes about Indians.”

That was not an apology, either.

Others in the room began to chime in about why they supported my remark, and my colleague faded away.

This same colleague often wears a Redskins jacket.  I have never said anything about that to this professor.  I let it slide.  He does a lot of good work, you know?

Over the years, I have let slide joking requests that I go out on the front lawn and do a ‘rain dance’ during dry spells, being called ‘the Indian in the attic’ when my office was moved to the third floor, and comments that I ‘should wear your hair in braids more often, it makes you look really authentic.’

I have also, however, asked a colleague not to use the phrase, “circle the wagons,” pointed out the problematic nature of a student’s Chief Illini T-shirt, asked repeatedly why our university has a plaque dedicated to the first Black student but not the first Native American (Robert Latham Owens, look him up, he’s kind of a big deal), and a myriad of other microaggressions that frankly, I am too tired to repeat.

Is it too glib to just say in my own defense that I unexpectedly hit my overload point?  That my filter is so clogged with microaggressions that I no longer have control over what comes out of my mouth when confronted with yet another thoughtless comment negating Native lives?  That I backed up like a sewer and let it spew?

I feel bad that my colleague feels bad.  I feel bad that what I said came out so harshly.  Really?!  Yes, it’s true.  That’s how I’m conditioned.  Even now, as a full professor with tenure and a 3 year term endowed chair, I don’t actually want to hurt people to get my point across. 

IT JUST HAPPENED.  If by "just happened" you take into account 55 years of taking in similar kinds of references to Native people and culture as less than, as inferior, as examples of sub-human behaviorI’m not a saint.  I’m not an Earth Mother (although I grow rounder every year).  I’m just an Indian in the academy whose tolerance for crap has hit its limit. 

But am I sorry?  Complicated question.  In other situations, I have done the polite request.  What it usually gets me is a condescending “oh that’s so PC of you” attitude, or a “Come on, it’s just a saying, you know I’m not that kind of person” retort, as if I had insulted the person who used the stereotype. Rarely has anyone swallowed their pride, faced me, and said, “You are absolutely right, thank you for bringing that to my attention,” (Jim Warren, looking gratefully at you).  So I’m not sorry that I objected; it needed to be said, particularly in the context of our discussion. 

I do regret that my colleague feels hurt.  But I’m wondering if that hurt might not be a better lesson than anything else I could have said or done – for my colleague, not me.  I’m wondering if my colleague might not think about that choice of words, and all the years of ignoring or bypassing Indigenous issues and history that allowed the word “tipi” to come out, a little more than if I’d simply smiled tightly, taken him aside later, and said quietly, “Can you use a better word, please?”

Because I have felt hurt, marginalized, belittled, and targeted many more times than I have spoken up about it.  Because I’ve bitten my tongue enough times to know that my own blood tastes bitter.  Because, let’s be honest, my white male colleague has enough privilege to overcome this small moment and, if willing to do the work, come out a better person.

Decolonizing language is a painful process. 

Sometimes the hardest people to educate about race and class are people who define themselves as liberal and progressive. 

Sometimes we have to look closely at what comes out of our mouths ‘naturally’ or ‘unintentionally’ in order to see how deeply embedded racist language really is in our culture and our lives, and we must think about what that means for us as individuals committed to social justice.

And yes, sometimes a reflexive objection speaks more truthfully than pre-composed remarks.  

And now that I have spent three hours processing this brief interaction, I'm going to go reward myself with a mountain.  Where, by the way, I stay in a cabin.  Not a tipi in sight.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Shiprock: for Ashlynn Mike


For Ashlynn Mike

She was a little girl, light bending through a prism, a dream on its way towards awakening.  Her footsteps on the face of this earth leave behind small imprints that will exist and exist even as her Ancestors take her into their arms and tend her wounds.  She was a story unfolding its wings and drying them under the heat of a beloved yellow sun.  They say her brother escaped, but I know he will bear that unfinished story the rest of his life, unable to tell it, unable to put it down.  And the tragedy comes back on us like a riptide when we hear that an Indian man did this to them: One of our own.  No theory of historical trauma or lateral colonization makes this death make any sense.  No religion dulls the way the breath of the world catches, seizes, can’t recover.  How many of us have walked that same road, how many of us have been that little girl looking into the van, that brother who wouldn’t let her get in alone but still can’t stop what happens?  How many of us felt our hearts clutch up like the fist of lightning so close we could smell the scorch on the back of our necks?  I did.  I was lucky.  I walked back out of that van.  I don’t know why my life was spared; his hands fit around my neck like a steel choke collar forged beyond mercy.  Afterwards, he let me go.  I shouldn’t have to be grateful for that.  I am.  I shouldn’t have to wish that for her.  I do.  Because it’s precious, that thin strand of spirit singing in our flesh; it’s holy.  Even when it is twisted and made to curse in ugly notes of fear and pain, the sound is worth enduring for what tenderness and compassion may come later, in hands that cherish the raw music we will learn to make.  Hands that comfort, reach back in time, lead us through grief.  She’ll never know this.  She was a little girl whose foot hurt; she was taken by someone traveling with brutal, invisible companions beneath his skin.  We can’t save her now.  We can only save the ones still out there, walking on our roads, living in our homes, seen out of the corner of our eyes.  How shall we save them?  Oh my relatives - there are as many ways to save them as there are girls, or little brothers left behind, or blue butterflies fanning their cocoon-damp wings before flight into early May air.

