Saturday, December 29, 2018

Not recommended: Pocahontas (a pocket bio)

According it its website, Macmillan's "Pocket Bios" are "pocket-size picture book biographies" that are "full of personality" and that introduce readers to people of the past and present using "simple storytelling and cheerful illustrations."

Given the oversized head, seems they're trying to appeal to consumers who are buying those other series with oversized-headed people on the covers. Ugh!

A quick look at the bios they have planned for this "Pocket Bios" series tells me they think they've hit on something that will line their pockets (yeah, I'm being a bit snarky).

They plan to release Pocahontas in March of 2019. Over on Edelweiss, I found some interior pages. Take a look at how they depicted John Smith's "she saved my life" moment:

Tied to a tree?! Hmm...

Did she, in fact, save his life? That's not clear. Some say his life was never in danger, and that what happened was a ceremony. None of the accounts I've seen say that he was tied to a tree. What is the source for this, I wonder? The name associated with the book, sometimes as author but usually as illustrator, is Al Berenger.

Macmillan: have you no shame? Well--that's not a good question, is it. For publishers--especially the Big 5--bottom line means they'll publish crap like this because it will sell.

Don't waste your money, librarians!

This book is definitely not recommended.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Not Recommended: HAMILTON (the musical)

In 2017, I saw Hamilton in Chicago. Before I went, I listened to the soundtrack and studied the lyrics. Today's post is my notes on the lyrics. As you might expect, they are rooted in who I am: a Native woman who has spent the last 30 years studying and critiquing representations and misrepresentations of Native people.

I did a short thread on Twitter after I saw it in 2017. (These next sentences inserted on Jan 5 for your convenience). The hardest moment for me was when the people in the theater were sobbing when the two fathers stand behind empty chairs and sing about the future their children would not have (they're dead). I could not stop thinking of all the Native fathers and mothers whose children had been killed by the likes of those two men and those who invaded Native nations and Native homelands.

In August of 2016, Dr. Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, published Where are the Natives in Hamilton at her blog, Native Appropriations. I would especially like to link to Native critiques of Hamilton. If you know of one, please let me know. I'm also interested in critiques by anyone who is also asking where the Native people are in the musical. If you've had conversations with others about Miranda's erasure of Native peoples, I'd like to hear about them.

Sometimes, I publish a post-in-progress to give people a look at what I'm doing before I'm finished. I'm doing that today with this review of Hamilton. Each time I add to it, I will begin the addition with an italicized note that includes the time and date of the addition. My notes will consist of brief summary, my comments in italics, and links to items related to my comments.


I am publishing my notes on Act I: Song 1. Alexander Hamilton at 12:52 PM on December 28, 2018. I welcome your comments here, on FB, or on Twitter. I'll add to this post, as time and energy permit. 

Act I
Song 1. Alexander Hamilton

Aaron Burr introduces us to Hamilton, asking how this particular man came to be "a hero and a scholar." John Laurens speaks next telling us that Hamilton worked so hard that by the time he was 14 years old, he was in charge of a trading charter.

Then, Thomas Jefferson tells us that while slaves were being slaughtered and "carted away across the waves," Hamilton kept his guard up, ready to "beg, steal, borrow or barter" to be a part of something.

Debbie's comments: Most people think of Andrew Jackson as the person most responsible for the Indian Removal Act--commonly called the Trail of Tears--but the idea originated with Jefferson. See his letter to William Henry Harrison, written on Feb 27, 1803.  As you will see when you read his letter, Jefferson was quite ready to do whatever it took to get Native lands. 

More of Hamilton's history is delivered by James Madison, Burr, and Hamilton himself. Eliza Hamilton tells us that Hamilton's mother died, and George Washington tells us that a voice inside told him that he had to fend for himself.

Debbie's comments: Most people think well of George Washington, but Native people do not. Did you know, for example, that a group of Seneca Chiefs wrote to Washington on Dec 1, 1790, to tell him that they called him "Town Destroyer" in their language and that when that name is heard, their women "look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling lose to the neck of their mothers."? 

Then Burr tells us that learning to fend for himself included "scammin' for every book he can get his hands on, plannin' for the future" and then, "see him now as he stands on the bow of a ship headed for a new land, In New York you can be a new man."

