MyAmericanFuture

MyAmericanFuture
MyAmericanFuture

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 28, 2018: Inclusive Figures: Ruiz de Burton



[Last week I followed up my Valentine’s Day talk on Exclusion & Inclusion: The Battle to Define America by highlighting exclusionary moments and histories. This week I’ll flip the script and highlight some of the inspiring inclusive figures on whom my book will likewise focus!]
As I wrote in this August 2017 post for the American Writers Museum blog, no single figure resisted and rewrote the exclusion of Mexican Americans in the aftermath of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo better than María Amparo Ruiz de Burton. For that reason, and for all that she still has to say to our 21st century conversations and debates, she’s an inclusive figure all Americans desperately need to read.
Next inclusive figures tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other inspiring figures you’d highlight?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

February 27, 2018: Inclusive Figures: Revolutionary Slaves



[Last week I followed up my Valentine’s Day talk on Exclusion & Inclusion: The Battle to Define America by highlighting exclusionary moments and histories. This week I’ll flip the script and highlight some of the inspiring inclusive figures on whom my book will likewise focus!]
On four figures who together embody the vital contributions African American slaves made to the American Revolutionary effort.
1)      Crispus Attucks: I had just started to learn more about Attucks when I wrote that hyperlinked post, and will be the first to admit that I seriously downplayed there the fact that he was a fugitive slave, having run away from his Natick master ten years before his participation in the Boston Massacre (on which more as part of next week’s anniversary series). Perhaps I thought that fact was already well-known, but I don’t believe it is (certainly my sons have not learned it when they’ve studied the Boston Massacre and Attucks as part of their elementary school social studies units). And in any case, Attucks’ birth and childhood in slavery (as the son of an African father and Native American mother, both themselves slaves), as well as his subsequent escape from it and decade of life as a fugitive slave, seem to me to be crucial to understanding his role in one of the most significant pre-Revolution protests.
2)      Phillis Wheatley: On the other hand, I said most everything I’d want to say about Wheatley’s Revolutionary poems and arguments, and their close ties to her experiences of slavery, in that hyperlinked post!
3)      Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker: And ditto my thoughts in that hyperlinked post on Freeman and Walker, and the way they and their allies put the Revolution’s ideas and documents to use to gain their freedom and forever change Massachusetts and America. I know of no single story that better models my vision of an inclusive America than does that one!
Next inclusive figures tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other inspiring figures you’d highlight?

Monday, February 26, 2018

February 26, 2018: Inclusive Figures: Las Casas and de Vaca



[Last week I followed up my Valentine’s Day talk on Exclusion & Inclusion: The Battle to Define America by highlighting exclusionary moments and histories. This week I’ll flip the script and highlight some of the inspiring inclusive figures on whom my book will likewise focus!]
On two of the first truly inspiring American voices.

I get why we focus so many of our exploration-era narratives on the conquistador types. They were daring warrior-explorers who wore crazy hats and searched for lost cities of gold and fountains of youth (especial points of emphasis half a century ago) and killed and enslaved a ton of Native Americans in the process (especial points of emphasis these days). And certainly my somewhat in-depth engagement with the life and writings of their founding father, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea himself, Columbus, makes clear that they weren’t just one-dimensional cartoon villains by any stretch. But what a difference it would make to our national identity and narratives if the first years of European arrivals became the story first and foremost not of Christopher Columbus and his fellow explorer-conquistadors, but of the Spanish Priest (later Bishop) who befriended Columbus and even edited his journal: Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566).

Toward the end of his life, las Casas published The Destruction of the Indies (1552), an incredibly honest and scathing account of the treatment of Native Americans by Spanish explorers, colonists, politicians, soldiers, and commercial interests. He would spend his final decade and a half expounding on that topic at the Spanish Court, pleading for a more just and mutually beneficial Native policy. But those events were simply the culmination of half a century of impressive efforts and actions—beginning almost immediately after his 1502 initial arrival in Hispaniola, las Casas worked on behalf of the island’s and region’s natives on a variety of levels: certainly religious, attempting to convert them to Catholicism (not a particularly appealing thought from a 21st century perspective, but far more inclusive than most of the early arrivals’ perspectives); but also social and communal, proposing and working for a variety of experiments and initiatives intended to better integrate the European and Native communities and give proof to his steadfast beliefs that the two cultures could coexist peacefully and successfully.

My other favorite early European arrival is Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish naval officer who was shipwrecked on the coast of Florida in the 1530s, spent nearly a decade wandering across the continent and living with numerous Native tribes and nations, and developed a complex, hybrid new perspective and identity as a result; in my second book I identified de Vaca as one of the first Americans because of that hybridity and identity. But whereas de Vaca’s shifts were the result of extraordinary circumstances, las Casas simply observed what was happening in the Spanish New World, responded to it as a truly moral and good person should but so few of his peers did, and then, more impressively still, wrote and acted on that response, consistently and unceasingly, for the remainder of his life. His efforts did not, of course, counter-balance the horrors of genocide and enslavement and destruction, and no one person’s could; but they help us to see that America began not only with those horrors, but also with fundamentally good people seeking a more perfect union of the diverse cultures present here.
If it’s way too easy to be a jingoistic patriot about America, it is, in some ways, also too easy to be purely cynical or pessimistic about what we’ve been and are. Resisting that second perspective partly means acknowledging and engaging with the complex humanity of even a Columbus. But it also, and more optimistically, means remembering and reclaiming the legacy of a las Casas, as evidence that even the most horrific and destructive moments in our history have contained their voices of hope as well. Next inclusive figures tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Other inspiring figures you’d highlight?