Saturday, December 31, 2011


Last month, a friend wrote to ask if I'd read Emerita Romero-Anderson's Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot, published in 2011 by Texas Tech University Press.  I ordered it and am sharing my thoughts on the book.

Here's the preface:
This story, Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot, gives us a peek into a time and place in history that is little known, but significant in helping tell America's story. Based on historical fact, there is ample evidence of a Spanish Colonial pottery tradition from about 1790 to 1890 in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Some archeologists would argue that only Native Americans made clay pots.
Clearly, Romero-Anderson wants people to know that Spanish settlers in New Spain (in what later became known as New Mexico) made clay pots. She's created this story and its protagonist to bring that knowledge forward. Her motivation is good but in giving us that information, she affirms stereotypes of the bloodthirsty Indian, and there are other problems, too.

Some of them are relatively insignificant. In chapter nine, the protagonist, Raymundo (he's Spanish) is successful in getting an old woman to teach him how to make pots. Her name is Clay Woman (she's genizaro). I'll say more about her later. Within the span of one day:
  • Raymundo shaped three clay pots, complete with rims and handles, by midmorning
  • By noon he made three more and polished all of them with a stone
  • After polishing them, he coated the inside of each one with brown paint
  • Clay Woman then takes him out to gather plants to use as dyes
  • On their return, Raymundo gathers dung chips so they can fire the pots the next day
  • Then, Raymundo heads off to water his bean patch 
  • But! He hears a "blood-curdling war cry"
  • It is the Comanches that killed his father a year ago. Now, they kidnap Raymundo and steal horses from Raymundo's village.
  • They ride for hours, stop, and then the Comanches kill a horse by shooting an arrow into one of its eyes before eating its raw liver. They roast the rest of it before going to sleep for the night.
My sister makes pottery, and so does one of my aunts. I called home and asked if they polish the pot on the same day they shape it. The answer? No. The shaped pot has to dry first, and that takes a couple of days. That said, I suppose it is plausible that all those things could have happened in a single day (the heat and drought figure prominently throughout the story), but is it probable? I don't think so.

For the remainder of this review, I want to focus on Romero-Anderson's depiction of the peoples that are in the story: the Spanish, the Genizaros, and the Comanches.

The Spanish
The year is 1790. Raymundo lives in a small Spanish village in the northern part of what is now known as New Mexico. In 1790, it was New Spain. He lives in a village of adobe houses Raymundo and his mother live in one room. They own two hundred varas (Romero-Anderson says a vara is 2 feet) of bottom-land acquired through a Spanish land grant. Some of the land grants were made to Spanish individuals who agreed to live in less-populated and less-protected areas. Given the Comanche raids in the story, that seems to be the case with Raymundo and his family.

The bean pot in the title is the only one Raymundo's family has, but it has a crack and no longer holds water. They need a new one, but, the genizaros who make the pots have stopped trading with the local Spanish people and sending their pots south, to Mexico.

I'm guessing genizaro is a new word to most people. As such, the way they are depicted is of utmost importance. And given the stereotyped and biased ways that American Indians have been portrayed in children's books, their depiction is equally important. Genizaros, Romero-Anderson tells us in the glossary, were "Christianized (Hispanicized) Indians" (p. 110). She introduces them in chapter two when Raymundo walks past their village:
His search for firewood took him to the crest, past the small village of genizaros, a group of Indians who were ransomed from captivity to the Spaniards. They were given land here far away from the capital and Spanish society before Reymundo was born.
Their village includes three adobe houses and two made of stone, surrounded by a fence.

To better understand who the genizaros were, I've been studying two books. One is Violence Over the Land by Ned Blackhawk, and the other is Captives & Cousins by James F. Brooks. They were primarily young Plains Indians who were captured by other tribes and Spanish soldiers, sold as slaves, and subsequently became detribalized (many did not know who their tribal nation was). Those who weren't successfully sold were killed, prompting some Spanish colonists to intervene by redeeming the captives and baptizing them. In return, the redeemed captive owed allegiance and service of up to 20 years to the person who redeemed them. In northern New Mexico, Brooks writes that they became like members of families in a fictive kinship relationship, but he that in the Rio Grande Valley, they were ostracized and looked down on.

In Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot, we meet two genizaro characters. One is Clay Woman, who teaches Raymundo how to make pottery, and the other is a medicine man named Fools Crow. The  genizaros wear clothing much like the Spanish, except for Clay Woman and Fools Crow who stand out because they wear traditional clothing. The traditional clothing Clay Woman wears includes a manta, but that's an error because, as Blackhawk and Brooks noted, captivity as young children means the genizaros were detribalized. Later on, Fools Crow performs an Indian ceremony on Raymundo but, how does he know how to do that?!

From the Pablita Velarde gallery,  Bandelier Natl Monument
That article of clothing is actually worn by Pueblo women as seen in Pablita Velarde's illustration to the right. Velarde was from Santa Clara Pueblo, one of the Eight Northern Pueblos in New Mexico. Her art is known worldwide and she's the author of Old Father Storyteller, a collection of stories.

Speaking of Pueblo Indians, where are the Pueblo people in Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot?! Romero-Anderson mentions them on page 13. Raymundo is on his family's land, looking at a dry wash: "It had once belonged to the ancestors of a Tewa Indian pueblo, Papa had said, but the native people were no longer allowed on land granted to the Spaniards by the Spanish Crown in the Kingdom of New Mexico." On page 20, Raymundo plays "chueco, an ancient game of the Pueblo Indians" but other than that, Pueblo Indians are absent from Romero-Anderson's story. All through that time period, Pueblo Indians were taking Spanish people to court for encroachment and other criminal matters. 

In some ways, Romero-Anderson misrepresents the genizaros. She does, I think, accurately portray the disdain that Blackhawk and Brooks report in their respective books. Romero-Anderson writes "The old crone's hair looked like a magpie's nest" and she says that Fools Crow's hair is matted and filthy, and that his torso is caked with grime. (p. 11). 

She also accurately portrays the ways that the Spanish feared and accused the genizaros of being witches. On page 15, Raymundo's aunt calls them "evil brujos" (witches). She tells Raymundo to stay away from them:
"Remember what happened to Father Ordonez? I believe the year was 1796. I had come for a visit and that's all everyone talked about. The genizaro witches put a curse on him, Raymundo, and he died a terrible death." (p. 15). 
Juan, a Spanish man, shoots and kills Clay Woman with an arrow in a dramatic scene that takes place on the day that Raymundo and Clay Woman fire their pots (Romero-Anderson repeatedly says "bake" which to me, sounds odd). 

There was, in fact, a Franciscan father named Felix Ordonez y Machado who founded a mission at a genizaro settlement in Abiquiu. Brooks covers this on page 136 of Captives and Cousins. Ordonez died in 1756 of suspicious causes. The new missionary, Juan Jose Toledo, was sick several times in the years after 1756. Then a genizara, on her death bed, accused a Kiowa genizaro named Joaquin Trujillo, of sorcery, the area erupted in accusations and counteraccusations that led to exorcisms during which "pagan" practices of Pueblo Indians were exposed as "evil" activities. Reading that section of Captives and Cousins, leads me to believe that Romero-Anderson borrowed heavily from that series of events.  Her Juan (who killed Clay Woman) is Juan Jose Toledo, and, Fools Crow is Joaquin Trujillo. The unnamed setting for her story is Abiquiu, 34 years after the actual event took place.

In the Acknowledgements, Romero-Anderson names Charles Carillo as a source for her writing. I think I'd probably find the Ordonez/Toledo/Trujillo/Abiquiu events in one of his books.

Comanches did raid and kidnap the Spanish and Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, but not at the time period the story is set (1790). The Comanches in Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot are portrayed much as they are in popular culture, as blood thirsty killers. There is a lot more to any tribe than that narrow portrayal. There were a lot of Native and non-Native nations trading and raiding and inflicting violence on each other. The title of Blackhawk's book, Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West effectively captures the coalitions and conflicts of that time. If you're interested in knowing more about it, I highly recommend his book.

Romero-Anderson tried to give readers a look into a little known piece of history about Spanish potters. We do, in fact, need stories about that, and about that period during which many nations interacted with each other, but the information has to be reliable. Milagro of the Spanish Bean Pot falls short in that regard. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Race changes" in Tintin

In 2006 I learned about Tintin in America. I wrote about it then, but apparently failed to order it so that I could do an analysis of it for AICL. It is now on order...

