Category Archives: indigenous peoples

Young Lakota Premieres Nov. 25 on Independent Lens

“Young Lakota” Official Trailer from marionlipschutz/roserosenblatt on Vimeo.

Young Lakota will air at 10 .m. EST, Monday, Nov. 25, on PBS’s Independent Lens. The film chronicles Tribal President Cecelia Fire Thunder’s challenge to a proposed abortion ban in South Dakota, and the political awakening she inspires in Sunny Clifford, a young Lakota woman living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Young Lakota was an Official Selection at the Big Sky Film Festival, the New Orleans Film Festival, the American Indian Film Festival, and won Best Documentary at Cine Las Americas and the Smithsonian Showcase.

Silence and Spectacle: How the Sports Media Sanctions Racist Mascots

By Guest Contributors C. Richard King and David J. Leonard

Image by Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons.

One would hope sport media outlets might take their civic duty to foster critical thinking, public engagement, and informed debated seriously. Their approach to the representations in Native Americans in sport suggest otherwise. Under the veil of fairness and balance, they opt to speak for, to be silent and to silence as preferred pathways.

When ESPN columnist Rick Reilly offered a defense of Native American mascots because the American Indians he knew did not have a problem with them. Flouting his whiteness and playing his privilege with little regard, he spoke for Native Americas. His word – his whiteness, his platform – made their words meaningful. His editors neither batted an eye nor cleared a space for Native Americans to express themselves.

In fact, Reilly misrepresented his key source, his father-in-law, who wrote a lengthy retort in Indian Country Today that noted he found the name of Washington D.C.’s National Football League team to be objectionable. Reilly still stood by his piece and neither he nor his publisher have offered a correction or an apology.
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Thanks for the severed head. You proved my point

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[Note: The image above has been making the rounds of social media recently. Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations pointed out on Facebook that the image "makes a powerful statement against Indian mascots. Believe it or not, this guy has been at it for three years."]

By Guest Contributor Adrienne K.; originally published at Native Appropriations in 2010.

Game 4. Philly Flyers vs. Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers score a goal, and VERSUS tv shows this guy. This guy, holding an impaled, severed, Indian head. On national tv. Close up on his prop:

So disturbing, so graphic, and just what I wanted to wake up to on a Saturday morning. Truly sickening in the literal sense.

This proves it, without a doubt. Native American mascots are demeaning, stereotyping, and harmful to Native people. The Blackhawks logo is often touted as a “good” image–not evil or stupid looking, nothing like chief wahoo or the other blatantly racist images. But “good” image or not (and I still stand that no Indian mascot is a good mascot), clearly this demonstrates the danger when fans are given control over a mascot and image. There is no excuse for this man’s actions.

That’s one area mascot debates rarely cover–the actions of rival team’s fans and how they affect Native people. When an entire arena is shouting things like “Beat the Indians!” “Scalp the Redskins!” “F*@! the Blackhawks!” Can you imagine how it would feel to be a Native person hearing those things?

Even more upsetting about this image is the American history behind beheadings and scalpings of American Indians at the hands of whites. Into the late 1800′s, the california government offered bounties of 5 dollars per Indian head brought into city hall. The heads of great Indian leaders were kept as souvenirs by the US military, or strung up in trees or on posts to serve as a warning to other Indians who dare disobey. Scalping, a practice commonly associated with blood-thirsty Indians, was actually more widely used by the European settlers, and bounties were offered for Indian scalps as well. This proclamation from 1775 calls for scalps from Native men, women, and children–offering different rewards for each.

That’s why this makes me even more sick to my stomach.

We could also talk about how the TV station decided it was ok to air the image of this man, multiple times, or how the security at the arena let him through with that spear, and what those actions say about our society, or, per usual, draw the comparisons to other groups. Would a tv station air an image of a man carrying around an impaled Black head? Asian? Latino? No.

