Monday, December 31, 2012

No Charms Against Lightning and "Rabbit Stories"

There Are No Charms Against Lightning

or to keep earthquakes at bay, bring fish to your net,
make women fall at your feet or raise children from the dead.

There's only longing and fear and desire and grief in this world.
Get that through your head.  No magic, no shortcuts.

Don't expect so much from St. John's Wort.  It's just a flower.
Famous only to bees and a few migrant insects.

Likewise, peyote.  Give that one lots of space and forget
that shaman shit you read.  They lied.  You know this,

but you prefer to pretend: quartz crystals capable
of healing cancer, mystical runes visible by the light

of a full moon spelling out the way home.  Look, there's
no sacred star, no amulet to clutch when the monsters come.

Instead we have existential angst, the question why, serial killers
and bad TV shows about terrorists who are us.  There are

no charms against lightning, I tell you.  Wrong world.
Try the next one over. Take your hope and faith and

magical thinking and hit the road.  Leave us our lightning rods,
 our Prozac, our robotic remote controls -

that which we make, that which we control,
that which shall surely save us.

Deborah A. Miranda, 12/2012

Quickie Book Review:

This week I had the great good fortune to read Tslagi poet and artist Kim Shuck's new prose manuscript, Rabbit Stories.  Here is the blurb I wrote for Kim, after I could finally put words together that didn't sound like crap after her beautiful weavings:

Subatomic particles.  String.  Knots.  The water in London, San Francisco, Tar Creek.  A coy Spider.  The Dance of DNA.  Chestnut Man's kiss.  Songs made of strawberry soda.  These are glimpses of the complex world in which a Tslagi girl/woman lives.  Named "Rabbit Food," after a wild rose, the girl is accompanied through life by irreverent guardian and teacher Rabbit, "a creature of trick and pleasure."  Kim Shuck's collection is tenderly constructed, finely woven in and out of Rabbit Food's lifetime as girl, young woman, new mother, and middle-aged artist.  Rabbit Stories winds through waters layered with dream and memory, loops back around time with a wise/cracking humor.  I couldn't put these stories down.  They're singing in me now; it feels as if the DNA in my cells has been transformed by, as Rabbit would say, "a joy in craft and artifact."  Brava!

Seriously: I sat in my chair after finishing Rabbit Stories, and honestly felt as if my cellular DNA construction had been rearranged.  My body felt transformed.  Even now, I don't feel like I can describe that sensation of reading (was it reading, or breathing in?) material that went so deeply into my psyche and changed - or rather, improved - who I am.

All of this doesn't begin to tell you what it is in Shuck's book that did this to me, or for me.  There were no magic amulets, no Cherokee charms, no ancient grannies teaching secrets.  The story is quite literally woven out of time - clearly, a young girl growing into womanhood, becoming a lover, becoming a mother, becoming an artist - but with a chronological orientation toward connections rather than linearity.  In other words, we do not meet Rabbit Food, the main character, as a baby and then watch her grow into maturity.  Rather, we come to know her through the human and planetary connections she feels, clusters of memories from various important moments in her life as a whole.

And none of this is narrated by Rabbit Food herself, but has an alternative point of view from her guardian and teacher that teaches us as much as Rabbit Food.  Perhaps it starts with that name, Rabbit Food;  it's the name of a kind of wild rose favored by rabbits, and using the literal translation rather than the more romanticized "Wild Rose" gives this story the deliciously unexpected pleasure of, well, reality.  The world doesn't get much more real than intercontinental air travel over the pole to reunite with a lover, driving across the United States in an old car with a father who is somehow distant and lost, bathing a baby in the kitchen sink or a child absorbed by the mysteries of knots and string.  Yet in Shuck's hands, this reality is narrated from the point of view of Rabbit.  Yes, that Rabbit - Trickster, "a creature of trick and pleasure," - and Rabbit observes Rabbit Food all of her life, a constant loving and instructive presence whose main goal is to introduce and perpetuate "silliness" into Rabbit Food's life.

Now, define "silliness."

Merriam says:  Having or showing a lack of common sense or judgment; foolish.  
foolish - fatuous - daft - dull - idiotic - fool - goof - ninny

Clearly, dominant culture doesn't think much of silliness.  And there you have it: Rabbit's reason for being, the mission behind Rabbit's love for Rabbit Food.  Rabbit teaches Rabbit Food to see beyond the reality given to her by the dominant culture.  Rabbit turns it upside down for her, and she is able to understand that reality isn't "common sense" goals like money, career, advancement, ambition.  In such a world, reality is the death of joy; in Rabbit's world, silliness is the key to wisdom.  Thus Rabbit Food's real self, an artist whose work communicates an indigenous survivance in contemporary times, is in fact "fed" by Rabbit. 

At certain points, in fact, it seems that Rabbit Food's capacity for "silliness" even surpasses Rabbit's; some of her creations are more complex than even Rabbit can bear for long, but Rabbit Food knows they are necessary.  Throughout the story, Rabbit flirts with Spider, a female presence who has an important but less obvious role in Rabbit Food's education; sometimes I get the distinct feeling that Spiderwoman is who Rabbit Food is growing up to be, with her love of string and beads and knots and weaving.

At any rate, my stumbling words can't do this book justice.  I don't have the ability to look at the world through Rabbit's sacred eyes.  But Kim Shuck does it beautifully, and I can't wait until Rabbit Stories is out in the world for all to read.   Watch for it at in January 2013.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Towards Your Daughter's Education": a note from Harry Downie

As I have mentioned here before, Madgel Miranda, my mother, was a dogged, determined self-taught genealogist.  In the pre-internet era, she typed up a form letter explaining her quest to prove my Native blood quantum so that I would be eligible to apply for scholarships targeting Native students.  I was 13 years old when Mom started this journey.  I remember her sitting at the little kitchen table of our old trailer in Kent, Washington, late at night, with her stack of ditto'd form letters (later Xeroxed), envelopes, stamps, and her battered checkbook.  She had lists of people to write to, and in her own methodical way, between cups of coffee or a bowl of noodles with butter and garlic, she'd make her way down those lists.  I still have a copy of her form letter.  It was very articulate, to the point, but clear:  I need you to help me accomplish this for my daughter's education.