Deborah A. Miranda
Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation

Ashlynn Mike was 11 years old. She and her brother Ian were abducted on Monday, May 2, 2016 after disembarking from their school bus near their home in New Mexico. Ian was later released; Ashlynn was sexually assaulted and killed. Her body was discovered on Tuesday.  A funeral service for Ashlynn will be held at 10 a.m. Friday May 6 at the Farmington Civic Center.

RISE: Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment's photo.


Friday, April 22, 2016

How to Wrestle With Sorrow


How to Wrestle With Sorrow

If you have to mourn, do it on a screened-in front porch of a tin-roofed house on the cemetery side of a small southeastern town, on a day when raindrops plunge from the sky like suicides off some cloud-obscured bridge, ramming their determined little heads into the pavement as if they are on a mission from God.  If you can’t escape grief, invite your dogs over to curl by your side, dogs with round brown eyes lifting now and then to make sure your sobs mean you’re at least still breathing and dinner may be delayed but not cancelled altogether.  If you cannot beat back the heaps of sorrow layered like so many socks stuffed into a drawer, no not one more minute, then put on your absent lover’s flannel shirt against the chill, watch the sodden redbud blossoms wash down the street’s sudden asphalt river, spit out every curse your father ever uttered, and a few you’ve learned from friends he would never have approved of.  Blow your nose so loudly you startle the hormonal robins wading through wet grass in avian lust for worms or nesting materials; their silly feathers dripping, beaks bright as lanterns.  You’ve been there.  You know.  If you must give yourself over to lamentation, do it right: keen all the names of those you’ve lost, offer up what shattered pieces of heart you’ve got left; question faith, justice, and the point of creation in a world that worships the un-dead.  But just remember this: it was real.  That hatchet of joy sunk into your chest?  That opening up of the sealed tomb?  That sliver of connection to your own immaculate beauty and strength?  It was all real, every bit of it.  And once known, that is a wound you’ve earned, a brilliant seed sown that no one can ever uproot.

Deborah A. Miranda 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"That Word"

That Word 

with thanks to Mary TallMountain

I’m wondering about good-bye,
about the word, the act, the way
it rings and rings through the cave
of my body like a bell with a solid
stone clapper, ceaseless echo -
each cry of abandonment a shot
that ricochets off ribs, pelvis,
vertebrae, skull until I am nothing
but a pinball machine of departures,
my heart smacked and jarred by
electricity, my teeth buzzing
with all that is not spoken but
still swarms and contracts, 

don’t go

                                 come back

       don’t leave me

I’m wondering about leave-taking,
the synchronized art of letting go -
what bony mechanism in the hands
have I never learned to release,
which Rosetta Stone, Berlitz primer
contains the blistering language
that will make my tongue curl into
a silver sob of acceptance,
stop this corporeal cacophony,
let my clenched lungs open –

         don’t leave
don’t go
                      come back

I’m wondering about these rules,
how good-bye means done, over, end –
and what if I overthrew the system,
erased those inky bitter laws, wrote
my own regime’s manifesto across all
that freed white space, alphabet looping
like a murmuration of starlings,
each letter knowing when to turn
sideways, dive and roll, pump upward
into the curve of a wave that spells
so long, till soon, take care -
a design made of faith like feathers,
light enough to carry us
through spirals of time
where there is no word for good-bye
or return, just one heart
always already tucked
inside another:
                              micha eni hikpalala,
            I’ll see you.

