Tag Archives: U.S. history

Respect in Motion

It’s finally happening!  The Washington Redskins national football team has decided to change their name by eliminating the term “redskins”.  This is a moment for which the Indigenous American community has been striving for years.  It comes at a time of national soul-searching for the United States – a period nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century where we are at long last coming to terms with a lifetime of racial injustice and inequality.

The alteration didn’t come from a moment of sudden spiritual enlightenment from team owner Dan Snyder who had said many years ago that a name change was out of the question; adding: “NEVER – you can use caps.”

Never say never, Danny boy!

Snyder bowed to social and economic pressures.  Several major corporations that have sponsored a variety of professional sports teams in the U.S. for years had vowed to pull their support if Washington didn’t change its name.  When you grab someone by the financial gonads, they’ll follow you with hearts and minds.

But society is also changing.  Despite the old guard claims that it’s “just a game”, American consciousness has seen that proverbial light in the darkness and gone towards it.  NASCAR, for example, recently banned Confederate flags from its events; a move that has upset many White southerners.  Again, the old guard is losing its grip on cultural relevance.

The word “redskin” is equivalent to slurs like nigger, gook, spic, fag, or politician.  It’s seriously debasing and relegates the Western Hemisphere’s native peoples to a skin tone (which many don’t actually have) as well as to a sub-human category.  In all fairness, some people of Native American ancestry don’t care either way.  They don’t view the term as derogatory or racist.  It’s just a word.  Of course, it is!  So is genocide.

Washington is now at a moniker crossroads.  Obviously, they’ll keep the name Washington.  But what to add to it?  Some have suggested “Warriors” or “Red Tails”; the latter a reference to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) servicemen during World War II who went disregarded and underappreciated for decades.

I recommend the term “Monuments”.  It’s a direct recognition of the Washington Monument, but it’s also a reference to the structure’s form and size.  You know – a large, tall, long, hard, phallic-shaped emblem.  Since football is such a macho sport, I feel it’s appropriate.

Regardless of whatever name Washington adopts, the time is way past due.  And there’s simply no turning back.  Time doesn’t stop and it doesn’t retract.  It always moves forward.  So should we all.

“A Matter of Respect” (2012)

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Best Quote of the Week – July 4, 2020

“In defense of the Confederacy, the word ‘heritage’ is romanticized.  But its literal definition is property that is or may be inherited.  Even if the property you inherit is your little brother.”

Cary Clack, writer, journalist, and descendant of a Confederacy veteran

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Coloring In

We’ve heard it so many times before.  History has always been written by the victors.  It’s a sad reality, yet very true.  It means that much of the history of Africa and the Western Hemisphere has been recounted with a decidedly European viewpoint.  As someone of mixed European and Indigenous American extraction, I always felt conflicted about this disparity.  While trying to find information about Native American Texans in an encyclopedia during my grade school years, for example, I noticed that references to pre-Columbian peoples were treated dismissively.  It wasn’t just archaic history in standard academic circles.  It was irrelevant.  Even mention of the state’s Spanish colonizers – the first permanent European settlers – was dubbed “pre-history.”  It seemed Texas history didn’t actually begin until the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston arrived.  And it didn’t matter that these men weren’t even born and raised in the state.

Only within the past half-century has the truth about various indigenous societies been revealed with advances in archaeological research and detailed forensic analysis.  Lidar, for example, has taken the concept of neon lighting from the banal presence of liquor store signs to the jungles of Central America where long-abandoned Mayan structures remain shrouded by the foliage.  As a devotee of Archeology magazine, I’m constantly amazed by discoveries of ancient settlements across the globe.  Areas once thought to be occupied by nomadic hunter-gatherer types at best are revealing the ghosts of thriving population centers.

Yes, history has always been dictated and composed by those who somehow managed to overcome the locals – usually through the casualties of disease and pestilence or the sanguineous nature of war and violence.  But the blood of history’s victims seeps into the ground and eventually fertilizes the crops that feed the newly-minted empires.  That blood eventually metabolizes into the truth of what really happened – albeit many centuries or millennia later.  Still at that point, it can no longer be ignored.

Here in the U.S. we’re now seeing statues and other emblems of the American Civil War come down by government decree.  Supporters of that conflict have maintained its genesis was the battle for states’ rights, while truth-tellers insist it was a battle over slavery.  They’re both correct, in some ways.  It was a battle over the right of some states to keep an entire race of people enslaved.  I certainly feel removal of these statues is appropriate.  Those who fought for the Confederacy wanted to rip the nation in half over that slavery issue and therefore, should not be venerated as military heroes.  They’re traitors.

The debate has now shifted to renaming many U.S. military bases.  In my native Texas, one military base is named after John Bell Hood, a Confederate general who – like so many other Texas “heroes” – wasn’t even born and raised in the state.  Hood also wasn’t an especially adept military commander; having lost a number of individual conflicts.  And yet, a military base is named after this treasonous fool?

The U.S. Pentagon has expressed some willingness to rename military bases that reference those ill-fated Civil War characters.  Naturally, it’s upset many White southerners who annually reenact various Civil War conflicts; not realizing how ridiculous they look in their antebellum garb.  I can’t help but laugh at them.  They’ve been fighting the war for over 150 years and STILL haven’t won!

In his usual brusque and toddler-esque manner, President Trump announced last month he would veto a USD 740 billion defense bill if it included an amendment that would rename many of those military bases.  He declared, “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”

Remember, the Confederacy lost that war.  A million reenactments won’t change that reality.

Some 30 years ago my father discovered that Spain’s Queen Isabella (who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyage) was an ancestor of his mother.  According to documentation my father found, Isabella learned of the atrocities Spain’s military officials were committing against the indigenous peoples of the “New World” and ordered them to stop.  That’s one reason why Latin America has a stronger connection to its native peoples than the United States and even Canada.