She kept all the replies that returned with useful information.  Her life may have frequently been a mess, but her genealogical files were tidy.  One reply, however, remained hidden from me until recently.  In a plastic page protector, my mother stored some transcribed birth records from Carmel Mission about my great-grandmother, Severiana Ramirez Miranda.  On one side was that mission record, typed out on Carmel Mission stationary, and on the other, stored back-to-back, a second note about Severiana's twin brother's birth.

What I didn't know until a few weeks ago when I actually removed those pages from the plastic: a third page of stationary was tucked between them.  It was a type-written note, briefly explaining that researchers at the mission had found Severiana's entry in the old mission Book of Baptisms, but not that of Tranquilino Miranda, her husband.  Fairly usual genealogical correspondence, although once again I was amazed at the graciousness with which researchers responded to so many genealogical requests from amateurs like my mother, people who were training themselves and relied on the kindness of very busy, understaffed, underpaid strangers at great distances.

But what was written in the closing stopped me in my tracks.

"Enclosed you will find your donation, I feel it will be more of use towards your daughter's education.  Hoping this will be of use to you, Sincerely..."

Of course my mother had not sent much - maybe five dollars, something to help defray the cost of research, paper, stationary, typewriter ink ribbons.  It was something she'd learned early on, something she appreciated:  a way of acknowledging the expertise and work load of those she was asking for assistance.

Still, this researcher had returned it, had been moved enough by my mother's form letter to see not just another tedious request, but the woman behind the request, and even further, the young girl - me - whose education was at hand.

I was really touched by this reply.  I think, perhaps, my mother was impressed as well, because she kept this piece of stationary so carefully.

But then I read further down to the signature of the researcher.  Written in the shakiest of hands, by someone very elderly but very dignified:  "Harry Downie, Mission Curator."

I knew that name. In fact, any mission scholar worth her salt knows about Harry Downie.   Born in 1903 (a year after my own grandfather, Tom Miranda), Downie was the man who guided the decades-long restoration of Mission Carmel, from 1931 and continuing for over 50 years.  He's darn near worshipped in some California mission histories, and damned in others for the romanticized reconstruction of the mission where my ancestors were held and so many died.  Harry believed in the greatness of the mission era, and did much of the reconstruction with his own hands; later in life, he supervised and guided, but was still in charge.  He passed away in 1980.  Although this correspondence with my mother is not dated, I can make an educated guess that their exchange took place sometime between 1975 and 1979, when I went off to college. 

What a kick, seeing this note from the famous and infamous Harry Downie to my mother, all these years later.  How nice it was of him to return her donation, and tell her that he thought it would be better used "towards your daughter's education" than any mission restoration fund.  I'm bemused by this act, shaking my head.  I have often argued that money spent on restoring the missions - in some cases, literally rebuilding them from the ground up - would be better spent on support for the descendants of California Indians once exploited in those missions.  If all that passion, all that energy, good will, community spirit and investment could have gone into educations for survivors like my father, his parents and grandparents, where would the California Indian community be right now?

That utopian fantasy was not to be.  Californians preferred to capture a mythological past in amber, preserve it, revere it.  But maybe, at the end of his days, Harry Downie received my mother's note and - for just a moment - had a glimmer of what could have been.

A girl can dream, can't she?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Berkeley & Oakland Trip

I'm back from my whirlwind trip to Berkeley/Oakland/San Francisco with Bad Indians!

First stop:  California Historical Society.
Heyday's annual fundraiser was held at California Historical Society in San Francisco.  Here, CHS executive director Anthea Marie Hartig and Heyday Berkeley Roundhouse director Lindsie Bear join forces!  photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

The audience prepares for speeches, my reading, and the auction! 
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Did I mention the donated catering?  YUM.  
 photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

L Frank entertaining her fans. 
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Lillian Fleer, awesome Heyday events co-ordinator.
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn
Our baby.  photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Jeanine Gendar, my meticulous and generous editor! photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Very sorry to say I've forgotten the names of these two; I'll ask!  photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Me and my buds: L Frank, Kim Shuck, Beverly Slapin.  photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Signing books afterwards; happy as a clam at high tide, as we used to say up around Seattle. 
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

I was so happy to see Kathleen Smith there - she's the artist whose painting, "August Night," is the cover of my first book of poetry, Indian Cartography.
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Lindsie Bear introduced me with her great spirit.  photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn
Joanne Campbell, Graton Rancheria Miwok, giving the blessing in her language.  photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn
I had a great time reading from the intro to Bad Indians, and the poem "Teheyapami Achiska."
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

L. Frank (artist, writer, cultural preservationist) and Kimberly Shuck (poet and artist) - lucky me, to have such distinguished friends. photo: D. Miranda

Awesome Heyday staff Diane Lee and Gayle Wattawa - both amazing women who worked on Bad Indians, and who have gorgeous samples of their work laid out! 
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

Malcolm Margolin: my publisher.  The man behind the dream. 
photo: Yuliya Goldshteyn

The next day, my friend and host Beverly took me to San Francisco City College for a class taught by Jean Ishibashi ("Ish").  What a view from this campus!

Beverly and me.  A special thanks to Beverly for giving me her spare room, feeding me, & driving me everywhere.

Me and Ish - an incredible woman.  Her students are blessed.
And the next night, we were at Eastwind Books in Berkeley - and my sister, Louise Miranda Ramirez, surprised me!  What a trooper.  She read the blessing from the front of the book, a prayer she wrote just for these stories.

Then I talked a bit about the construction of the book...

Told the "Yes, Virginia..." story!