Deborah A. Miranda

Friday, April 15, 2016

Split This Rock: My First Time


After last night’s poetry readings/performances at Split This Rock, I clapped with all my heart, cheered with the crowd at the Nat Geo auditorium, then, before the lights were even all the way up, gathered myself and walked out into the dark.  Out through the crowd of well-dressed people in the museum holding their little dishes of cheese and fruit, juggling tall glasses of champagne and exchanging phone numbers; out past the guards, and onto the lively street of D.C. at ten p.m. on a Thursday night.  

Cherry blossoms drifted through the air like little pieces of a hundred different alphabets.

I didn’t speak to anyone.  I didn’t want to speak to anyone.  My head and body and heart were all full of tenderness and an exquisite energy that I could not voice and did not want to disturb.  Even now, 9 hours later, words are hard to summon.  Hearing poetry/story told with such passion, honesty, and craft – all at the same time! – for two hours was like standing in front of a tsunami, watching it come towards me, letting it pound me into the earth, and then miraculously rising to find myself still alive, more alive. 

For the record, last night’s readers:

Bobbi Johnson (oh my god this girl is a hurricane; high school D.C. Youth Slam Champion 2015, her poem about the erasure of Black girls and women’s names and presence is engraved in my soul; it's not in the program or online, but as soon as I find it, I'll post here)

Sara Brickman (Split This Rock 2015 Poetry Contest winner, “Letter From the Water at Guantanamo Bay” – I couldn’t breathe and when I re-read this poem, I feel claustrophobic in the most exquisite way.

Aracelis Girmay (Read from her new book Black Maria: I will quote from a review here, because I didn’t know how to sum this up without the poem in front of me: “The crowning achievement of this book is a jaw-dropping long-form poem which weaves together stories from the youth of astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Girmay’s dreams of her own future child.”  “Jaw-dropping” is not what happened for the audience last night, however.  I have never heard an entire auditorium of people breathe, sigh, moan, and cry out in concert before.)

Craig Santos Perez ("Spam's Carbon Footprint" SP-SP-SPAMMMMMMMM)  made us laugh and groan with recognition.  “CARE”  made me cry.  "Daddy's Here." Oh, Daddy.

and Ross Gay ("A Small Needful Fact" but this is the smallest part of what you need to know about this poet)

I don’t know if I can take much more of this festival, but since I read today with other Indigenous poets Heid Erdrich, Karenne Wood, Trevino Brings Plenty and Eric Gansworth, I don’t seem to have much choice.  If you don’t hear from me again, know that I went up in flames, willingly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Namo'esa [to cleanse]

Back in February, I took part in a three-day Digital Storytelling Workshop at my university.  I've been collecting video, photographs and documents for many years now, but finding the time to master even the basics of iMovie has been difficult.  This workshop gave me the chance to do my favorite thing: obsess over a project for three whole days (I would have gone longer, but that was the limit of the workshop, and since I don't own an iPad, the files for the video are stored and I haven't received them back from the workshop leaders yet).  Multi-media presentation, mixing historical documents with story, photographs, recorded voice ... this, to me, allows so much more story to happen!

We brought a script to class - what we thought we'd be using as our narration - and workshopped it with peers and the two wonderful workshop leaders.  Mine changed considerably over the first two days, as I cut away, invented and honed what could be done in the 3-4 minutes of storytelling time allowed.  This time restriction is partly human attention span, and partly what can be managed in a three day workshop.  I pushed the limit, as I'm in love with the video footage and the sense of being close to the Ancestors that the song included gives me.

The version of iMovie we used was limited to iPad's less flexible edition (the workshop was focused on using iPads with students in the classroom), so some of my desired outcomes were impossible.  I could rework this video in my copious free time using better software, but given my other commitments, I'm going to let it go for now. 

I thought this video might stand as an introduction to the group of poems I'm working on that explore the voices of the California missions themselves - what they think and feel about their roles in the subjugation and wounding of California Indians.  It became a poem of its own, as language is wont to do when the poet lets it take over and stops being so bossy.

Here is the video, followed by the script.  I offer it up to the Ancestors.

Namo'esa: Cleansing

Namo'esa [to cleanse]

They call the California Missions the “21 beads of the mission rosary.”  They call this road El Camino Real.

What would these missions say, if they could speak?  What would I ask them, if they would answer?

Were you complicit in war crimes?  Or were you, too, victims of Spanish colonial greed and conquest?  What skeletons did you tuck away in those adobe walls?  What is your secret name?

Some missions give me an alias, an alibi.
Some missions confess as if I were their priest. 
Some spit at me for my pagan ways.
One mission, national landmark, wanted me to burn her down.
Some deny any knowledge of floggings, rapes, angry neophytes who torched fields.
Some missions have committed suicide, leave me only a brief note.
Some missions swell fat with lies manufactured for profit by Disney.