I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately about the Chicago Blackhawks, I’m assuming because of all the publicity with the Stanley Cup. A couple of people sent over this image:

Apparently the Chicago Tribune puts feathers on the homepage every time the team has a game. The feathers are pulled from the Blackhawks logo itself:

There have also been a few editorials circulating about the logo, and whether it’s time for a change. This one, from the Star, is pretty spot on. I talked a little bit about the danger of mascots and the psychological implications for Native students in this post about Tommy Tomahawk at Stilwell HS in OK. I recommend a read of Stephanie Fryburg’s work I link to in that post.

Even die-hard hockey fans can fall under the anti-hipster headdress manifesto.

So, overall, I guess I can–in a twisted and sick way–thank that Flyers fan. Anytime anyone says there is no harm in Indian mascots, I’m sending them that picture.

Offensive Logo has got to go: http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/nhl/article/815709–cox-offensive-blackhawks-logo-has-got-to-go

Flyers Fan celebrates with Impaled Head: http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Flyers-fan-celebrates-goal-with-impaled-Indian-h?urn=nhl,245889

Original pictures of the fan are from The Starter Wife: http://blackandgoldtchotchkes.com/

Earlier:

Meet Stilwell HS’s new Mascot: Tommy Tomahawk-http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/01/stilwell-high-schools-new-mascot.html

Tommy Tomahawk Update: http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/01/tommy-tomahawk-update-school-board.html

I Saw The Lone Ranger So You Don’t Have To

By Guest Contributor Adrienne K.; originally published at Native Appropriations

 

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It’s been 12 hours since I saw The Lone Ranger, and I still have the darn William Tell Overture stuck in my head. I wonder how long that lasts. It’s like waking up with a Tonto hangover, I guess. I have so many thoughts on this film, and only maybe one of them is good. But I think we need to start off with this: The Lone Ranger is just a bad movie. It’s 2.5 hours of a film with an identity crisis, not knowing if it’s supposed to be funny, campy, dramatic, “authentic,” or what. At points, it was very hard to separate the stereotypical and hurtful from the bad script, bad editing, and bad character development of the movie itself.

So, if it even needs to be said: SPOILER ALERT–I’m about to give away everything. But you’re not going to see the movie anyway, so it shouldn’t really matter. But you know how the internet is. Here’s my review, in only six parts. I restrained myself.

Some quick overall thoughts: Like I mentioned above, this movie didn’t know what it was, and that was a problem. It was also so. incredibly. long. By the time we got to the final big train chase scene at the end, where the pair save the day (accompanied by the aforementioned William Tell) I wrote in my notes: “FINALLY! I AM SO BORED!” and then that scene drug on for another 15 minutes and I just wanted it to end. I forgot what we were even fighting for. Which I think was the problem all along.

This is also the most violent movie I’ve seen in awhile, and I’m a fan of Game of Thrones. Don’t take your kids, despite the Disney label and PG-13 rating. There is so much shooting and stabbing, and they show the aftermath.  Early on in the film the bad guy even cuts out and eats the Lone Ranger’s brother’s heart (yes, eats it). They have no qualms about shooting someone for the sake of shooting someone, and there are blood and guts and barn beams smashing people’s heads. It’s not something I would want to expose my kids to, at all.

And for those of you new to the blog or needing a refresher, here’s all my Tonto coverage over the last year or so, which covers the casting, the costume, and a whole bunch of other things: my initial reactionswhy you should care about Tonto when there are “bigger issues” out theretearing apart Depp’s reasoning over his costume choicesthe controversy I dealt with for writing about Tonto, andArmie Hammer’s comments about Indians loving the movie.

Part 1: The Opening Scene–Indians are so backward and funny, y’all!

The movie opens with a Buffalo Bill-style Wild West Show, set up like a museum of Natural History, and a little kid wanders in dressed like the Lone Ranger, eatin’ some peanuts, lookin’ at the buffalo, then, oh hey! “The Noble Savage in his natural habitat.” Guess who that is??

Spoiler! It’s Johnny Depp. In some scary-ass old person makeup. Like seriously crypt keeper style. Then OMG he moves! and reaches out! and says in a croaky old person voice, the first words of the whole film: “Kemooosabeeeh.” Then there’s this whole bit where Tonto asks the little boy to “traaaade” (sounding like zombies and “braaains”) and points to his peanuts, which Tonto exchanges for a dead mouse. Then he proceeds to eat the peanuts with the shells on, crunching through them to the boy’s disgust and wonderment, while feeding the crumbs to the bird on his head.