And signed books...(Louise made me the beautiful turtle necklace)

My Eastwind Books gang!  L to R:  Harvey (husband of bookstore owner Bea), Louise, Ernie Ramirez, me, Keiko, Ellen, Brian, Beverly, and in front, bookstore owner Bea.  The best team ever!
And after a beautiful dinner at Platanos, we all said goodbye and went our separate ways.  Thank you, dear friends, for a being there for me and for sharing Bad Indians with the world.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

How the Land was Lost: El Potrero

At the end of June 2012, I traveled back to my homeland in the Carmel area of California.  My goal was to discover more about Rancho El Potrero, the piece of land that was awarded to my 5x great-grandfather, Fructuoso de Jesus Cholom Real by Governor Alvarado of Mexico soon after secularization (when Mexico, then occupier of California, closed down the missions).

You can read a little about my previous knowledge of El Potrero here.  That was all written before I had set food on the land, when I realized (as several other folks already knew) that El Potrero had been pretty much left intact, along with several other Ranchos in that area, and ultimately became part of what is now the Santa Lucia Preserve.

Prior to the trip, I had been in touch with people at the Preserve to arrange a day for a visit.  The Preserve is private land, about 22 acres, which was purchased with the explicit goal of putting up about 300 homes, a golf course and a few other recreational buildings, but leaving the bulk of the land virtually untouched or, in many cases, rehabilitated back to native California plants and animals.  The Preserve is also made up of several Ranchos from the Mexican era, and has changed hands only a few times since then.  That fact alone has prevented development, a real blessing beneath the curse of stolen Native lands.  So yes, my 5x great-grandparent's land was still in much the same condition it was when they owned it; but, in order to get near the land at all, I needed permission.

It seemed easy at first, with folks at the Preserve sending me very welcoming emails in response to my queries, but when it came right down to organizing a day and time, no one seemed inclined to be very specific.

Ultimately, I flew out of Virginia without a firm date, but plenty of faith in the Ancestors.  I knew I would get to El Potrero one way or another.  In a secret place in my heart, I hoped to find Fructuoso's cattle brand, which (despite many books and papers on California rancho cattle brands) seemed to have been lost to the ages.  Why was this brand so important to me?  I don't have a clue.  I just really wanted that sign, that mark - something that was as essential to my ancestor as a signature, a graphic statement of existence, of saying "I am here, this is my mark."  I am pretty sure that neither Fructuoso nor his wife Yginia were literate, so anything actually handwritten by them doesn't exist.  The brand might be as close as I could get to a mark that they themselves had invented.  But I didn't say anything to anyone.  It was a wish inside a wish.  Privately, I worried that it was a silly thing to desire.  Or maybe just plain old nerdy.

My first stop was at The Monterey County Historical Society, a small parcel of land in the Salinas Valley that looks deceptively unimpressive but is a powerhouse of information.

The folks at MCHS, with whom I had emailed earlier, had taken my "wish list" of names, places and topics to research and already done some of the digging.   James Perry, Mona Gudgel and Barbara Brown, are enthusiastic guardians of their priceless collection, and every time I made a discovery, we all celebrated.  For three days, I became very much a part of the big table surrounded by bookshelves in their office: white gloves, pencils only, and oh joy, digital photos allowed!

It's funny how research works.  Part sweat, part luck, part Ancestral grace.  On that first day, I made a huge discovery - or perhaps I should say, I was blessed to be discovered by a miracle: the actual hand-written record of Fructuoso's registration of his cattle brand.

I had requested this particular big red "Spanish/Mexican Record" book for something else, but I noticed as I leafed through it (looking for the indexed page number) that this volume had a substantial number of cattle brand registrations, complete with each rancho's brand itself on the page.  I knew Fructuoso had run cattle (no big surprise; it's what he knew from spending his entire life in a mission that became rich from cattle hides, known as "Mission Dollars"); I thought, well, maybe there's a chance...

You see, there is very little information about Fructuoso's ownership of Rancho El Potrero.  As radical and wonderful as it was - a Carmel Mission Indian ending up with the "potrero" or "pasture" of the mission - most history books tended to gloss over this quickly.  The Mission brands are all recorded, of course.  Here is the Carmel Mission's brand during the Mission Era:

and most historical records rush right past that, on to the American ownership of the land by the Sargents, a famous family name in California both before and after statehood.

No one seems to recognize what a gigantic accomplishment it was for a former "neofito" (new convert), an Indian neofito at that, to own, manage, and prosper on the land of his ancestors after that land had been so deeply and devastatingly colonized!  Perhaps because Fructuoso was such an anomaly, maybe even an embarrassing reminder of the way California's missions stripped almost a million Indians of their homes (and 90% of their lives), he and his family have largely been forgotten.

This is what I love about mining archives.  Indians appear in the archives not as ghosts, but as living, breathing human beings.  In the Bancroft Library several years ago, I found a map (or "diseno," design) of El Potrero that even the Santa Lucia Preserve's historian had overlooked, making the land even more real in my mind (Fructuoso had passed on by then, but the "Joaquin Gutierrez" name on the diseno is his son-in-law, and all land records also add Fructuoso's daughter's name, Maria Estefana Real - although the land record below mistakenly identifies her as Maria Esteban!).

So I knew about El Potrero.  I knew that Fructuoso de Jesus (his baptismal name, meaning "Fruit of Jesus") Cholom (his native name as recorded in the baptismal records) de Real (a name gleaned from his daughters' later association with Padre Real of Mission Carmel) had owned this land, and that his wife Yginia Yunisyunis, and later his daughter Estefana Real, and some of her children, had lived on this land for over ten years.  Then, the land was lost.  Lost, stolen, sold under false pretenses - that part, I wasn't sure about.  That part, the historians gloss over.

One of the reasons I was skeptical, at best, about finding Fructuoso's cattle brand was a couple of xeroxed pages in my mom's papers.  The pages are a from a hand-lettered little booklet she found somewhere which give brief pictorial histories of the California ranchos, along with owners, cattle brand, small map, and a photo if available (I can't tell you the name of the booklet, because she did not record it, but I saw an actual copy of it at MCHS myself - kicking myself for not jotting down the citation).  Here is what the booklet had for El Potrero:

As you can see, in the upper left corner of the page is Sargent's cattle brand, and midway down the right side of the page is Joaquin Gutierrez's cattle brand.  Gutierrez was briefly, as I have said, Fructuoso's son-in-law, and took over the rancho after Fructuoso's death.  Although Fructuoso's name figures prominently in the center of the page, that's the only mention.  His cattle brand, as in all collections of rancho brands, is absent.

