Thursday, March 31, 2011


My mother grows nostalgic over her wedding days in the kitchen as we grind rice. Da fire pyre caast shaadows aghainst my skhin, my bhangles cawtch da light. Dey glittered in da heet she sighs, her hands sliding over her arms, remembering the coolness of glass against her skin. She was 17. And the next day, she and her doctor husband in an ill-fitted suit who was to become a physician in Canada, peered over the Atlantic Ocean, her glass bangles shaking, nervous in flight. Tata, India. Amireeka, jal ra ho!

Be gentle wid da rice. Each grain has your faaders name caarved in it she scolds me. Her fingers move in cyclic patterns, putting the motor to ease, bangles sliding over her forearm. A real voman can cook. It is da vonly vay she caan conqueer herr husbhand she instructed, eyebrows knit. Oh yes, she knew all of it. Her life spent in her mother’s classroom: the kitchen. Women in my village were raised for the purpose of pleasing her maharaj. Her soon to be husband. My mother was raised in a large joint family. Girls would spend their days in petticoats in the protection of papaya trees from the unforgiving Andhra sun. Da lighterr a girl’s skhin, da more preety she is. Her mother told her. My mother, scouted by the Indian Olympics for high jump began to hide behind parasols. No wonder my mother is the color of milk. I too had the same destiny. Imagine ruddy Indian tom boy jumping to scale trees with her White neighbors. My mother would open the door, call me in, and rest cold towels on my skin, terrified of burns. Those glass bangles cool against my skin. Inkoka saree chae ado. Never again. Never again. She scolded me in Telugu.

Priyanka, vhy are your nails so deerty? Have you been outside? My mother pulls my hand to the window. I giggle. Vhat man vill vant dis? We both throw our heads back and cachinnate. Men. An Indian woman’s world revolves around them. From birth, a baby girl is handed not to her mother, but to her father. When it is her time to marry, she is passed from father to husband. Never mentioning her authority of being a woman, she is jaydaad, property; her value is trapped in her bangles. Believe me, my mother was different before marriage. She once ran wild like a river, full of laughter. Bold. But she knew her fate like every woman in my family. It was an age old burden that rested on the hips of women. She married a man fifteen years older than her. He was kind, quiet, determined, religious, and of the same caste. It was a marriage that was mapped in the stars. Elders praised it as a ‘marriage of the cosmos’. Mother had no choice but to fold her hands and stop running. Bangles were slipped on. She became a woman.

And so here I am: stuck between the cross roads of familial obligation and autonomy. Sometimes I want to scream! I want to lash out and defy the resonance in my marrow. Shrouded in the double standard of parasols and IR theory texts, my sexuality and my purpose are blurred like sand. I am proud of my heritage, proud to be the exception to the rule of women who could have been Olympic athletes and painters but never could. But I can be. Anything. Almost. I can be independent. Almost. I can be an anthropologist travelling the gentle neck of the Yucatan. Almost. I can be queer. Almost. My dreams are hidden behind my mother’s parasol just dying to get out. Wrists grow tight. I wonder if I can already feel the Almost weight of wedding bangles. But alas, I can only imagine.

Mama slipped her hands through my hair. Learn houve to cook rice before college! You must feed yourself too. Take care, nah? My mother never wanted her future for me. She dreamed of me reading and learning and running. Never stopping. No. Not for any man. She reminds me of what I am. She makes me conscious of what I was supposed to be: don’t forget, nana, dat no oder girrl in da family has gone to coleege. Be great for us, nah? But then why the rules? Why am I placed in the same classroom my mother was placed in, and her mother, and her mother, and her mother? Why the shared history of property? The answers are etched in the movements of my mother’s hands: My mother gets joy from cooking for my father. When rice melts in his mouth, my father sighs and holds her forearm. She giggles and winks at me from across the table.

“Ma, would you rather be a boy? You know you could of ran.” She rests her hand on her hip making the perfect curve of her perfect figure.

No. Men cannot do vat I do.

“And what is that?”

Surre I cannot run. Surre I stop school vhen I was fifteen. Surre I stay home all day. But I am vitaal. Do you tink your lazy ass faader can survive wid out me? Can he cook, clean, take care off himselve? Boys seldome become men. Like I vas passed by my faader to your faader, your faader was paased by hiss moder to me!”

She laughs at the thought, her thick hair sliding off her shoulders. Humorous liberation in small ways is what keeps my mother alive. And her mother, and her mother. And every woman who has ever been tied to a man for the rest of her life after meeting him a handful of times. Don’t forget deer. You arre a voman. Voman caan do anyting. Our cacchination sharp like the clinking of bangles.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Figs. Figs and Nomads.

“You know what, habibi?”

“Ha, sultana, tell me.”

“I love figs. Fresh figs. The ones you have with honey. Do you have it in Saudi? You must!”


“Yes Figs. I love them.”

He rested his hand on my shoulder, staring into me, searching for something. Anything. He could not see the gentle glide of jade peel encasing tender salmon flesh, sweet in the oriental sun. Searching and searching as if walking through desert sands on the way to Jeddah.

