November 11, 2013

Off The Record

Last night there were a couple of shows on OWN that were focused on the history of Black people in America. One was an interview of the director, Lee Daniels, and actors, Forrest Whitaker and David Oyeloyo, from the movie The Butler.  The next show was an interview of Tyler Perry followed by an interview of Spike Lee.  All very interesting. I discovered that I could relate to Spike Lee, which, to be honest, surprised me.  I liked him.

While the interviews and discussions were going on several things were said that hit a nerve. Not a totally random nerve or one of those scientific-job nerves. It wasn't an autonomic nerve that keeps those parts we don't think about operating, lungs, stomach, intestines. Not a peripheral nerve or central nerve, you know, the north and south lanes to and from spinal cord and brain.

This was more of a cranial nerve but not the ones that connect your literal sense organs to your brain; eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Maybe I should call it a cranium nerve. A nerve that starts off with a flash of discomfort or disgust and grows and throbs until it is raw. One of those nerves that just won't shut up, some times it yells and some times it whispers, but it is there and not going anywhere.

Please believe me when I say I don't, in any way, want to demean the Black experience in America. This is not my intention. I guess you could say I just want to paint a bigger picture.

At one point in the conversation, I believe it might have been in the Butler-movie interviews, someone said: "It is part of our story in America" to which someone else responded, "It is America's story!"  (not a direct quote, I am lucky to remember what I said last night let alone people sitting in the tube talking between commercials).

I truly don't know where to start, which reminds me of a quote from the move Princess Bride. Indigo Montoya wants to catch a character up to what the situation is. He says, "Let me, there is too much, let me sum up!"  (best read with a hispanic accent).

About 500 years ago some STD infested Europeans "discovered" the Americas, stepped off the ships and basically said, "Let the slaughter begin!"

Every history book talks about how this white guy discovered this bay, that river, some huge canyon or some mighty peak.  Most of those rivers, bays, peaks, lakes, etc. are named for the white men who "discovered" them.

We rarely mention, if at all, that there were millions of indigenous folk who were living on the banks of the bays, rivers and lakes, the edges of the canyons and the slopes of the mountain peaks.  Oh, and many had been living there for thousands of years.

Some of those native "Americans" were my ancestors.  We have Navajo nation, Apache nation and some tribe from the far north eastern America according to my grandfather, but I never found out the name of the nation, let alone the tribe.  I also have a great-great-great-great-and-some-more-greats grandfather who came with Cortez to Mexico in the 1500's. Estaban de la Vaca, which through the years has been shortened to Baca.  Ol' Grandpa Estaban did not return to Europe but remained in Mexico, married and started a family, a large part of which migrated to the New Mexico territory area. Some family members where awarded huge Spanish land grants.

On the other side of my family, there were ancestors who immigrated from Spain in the 1700's and were given Spanish Land Grants in the New Mexico territory.  This family has the Apache lineage entangled with it but also a little French, a little German, a little Mexican and that mysterious north-eastern tribe of Native Americans. A large part of my family came from Europe, Spain, France, Ireland but they intermingled with "them"....married indigenous people. 

When the United States proposed to make New Mexico a state, the people of New Mexico were against it, mostly the people with land grants. Land was precious to them, they grew their own crops, raised cattle and sheep. Life was hard but life was good. They were independent.

The United States promised (first hint that something is up) that all land grants would be honored. It was called the Treaty of Hildago. We the people of the United States honor your......oops, the Santa Fe courthouse mysteriously burns down one night......Sorry, can't honor your land grants and we will not recognize the grants in your possession. All the "recorded" grants burned up with the courthouse. So, grants were taken away. Land confiscated. Promises broken.  I haven't looked up the word "treaty" but I'm that the United States government is under the assumption that the words "treaty" and "promise" have something to do with sodomy.

Some people got to keep a couple of acres, not enough to range your sheep or your cattle, not enough to grow food for your family. Too bad, so sad. Many of my ancestors went from land owners to share croppers and tenants, lost their homes, lost their herds. Never, ever, though, did they lose their strong work ethic.