All this is proof of absence - something common in Euro-American stories about Native claim to land in the United States.  But the Mexican Records that I was privileged to view at the MCHS are amazing: a collection of thousands and thousands of hand-written documents, receipts, letters, reports, and scraps of paper all bound into about 15 volumes, complete with a hand-written index for each and every piece of paper.  Can you imagine the work this was to compile?!  James told me that it was a huge project done just prior to California Statehood by Americans who, in part, anticipated the coming court battles over land grants.

A sample of how the Mexican Record books are constructed from many different kinds of paperwork.

Plus, of course, these records are almost all in old Colonial Spanish (with a some important exceptions, as you'll see).  Between the calligraphy and old Spanish, Mexican Spanish, faded ink and torn or missing sections of pages, these records take deep concentration to read, and a lot of "scanning" happens, when researchers just run their eyes over the page hoping that some key phrase, name or word pops out.

But I didn't need to be that systematic this time.  Right there at the top of a page, in big black script, was a name that my whole body is attuned to recognize:  FRUCTOSO DE JESUS.

Do you see it?  In the left margin, the cattle brand Fructoso (as spelled here) registered for El Potrero.  This is his official record of registration!  It looks, in fact, like a stylized capital 'F' with a small 'o' attached to the foot, almost an abbreviation of his name.  There is some mention of a Senora Gertrudis Lugo, who may be a witness.  The date is October 1835 (I can't read the exact date yet), and the person signing the registration is Jose Maldonado, complete with his rubric, the fancy flourish every decent gentleman practiced as part of his signature.

I was stunned.  I put my hand, white cotton glove and all, on the page, and thought to myself, "Fructuoso was here.  177 years ago, he stood in a room not too far from where I sit, just inches from this piece of paper.  He may have even touched this paper himself, to check the brand, or to see his name written out...he was here.  And now I'm here.  Reading his name.  Seeing his cattle brand.  Witnessing, after all these years, what must have been a moment of incredible pride and joy for my ancestor: legal registration of his right to the land which had, at his birth, been home to the village of Echilat, where his maternal family originated.  Here was a Mexican official, signing off on it."

I wondered if Fructuoso could feel me there.  Was he just on the other side, looking back at me?  The document was like a mirror;  me on one side, Fructuoso on the other.  Was he thinking of his descendents?  Was he hoping they would one day see this?  Or was he simply in a hurry to get back to the business of running a ranch?

I took many pictures of this document, but I am also going to formally request a hi-res scan.  It is beautiful.  In so many ways.

Later, James brought me a huge stack of probate records for Fructuoso's estate.  Probate records?!  I had no idea that any record of any kind chronicled what I had always guessed was a land-grab by Americans.  Over and over, Isabel Meadows tells Harrington about Americans who would simply "esquate" (squat) on Indian lands, for which Indians had deeds and paperwork, and announce that it was theirs.  I had not realized how many Indians took these Americans to court, hoping that the justice system would work (I also found paperwork for another ancestor, Paula Garibay, who did just that; but many other examples exist throughout this archive, and this semi-organized resistance to loss of land is something almost unknown that needs to be studied).  Isabel herself says that Sargent kicked the Indians off El Potrero, with some details about a Chilean who was hired by Sargent to pretend he was buying the land from Indians so he could actually pass it on to Sargent (since Joaquin Gutierrez was a Chilean, this is a chilling thought, one that does not bode well for Fructuoso's daughter Estefana).

As it turns out, the mystery of what happened to El Potrero after his death was complicated and heart-breaking, and even with all of these records, I may never know the details for certain.  The probate records (all in English!) go on for years after Fructuoso's death, five years in which his two daughters Josefa and Teodosia argue that their mother, Yginia, basically cut them out of their inheritance by selling the land to Gutierrez without their permission.  There is no mention of Estefana, the third daughter, the one who was married to Gutierrez.  Did she profit from the sale of the land to her husband?  Did she cheat her sisters?  Or was she, too, taken advantage of by Gutierrez and Sargent?  Did Yginia really agree to sell the land of her own free will, or was she somehow tricked?  Why would she favor Estefana over her other two daughters?  It's true that Estefana and her children came to live on El Potrero, but some sources say that Josefa and Teodosia also lived on the land.  In fact, in order to run such a large rancho (an itemization of Fructuoso's assets lists hundreds of head of cattle!), many Indians must have lived and worked there, and it makes sense that my ancestor would hire and house his own.  So what happened between Yginia and two of her daughters?

It sounds messy.  The distribution of inheritance has never been easy, it seems; add to that all kinds of historical trauma and post-colonial stress disorder, and you've got serious damage going on by all parties.

Here's what I think happened, in the end:  by the time this court case was over, all of Fructuoso's impressive holdings - land, cattle, cash, tools - had to be sold in order to pay off the lawyers.  There was nothing left to fight about.  The patent to the land was awarded to Joaquin Gutierrez in 1862, but the whole case had taken so long that Gutierrez had already sold the land to Sargent, and Sargent was not going to give it back to either Gutierrez or the Real sisters Josefa and Teodosia; this court case went on through 1870.  I have not found Estefana in any record after this time period, although I have seen a date for her death that is many years down the road.  Likewise, Joaquin Gutierrez disappears from the records (he is not the same Don Joaquin Gutierrez who had a home in Monterey).  Josefa and Teodosia go on, raising children and grandchildren, living in Carmel and Monterey, for some years.

It tore me up to read all this, to see on the page how families destroyed each other over land, money, material things.

But during this same visit to MCHS, I also faced a huge pile of probate records for the James Meadows estate.

I mean, LOOK at the number of times this probate went through court!  that stack to the left of the three records is about 8 inches tall.