And then he found it. Like a fallen golden locket, almost lost, glittering in the sun in the midst of my hendi eyes.




“Well then, I love you like I love tiin.”

Bassam, a smile. His eyes grow soft, I crumble into myself like flatbread.

Indian women always warned their daughters: nuvvu pichee paanlu chaestavu prema ki, telugu syllables steady under pressure. Daughters remind mothers: have you not done crazy things for love as well? Adolescent voices can crush rock. But sometimes my mother’s tongue still clicks in the back of my mouth. I pay no attention. So here I am. Oxford Arabic-English dictionary in hand, waiting for him on a bench outside the metro station. He’s late. Dawahar. My mother was right. We do crazy things when we are in love, but how can I help it? Anaa motayyama!

He and I met as I walked off the metro a week ago, brushing against him. Alma'derah he whispered. I turned around watching him watch me. He stepped off the metro and the doors closed. We faced each other. I smiled. He smiled back. But it was not a smile that was not familiar. It was a smile of my past, of the eastern world. It was a smile of villages that basked in heat and nomads who communicated through drums. Drums we so affectionately call hearts. We come from a tradition of figs: callous on the outside, but inside, you could imagine the sweetness perfected from shade. We the people of shade. We hide behind our language, the constant flirtations that occur transnationally. Ask an American businessman who wants to buy a sliver of Dubai. First, you must wait and sit on your knees under Bedouin tents. You must sip tea and warm the palette before discussion. And so the American is ready. Ready to talk business. He opens his mouth, ready to declare his price. “How is your family?” the sheik says, watching the sweating American businessman, pulling at his own collar, not sure what to say next. You see? We the people of the shade having nothing to hide behind but our words. That is Telugu. That is Arabic, That is life.

They say Arabs run on a type of time that others cannot understand. I blame Islam. He often says “I will meet you after prayers”: fajr, dhuhr, asr, maghrib, isha’a. But between prayers lies a two hour lapse period. You never know when his body is done bending over Persian carpets, fervently breathing Arabic underneath himself. Dawahar! I have been sitting on this bench for an hour and twenty seven minutes. And so I wait and wait, forming Arabic syllables behind my teeth like swallowing seeds.

alif, ba, ta.

alif, ba, ta.

alif, ba, ta

Arabic is the most dangerous language. It will cause you to melt, to fall in love, to turn to Jeddah and wait patiently on for a bus, looking through the alif, ba, and ta’s. Sounds evolve to words. I wait and wait; as body grows stiff, tongue unfolds:

A is for Allah because I pray for you.

B is for bakira because my hands like boats travel to you.

C is for cala because you guard my heart like a fortress

D is for daqiqa because, habibi, I would spend eternity with you if I could.

“Sorry for making you wait for too long, najla”

“What does that mean?”

“Wide eyes.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“Ah, yes. You are full of wonder and delight and full of optimism. You are one of najwa, romantic talk.”

I watch him watch me, uncertain what I am to say next. Wide Eyes. Oh Sapir –Whorf how you make me laugh! What man calls his woman wide eyed?

I grin and take his hand: “Youni enta. You are my eyes.”

And so we walk, two post-colonial vagabonds somehow in the midst of a nation that promoted English as a second language if it was not our first. It was certainly not his. Him, Saudi Sultan with his “kha’s” and “gah’s” thrown into his speech like pomegranate seeds in fresh curd. Oh, and tiin. Of course tiin. His voice sweeter than figs.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Recently, my loves, I have been very confused. I have been dwelving in post-colonialism and what it means to be colored and what it means to be post-colonial and what do we do as a society past this interaction between East and West and is separate but equal possible and what the hell is sovereignty?! All these paradigms and terminologies give me a headache! And yes. I meant dwelve. So don't try to underline 'dwelve' with a red squiggly line, ok? dwelve: verb 1. somewhere between delving and dwelling 2. fall head first into something while thinking and thinking on the topic until it tortures you 3. falling into a well and thinking so much as to how to stay afloat that is drowns you.

I was so confused, I did not know what to do. But when we are drowning, we call for help. I had nothing to lose so I went to James Early. Mr. Early, well to me he is one of those people you admire from a far and get all worked up to meet him that by the time you have enough courage to come up to him, he's out the door doing something fabulous and adventurous. Mr. Early is the Director of Cultural Heritage Policy at the Center of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution. I met him at one of the symposiums my boss Manjula Kumar and I run about Race and 21st Century America. Once when we were meeting before the symposium, he started out his sentence with "As a Marxist" and I knew he and I were going to get along. This man and I had an appointment to meet, but he had to cancel because he was to return the former president of Haiti who was exiled for 7 years Jean- Bertrand Aristide to from South Africa to Haiti. He was on that private plane! This is who I want my mentor to be. As you can see, I just admire this man. So finally we met.