My family moved to larger towns, got jobs, became dependent on others for their paychecks.

When the Great Depression hit, jobs became scarce. Thousands of "white" men were jobless. The United States passed a new ugliness. It was called the Mexican Repatriation Act.  Much like the Nazis, American police and soldiers loaded men, women and children of hispanic lineage (more than a 2 million) into trucks, cattle cars and box cars in trains and dumped them south of the Mexico border. Many were taken from their homes in the middle of the night. At least 60% of them were U.S. citizens, that would be about 1, 200,000.  Many of those people didn't even speak Spanish. 

Suprisingly, the families that were "repatriated" were families whose fathers and husbands had good jobs. Jobs that the unemployed white men could now take.  Many of the "Mexicans" who were dumped were born in the U.S. Many families had been here for generations. Sometimes only the husband and father was taken, never to be heard from again.

My grandfather was a hard worker. He was a supervisor on a large farm in Colorado. The owner of the ranch warned Grandpa that the government was coming for him, my grandmother and my mother (who was 2 years old). Grandpa, Grandma and my mother were all born in the U.S. Grandma and Grandpa in New Mexico, my mom in Colorado.  Grandpa smuggled his family to Denver, changed his name for a couple of years and lived with my great-grandparents until the repatriation activities had calmed down.

I believe the anthem for this movement was "Save the Real Jobs for Real Americans!" (Can I just say here that it was Herbert Hoover who signed the Act...a Republican)

What year in school did we study this little tidbit of U.S. History....oh, yeah...never!

 God Bless America, the land of the free!

Speaking of free people, the Mexican Repatriation Act and the experience it presented to our government in the reticent round-up of millions is credited with making the internment of millions of Japanese during WWII so easy.  Spooky, huh? 

Do you ever wonder who's next?

Another great-great immigrated from Ireland in the early 1800's. He was pretty smart and realized that Irish were not exactly welcome on the East Coast of the U.S. (was it the Catholicism that offended the powers-that-be) so his family eventually ended up in the southern states. My grandfather was born in Mississippi, moved to Tennessee and eventually moved on to New Mexico, where he met my grandmother.

My husband and I took a trip to Fort Jones and Etna in Northern California last week. I fell in love with the area. The Marble Mountains ( a range of mountains in the Klamath Mountains) are beautiful. I informed my husband that we are going to move to Etna or nearby. I started investigating properties, history, weather. Everything I can get my hands on.

In the research I discovered that Mt. Shasta was first discovered by ____________ __________ and was named after him for a short period and then discovered by _____________ and called __________ for awhile and then discovered by, on and on, white man after white man.  Then the articles go on to talk about the Native American tribes who lived in the area, for 400 years, for 700 years and maybe as much as 7000 years. Some even lived on the slopes of the yet, undiscovered, Mt. Shasta.  They didn't even know it hadn't been discovered.

Native Americans were promised much. Their children were made to march hundreds of miles in snow, without food or water, to reservations "granted to them" for the exchange of their life styles and their homes. We've made heroes of soldiers that slaughtered thousands of the indigenous people of America simply because they were in the way of progress.

The handcuffs above were used on Native American children when they were kidnapped by U.S. soldiers. Taken from their families and jailed in American schools. They were punished and beaten for speaking their native language.

I can go on. But I just want to say that Black Americans have had a bad ride, but they are not alone. Irish, Jews, Asians, Mexicans, Native Americans, have all had to fight for the right to be considered citizens of this country and to be treated as such. In many cases we are still fighting the fight.

Today is Veteran's Day in America. I honor all the men and women who have served our nation, who have been our six. I have to tell you though, there are those soldiers, who rode their horses while shooting at innocent Native American women and children, there are those soldiers who loaded up Hispanic families into box cars and enclosed trucks, those soldiers who rode their horses as they watched women and children, the old and the infirm, march to reservations with broken hearts and broken promises. There are those soldiers that I cannot be proud of, there are those times and those thoughts, that make it difficult being proud of our nation at times.

1 comment:

Comment Please but Play Nice!