Debbie's comments: I'm noting that Miranda wrote "headed for a new land" instead of "headed for a new world" which is how people then and now--speak of what Native people had called home for thousands of years. So--Miranda chose "new land" instead of "new world." Why? Was he aware of the problems in that "new world" phrase? Or was it because "land" and "man" ("be a new man" is the last line) rhyme better? What do you think? 

That ship gets to New York and Burr says "Another immigrant, comin' up from the bottom."

Debbie's comments: That line is one reason so many people are enthralled by this musical. It frames America as a nation where immigrants can have the American dream. Every dollar of those dreams, though, came from lands that belonged to Native peoples that were in the way of the riches the immigrants wanted. 

Part 1 of Act 1 ends with people saying they fought with Hamilton, died for him, trusted him, loved him, and one of the final lines is Burr, saying "I'm the damn fool that shot him."

--Update, Friday, December 28, 1: PM--
On Twitter, Dr. Jeff Berglund told me about The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda. It is a two-act play by Ishmael Reed and will be at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City from Jan 4 through Jan 7, 2019. The website for the play says:

“The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda" is a two-act play by Ishmael Reed, about a playwright who is misled by a historian of white history into believing that Alexander Hamilton was an abolitionist. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a musical based upon this falsehood. Other historians would agree with Hamilton's grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton, author of The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton, who writes, "It has been stated that Hamilton never owned a negro slave, but this is untrue. We find that in his books there are entries showing that he purchased them for himself and for others." The ghosts of those slaves who were trafficked by Hamilton attempt to educate Miranda, including Harriet Tubman who teaches him about “The Underground Railroad.” 
The main issue of the times during which "Hamilton" takes place was the expansion into Native American territory, yet no Native Americans appear in "Hamilton." Two Native American scholars educate Lin-Manuel Miranda about Washington and Hamilton's policy regarding the Native-American presence. Not only are Native-Americans omitted from “Hamilton", but so are white indentured servants, even though indentured servants worked on both the Washington plantation and the estate of his wealthy father-in-law, General Philip Schuyler. After his education, Lin-Manuel Miranda confronts Ron Chernow, the author of "Hamilton." It is Ishmael Reed’s hope that this play will form a rebuttal to the musical "Hamilton," which has misled thousands of students.

If I lived in NY, I'd be in the audience for sure. I hope to hear from people who do attend! And, thanks, Jeff, for the info! Back again at 1:33 PM to say that I started looking for interviews of Ishmael Reed about his play but haven't found anything yet. I did find a terrific article he wrote for Counter Punch on August 21, 2015: "Hamilton: the Musical:" Black Actors Dress Up like Slave Traders... and It's Not Halloween. Go read it!

--Update: Dec 29 2018, 10:46 AM--

I received two excellent comments about Hamilton. I am pasting them here (in the body of the post) so that people can see them (a lot of people choose not to read comments to posts). The first is from Ava Jarvis:
By all rights Hamilton the musical should make people uncomfortable, and the fact that it doesn't make more people uncomfortable is just very... 
Well, I'd call it "very assimilative." There's a very pervasive way that society takes what the mainstream considers perverse (like people of color, black music, etc) and assimilates it and changes it to make it palatable for the mass audience. Cultural phenomena like the white legend of Pocahontas are a very clear example of this process.
Hamilton is also a case of this, but very different. Whereas the white legend of Pocahontas is not intended to bring Native Americans into the mainstream as anything other than "one with nature" resources to be possessed and exploited by white socio-economic-political structures, Hamilton has the effect of incorporating non-Native POC into the history of white power structures so that we (I speak as a Vietnamese person, so I'm a non-Native POC) will feel affection for and subliminally support the history of our oppressors.
And it... grudgingly... works to do that. Even for me. I feel the thrill of hearing rap music on the Western musical stage, so traditionally white in terms of music; I see people of color on that stage in prominent starring roles and my heart sings; it is too, too easy to forget that this is a siren song to accept that US history was just when it was clearly very much not. 
So, unfortunate as it is, because of how history is, the effect of Hamilton feels very horrific to me. I would actually say that, reflecting on the effects the musical has on my mind, it's almost Lovecraftian in the way it urges me to forget every crime committed by the US government on multiple continents and in multiple countries, including my own family's ancestral home. To forget that I have friends and acquaintances and followers who've suffered greatly at the hands of the US government.
Hamilton urges us to forget the genocide, the slavery, the racism, the usurpation of foreign democracies, and nowadays draconian and cruel immigration "policies", and does it in such beautiful tones that it is so easy to remember the fantasy called "America" instead of the bloody true reality.
We can't forget that reality. If we do, we will not change it; we just end up accepting white power structures instead of resisting them. 
And I think Miranda was very, very purposeful in leaving out Native Americans. It would ruin the narrative effect he was going for. I really, really don't think he did this by mistake.   