For a good 30 minutes (as I always do) I ranted about my confusions: what are indigenous communities to us? What is culture? What is sovereignty? Who am I? Priyanka? Or Priyanka a post-colonial woman who will always in the eyes of a White man be this erotic object from the Orient? (Things I always complain about). All these words came rushing out. He just watched as my hands moved around fervently. I stopped. I was too exhausted.

And then he spoke. He told me the words we used are symbols in themselves. They are not reality. But we need to choose our words carefully so that we can express that reality, those feelings to someone else. We use words to describe a constantly changing reality. Culture is like reality. It is dynamic. History is important to look at. Yes understanding and studying history can help us understand reality, but I am not accountable for hundreds of years of history. He asked me about me. Who I was. How I describe myself. I told him that I was 19 and was Indian. He asked me if I was born there. I said no. I was born in Canada. He said you see? "I was born in the South of the United States but I often tell people I am African and stress this because I am compelled to. Just as you are compelled to talk of your Indian roots". He continued describing more things: But with the sexuality and Indian lineage and third world eroticism, ascribing it onto myself without acknowledging I was in this country and Canadian is shifting that of western citizenship reality in my eyes. He told me that culture is dynamic. It is true because my dad came to this country. Had post colonial attitudes stayed stagnant, he would not have this job. He said that reality is multi-vocal. He chuckled and said that was quite post-modernistic. I nervously laughed. Nervously because I was hesitant and worried that I have been worrying myself to death over nothing. He asked me to reflect. So I will. But what he said about words makes me think. Yes. I am trying to come to terms with words. Well may be I need to define my terms before I use them. If I can define anglocentric, then I think I can get closer to my reality.

How the world fascinates me so.

I am still dwelving.

But people like Mr. Early prevent me from drowning.

Until next Wednesday, Mr. Early.

America, NAFTA, and the Riddle of Fighting or Running Across Fronteras

In the pantomime of montaƱa piercing sky, I drew my shawl tighter against me. Chiapas was the most beautiful place on earth: verdant cliffs, azure streams, and the splash of ruby flora that hugged the hips of sloped land. The sun was growing thin behind curtains of clouds as Cristobal, a twelve year old boy was playing his wooden guitar while singing a song that was no ordinary song. I don’t come to make war—I’m a working man/ Though it pains The Neighbor/We are more American /Than every last one of the Gringos. Rough fingers stroking metal strings, I watched him stare past the trees to a place that I could not find him. How could an indigenous boy be more American than those who were born and live in the country? How could he be more American than me?

America. La Mexcla del Mundo, the mix of the World. But why this nation? What has attracted so many people to these borders? When I asked a Mexican fruit vendor in Texas while I was there visiting family why he came to the USA, he responded by saying that America is the land of opportunity. Growing up in Mexico, he heard stories of people who went to the States with a clean slate and were able to make it rich with hard work, a little luck, and several prayers. I then asked him if the image he had in his mind as a boy came true. He looked at me, the corner of his eyes creasing as he smiled wearily. It will come. More determination. More work. And I will make it. To my determined friend, America is not just a country. It is a mindset, a prize that will bring him happiness, the final frontier over a third world village tucked into the jungles of Chiapas. But this is not just his vision. I then realized that to Cristobal, the twelve year old boy, America was the tired nights of wanting to do more and to leave his all too familiar pueblo for a new, breathtaking land. America was a dream that Americans did not see. A dream that was certainly taken for granted. A true American would appreciate and work harder and harder for that dream. America was determination. To me, this is what ‘America’ stands for. For me, for my father, for Cristobal, and for the rest of the world. America is an image that entices the masses. This is certainly evident with the drama that enfolded after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. But in the process, ideologies clashed and the dispute between individual versus society unfolded. Mexico became the battlefield for an identity

influenced by America. The United States’ influence in Mexico is not only an economically based.

Its first important to note Mexico’s convoluted and tragic history. Mexico had been cheated throughout history by her Northern cousin, the United States of America, several times. For example, when Austin and Houston claimed Texas for the United States, Mexico was tricked into selling the land for a very cheap price out of desperation for money to keep the Mexican National Treasury from being buried in debt. But since its independence, Mexico has looked at America for direction. To illustrate, in the 1940’s, Mexico wanted to show to the world and particularly the United States that it could be a luxurious and driven place too. Thus the Mexican government poured millions of pesos into the construction and rehabilitation of a small fishing town known as Acapulco. Acapulco became the playground and swimming pool or Hollywood Stars. Mexico became moda, fashion. The hotels were built in styles similar to South Beach hotels with air conditioning, televisions, and night clubs. Acapulco was transformed with entrepreneurial skills and innovation that remind me of the vision of America: the attempt of success with hard work, luck, and determination.