I won’t go this in-depth with the rest of the film, but I wanted to set the stage. The very first scene we are presented with an image of a Native person, in a museum–which presumably we’re supposed to critique, but there’s no questioning of Tonto’s position there. To me it reinforces the idea that all the Indians are dead, relics of the past, which is actually a theme throughout. This Indian is so silly and backward he trades a dead mouse for a bag of peanuts, doesn’t even know how to eat peanuts, and is feeding a bird, but it’s dead. Even the child knows that’s wrong. So this is the “new” Tonto? Definitely an improvement, amiright? (that was sarcasm. In case you missed it.)

Anyway, Tonto launches into the story of the Lone Ranger for the kid in the museum. So the whole movie is in flashback.

Tonto speak summary: Tonto in museum. Tonto old. Tonto silly and backward. You listen to story now.

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Meanwhile On Tumblr: Taking The Piss Out Of White People Who Think They’re Not Racist

By Andrea Plaid

While Twitter is having a whole bunch of brilliant fun at the expense of Paula Deen and her racism (and rightfully so), Above Average Productions makes fun of those white folks who feel they should be congratulated for basic manners and human kindness toward people of color. (Though I’m not sure why the woman at the end of the vid is doing Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra…)

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The P.I. in the A.P.I.

By Guest Contributor Scot Nakagawa; originally published at Changelab

Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month has me pondering the question of Pacific Islanders and where that group fits in the Asian-Pacific American coalition. I’ve wondered about it because I fear that by using that term, we too often tell a story about Pacific Islanders that contributes to their invisibility.

There’s a certain amount of invisiblizing, if you will forgive my grammar, that goes on when we use the term “Asian American.” After all, Asian Americans are a mash-up of 40 or so ethnic groups from nations often at odds with one another within a region of origin that only thinks of itself as “Asian” because of being cast as such by Europeans. But, Asians are regarded as a race by the Western world, and with very real consequences that can’t easily be addressed without acknowledging that reality.

When the term “Asian” is lumped together with “Pacific Islander,” though, we start mixing up politics, regions, and race in a way that is potentially damaging.

For instance, the people of Polynesia first became known to the Western world as “discoveries” and then as colonial subjects. Polynesians were regarded by the West as childlike, “primitive” peoples, and as savages. In order to take possession of independent nations like Tahiti and Hawai’i, the French and the U.S. toppled governments and installed colonial oligarchies justified in part by the racist and self-serving notion that Tahitians and Hawaiians were incapable of self-governance in the complex context of international trade and “development.”

These racist notions continue to prevail. Polynesians in the U.S. are profiled by law enforcement as lazy, prone to criminality, and lacking self-control. It’s no wonder Native Hawaiians are less than a quarter of the population of Hawai’i but more than 40 percent of those in prisons. Polynesians in general are overrepresented in prisons in the U.S. Meanwhile, Asian Americans, and East Asians in particular, are profiled as “model minorities,” and underrepresented in U.S. prisons.

Among the main issues of concern to Pacific Islanders is the high incidence of diabetes in parts of that population. Asian Americans tend to be more concerned with issues of refugee resettlement, immigration policy, language access, and bullying. For many Native Hawaiians, resisting assimilation and gaining political independence from the U.S. is a primary issue, while for many Asian immigrants, assimilation and citizenship are goals. But many of us continue to rely on a single story when talking about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

When we reduce the complex experiences of diverse people to a single, totalizing story, we too often fail to see how our diverse stories intersect.

The single story of my childhood in Hawaii was the story of the rise of Asian Americans. This story begins with the first successful farm worker strike in U.S. history in 1946, and it was shared with me in order to teach me that risk, hard work, sacrifice, and looking beyond differences among people to find common ground were keys to a better life.