Obviously, I'm thinking about Tintin because the movie is in theaters now. This morning on Slate, I read David Haglund's blog post about parent objections to Captain Haddock's love of alcohol. He provides some historical background for the American response to Haddock:
Sam Adams, who recently reviewed two Hergé biographies for Slate, pointed me to a third, Pierre Assouline’s Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin, which reveals that when the Tintin books began appearing in America, Hergé’s publishers demanded that he “attenuate the text here and there” to reduce Haddock’s drinking, in an effort to satisfy “puritanical American morals.” Hergé went ahead and “eliminated all images of Haddock drinking straight from the bottle,” telling one reader, “The blacks have been whitened, and Captain Haddock has to refrain from guzzling his drink.” (A PDF of this chapter from Assouline’s book is available online.)
I clicked on the PDF and read the chapter. In addition to portrayals of Blacks and alcohol, Assouline writes about the ways that Herge depicted Jews. I think it will prove useful when my copy of Tintin in America arrives.

I'm also intrigued by what I'm reading in Paul Mountfort's "'Yellow skin, black hair... Careful, Tintin': Herge and Orientalism" published in 2012 in the Australasian Journal of Popular Culture (Volume 1 Number 1): 
The original black and white version of Tintin in America (1931-32) offers a blistering critique of capitalism, both implicitly in its depictions of down-trodden urban Black Americans and in its explicit representation of American Indians as the victims of colonial dispossession and ongoing oppression at the hands of capital, backed by the US Army at gunpoint. (p. 38)
Eighty years later, "ongoing oppression" is about right, as the US is poised to, once again, come down on the side of companies who want resources on Native lands (see, for example, the resolution by the National Congress of American Indians ). It is too bad, however, that the Indians Herge presents are stereotypes (see the cover above). But how did he show them as "abject?":
the colour French (1946) and English (Herge 1978) editions progressively bowdlerized key scenes at their publishers insistence, so that, for instance, both a black doorman and mother with wailing child are literally bleached white in the colour version (Herge 1978:29 f12, 47 f15), along with their implications of ghettoization, due to the 'unsuitability' of mixing races in a children's book destined for an American audience. Similarly, frames depicting 'Red Indians' as abject were severely toned down (1978: 16 f7-8). (p. 38)
The copy I ordered is the 1978 edition. I'll have to see if I can get the black and white version to see what needed to be toned down. (If you've got access to it, perhaps you can scan relevant pages for me.)

Update, Saturday, December 31, 8:02 AM CST
Adelaide Dupont submitted a comment that says the Indians in the original are "Lakota Isnala." Items shown include a peace pipe, a tomahawk, a monastery, and a treaty. Using "Lakota Isnala" as a search term, I found a bit more information, also from Assouline's book. He says that Herge was looking for fresh ideas:
Then in the last months of 1957 he read an article on American Indians, reviving his youthful passion. He found his thread: Tintin finds himself on a reservation trying to prevent unscrupulous businessmen from evicting the natives in order to drill for oil. He immediately wrote to his old friend Father Gall to ask for his advice on the project. The Cistercian monk was an expert on the Plains Indians, who had named him "Lakota Isnala." He sent Herge five single-spaced typewritten pages filled with details and anecdotes about the geography of Little Rock and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indians' hostility toward white people, and the despoliation of their land by big corporations. He even wrote of how Indians had been on the front line when the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy.

Like the previous project, the story opens with an incident on the road to Marlinspike Hall. An accident, or is it an attempt on the life of a Sioux? At the hospital, in his delirium, the man mentions a peace pipe, a tomahawk, and a monastery. Going to the monastery and visiting an exhibit of Indian artifacts, Tintin discovers that the peace pipe has disappeared. It contains a precious official document proving the claims of the Indians to their hunting grounds. As all the other copies have vanished it is the last thing to prevent their being forced from their land by an oil company. Herge abandoned this project instinctively. (p. 187)

I read that excerpt in Google books preview. The excerpt prompts questions! What was that youthful passion? What was the article Herge read? Why did Herge abandon the project? I've got Assouline's biography on order...

"Lakota Isnala" also turned up in my search. Paul Goble also consulted with "Lakota Isnala" in writing Red Hawk's Account of Custer's Last Battle" in 1969. Interesting, eh?! I gotta learn more about "Lakota Isnala"!