The NAFTA document was in many ways, like Acapulco. The agreement would catapult Mexico into the First World and raise Mexico’s GDP significantly. Mexico was going to be in the ranks with the United States. With an economy that had been corrupted by a league of cheats since the birth of the nation, Mexico wanted to have the stability; NAFTA could provide stability for Mexico. The purpose of the document was the eliminate barriers of trade between the three countries of North America. The seeds of the agreement were planted in 1988 when the Canada-US States Fair Trade Agreement was signed. When in effect, the document mitigated all tariffs on imports and exports between the United States and Canada and enabled a more fluent flow of products between the two countries. The third North American country Mexico wanted a share. In 1992 US President George Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mullroney, and Mexican Presidente Carlos Salines met in Texas to form a document. The negotiations were finalized and the document was signed on December 31st 1994 and in Mexico City, a National Fiesta was held for the celebration. Mexico was finally about to break the mold. The Mexican government declared NAFTA as progress.

But was it truly progress? Who was profiting? On an economic standpoint, Mexico became the second largest importer to suppress the United States’ demand for agricultural products when pre-NAFTA Mexico did not export much agricultural goods outside its borders. In fact Mexico’s agricultural exports increased by 9.4% annually between 1994-2001. Mexico became the farmlands of North America. But on a deeper level, NAFTA was making a change, but not in a positive way. During the 1950’s- 1990’s, the Mexican government redistributed land for the long ignored indigenous communities. In the state of Chiapas, the most fertile state in Mexico, about 17% of the land was used in a system of ejidos or communal farming grounds for indigenous communities. The communities were promised more land, but after NAFTA, the communal lands were taken away by rancheros who grew mass amounts of corn to export it to the United States in order to keep up with the competitive market two years before the document was signed. Indigenous people all over Chiapas were forced off their ancestral homes in order for more ranches and farms. The indigenous people grew tired of the unjust treatment and on January 1st 1994, an army of indigenous people stormed into the main cities of Chiapas to reclaim the state as their own. With the help of Subcomandante Marcos, a professor of philosophy from Mexico City, the indigenous people held up banners with the words YA BASTA on them. Enough they said. The reclaiming of cities by force gave the indigenous communities a sense of belonging and power. Never before had the indigenous people of Chiapas collectively stood up for their rights. It was an attack on an unlawful system that robbed them of their livelihood and community. In the indigenous community, the individual is not as important as the community. Everyone has a role to play in society. For example when I was in Oventic, a Zapatista village, I was meeting the leaders of the Junta (collective tribal government) and while we were speaking, the women stood up and left the room. I was the only woman present and the men carried on their conversation with me. I asked them where did the women go and they replied that they had to cook for the rest of the community. The community relied on each individual to form into a community. In response to the effects of NAFTA, political ideologies were tossed around in conversation, and it became unclear what the indigenous community truly wanted. In the “EZLN Demands at the Dialogue Table” a document written by Zapatista leaders, thirty-three clauses in the document state needs for schools, medicines, doctors, communal farming lands, and clean water, yet in the final clause the communities do not want to be governed by the Mexican government and want sovereignty from the national government. Also, when I was visiting the villages of Oventic, I was talking to a few seniors in high school. I asked them what they want for the future of their villages. They quoted Marx and called on communism as the best way to go because the individual knows his place in society and will act in respects to his duty. These villages were theatrical in many ways because I felt they were confused as to what they wanted for the community. What were the Zapatistas fighting for? Were they reclaiming land or a lost persona? I believe it is both. The movement united the communities. Community is key. But it is a different sense of community we hold on to. This sort of community is an unspoken bond in which every person in the community knows exactly what his or her job is. Traditions were important, but there was a world beyond the mountains. The big scare was certainly about youths running off up the Yucatan and making their way to the border. Sometimes the strict codes and rigid structure of society caused many to run.

When I visited a family in the indigenous province of Chenalo, I was surprised to see no men. I met everyone in the family that was present, but not a single man. I asked where the husbands and fathers and brothers were. Lucia, a woman who was taking care of me took me by the hand and led me one of the houses. I stared at photographs hidden behind glass on a wooden wall. These men she said ran to America. I stared at the empty look on Lucia’s face. NAFTA hit the community hard because not only was it the loss of corn fields but the loss of men as well.

Since the late 1990’s thousands of Mexicans have left their homes in order to find a better life in the United States. It is the same vision my father saw of the states some forty years ago. The same vision caused a nation to sign a document that put the tradition and economy in a limbo. It is the same vision that is causing men to leave their homes in order to support their families. I was always aware of this vision, but I had never experienced it so concretely. I could never imagine all the men in a family to cross the frontera and being in the presence of women and children who had not seen their loved ones was beyond anything I had ever felt before. But in the families with members over the border for a vision, the family still in Mexico I noticed was so strong. The unity was unbreakable. Women took the jobs of men in the fields and harvested corn. In the communities, I felt a sense of unspoken unity with these women, too. And when I think of Cristobal, I can see that he is thinking of another place, another community. I know that he will join his brothers, uncles, and father in the southern America to prove that he is more ‘American’ than all of us gringos.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Oh the Casino

Going into the reservation, I was intrigued by the casino. I had preconceived notions about it and thought that it was a way that the government was creating more debt for indigenous people and was an economic model that marginalized and not help the community.