It should be worth noting that, while Italians celebrate Columbus as a national hero, he probably wasn’t even a native son.  For centuries he was considered a Genoese sailor with grand visions of finding a westward route to India and subsequently gain an edge in the then-contentious spice trade.  Contemporary research, however, has declared he was actually the son of Polish King Władysław III; often dubbed the twelve-toed king because allegedly had 6 toes on each foot.  And I have to emphasize that Columbus couldn’t get Italian leaders to finance his ventures, so he turned to Spain.  In the 15th century C.E., Italy was actually a conglomeration of city-states.

In one of my earliest essays on this blog, I lamented the term “redskin”; a derogatory moniker for Native Americans that has figured prominently into the names of many sports teams, from grade school to professional.  Just this week the Washington Redskins football team announced what many previously considered unthinkable: they might change their name.  Team owner Daniel Snyder conceded he’s bowing to pressure from its largest corporate sponsors (big money always has the loudest voice in the corporate world), as well a growing cacophony of socially-conscious voices demanding change.  Snyder said the team has begun a “review” of both the name and the team’s mascot.  Detractors, of course, moan this is political correctness at its worst.  But, just like Civil War reenactors still haven’t won, Eurocentrics still won’t admit they didn’t obliterate North America’s indigenous populations.

Change on such a grand scale is always slow and painful.  But, as with time itself, change will happen; it can’t be stopped.

We can never correct or fix what happened in the past.  Nothing can ever atone for the loss of millions of people and the destruction of the societies they built.  But we can acknowledge the truth that is buried.  It’s not rewriting history; it’s writing the actual history that remained entombed in that bloodied soil for so long.  It’s adding the needed and long-absent color to reality.

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First Thanksgivings

A depiction of the 1565 Augustine, Florida Thanksgiving.

Americans know the story.  The Mayflower Pilgrims – thankful to survive, first, a brutal voyage across the Atlantic and, second, a nasty winter sat down with a group of locals (a.k.a. Indians) and had a bountiful feast of food.  Like many American legends, it’s a mixture of truth and hyperbole.  But, as time progresses and historians research more, Americans are starting to realize they actually may have experienced more than just one “First Thanksgiving.”

Along with Thanksgiving, descendants of the Mayflower like to claim they established the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States.  They’re wrong on both counts.  Long before the Mayflower even set sail, Spanish explorers had spread throughout much of present-day Latin America and what is now the southwestern U.S.  In 1565, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived in northeastern Florida.  He named the stretch of land near the inlet in honor of Augustine, a saint of the Roman Catholic Church; it was on Augustine’s feast day – August 28 – that Menendez de Aviles and his crew had sighted land.  Menendez de Aviles and his contingent of some 1,500 mostly military personnel encountered the Timucuan Indians who had occupied the region for millennia.  The Spaniards had brought pork, olive oil and wine, but the Timucuans helped them gather oysters and giant clams.  At some point immediately afterwards, the two groups feasted together.  The city eventually became St. Augustine, and today its residents declare they are home to the nation’s first Thanksgiving celebration.

At Texas’ westernmost point sits the city of El Paso, where humans first settled around 10,000 B.C.  In March of 1598, another Spanish explorer named Don Juan de Oñate led an expedition across the Chihuahua Desert, hoping to colonize regions north of the massive Rio Grande.  After a 50-day trek, Oñate and his entourage of roughly 500 people, including several children, arrived in the area of contemporary El Paso.  Most were barely alive.  They’d exhausted their supplies of food and water; a rain shower saving them at one point.  Once they reach the El Paso area, though, conditions and circumstances improved.  The indigenous Tigua Indians helped the Oñate group capture wild game and fish.  After several days of recuperation, Oñate ordered a feast to venerate the expedition’s survival.  On April 30, 1598, the Spaniards and the Tiguas celebrated together.

A member of the expedition wrote: “We built a great bonfire and roasted the meat and fish, and then all sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before. . . We were happy that our trials were over; as happy as were the passengers in the Ark when they saw the dove returning with the olive branch in his beak, bringing tidings that the deluge had subsided.”

In April of 1989, the city of El Paso began honoring the Oñate celebration, laying claim to that coveted “First Thanksgiving” mantle.  But, Florida and Texas aren’t alone.

The state of Maine also stakes a claim to the “First Thanksgiving” on the basis of a service held by colonists on August 9, 1607, to give thanks for a safe voyage led by George Popham.

Connecticut may be the first state to set aside an official annual day of general thanksgiving.  Some records claim the first proclamation came on September 18, 1639.

In 1630, the Massachusetts Bay Colony observed a special day of prayer that is now often called the “First Thanksgiving.”  Even earlier in Florida, a small colony of French Huguenots living near present-day Jacksonville noted a special thanksgiving prayer.

Virginians are convinced their ancestors celebrated the first Thanksgiving when Jamestown settlers in 1610 held a religious service and a feast honoring their survival of a harsh winter.

President Abraham Lincoln may have declared the first official Thanksgiving holiday in 1863.  But, along with Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Virginia, the states of New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont all had annual thanksgiving observances before the 19th century.  New York joined them in 1817, and soon afterwards Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin followed.

Centuries ago, our ancestors didn’t think much about the far future – not to the same degree we do now.  They were glad to survive one day at a time.  Feasts of thanksgiving – surviving a harsh winter, a summer, or a monsoon – were always reasons to celebrate.  Our predecessors understood how dependent they were upon the world’s natural elements; they never felt they could control the wind and the rain.  They were at nature’s mercy.  And, everyone should be thankful for that.

Image.

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