The second one is from Dina Gilio-Whitaker and begins as a response to Ava's comment:

I certainly cannot say it more beautifully or concisely than Ava Jarvis above has stated it. I have not seen Hamilton, nor will I because I’m not really interested in paying to be entertained by false historical narratives. I will say, however, that I am deeply suspicious of anything by Lin Manuel Miranda. I didn’t know who he was until I reviewed Disney’s film “Moana” two years ago for Indian Country Media Network ( i’d post a link to it but the link is not working due to the technical issues involved in creating the new Indian Country Today site). 
I was part of a media junket that was treated to a full day at Disney’s Moana studio, in which they paid for several International journalists to come and be part of this tour (raising the questions of conflicts of interest immediately). I might add, that I received no travel benefits from the Disney company given that I live in Southern California. Anyway, I was very critical of the film in my final review of it, and I was later referred to by one of Disney’s staff to my editor as having “terrorized” them because of the tough questions I raised. My written critique was very balanced, but did note how Disney went so far out of its way to erase the colonial histories of Polynesia while it created a work of art that would make people fall in love with it without realizing its bigger problems, and also noted the kind of money the company would make of the images of other peoples cultures. 
The way it did this was by creating what they called the “oceanic brain trust“, a collection of Polynesian artists, elders, and other cultural people to lend a sense of authenticity to the film. All of those people were bound by non-disclosure agreements, which meant that they could not talk about what they were being compensated to be part of this “trust,” naturally raising suspicions for many in the Polynesian community who were also critical of the film. Too many people benefitted monetarily from the film to think more deeply about what they were contributing to. This is just one of the problems the film raised. 
Manuel wrote the music for Moana. He is an entertainer, not a historian. His job is to make people feel good, not to tell an accurate story. In Moana he does this at the expense of telling the truth, and to make people not think about the fact that Hawaii is basically an illegal, fake state. Although Miranda is Puerto Rican, he was raised in mainland US with a degree of economic privilege, and his father was a Democratic Party operative. He is steeped in party politics, and appears to be committed to multicultural liberalism, which is never about understanding history in terms of colonialism. It is thus no surprise that he would bring a sanitized pop culture rendition about Hamilton. Making people feel good pays a lot better than making them rethink their hideous history. 


I am publishing my notes on songs 2, 3, 4, and 5 on Sunday, Dec 20, 2018 at 3:45 PM. My last note on the lyrics for Act I, Song 1 is that Burr was saying he's the fool that shot Hamilton. 

Act I. 
Song 2. Aaron Burr, Sir

The year is 1776; the place is New York City. Hamilton introduces himself to Burr because he'd heard that Burr had finished Princeton in two years and he wanted to do that, too. The two agree to have a drink together. Burr advises Hamilton to stay quiet about what he's for and against. When they get to the bar, they meet Laurens, Lafayette, and Mulligan, who are talking about joining the revolution. Burr tells them he's going to sit it out. Hamilton is taken aback by Burr and asks him "If you stand for nothing, Burr, what'll you fall for?"

Song 3. My Shot

Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette sing "ooh, Who are you" and wonder what Hamilton is going to do. Hamilton replies that he's not throwing away his shot. "Just like my country" he says, he is "young, scrappy and hungry." He brags about his brains and says that they are "a colony that runs independently" and that Britain "keeps shittin' on us." He says King George taxes them and then goes on a spending spree. He won't ever "set his descendants free, so there will be a revolution in this century." Lauren sings that they'll never "be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me." Burr cautions them to lower their voices. He's on their side but thinks they sould be careful. They sing "When are these colonies gonna rise up?" Hamilton sings of how they'll "roll like Moses, claimin' our promised land." Song 3 ends with them all singing about how it is time for them to take a shot.