But when I was at Cherokee, I learned something completely new to what I have read or heard before. First of all, when you enter the reservation, the majority of buildings are one story. But then, as you approach downtown Cherokee, you see this beautiful, huge, exquisite building. How does this building and the one floor buildings coexist?

Lets look at the history of the casino. Harrahs Cherokee Casino and Hotel is not just a Cherokee built casino. Harrahs is in fact a franchise. They built this beautiful casino but the community bought it from the Casino is sure time. Now the casino provides jobs, pays full tuition for any one who lives on the reservation (native or not) for college. Citizens get 9000 dollars every year. The casino invests so much money into the community. The casino finances the hospital! The casino for its workers provides free health care and pensions and life insurance. The casino provides outreach programs. The casino is... something else. It is nothing that I have ever had the opportunity to deal with. The casino has made 2,128,400,000 dollars in the past twelve years! The community gives 37% to health, 30% to public relations, 11% to seniors, 11% to education, 10% in cultural environmental programming, and 1% to communities outside the casinos.

But you know what? Only 16% of its 1200 workers are Cherokee. Only 300 people? Its crazy. How has that happened if natives have so many amazing perks for working there? But then again, as one of the women I talked to in the casino who worked there told me how there was such thing as 'Indian' time. The cross-cultural discrepancies between Cherokee and American are very deep. We are talking about polychromic and monochromic time. So where does this put us?

One woman who helped us on our church mission that when people get their checks they spend it quickly and do not really save it. That's what she does and other women at church she introduced me to. I am not sure where to go from here. All these stories- what is development? How do we measure the success of a community's development? Economically? Because Cherokee is quite well- off. But there is one thing I must state that is really important: each nation is different. Native American is a term that was constructed in the 1960s as a response to years of oppression (my next blog is on this). So Cherokee honestly is prospering in many ways compared to those tribes on the other side of the United States. I feel as though I need to bridge out and see more. As far as Cherokee goes, however, it has been doing fantastically financially and socially. It is a dry reservation and alcoholics have meetings that public transportation takes them to for free. Not many reservations really have that. Where does this put me? Indigenous rights is larger than I thought.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Inconvenient Truth: Reflection

Whenever I think of India, I dream of hazy days blended by Karnatika heat and gentle embraces of terra cotta dust on my shins. Every memory a blur as if cotton saris were held over my eyes. But one experience at age seven jolted me from adolescent slumbers.

For the entire summer every year, my parents and I made our annual pilgrimage to their past. We were reunited with sanctums of nostalgia filled with roadside tea stalls and vegetable vendors. While my parents attended to obligations of meeting distant family members, I was left to play. My older cousins never wanted to leave the family compound so I meandered through the Bangalore neighborhood and met my friends on the other side of the road. I never really noticed the crumbled buildings, the little shacks lined by the path. I never really noticed the shards of glass that had fallen in open gutters. I never really realized how strange it must have looked for a girl in bright white Nikes and pleated skirts chasing behind girls who did not look like the other girls because their faces sunk in from hunger. I never knew that the huts I found comforting were slum shacks. I never knew I had befriended slum children. But as business as usual, I met my friends who wore tattered saris. We used to roll tires down little hills and play imaginary games like “Indian princess”. My friends always poked fun of my American induced Telugu, but I never thought it set me apart because I saw my friends the same. I brought them chocolates from the “Amereeka” as they excitedly held the silver wrapping to the light. In return their mothers handed us dates from the corners of their shawls. I saccharinely loved them in a way children do with such hope. Business as usual, we ran, hand in hand, my vagabond friends and I. I wanted to invite my two worlds together: my family tucked in the compound and my friends beyond the main road.

I told my cousins to come with me. They disgruntledly trudged behind. We came upon my little alcove. My friends Chitu, Cheema, and Babi ran out shrieking and holding scrap paper they found behind their home. We hugged tightly just as kids do. I turned to my cousins to introduce my friends. They looked at my friends in disgust. We left Mr. Bean for a bunch of street rats? Street rats. I did not understand this word. Before I knew what was happening my older cousin took me by the hand as his twin shooed the children, my friends, into the shacks. I looked over my shoulder to see the girls sucking on their raggedy smocks, faces dark with shame, with fear. They were street rats? I was confused. How did I never notice their grubby hands? I thought. They disappeared behind me, shacks only visible. And why did I not notice those huts before? My cousins pulled me ahead. Did it even matter?

The sleepiness of India lifted. I found myself in bustling streets of Bangalore. I saw wary faces of paan sellers and little girls in shabby frocks. Why had I not realized? I never knew this was the reality of India. India was not just the land my mother’s tongue spun stories of. It was a land of hardship. And no one knew how this tableau was imprinted in my mind. The phrase slum children causes my chest to tighten. I now see the pain in my country and it makes me mad. It makes me want to lash out, bear my teeth at all those who uttered the words slum children under their breath as little barefooted migrants run past. Noticing difference, although it broke me in two like a seed, was for the best. Ignorance washed from Indi-youth hazy daze where India was a land of nostalgic virtues. But nothing is virtuous about the struggles of the intentionally marginalized. I did what generations of epiphanies did: I read.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Place Over the Mountains.