My parents and grandparents lived in plantation housing, shopped at company-owned stores, and participated in sports leagues designed and sponsored by plantation bosses in order to foster competition between workers who they segregated into ethnic work camps. The plantations were the foundation of the economic and political system of territorial Hawaii, which was governed by a Republican oligarchy ruled by Hawai’i’s white minority.

But regardless of violence and manipulation of inter-ethnic resentment on the part of elites, sugar workers were able to create a class union that brought the oligarchy to its knees. By 1954, a coordinated campaign of general strikes, civil disobedience, and non-violent protests caused a minor revolution in Hawai’i politics. In the territorial elections of that year, the Democratic Party, a multi-ethnic, people of color and working class majority organization, finally overthrew the Republicans. Democrats have controlled the Hawai’i legislature ever since and led the way to statehood in 1959.

It’s a great story. Remembering it still gives me goose bumps. But we should always be suspicious of history told to us as a single story.

The story of Asian uplift in Hawai’i excludes Native Hawaiians. It doesn’t address the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian government, nor the landless and impoverished state of the Native Hawaiian people. As a result, it fails to acknowledge the fact that the strikes and statehood didn’t really break the power of white American elites in Hawai’i. They lost absolute power, but continue to be the deciders on the major questions of politics and the economy in Hawai’i in no small part because they own so much of the land.

Today, sugar has left Hawaii. But because the old elites still control trade and land, diversified agriculture hasn’t replaced sugar, leaving Hawaii too reliant on expensive imported food. Instead, tourism dominates the economy, producing mostly insecure and low wage service sector jobs.

The demographics of Hawai’i are changing. People of color, especially Native Hawaiians, are being forced to leave Hawai’i to seek employment on the U.S. mainland. As they leave, they are being replaced by wealthy whites and white retirees, causing Hawai’i politics to drift in a more conservative direction. Government employment, one of the vehicles people of color have ridden to middle-class status in Hawai’i, is shrinking. Tourism and development have created an ecological crisis in Hawai’i, with more species going extinct there everyday than in any other place on earth.

This is what we blind ourselves to when we understand history as a single story.

 

Debbie Reese Takes On Hipster Racism In A Golden Calf In Weetzie Bat

When I was in high school, Weetzie Bat was the underground required reading for girls who wore pilly cardigans and name dropped fanzine editors. For those who read it, it almost so special that we didn’t want to tell anyone else about it. I remember feeling that way a lot actually; holding something so close to my heart that I didn’t want to give it away. It’s because these things had saved me, were saving me, and my biggest fear was that they would gain so much popularity that they’d get co opted by the normal kids and ruined (see “Nirvana”).When you love a book, you don’t just want to read it again, you want to BE it. At least that’s where I go. I didn’t just love Weetzie, I wanted to be her. If Bret Easton Ellis made LA seem like it was all rich kids and gay death human pinwheels, Francesca Lia Block turned the city into a magical punk fairy tale. To be fair, I wanted both versions to exist and sometimes couldn’t decide what I liked better (still feel that way).Weetzie had a boyfriend, My Secret Agent Lover Man, and a gay BFF. They made movies in “Shangri-L.A.” (Hollywood), lived in a cute cottage, and had weird drama that involved sexual trysts, unplanned pregnancies, and gay lovers with AIDS. DREAM LIFE!  Weetzie had bleached blond hair and was probably really thin. In my brain she sort of looked like a young Belinda Carlisle.Who owns the film rights? Does Francesca Lia Block still rule? All these questions and more can be answered on your local Wikipedia page (or by doing more research).LYMI, Lesley

The many covers of Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block, via. thereal90s.tumblr.com

By Guest Contributor Debbie Reese*

Years ago I started reading Weetzie Bat but put it down, in part, because of these passages in the first few pages of the first chapter (Note: To write this post, I read an e-book that doesn’t provide page numbers):

Sometimes she wore Levi’s with white-suede fringe sewn down the legs and a feathered Indian headdress… 

“She” is Weetzie Bat. Her friend, Dirk, who has “chiseled” features compliments her outfit:

Weetzie was wearing her feathered headdress and her moccasins and a pink fringed mini dress.

