Before the Canonization
Isabel Meadows, Daughter of Loreta, Grand-daughter of Maria Ygnacia, Great-Granddaughter of Lupicina Francisca Unegte, Great-Great Granddaughter of Celedonia Josefa Usari, was born in Carmel Valley on July 7, 1846. The daughter of former English whaler, James Meadows, and Loreta Onesimo, a member of a local Rumsien and Esselen Indian family, Isabel was a speaker of the Rumsien and Esselen, both languages of the Monterey coastal region. In the 1930s, Isabel became “a primary informant” of Smithsonian ethnologist J.P. Harrington. In her eighties, she accompanied Harrington to Washington D.C. for five years to continue their work on Carmel/ Monterey/Big Sur cultures and languages; she died there in 1939.
And so I come to Washington D.C., the city of monuments, city of legislation meant to kill my kind, award bounties to their murderers. What happened, I wonder, to the hands, the ears, Indian scalps turned in to prove their eradication from the earth that gave birth to those bodies? Did they get fed to the dogs or hogs, thrown into a garbage pit, end up dried and preserved in a private museum? Are they catalogued in drawers beneath the Smithsonian, tagged by tribe or possibly dollar amount?
I come to Washington, D.C. by car in a good solid September rain drunk up by a drought-hardened earth, tires skimming a freeway littered with roadkill: a raccoon curled up as if asleep on the verge, a red fox sprawled awkwardly, nose pointing west, a deer mostly obliterated and melting into asphalt. Overhead, the vultures in their wobbly V’s, a few red-tailed hawks braving the deluge, always crows, and once, a great blue heron gliding across unmown fields. Little prayers fly out behind me like flags, asking forgiveness, asking for guidance, love-grief bright and wordless.
I come to Washington, D.C. by train, leave my car behind in a quiet lot in Falls Church in favor of this segmented steel and plastic creature who opens its mouth and invites me inside the belly, lets me ride into the heart of the beast. There are rivers of darkness beneath these streets, and I am accompanied by strangers whose skins speak of history, conquest, improbable survival.
I come to Washington, D.C. and walk for miles after sundown, hair wet and wild, footsore, past a Cathedral lit up by giant lights on cranes, the stern banner of a priest looming up like a bad dream that will not die, a platform crawling with men in hardhats, mile after mile of tall silver barricades necessary to separate the profane from the sacred.
I wonder if my Ancestor walked any of these streets, if, when she came so far from our homeland in Carmel and Monterey, she knew she would never go home again. I wonder if, even as she told her stories to a man who would preserve them in boxes, in secret hiding places, in museums - did she make up new stories about tricksters in this city that was always meant to bury us, in the city where she would walk on to the Ancestors with no relative nearby to pray or to sing? Isabel, Bella, Auntie Belle, Isabela, keeper of the stories of so many others: who will tell your story? Who will track your steps on these heavy concrete sidewalks?
Deborah A. Miranda