Update: Saturday, December 31, 10:30 AM CST
"Lakota Isnala" is also in Benoit Peeters Herge, Son of Tintin, published by JHU Press in 2011. The Google Books preview offers a bit more info than the preview of Assouline's book allowed. Herge met "Lakota Isnala" at "the Trappist abbey of Scourmont near Chimay" (p. 204), where Herge went to rest. At first he was bored with the religious services there. Then, he met Father Gall, a monk who was "passionately interested by American Indians" (p. 204) who had entered the monastery in 1926.:
Without ever having set foot in America, he had learned the Sioux language in order to correspond with the tribe. Herge and Father Gall struck up an immediate friendship. The monk took the cartoonist into his den, an isolated circular room at the top of a small tower.
There, you don't know if you're still in an abbey or if you're in a Sioux tent. Eagle-feather headdresses, bows and arrows, tomahawks, guns, a peace pipe, and all sorts of other objects. Since I had read Paul Coze's book Moeurs et histoire des Peaux-Rouges (Customs and history of the Indians), I didn't feel too out of place. We talked for a long time. The names of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, all the famous Indian chiefs, came up again and again, mingled with mentions of Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, all the battles in which they became famous. He showed me photos of his friends Black Elk and Little Warrior, and told me their stories. Then he told me about his own life, or rather his grandmother's; she almost married a Sioux. He is Sioux by adoption himself; that is, he is actually part of the White Butte Band, a tribe of Ogallala Sioux! [31]
Herge, passionately interested since his youth in the world of the Indians, as totally fascinated by Father Gall. Gall was an extraordinary character, and he made a deep impression on the few people who were lucky enough to meet him. "My name is Lakota Ishnala," he would tell his visitors, "which means 'the solitary Sioux.' I am solitary in two senses; not only does this allude to the solitary prayers of the Indians, since I am a man of religion, but it is also a reminder that I am all alone here, far from my people and my family." [32]

The day after their first meeting, Father Gall took Herge into the woods, to the place he called his "reservation." There, the monk dressed in Indian clothing from head to foot, complete with a feather headdress, embroidered vest, loincloth and trousers, moccasins, and blanket. In a few minutes, the Trappist monk had transformed himself into a Sioux chief. Soon he suggested that Herge smoke the peace pipe with him, according to the very strict Indian rites: the bowl had to be stuffed with tobacco and special roots; the pipe raised toward the sky and lowered toward the earth, then turned toward the four cardinal points, before it could be passed around by the participants. This was a form of religious sentiment that Herge felt extremely close to. Father Gall spoke to him about the Indian soul, the desire for communion with all the beings in the universe, and the feeling of harmony with nature of which the white man was capable. He also tried to correct the misconceptions propagated by the Scouts on the subject, before describing the current situation of Indians on reservations. Fascinated, Herge decided to suggest that Paul Cuvelier work with Father Gall on an "illustrated history of the Indians."  (pp. 204-205).
LOTS of red flags all through there... How did this monk learn to write the "Sioux language"? At best, he learned Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota. And just who was he corresponding with? I don't think there is a "White Butte Band." Was Gall friends with Black Elk? I suppose that is possible, given that Black Elk was in England as part of the Wild West show that toured there. Do I need to do research on Gall?! His persona was convincing to Herge, and as noted earlier, to Paul Goble, too. Do these two European writers (Herge and Goble) mean to tell us that this was the best they could do in terms of reliable sources for their portrayals of American Indians?!!! 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"...they're reading Twilight!"

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We spent some of this holiday watching Friday Night Lights.

In the fourth season, a leading character exits the show. His girlfriend is desperate to fill her time and signs up for every club posted on the school bulletin board. One of my favorite characters--Landry Clark--understands how she feels and says that the school beautification committee isn't a good choice, and that the Book Club "would be fine except this week 'cause this week they're reading Twilight." It is just one of many beautifully delivered lines by Jesse Plemons, a talented actor who plays a geeky football player.

Occasionally they refer to children's literature in some way. In the first season, the back-up quarterback was called "the little engine that could." There's some great writing on this series! I'm enjoying it quite a lot. I'd love to know what the writers meant when they dissed Twilight. Was it the problematic way that Meyer presents the Native content?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Anita Silvey is a powerful person in children's literature. Among her many accomplishments are that she was the editor at the The Horn Book Magazine, and has been on NPR and television news programs. According to the information on her website, her lifelong conviction is that “only the very best of anything can be good enough for the young.”