I have long wondered how the adult Meadows children (the offspring of their English father and Indian mother) ended up without much in the way of security after their wealthy father passed away; photographs of Isabel as a young girl and young woman show her dressed very expensively, her hair carefully styled, obviously the daughter of a wealthy rancho owner.  And why, in his old age, was Thomas Meadows dependent on his sister Isabel to pay for groceries and rent, and why was Isabel herself willing to move 3,000 miles across the United States to live and work with Harrington (the Smithsonian ethnologist) for five years in her old age?  Was she that dependent on her small income from Harrington?  Well, how else would an elderly Indian woman from Carmel make enough money to send home to her siblings and other family  members?

I really don't want to write this next part.  In fact, I am purposely going to be very brief, because it is so painful.  But the probate records say it all:  James Meadows left the bulk of his estate to Isabel, with other large chunks going to his other children and the grandchildren he was raising (his son Edward had died earlier).  However, James wrote in his will that he was purposely not leaving anything to his eldest son, Frank, because "I do not approve of his conduct or his mode of life."  And Frank Meadows took that will to court with a vengeance.

At one point (and please, remember I am going on quick readings of the material at this point), Isabel actually gave up the main portion of her inheritance to Frank simply to close the will (given that her father mentioned in his will that one of Frank's problems with bad "conduct" consisted of trying to strangle his sister Isabel, this may have been a move made out of fear for her physical well-being, also); at first, Frank agreed to this, but later, he changed his mind, and more legal wrangling ensued.  Years of this went by, and the same thing that happened to El Potrero happened to the James Meadows Tract, as his land was called.  Eventually, the money ran out.  Isabel had used all of her inheritance to fight her own brother.  In the end, no one won except the lawyers, and both land and money were gone.

Isabel, who had grown up rather privileged and without needing to worry about where her next meal came from, no longer had a home, and her status in the community must have suffered drastically.  In effect, she lost all of the white privilege granted to her by her father, and became just another poor Carmel Indian.  Like Estefana, like Josefa, like Teodosia, and all of their children.

It is all too familiar.  Then - and now.  In-fighting.  Back-stabbing.  How deep do the wounds of missionization go?  How much of the misbehavior in these two cases was the direct result of having to scrabble for daily survival in the missions, un-learning the collective village socialization and learning, for lack of a better phrase, how to look out for Number One?  How much was caused by the introduction of alcohol, violence, the decimations of diseases, and much-reduced resources for food and shelter?

Did we forget how to be human?  Can we remember?  (in time?)

A few days after my last visit to MCHS, my sister Louise and I finally traveled to El Potrero.  The Santa Lucia Preserve came through - although the person who really knew the history and the historical cites there was away on vacation, another employee named Chris became our guide, and he was wonderful.

More about that later.  I can't write about that visit and these legal wranglings in the same post - it would take away from the presence of the land.  For now, I'll close with the video I took of the heart of El Potrero, the place where we think Fructuoso and his family had their adobe, where they lived for many years, and built up a prosperous rancho together.  It's a much quieter place now, no doubt; and the land has mostly recovered from the damage done to it by cattle.  In fact, the land looks more like it did back when Fructuoso and Yunisyunis were born there, when it was their home village, and not part of the Carmel Mission at all.  I find some comfort in knowing that this land is protected, and is not even on the Santa Lucia list of available house sites; it's a historic cite, and marked as such.

And there is comfort, too, in knowing that this land endures despite all of the human grief and mistakes that have happened there. 

Listen to the wind.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Waking Up in California

Because I have lived most of my life away from California, when I return for a visit I see it with different eyes than those who have never left.  Everything is new to me, and at the same time, I remember and know every detail.  There should be a word for that, a word for remembering what you didn't know you knew; the way déjà vu means you feel like something has already happened even though you know it hasn’t.  But déjà vu is not it, not what I feel when I step out onto California land.  This is, perhaps, more of a bone and blood memory:  the air, minerals, water, scents, pollen, light, angle of the sun and stars, that my body remembers, that some deep part of my brain remembers.  Usually this is triggered simply by being in California: feeling the thunder of surf on a flat sweep of beach, stepping over the rampant roots of huge fig trees bursting through slabs of sidewalk, or smelling eucalyptus on the evening air, running my hand along the ancient spears of agave or sitting beneath the shameless purple blossoms of jacaranda. 

Once, taking a bus a few years ago in Westwood, I suddenly stepped back into my four year old body, going up those bus steps, my hand in my mother’s hand, sitting next to the window looking out at hot sidewalks and palm trees planted along the way.  I had never consciously remembered taking the bus with my mom in Los Angeles, and yet once I stepped on that bus, I felt as if I’d never been without that memory.  It was as much a part of me as the color of my hair.

So my experiences in California now – as a middle-aged woman - are constantly doubled with memories of being a child here; sensory memories, emotional memories, that shadow my every move.  In some ways, this is like walking simultaneously on two timelines; my two bodies, one three or four years old, one fifty-one, connected suddenly by the geographic location and my history with it.  This probably wouldn’t happen with someone who had grown up in a place and never left, because there is no rupture in that timeline – it’s all connected.  For me, there is that moment when my mother and I got on a bus and left California “forever.” 

We took a Greyhound, actually, all the way from Los Angeles to Washington State.  I remember only parts of this (no doubt I slept much of the time).  I remember that someone had bought me a lovely new dark blue sweater that buttoned up the front, just for the journey, and that I left it on the bus when we got off.  How I mourned that sweater.  It had been a special gift for the journey, and I lost it to the journey.  I also felt bad that I hadn’t kept hold of my possessions, a little guilty that someone spent money on me and I’d wasted it. Mostly, I remember the heat: the bus must have had AC, but the sun beat in from the window anyway, and I stuck to the seat.