Weetzie replies:

“Thanks. I made it,” she said, snapping her strawberry bubble gum. “I’m into Indians,” she said. “They were here first and we treated them like shit.” 

“Yeah,” Dirk said, touching his Mohawk.

Weetzie Bat was published in 1989 and won several awards. Reading it today, what comes to mind is the hipster culture of the last few years and its appropriation of Native culture. While writing up this review, I did an image search of “Weetzie Bat.” In the grid of images I got (using Google image search), the first image in the second row I got is this one:

The source for the photo is a Weetzie Bat blog post at an art blog, A Beautiful Party. Dated September 16, 2010, the post is about a screenplay of Weetzie Bat and the photo is of someone playing the part of Weetzie Bat. If I didn’t know it was from Weetzie Bat, I would have thought, “Dang hipsters!”, because I’ve seen a lot of photos of hipsters in headdresses, feathered earrings, fringed clothing, or moccasins. Reading Weetzie Bat now, I wonder if it might have played a role in the 1990s emergence of hipsters and their appropriation of Native culture.

What, I wonder, was Block thinking about when she brought Native culture into her book? What did it mean to her or Weetzie Bat to say “I’m into Indians”?!

In my read of Weetzie Bat there is nothing to suggest that Block knew she was, in effect, having her characters embrace stereotypical “knowledge” about American Indians. (What she does with Jamaican’s gives me pause, too, but I’ll stay on topic.)

In the chapter titled “Jah-Love,” Weetzie meets the guy who will be her boyfriend. His name is My Secret Agent Lover Man (quirky names are everywhere in the book). He makes films of her doing things, like “having a pow-wow.” We aren’t told what she was doing, so we don’t know “having a pow-wow” means. That chapter closes with this:

And so Weetzie and My Secret Agent Lover Man and Dirk and Duck and Slinkster Dog and Fifi’s canaries lived happily ever after in their silly-sand-topped house in the land of skating hamburgers and flying toupees and Jah-Love blonde Indians.

Duck is Dirk’s boyfriend. Slinkster Dog is Weetzie’s dog. “Jah-Love” is, I think, short for Jamaica love but I don’t know what to make of it beyond that. There are, of course, blonde Indians, but the ones in Weetzie Bat are playing Indian–and doing it in stereotypical ways.

Early in the chapter “Weetzie Wants a Baby,” Weetzie, My Secret Agent Lover Man, Dirk, and Duck have finished their third film. It is called Coyote. In it, Weetzie is

a rancher’s daughter who falls in love with a young Indian named Coyote and ends up helping him defend his land against her father and the rest of the town. They had filmed Coyote on an Indian reservation in New Mexico. Weetzie grew her hair out, and she wore Levi’s and snaky cowboy boots and turquoise. Dirt and Duck played her angry brothers…

It is no surprise that the film makes some money for them. In the story–as in real life–white people defending and rescuing Indians from whites is a sure-fire hit.

Weetzie, as the chapter title tells us, wants a baby. My Secret Agent Lover Man isn’t at all interested in having a baby. He thinks the world is too messed up to bring a child into. While he’s away for a few weeks, Weetzie, Dirk, and Duck decide they want a baby together. They climb into bed together, and Weetzie ends up pregnant. My Secret Agent Lover Man returns, isn’t happy with her decision to get pregnant, and leaves. When the baby is born, Weetzie, Dirt, and Duck decide to name the baby “Cherokee.” There’s no explanation for why they choose Cherokee. All we know is that they considered these names: Sweet, Fifi, Duckling, Hamachi, Teddi, and Lambie.

At the end of the chapter, My Secret Agent Lover Man comes back. He gazes at Cherokee and asks who her father is. Weetzie says that she’s got high cheekbones like Dirk, and blonde hair like Duck, but that her eyes and lips are like his.

Ah, yes. high cheekbones like Dirk. Remember—he’s the guy with the Mohawk.

The last line in the chapter is:

Cherokee looked like a three-dad baby, like a peach, like a tiny moccasin, like a girl love-warrior who would grow up to wear feathers and run swift and silent through the L.A. canyons.