I listen.  I listen to them all.  I listen to swallows.  I listen to clay bricks.  Adobe.  Ghosts hiding in a fourth grade mission diorama.  Bells.

I listen, but it’s not easy.  Sometimes I don’t like what I hear.  Sometimes I cry. 
I offer tobacco.  Sage.  Mugwort.
I offer poems, prayers.
I offer my blistered feet, promises made of sweat.
I sit in the shade of two hundred year old olive trees, wear the stains of their black fruit on my skin and clothing.
I run my fingers beneath the breathless music of twenty-one fountains afraid of drought.
I taste the bruised sweet flesh of fig trees whose roots clenched around memory like a club.

Beneath the missions, our homeland stirs.  Beneath this unhealed scar running up the side of my homeland, I follow the tracks of a time-traveling coyote.

Deborah A. Miranda

Saturday, April 9, 2016

April is the Cruelest (California 4th Grade Mission) Month

I happened to look in my spam folder this morning, and found this cry for help waiting in limbo.  I quickly pulled it out and wrote back.  Thought I'd post them both here, as it's THAT time of the year and I'm getting a lot of these kinds of notes from frustrated and distraught teachers and parents.

Here's how I responded:

Hi M.,

Your note ended up in my spam folder for some reason.  I just wanted to tell you that this is an ongoing battle!  Not sure how you found my email, but if you haven't yet read my blog piece about this, try that:

The comments on that particular post have some good ideas from both parents and teachers.

Here are a few more ideas:

1.  Many 4th grade teachers allow students to do research on the tribes that were taken into the missions.  A report on this tribe is the alternative to the actual mission report.  

2.  An alternative to the mission model might be creating a topographical map of Indian territories in the state, or just in your county (seeing the state filled with Indigenous names and territories is an awe-some experience for Californian kids used to seeing cities and freeways); or a display of photos of Indian baskets, jewelry, clothing over time - it's fun to do a "then and now" comparison, since children often don't realize California Indians today also dress in jeans, Lakers sweatshirts and sunglasses! 

3.  Try googling for the tribe nearest you and email a contact person to see if they have any members who do classroom visits.

4.  A Timeline of California Indian History:  By researching the tribes from pre-contact to the present, students learn that many California Indian tribal peoples are still here, still practicing our culture, and human just like them.  Many kids think California Indians are all dead - I nearly scared one young girl to death at Mission Dolores once!  The visual effect of a long scroll-timeline is powerful, especially if students make it multi-media (photos, maps, charts, drawings): you can wrap it around the room, and students can walk along to see major events - including the arrival of the Spanish, Mexican, and Americans and, most importantly, on into the present - and their research can include often erased facts such as population dives, loss of languages, recuperation of languages, important court cases about land, establishment of California Indian Basket Weavers, California Indian Conference, etc.

5.  Simply educating yourself about what the doublespeak on mission websites really means can be helpful.  For example, the "monjerio," the room where single Indian women and girls were kept at night, is often explained to children as simply "the women's quarters."  The fact that women and girls were LOCKED UP in this room against their wills, that it was dark, smelly, had pits for toilets, was full of germs, and kept little girls away from their mothers at night, is never spoken of.  YOU can teach the children how to read critically, question the websites they read, and search for more honest information.

6.  I have a letter to 4th graders on my newer blog that might be helpful, too.  Feel free to use it.

Alternatives to 4th grade mission projects tend to take a lot of work, which is partly why it's hard to get educators to change their lesson plans (that, and many simply don't realize that they aren't teaching truthful history - mis-education perpetuating mis-education).  There isn't an actual alternative curriculum available yet though several groups are working to get them accepted. For now, focus on learning the truth and translating that is often the best thing you can for your students.  Letting them know that there ARE other truths out there is a great first step, especially if you are just realizing what the missions are about and don't have time to plan for this year - there's always next year, and since you are IN California, you can actually layer mini-lessons in all year long.

Many thanks for your concern, and please, let me know if you come up with something new that I can add to my still in-progress list ...

Deborah Miranda

Note to all: If you have more suggestions, PLEASE write into the comments with them.  I'll keep a list and update it for this blog.  Also, if any of the curricula in progress have actually been made available, please let me know that too, and sources to give.  Many thanks, all.  

And I'll leave you with this: "Gabe's 4th Grade Project" - Huwa!  Thanks to Vincent Medina and News from Native California.
Click on photo to see video