We must have gone up the middle of the state, up through the deserty valley, because my body is filled with those rolling golden hills and flat brown fields when I think of this bus ride.  We stopped at my grandparent’s home near Bakersfield for a visit, I recall; but then we got back on a different Greyhound and continued on to Washington, where my mother’s new husband and my new stepfather, Tommy, waited for us.  We would stay at his sister Tina’s house while looking for a place of our own to live.  I would enter another world, a lush, green, gray, wet, close, dark world.  And my Southern California body would withdraw deep into the core of my being, wrapped in fog and clouds and months, years of fir trees, rain, puddles, wet shoes and hair.  My California body would stay there, curled up, dormant.  Even when I returned for a visit at age nine, or when I visited Santa Barbara with my mother when I was nineteen, my California self didn’t emerge – completely enveloped in who I had become, a Pacific Northwestern girl, someone who had gone into that grey land and submerged herself, become a creature of water, mud, pine needles, decaying red cedar, salmonberries, creeks, stinging nettles that left raised tattoos on my skin, skin no longer the color of deep cinnamon brown but an olive-beige – reminiscent, I often thought as I grew older, of the underside of a mushroom.

Like most people who live in the Pacific Northwest for a long time, like any child relocated at this age, I quickly became fiercely territorial of my new home.  No other place was as clean, as beautiful, as friendly.  And California?  California became the Devil, signifying all that was wrong with the world:  impassable freeways, earthquakes, heat, violent upheaval.  People in the PNW who came from California did not advertise that fact; it was a slur to call someone a “California Driver!” or imply that some outsider was “from the land of shake n’ bake.”  Now I realize that part of this attitude must have come from my mother’s sense of having fled a past she wanted to forget, a place and time when she made unforgiveable mistakes and was subject to abuse that could not be forgiven.  She had fled California and who she had been there as if it were Hell on earth; as if the fires of Hell had caught her, burned her, left her with raging scars that could only be healed in the land of endless rain.  My mother was in hiding.  My mother had gone underground.  And she took me with her, because she had lost all her other children to the maw of a monstrous state that would never, never give them back to her.

And I loved my mother.  Oh, how I loved her.  My loyalty knew no bounds, and would suffer no correction of my mother’s behavior, even when that behavior wounded me past all healing.

So my California body slept.  Waited.  Dreamed.  Did it struggle to get out?  Or was it lulled into dormancy by the long wet winters that went on for ten months out of twelve?  I was always such a good sleeper, my mother told people.  I slept through car rides, bus rides, parties, even disappearing into my bedroom for self-dictated naps when life got too busy.  I became practiced at retreat.  I adapted.  I transformed.

At least on the outside.  On the inside, my body remembered everything.  I sit in this California coffee shop this morning and my skin tingles with what I know.  What I remember.  What I will remember.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My First Bad Indian

San Marcos, California. 7:20 a.m. 

I'm about to go hold Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir in my hands for the very first time as a published book.  I'm thinking about my first Bad Indian.

My dad once repeated the old saying, “The only good Indian is a bad Indian.”  Then he made that disgusted sound that meant he’d reached his limit.  “Ahhhh, hell.  Even when we’re dead, we’re not good enough.”  We looked across his small kitchen table at each other.  Left unsaid were the words, “So why not just be bad and enjoy it while it lasts?” but that’s what I was thinking, and suspect it was what he was thinking, as a way to explain his long and frequently bad life. 

I can still see him sitting there, old at last, the old age he never thought he would reach or deserve, still living with his third wife before they split and he ended up in Hospice; his hair now gone completely silver and thinning at last, his face lined, dark, his eyes watering with glaucoma, his tattooed arms having lost their bulk but still tight with muscles, his huge hands, the hands I will never forget, wrapped around a cup of coffee, fingers gnarled with arthritis.  His fingernails with those fine straight grooves on them, like mine.  My dad.  The man I know so little about, really, and about whom I know far too much.  Like my mother, I could never deny that I loved him – a love that sprang from someplace honest and naïve and tender deep inside me, from a place uncomplicated by lies and violence, by histories of betrayal and cruelty.  This kind of love that exists from me, for my father, is the kind of love I wish I felt all the time, and not just in these moments when I rise above all the grief like a drowning woman quickly grabbing a breath at the surface before sinking down again into the struggle.

I see him sitting there; he was so surprised by his old age, wondering how he got to such a weakened state – diabetic, arthritic, bad eyes, bad teeth, trouble swallowing – wasn’t it just a few years ago he was still out carousing in his beloved red truck, tearing up the road between our little trailer and the Red Rooster near the Muckleshoot Rez, king of his world, survivor of the worst the world could throw at him?  Oh, the stories inside that man.  He could tell them all day, when he was in the mood.  I imagine him talking to my younger brother all those years they lived alone together, telling Al stories I’ll never hear, and it gives me such a pause:  the light years apart that were their boyhoods!  My father, born in 1927, raised in Indian/Mexican family, the peculiar poverty of Southern California in the Depression, World War II.  My brother, born in 1971, raised for three years in Southern California, then snatched up and moved to Washington State: predominately white world filled with TV, computers, cell phones, ATMS.  Was there ever, really, any way the two of them could relate to each other?  It was as if they were from alternate realities.

But the same love exists between them, even stronger than what I feel in my moments of clarity and forgiveness.  It is a love forged out of alcohol, out of late nights, abandonment, rage, tears, hurt, fishing trips along rocky banks of cold rivers, eggs and tortillas and beans and potatoes, hot black coffee, Mariner’s baseball games on TV or at the King Dome before they blew it up, and oh, the tenderness that comes after violence when the two of you are the only family you have.

We miss him.  I never thought I would say that.  I miss him.  I wish I could talk with him again, sit down over coffee and a piece of his favorite apple pie, listen to him talk about his mother, how she "wrote everything down, like you," his grandfather, washing the old man’s feet, running bootlegged booze in his little red wagon, learning to swim in the Santa Ynez River, eating cactus apples and acorn mush because his father had left and they were poor, and his mother who isn’t Indian enough for the BIA went out and gathered what her ancestors had eaten for thousands of years, and fed her boys.  Stories about the day the four young Miranda boys were walking along the road, and a truck struck Richard, killing him; “I carried him all the way home in my arms,” was the most my father would ever say, in a voice strangled with a grief never resolved.  I wish I could listen again, Dad.