What does a tiny moccasin look like when you’re talking about a baby?! I know the book was/is much loved but–the stereotypical othering aside–the style doesn’t work for me.

In the chapter, “Chapter: Shangri-L.A.,” My Secret Agent Lover Man is making another movie. This one is called Shangri-L.A. Weetzie stars in it. She wears strapless dresses and rhinestones. And,

She made fringed baby clothes and feathered headdresses for Cherokee…

Sheesh! Now there’s headdresses for this baby girl?!

They can’t figure out an ending for the movie, so My Secret Agent Lover Man suggests Weetzie visit her dad in New York to see if he has any ideas. While there, he takes them shopping and buys Cherokee a Pink Panther doll at F.A.O. Schwarz.

If you’re buying a doll at F.A.O. Schwarz—well, if you’re even inside that store, you’re of a certain income level. Even though Weetzie’s source of money is never mentioned, the things they do suggests there’s plenty of it.

While in NY, Weetzie thinks her dad isn’t well. Soon after Weetzie goes back to L.A., he dies, and Weetzie struggles with her grief:

Grief is not something you know if you grow up wearing feathers with a Charlie Chaplin boyfriend, a love-child papoose, a witch baby, a Dirk and a Duck, a Slinkster Dog, and a movie to dance in.

Wearing feathers. That’s what Weetzie does. Nowhere do we get any sense that she (or Block) know much about the many distinctions amongst Native peoples. With the use of “papoose” we see more of that ignorance. Papoose is the word for baby in one language. It is not the Indian word for papoose. With over 500 federally recognized Native Nations, there are hundreds of languages, too. The Cherokee word for “baby”, by the way, is not “papoose.”

Cat Yampbell, in “Judging a Book by Its Cover: Publishing Trends in Young Adult Literature” (The Lion and the Unicorn, 29(3)) says:

The text of Weetzie Bat celebrates those who are torn from society, individuals who find each other and find happiness outside of the box that society defines as the norm.

Michael Cart, in “What a Wonderful World: Notes on the Evolution of GLBTQ Literature for Young Adults” (The ALAN Review, 31(2)), calls it a classic of gay fiction, and says:

its largehearted embrace of every aspect of the workings of the human heart, it demonstrates, with art and innovation, that love is love, regardless of what society chooses to label it.

Though I’ve not done an exhaustive look, I’m unable (thus far) to find any critical essays in which the stereotyping of American Indians is discussed. The book is much celebrated for its affirmation of people who are “outside the box” and/or gay, but I wouldn’t hand it to a Native child who was outside the norm or gay. I can’t elevate one part of who they are and slam another part of their identity at the same time.

Granted, some Native readers would breeze past it and shrug it off, but not all would do that, and I wonder, too, about the readers (like Yampbell? Cart?) who didn’t comment on the stereotyping. Did they not see it because it reflects their “knowledge” of American Indians? Or, did they deem that content insignificant? And what does it mean to decide that one culture is insignificant?

Thinking about those questions is ironic, given what Weetzie said at the top of the story. “I’m into Indians. They were here first and we treated them like shit.” Does Block realize that she’s doing the same thing?

Honoring or being “into” anyone in a superficial way is, in my view, treating them like shit because it is lazy. It allows a feel-good moment to stand in for real learning, real understanding, and meaningful action that would make the world we all live in, a better world.

In doing the research for this post, I read that Block has a new book out–a prequel to Weetzie Bat. I’ll pick it up next time I’m at the library.

*Debbie Reese continues to write on the Francesca Lia Block series in her essays, “Indian American” in Francesca Lia Block’s PINK SMOG and A Native Perspective on Francesa Lia Block’s CHEROKEE BAT AND THE GOAT GUYS.

Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Strong Families’ Mama’s Day Campaign 2013

By Andrea Plaid

With Mother’s Day coming up this weekend, we at the R celebrate the holiday with the best commingling of activism and e-cards from the one and only Strong Families crew! Check out their offerings:

Mamas Day Sylvia Rivera by Chucha Marquez

Artist: Chucha Marquez.