I don't want to be that girl. The one who idolizes Indian people. After all, Paul Chaat Smith, curator of the National Museum of the American Indian states in his book that non-natives tend to romanticize indigenous people as either cartoon characters in old Westerns or overtly spiritual people who worship the Earth and constantly singing about Pachamama's glories. But at the same time, when our green church van descended from the Great Smokies, I fell in love with the trailers and log cabins. The streams were full and overflowing because of the rain. Everything was shrouded in fog (maybe because I imagined this scene even before the trip and I projected this imagery or because of the thunderstorm that happened hours before our arrival). My earthy trip was disturbed by a large billboard that had a cartoon Indian with a war bonnet that read GET YER GOLD! What was that?!

When we came to the nation, we settled in the classrooms turned methodist mission lodge. I was restless to explore. I was really excited to meet an Indian. A real life 100% indigena. So I went to community center and encroached on a game of family night Bingo. I sat next to a friendly elderly man named Eddy, in a wheel chair, and a Mexican who tipped his cowboy hat and winked as I lowered into my seat. An 8 year old girl named Jaya put out her hand and in a thick southern accent said "pay up miss". I smiled and fumbled for a quarter for bingo. I then exchanged greetings with the men next to me. Eddy was so friendly. We made small talk: where I was from. What I do. And then I had questions: What was his occupation. What was the tribe like. What was economic development to him.

He told me he was the economic manager of the tribe and once worked with the EPA before his rare stroke that made it difficult to work. He told me how the reservation got most of its income from tourism. That explained the GET YER GOLD sign. It was an attraction. He told me that the casino brought the company the most revenue. He told me the casino was tribally owned and provided the most jobs to tribal members. There was a hotel too. Even a Paula Dean kitchen! He said enterprise would save the community. He said he is thrilled whenever a tribal member would open a restaurant or hotel because the tribe would earn money from taxes and the family who opened the business would benefit too. The tribe, he said, relied on tourism for years. He told me of a man who wore a Sioux war bonnet and took pictures with tourists. Some people in the community got mad and questioned him because he was misrepresenting Cherokee traditions. Cherokees did not have war bonnets. But the man replied: say what you want, I paid for 4 kids through college. We laughed. And that was that. Eddy told me about the fisheries. The tribe was granted the opportunity to own one for rainbow trout. People come to fish rainbow trout for 5 dollars a day. And crafts are sold too. At this time, the little girl came to me and plopped down on my lap. She was beautiful: round eyes, cream skin, mahogany hair. Your pretty she said while stroking my hair. I laughed. She taught me some Cherokee: shi-ok. Hello. skee. Thank you. agua. Water.

And then it was time to sleep. But I knew I was going to stay up, wondering what other people were doing in their homes. Where did Eddy go to? And Jaya? How many brothers and sisters did she return to? Did she have a mommy and daddy? The town, its a funny town, I thought. Riddled by forests inhabited by trailers and totem poles (for the tourists. Totems are traditionally from North Western tribes. Hey, but its for money). So where did that leave me? I would soon find out.

The Museum Dilemma: an Intern's Take

During the 1st panel of the Race and 21st Century symposium, we explored the issues facing museums: funding, controversy in lessons, and controversy in images. Often the Smithsonian needs additional funding apart from what is given by Congress. $1000 is needed per sq. foot of an exhibition. Many donors come from private companies who have the ability to deny project proposals in an exhibition. Its a sort of censorship, but what does the museum do? With all the constraints how can we address provocative questions? What exactly are museums attempting to do? In order to answer these questions, we must hear the voices of those in the field.

Paul Chaat Smith, the curator of the National Museum of the Native Indian, writes in his book Everything You Know about the Indian is Wrong that the museums are to create change:

Everything you learn teaches you that the Indian experience is a joke, a cartoon, a minor sideshow. The overwhelming message from schoos, mass media, and conventional wisdom says that Indians might be interesting, even profound, but never important. We are never allowed to be significant in explaining how the world ended up the way it did. In the final analysis, Indians are unimportant, and not a subject for serious people.

To understand why check out John Carpenter's failed 1988 science fiction movie called They live. An unemployed construction worker in a city finds a pair on sunglasses. He tries them on, and the world he sees through these shades is terrifyingly different from the one he knows. Ordinary-looking people are scary aliens. The billboards and telivision ads all appear to have been designed carrying messages that read OBEY and SUBMIT TO AUTHORITY. The dollar bill has no George Washington but reads THIS IS YOUR GOD. The ad for the movie reads: A rugged loner (RODDY PIPER) stumbles upon a terrifying discovery: ghoulish creatures are masquerading as humans while they lull the public into submission through subliminal messages. Only specially-made sunglasses make the deadly truth visible."