For every story my father told me, there are a hundred more he never shared, that I was never there to hear.  The history between us was a terrible storm on a sea that I couldn’t bring myself to cross often enough.  But maybe he told me enough, just enough, to maintain the thread across generations that is our family story, the story in Bad Indians that stretches back and back through all the bits of oral history, newspapers, mission records, ethnographic notes, census materials, back to where even stories can’t go, into a time immemorial where the Ancestors dwell, and whose presence sustains us.  Maybe the stories that I did hear are enough to keep us connected despite all the distances, the alternate realities we each lived in, enough for us to say that despite everything, despite history, we are still here, the thread between us still unbroken.  

The thread back to those Ancestors still wiry and tough, shot through with love.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Here is the Scar of Rupture"

 Shouldn’t it be true that we can protect our children?  From other adults, from the world’s cruelties, from themselves?  I want it to be true.  It should be true.  Last night I dreamt that my daughter had miraculously returned to her form as a newborn.  Her small dark head turned to my breast, her mouth rooted furiously, and even though in reality it had been 25 years since she last nursed and she is now a grown woman carrying her own child, in my dream, I rejoiced that I could do this for her, and pulled my blouse down so she could find my nipple and latch on.  She nursed strongly and confidently, and for the first time in many years, I felt like I was a mother again: able to hold, fill, protect. 

It’s true that in my daughter’s real childhood, I did protect her in many ways, especially the ways in which my own childhood was NOT protected.  I shielded her from poverty, alcoholism, abuse; kept a roof over her head, fed her well, made sure she had good medical care, went to good schools, learned to enjoy music, swimming, books, human touch.  But what’s truer: I could not protect her from the fact that she owns her own soul, and her soul has its own battle in this world, a battle that I can only watch, throw in a few words now and then that I hope are loving and encouraging.  Words that give her heart, I hope, and remind her she came into this world loved, and is loved, and will leave it still loved by a mother who feels like a part of my body chipped off and is walking around without me.

Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) wrote a poem once about the earth and the moon.  It is called “Partings.”  “The moon was once earth/ a daughter whose leaving broke land to pieces” when the moon flew out into darkness, found her own orbit. The mother earth and daughter moon must speak to each other forever across that distance, never rejoined, always separate.  “Here is the scar of rupture,” Hogan writes, and she articulates precisely the brokenness.  Are mother and daughter still connected in ways that can’t be severed, after such a rupture?  “Think of the midwife,” Hogan writes, “Whose knife made two lives where there were only one.”  The price of giving birth, it seems, is parting from that which is most beloved; giving up a part of yourself that might very well wander away into the Universe.  The price of having children is that the “having” is only temporary, and the parting goes on and on.  The best a mother can hope for, Hogan seems to say, is to master the art “of beautiful partings.” 

In my dream, I imagined my daughter as a newborn again, perhaps because that was the last time I really believed that I could protect her from all the hurts and cruelties and hard lessons of the world.  Maybe it’s all those mothering hormones, maybe it’s the Mama Bear instincts, but I KNEW I could take apart anyone who came between me and my baby.  A few years ago, when a young woman I know had a baby, the baby’s father asked that young mother, “Do you love the baby more than you love me?” and she gave him the most amazing answer:  “I would die for you,” she told the father of her child, “But her, her I would kill for.”  Once we are mothers, we know exactly how precious life is; at the same time, we know that we would take someone else’s life from them if it meant protecting our own child.  That kind of fierceness filled me as a new mother, especially when I remembered my own childhood when it seemed no adults were protecting me or my siblings at all.  I vowed that would protect my children in all the ways I was never protected!

Figuring out that I can’t has been the hardest part of mothering.

Mastering the art of beautiful partings.  In my lifetime, I’ve sure had a lot of practice with partings, some necessary, some unwanted - but making parting into an art, into something beautiful that makes another life possible?  It seems the opposite of what parenting is supposed to be.  Yet as Hogan says, ”This is what it means to be mother and child … believe that emptiness is the full/ dance between us,/ and let it grow.”

This is a lifetime’s work.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Writing Bad Indians: A Short History of a Long Project

Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir ... In some ways, it feels as if I have been writing this book all my life.  I was born in Los Angeles, the only child of Alfred Miranda, an Esselen-Chumash man, and Madgel Miranda, a woman of European ancestry.  
Mom, me, Dad circa 1962

When I was three, my parents divorced.  My mother remarried when I was five and we moved to Washington State after I finished kindergarten.  Those first five years in California remained a crucial part of my identity.  In Washington, I was the only Indian kid in any of my classes for the rest of my public school career.  I looked different, I felt different, and I knew from the silences and absences in and around me that I had lost something, something I could not describe but which, to myself, I called “home,” and the ache itself inside me, “homesick.”

Home (with Duffy, our bull mastiff, on guard), circa 1969.
For most of my remaining childhood, we lived in an old trailer in the woods on the outskirts of Kent, Washington.  We’d always been low-income, but after my step-father and mother divorced when I was ten, my mom and I went on welfare, struggling to get by.  My mother was a strong and intelligent woman who came into her strengths late in life, earning an Associate’s Degree in Librarian Sciences from Highline Community College and landing a full-time job at KOMO-TV in Seattle as a Videotape Librarian.   

By that time, at thirteen years of age, I expressed a longing to know my father and my California Indian relatives; thanks to my mother’s example, I was also beginning to imagine going to college myself someday.  Knowing she could never afford a four-year university tuition on her own, my mother contacted my father, asking for his help in putting together my genealogy.  She hoped that the BIA would issue a blood quantum decision that would allow me to apply for scholarships open to Native Americans.  

 I think my mother also sensed my hunger for the other half of my heritage – my father, older half-sisters, aunties and uncles and cousins who looked like me, and a homeland whose towns, streets, mountains, rivers and beaches I could name, but had only gone back to visit once or twice.