Going through her Book-A-Day Almanac with that conviction in mind, I'm a bit puzzled. On one hand, or rather, on one day, she hails Morning Girl by Michael Dorris for helping her to see Christopher Columbus in a new way...  Indeed, she was so moved by Morning Girl that she no longer celebrates Columbus Day.  Here's what Silvey wrote:
Morning Girl provides a different lens for history. As the saying goes, history gets written by the winners. But in this slim book, Michael Dorris makes it possible to view events in 1492 from the point of view of the people already living in the Americas, sailing no oceans. Because Dorris accomplished his mission so brilliantly, I have not celebrated Columbus Day since I read this small gem.
Though I've not written (yet) about Morning Girl on AICL, I agree with her assessment. It is a gem. Reading comments from her readers, I think she influenced several people to revisit how they view Columbus Day, too. That's a good thing because U.S. history is too-often romanticized and glorified, and too-often, stereotypes are not challenged. Dorris challenged these stereotypes, as Silvey tells us:
As a child, Dorris had found only stereotypical Indians in books; so he set out to craft a story with authentic Native American characters that children would want to read about, get to know, and grow to love. 
What she does not tell her readers is that the stereotypical Indians Dorris found in books he read as a child are the ones in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series---which is that 'other hand' I alluded to above. On one hand, Silvey praises Dorris, and on the other, she praises Wilder. (For my response to Silvey's recommendation of the series, see my post on July 11, 2011.)

In his essay, "Trusting the Words," Dorris wrote about sitting down to read Little House in the Big Woods to his daughters:
Not one page into Little House in the Big Woods, I heard my voice saying, "As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them."

Say what? Excuse me, but weren't we forgetting the Chippewa branch of my daughters' immediate ancestry, not to mention the thousands of resident Menominees, Potawatomis, Sauks, Foxes, Winnebagos, and Ottawas who inhabited mid-nineteenth-century Wisconsin, as they had for many hundreds of years? Exactly upon whose indigenous land was Grandma and Grandpa's cozy house constructed? Had they paid for the bountiful property, teeming with wild game and fish? This fun-filled world of extended Ingallses was curiously empty, a pristine wilderness in which only white folks toiled and cavorted, ate and harvested, celebrated and were kind to each other.

My dilemma, as a raconteur, was clear. My little girls looked up to me with trusting eyes, eager to hear me continue with the first of these books I had promised with such anticipation. I had made "an event" out of their reading, an intergenerational gift, and now in the cold light of an adult perspective I realized that I was, in my reluctance to dilute the pleasure of a good story with the sober stuff of history, in the process of perpetuating a Eurocentric attitude that was still very much alive. One had only to peruse newspaper accounts of contemporary Wisconsin controversies over tribal fishing rights, bingo emporia, and legal and tax jurisdiction to realize that many of Grandpa and Grandma's descendants remained determined that there could be "no people" except those who were just like them. (p. 271-272)
Dorris closed Little House in the Big Woods at that point, deciding he'd set that book aside and try again the next night with Little House on the Prairie. In that one, he recalled that the family had moved west. There, he figured, there would be Indians. Things seemed to be going fine as he read it to his daughters, but then he got to page 46 where Ma tells Laura she doesn't like Indians. Dorris writes:
What was a responsible father to do? Stop the narrative, explain that Ma was a know-nothing racist? Describe the bitter injustice of unilateral treaty abridgment? Break into a chorus of "Oklahoma!" and then point out how American popular culture has long covered up the shame of the Dawes Act by glossing it over with Sooner folklore? (p 274)
What he did instead, was start editing and leaving out words and passages as he read, doing what he could to counter the racism until he couldn't do it any longer. There was too much of it. He ended up putting the books on a top shelf and telling them to read them later on, on their own. He closes that essay by imagining a moment sometime in the future when each of his daughters would come to him with the book in-hand, outraged at its contents.

With someone as influential as Anita Silvey recommending the books, she is making sure the books stay on the bedside table, not the top shelf. So you see why I am puzzled by her conviction and the books she writes about on Book-A-Day.  How are the stereotypes in the Little House books "the very best" for children? Or the ones in other books she recommends, like Danny and the Dinosaur?

"Trusting the Words" is available in Paper Trails: Essays, by Michael Dorris, published in 1994 by HarperCollins.