 

Artist: Robert Trujillo.

Artist: Robert Trujillo.

 

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski

 

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski.

Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski.

Along with the cards, Strong Families is also curating another incredible blog carnival on the meaning of Mother’s Day. From Forward Together’s Shanelle Matthews:

During the time my dad was in prison, my mom worked several jobs. She was a single parent to my siblings and me and was forced to work around the clock to support us. Because of this, her time with us was limited. When she was away at work—which was often—Dora and Betty and another woman whose name I can’t remember cared for us. My mom was committed to making sure we had food and clothes and somewhere to live, things I got to take for granted. Betty and Dora and the woman whose name I can’t remember were all undocumented immigrant women from Guatemala. They spoke little English and sometimes spent the night at our house. One of my brother’s first words was “zapato” (Spanish for shoe). It wasn’t until I became aware of the fight for domestic workers’ rights that I realized that these women from Guatemala were taking care of us so they could take care of their families. How maddening to recognize that the cycles of poverty that we face today are the same as those our parents experienced decades ago.

Writing this I started over two and three and four times. It wasn’t until the fifth try that I understood that my mom, my biological dad, and the women from Guatemala shared a common thread—their lives were divided by partitions, literally and figuratively. But the fight for a living wage, to end mass incarceration, and to create comprehensive policies on immigration and a pathway to citizenship, all of these threaten to topple the barriers affecting our most impacted communities: immigrants, poor people, and people of color—often one in the same.

My biological dad, my mom, and the women from Guatemala were kept away from their families by partitions, fences, glass ceilings, and social prejudices. What held these dividers in place was bureaucratic red tape; the kind that builds on outdated notions of what families look like and what they deserve. The kind of red tape that forces immigrant families to wait fifteen years for health care; the kind of red tape that keeps same-sex couples from marriage, second-parent adoption, and spousal benefits; the kind of red tape that limits access to comprehensive sex education, access to contraception, reproductive healthcare, and culturally appropriate resources for families of color; the kind of red tape that allows border patrol officers to shoot and kill families desperate for a better quality of life. This red tape is responsible for the deaths of millions. In the process, we’re becoming desensitized to empathy.

From Erin Konsmo, Media Arts & Projects Coordinator at Native Youth Sexual Health Network, founded and run by Racialicious’ own Jessica Danforth:

Mothering is an act of resistance and reclamation for many Indigenous Peoples. To be a mother has become a way to push back on ongoing legacies of European and Western notions of what “proper” mothering is. Mothers resist continual state custody, foster care, and the removal of Indigenous children from their homes. To be a mother is to resist forms of cultural genocide.

The health and well-being of a nation depends on the health and well-being of mothers. That is not to say that our male, Two Spirit, and gender fabulous community members aren’t just as important. At the same time, we do recognize that we all belong to Mother Earth.

Indigenous youth are resisting narratives that don’t recognize the sacredness of the many ways we bring life to all that we do; we are restoring our own definitions of mama, building up families when we are disconnected from our own, caring for other Indigenous youth as we resist colonization, and sharing our knowledge with new generations about our bodies and our sexualities. All of this is a restoration of mothering and what it means to be a mama.

And from Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes, Advocates for Youth‘s State Strategies Manager:

I brag about my mama. A lot. I brag about my mama because she won’t do it herself. I brag about my mama because she is one of those mamas whose real life experiences are all too often bundled into one-dimensional statistics, and whose identity as a parent is all too often understood as a result of social determinants rather than strength and resilience.

I also say this because of my mama’s unique relationship to the spectrum of motherhood. She started her parenting career as a teen mom and then later graduated to becoming an older mother. At age 19, she had me and then later in life, at nearly 40 years old, she had my younger brother. This puts me roughly 20 years between my mama on one side and my brother on the other side. Essentially, my mama has raised two “only children.” Her story covers two distinct social narratives, one about teen moms and a second about older mothers, narratives that are not normally so closely shared. But in my family’s case, they’re one in the same.

Maybe send an excerpt from one of the essays on the cards?