She had no idea that she was walking into the hornet’s nest that was and still is the BIA, but then my mother was always tougher than she looked.  Thanks to the BIA’s epic, bureaucratic, and historic dysfunction, my mother became what she called an “accidental genealogist.” Fortunately, it turned out to be her life’s passion, and Madgel Miranda turned out to be a tenacious researcher.  This hunt also reconnected me with my Indian father (in fact, he moved to Washington and my parents reunited for a time; even though that didn’t work out, my father lived nearby the rest of his life), my little (half) brother Al, and that side of my family, and introduced us all to the on-going reformation of the Esselen Nation and the work towards Federal Recognition.  

Although I eventually earned a B.S. in Special Needs Teaching from Wheelock College in Boston (1983), I still felt my primary work in the world was as a writer.  After teaching for five years, I returned to the Seattle area and began raising two children of my own as well as writing and publishing poetry; finally, in 1995, I applied to the University of Washington’s Graduate English Department.

My mother died in November 2001 from lung cancer, just five months after she and my father saw me graduate with my Ph.D. in English Literature at the age of 40. Long since separated but still bound together by love, history and blood, my parents had sat together at the UW’s Native student graduation feast and ceremony in the Daybreak Star lodge, along with my two children.  

 My mother’s death was an unexpected blow – she was only 66, just retired, and the cancer had snuck up on her without warning.  No, she never was able to get me that BIA stamp of approval, and I graduated with big student loans to pay back.  But my mother left behind my real inheritance: a relationship with my father (no matter how fraught with conflict, it was still a relationship that helped me form my identity as a Native woman), about ten banker’s boxes full of painstaking research, and an amazing family tree that goes back to some of the first Native converts at Mission Carmel in 1770.  

Three years after my mother’s death, these boxes followed me from my first teaching job at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma to my new job at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, where I began having dreams about the ancestors whose were lives chronicled in reams of documentation.  Also in those boxes rattled a handful of old cassette tapes featuring my grandfather, Thomas Anthony Miranda, which my mother had started to transcribe but was unable to complete.
Thomas Anthony Miranda, circa 1955

            Originally, I began to finish the transcription of those stories as a way to feel close to my mother, whom I missed tremendously.  But I was quickly caught up in the rich material Tom’s stories opened up to me, a whole world of post-secularization experiences that both fascinated me and broke my heart with grief for what our ancestors had experienced.  I moved from the tapes to the other papers contained in my mother’s boxes, including a handful of notes from J.P. Harrington’s collection featuring Isabel Meadows.  As I’ve done all my life, I began to write out my responses in order to understand what I read.  Poems, stories, and essays began to form, as did artistic responses to documents like blood quantum charts, BIA enrollment forms, and material related to mission lands.   At last, I realized that this was a huge project, nearly overwhelming, and would require serious dedication of time, resources and energy.

            I took the first step by applying for, and receiving, a grant from the American Philosophical Society to have my grandfather’s tapes transferred to CDs.  A series of these stories were published in News from Native California under the title, “The Light from Carissa Plains.”  Next, I proposed a sabbatical project under the same name and received a year-long fellowship from UCLA to work on the book there.  I had been born at UCLA Hospital, so returning to that campus to work on a book about my family seemed like the Universe was giving me its blessing for the project.  With my older half-sister Louise J. Miranda Ramirez, Chair of the Esselen Nation, close by, archives all around, and the homelands of my ancestors stretching out in every direction, my time in California was intense –  painful, exhausting, and exhilarating, often simultaneously. 

            After ten months of non-stop research and writing, I had the bones of the book.  I continued writing and revising for another four years while teaching full-time, receiving several Lenfest Summer Grants from my institution, Washington and Lee University, to support travel to the Smithsonian in D.C., and back to California.  At one point, my colleague Chris Gavaler read over my manuscript and encouraged me to change the title from The Light from Carissa Plains to the much more descriptive Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, taking the title from one of the poems.

            Early on, I knew I wanted Heyday to publish this book.  In addition to Heyday’s dedication to California Indian publications, I’d long admired their book Only What We Could Carry, a collection of documents, poetry, prose and artwork about the Japanese Internment Camps.  I knew that Heyday would be able to handle the kind of multi-genre manuscript that I had in mind for Bad Indians.  But when I sent the early manuscript to publisher Malcolm Margolin, he felt it was still too unpolished, more successful as a handful of vignettes than as a cohesive book. 
             Disappointed but not crushed, I spent several more years writing and fine-tuning the book so that its form and content reflected the vision I had in my head.  During this time, my father also passed away from complications of diabetes; he had never fully understood my need to tell the harsher stories of our family and tribal history, and now he would never see the finished piece, never experience the healing I hoped the book would encourage.  I felt that the California Indian community needed this book now more than ever, and submitted the manuscript to a university publisher whose editor had expressed interest.  Unfortunately, the press's marketing director found the project to be unmarketable.  I sent the manuscript off to another publisher who expressed strong interest, but they kept the manuscript for an extended period of time without giving me a solid response.  This lengthy period of multiple submissions is the norm for trying to get a book published, but in frustration, I told that publisher I was sending the manuscript elsewhere, and sent my precious package off to Malcolm Margolin again. 

            That good man sat down and read it immediately, and wrote me a heartfelt note that led to a signed contract not too much later.  I’d known all along he would understand the depth and breadth of this book if I could just get it right, and I’m grateful that he was willing to re-read it after enduring that earlier, very rough draft.

            I wish my mother could be here to see the completion of this project.  She has been at my side all these ten years of writing, reading, researching, dreaming, and revising.  I wish my father could hold this book in his hands and see why healing requires us to expose and relive some of the most painful personal and ancestral experiences; perhaps he would have seen how those genealogies of violence in our blood are tied to survival and renewal.  Perhaps he would have forgiven those who hurt him, and whose hurt he passed on to his children.  Perhaps he would have begun to forgive himself. 

            I like to think that both of my parents would both be more than pleased to see how our collaborative work has become a memorial and testimony for the Ancestors, and a contribution to the renaissance of California Indian culture.  I like to imagine my parents would see how, despite my removal from Indian family and homelands at the age of three due to difficulties in their own lives, they each managed to help me find a kind of wholeness at last.