Sometimes people ask me: "Say what do curators do any way?" The answer is simple: we design, build, and distribute specially made sunglasses that make the deadly truth visible. Curating is humble work, and God knows it doesn't pay very well, but we are proud to be fighting the ghoulish creatures from outer space and their allies, the humans who collaborate with them for financial gain. But you know what, these sunglasses are nothing but trouble. Once you put them on, you are doomed. The ghoulish creatures from outer space have better weapons, better security, and have made deals with sellout humans. They run everything, and its only a matter of time- in the case of They Live, about 90 minutes, before you are hunted and killed. But this is why we fight. Hope.

I agree. With everything. This glorious country was build on the expulsion of native people. Forced diaspora is etched in the marrow of America. Jefferson was quoted for saying: "we need to move the savages in order to create our empire of democracy". Museums engage the populous so that a native american arrow head does not become a myth, shrouded in the disconnection between the era of Indian Wars and our days. We need to make it obvious that our objects today will one day be in a museum too. History is a continuum. We can prevent another Wounded Knee incident if we know our history. Museums do that. I want to be a curator so that I too can inspire those. I know it is an uphill battle. Working at the Smithsonian has opened my eyes to passions and emotions of scholars who feel it is important for Americans and visitors from other countries to know the truth. If people know the truth they will want to make a change because truth is not so peachy. So put on your glasses. Its time to open your eyes.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


In 30 hours I have the privilage of visiting and living in the Cherokee Nation of North Carolina. I have been waiting for this for a very long time. Ever since I was little, I have ached to see what a reservation was really like. To prepare me for the trip, I have been doing research on tribal government and the issue of 'sovereignty' in the Cherokee Nation. But before I begin, here is my itinerary:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

8:30 a.m. Travel to Cherokee, NC

8:30 p.m. Arrival in Cherokee

Campfire time (weather permitting) w/s’mores

Sunday, March 6, 2010

9:00 a.m. Wake-up call

10:00 a.m. Breakfast

11:00 a.m. Optional worship services:

Cherokee United Methodist Church

11-12:15 pm, some traditional Cherokee songs and casual worship

2:30 p.m. Hike at nearby waterfall

8:30 p.m. Optional daily devotion/debriefing time

Monday, March 7, 2011

9:00 a.m. Wake-up call

9:30 a.m. Breakfast at CUMC

10:00 a.m. Groups leave for worksite

Work details are still coming in and will be projects in the Cherokee community.

There will be various projects there, ranging from carpentry/construction to lawn

care and lighter labor.

We will eat lunch on site from food we will bring.

4:30 p.m. Van leaves for CUMC

5:00 p.m. Dinner, CUMC

6:30 p.m. Native American Presentation—Speaker TBD.

9:00 p.m. Optional daily devotion/debriefing time

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

8:00 a.m. Breakfast at CUMC

9:00 a.m. Depart for worksite

5:00 p.m. Dinner at CUMC

6:30 p.m. Cherokee Presentation

9:00 p.m. Optional daily devotion/debriefing time

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

8:00 a.m. Breakfast at CUMC

9:00 a.m. Work Site

Afternoon: Sweat Lodge at Home of General Grant

The Sweat Lodge is a Native American

spiritual tradition, engaged in for both spiritual and physical benefits. Sweats are

used for spiritual renewal and the purification of body, mind, soul and spirit.

“Sweats are a combination of silence, singing, praying, and sharing from the heart,”

and in this way “sweats are considered to be the heart of the community.”

8:00 p.m. Optional daily devotion/debriefing time

Thursday, March 10, 2011

7:00 a.m. Wake up call

8:00 a.m. Breakfast at CUMC

9:00 a.m. Meeting with Principal Chief Hicks (This is still to be confirmed.

If Chief Hicks is unavailable, we will try to meet with someone else in the Tribal


10:00 a.m. Visit Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Afternoon Sight-seeing

5:00 p.m. Vans depart for CUMC

5:30 p.m. Dinner at CUMC

Native American tacos, meat and vegetarian, prepared by members of


7:00 p.m. Optional reflection and devotional time

9:00 p.m. Final campfire time

Friday, March 11, 2011

8:00 a.m. Wake up call/Breakfast

8:30 a.m. Load vans

8:30 p.m. Arrival in D.C. (approx)

The Cherokee nation in North Carolina is one of three federally acknowledged sovereign Cherokee nations. The nation has the ability to choose who who the citizins are. According to the website , someone who can prove their native heritage from the 1900s document called the Dawes document which states who has native blood or not. The nation can decide what is in their curriculum in the schools. The elementary schools teach Cherokee and English and have their own forms of testing. The US government may acknowledge the nation, but the nation is considered a dependent nation because it is not considered a fully sovereign nation like Mexico. The Bureau of Native Affairs acts as a buffer for tribes and the government so there is a disconnect between the government and native councils. But Barak Obama has made the following statements to native tribes:
Native Americans make up 4% of America's population. Native affairs is a complex issue. What is it that sovereign nations want? Do they want some form of integration in society while being recognized as a sovereign nation? Or do they want nothing with the system? I am excited to see what the reservation is like and maybe I can understand the native issues better. Every day I will write in a notebook and then come back home on the 11th and post all my notes. Wish me luck? I cannot wait!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Alchemy of Conquest

What is conquest? It can be seen through many lenses: academic conquest, sexual conquest, political conquest. We conquest in our lives. We push to achieve, and we want to dominate our fears. We persevere with force. But what I am fascinated by is conquest on a macro-scale and since I am am exploring post colonial dilemma we must look at conquest with a colonial/ post-colonial lens that way we can be mindful of history, describe the present, and look to the future for insight on post-colonial themes.

Colonialism: A definition used in Cross Cultural Communication is:(a). the system by which groups with diverse languages, cultures, regions, and identities were united to form one states, usually but not limited to European power (b). the system by which a country maintains power over other countries or groups of people to exploit them politically, economically, and culturally (Martin and Nakayama, 28)

History has provided us examples and patterns of conquest over time. Whether it be the conquest of Meso-America, India, Africa, or the Pacific Islands, Conquest follows the following pattern (someone layed out in Todorov's Conquest of America:

1. When the exogenous party is in the environment of a native or home population, the party considers those who are around them as flora and fauna of the new landscape. The outside group is impressed by the natural resouces around them and are curious of the inhabitants. Due to the lack of understanding of the local culture, often the natives are considered by the new group as primitive or lacking of culture such as a language or religion. The natives are often not considered fully human. Because of this ethnocentric conclusion that the indigenous population is sub-human, the exogenous party finds it acceptable to assert cultural dominance by setting up missionaries as a way of "civilizing" the natives.

2. The new group is interested and inspired by the resources around them. Often these resources are not abundant in exogenous group's region of origin. Resources include but not limited to: cocoa, land, spices, silks, furs, wood, and precious metals and gems. Due to economic, personal, religious, and economic reasons, threats of violence or violence occurs and harms and disrupts the demographics of native population. Communication not utilized to understand the indigenous population, but to exploit it.


3. This occurs when the non-exogenous party is dying/ losing identity/ losing face. There is a movement to preserve what is dying of the culture in terms of collecting pottery, recording songs, saving medicine rituals. But there is little done to preserve the people itself. It is as though the non-native group feels as though the people are not the culture. The culture is found within the objects used by the people. During this time, more and more native people are taking up practices or ideals of the dominant culture such as religion/ language/ and dress.

4. The now dispersed and mixed native group wonders what exactly its identity is and whether to preserve its old practices before the disruption of conquest in colonial terms. The exogenous members, often due to guilt, personal reasons, may be compassion even(this might be a very panglossian stance on my part), and other reasons, set up a government that works with the locals to 'develop' the local communities. Even though governments try to develop regions, a gap grows between native/ dispersed population and historically colonial government on a micro-level and/ or on an international level. Although countries such as Congo or India have been colonialized and then gained its independence, both countries have a long way to go in order to bgidge divide between Congolese or Indian societies and western society.

So looking at the patterns in conquest, you must wonder, DOES THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN? Does remorse have to happen after conquest? Then why then does it happen? Can we prevent conquest then if we have so many examples of conquest and destruction to a culture. Well I think there is one more step we need to take and delve deeper in what exactly is conquest as we peel the skin further. Conquest is a manifistation of power. Conquest enables power to be asserted. The Spanish conquistadors asserted their power through colonialism. Remember when I said we conquer in our lives? Well we do so by asserting our power on a daily basis. Power is on a spectrum. We are constantly in the fluxes of it.

What is power? The oldest definition of power in the Oxford English Dictionary is "ability to act or affect something stongly; physical or mental strenth, might, vigour, energy, effectiveness. Power to me is like energy. It is constant. It can not be created or destroyed. It can be transferred. The Aztecs once were the most powerful civilization on the world. It was the most influential in Meso-America. But the Aztecs were conquered by the Spaniards and the conquistadors had the power to assert their dominance. You see, power shifts and moves.

What I am saying, in summation, is that I am not arguing if conquest is inevitable or not because what I am arguing is that power is always present and conquest is a manifestation or a forum for asserting power. Looking at history the pattern is certainly not optimistic. But what we know is that power is a dialectic. One can have all of the power and none of the power at the same time in response to conquest. Power is in a constant movement between parties who are conflicting. This is why social movements such as the Civil Rights movement or Women's Rights movement or even movements to move from colonialism such as independent and sovereign movements (Gandhi, Zapatista, American Revolution, American Indian/ Red Power movement) were possible. A dominative culture was overpowered by the following but are not limited to: words, actions, thoughts, message (verbal/ non-verbal), utilizing of the media. The issues that post-colonial societies face today are about reconstruction of identity through POWER so that they are heard and acknowledged. So that their voices could bridge the gap between western and occidental/ afro/ oriental societies maybe in economics and maybe in other ways as well. This is why conquest is important: so we are mindful of history.

And that was the alchemy of conquest.