Debbie's comments: Hamilton's question to Burr (about what he'll stand for) are about integrity. They tell the audience we should like Hamilton. He's a good guy, with principles! But if you're a Native person, where is Hamilton's care for the Native people who called New York City their homeland? If Britain is shitting on the colonies, what -- in fact -- are the colonies doing to Native people? Hamilton calling the colonies "our promised land" affirms American beliefs--then and now--that God made this land for them and did things like clear the land of Native people via smallpox, on their behalf. [Back at 4:00 PM to add that what is currently known as Manhattan was homeland for the Lenape people.]

Song 4. The Story of Tonight

Hamilton sings that "when our children tell our story..." they will tell about that night when Hamilton, Laurens, Mulligan, and Lafayette are together in the pub, planning the revolution. They "raise a glass to freedom, something they can never take away."

Debbie's comments: The irony in those four men singing about freedom... This "our story" part is worth noting, too, because "our" does not include Native people. Later in the musical, there's a "who will tell your story" song. 

Song 5. The Schuyler Sisters 

Eliza, Angelica, and Peggy are the Schuyler sisters. Burr sings that they're there (downtown) to gawk at the men at work. Angelica says she's looking for "a mind at work." She's read Common Sense by Thomas Paine. The sisters sing "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" and Angelica says that when she meets Thomas Jefferson she's going to tell me to include women. They sing that they "just happen to be" in the greatest city in the world (Manhattan).

Debbie's comments: More irony as they sing "all men are created equal" when so many men didn't view enslaved African as equal and told themselves a convenient lie, that Native peoples were inferior to them.  


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Highly Recommended! Christine Day's "Unexpected Pursuits: Embracing My Indigeneity & Creativity" in OUR STORIES, OUR VOICES

Our Stories, Our Voices: 21 YA Authors Get Real About Injustice, Empowerment, and Growing up Female in America came out in 2018. Published by Simon and Schuster, the editor--Amy Reed--describes it as a love letter from the authors to young people who, after the 2016 election, were hurting or afraid for the future.

It includes Christine Day's "Unexpected Pursuits: Embracing My Indigeneity & Creativity." As I read her essay, I highlighted one passage after another. It reminded me of Cynthia Leitich Smith's Hearts Unbroken. In both, I found truths about life for a Native teen in the US.

Day's essay ranges from her experiences in high school and in college in Washington. In high school, she was uneasy. She gives us a snapshot of her experiences in history, science, and English courses. When Day recounts a teacher who didn't pronounce the name of her grandmother's tribal nation right, she describes a physical reaction. Her cheeks burned and her bones turned to ice. "He wasn't saying it [Nez Perce] right." She knew something that her teacher did not. What to do with that knowledge?

That 'what to do' moment is something Native children and teens have to deal with all the time.

There are exceptions. Day had a high school teacher who taught them about bias. She had a college program that centered Native experiences. Like Day, our daughter had a teacher that stood out for the right reasons. Like Day, our daughter found affirmation in a programs designed to see Native people, as we are.

There's so much in her essay that I want to note! The way she refers to places. The way she reflects on appropriation. The words she uses! The light she sheds on things like the Indian Child Welfare Act!

I highly recommend her essay--not just for young adults--but for everyone. It will affirm the experiences of Native teens, and their parents, too. As I read it, I highlighted parts of it but there were times when I was blinking back tears, too. This is powerfully written.

Here's how she ends:
My name is Christine Day. I’m descendant from four Indigenous nations and an enrolled member of the Upper Skagit. I’m a graduate student, working toward my master’s degree in Indigenous Research and Documentary Film Production. I’m currently filming interviews to accompany my film, my future thesis. And I’m also working on projects in prose. I still haven’t given up on those. 
I’m a work in progress. I’m young, and I’m growing; I always have been. And it’s taken me a long time to understand this. But listen: You are never alone in these in-between places. Your thoughts, your complex feelings, your unknowable questions—they mean something, and they’re important.

Day has a book coming out in 2019: I Can Make This Promise. It will be published by HarperCollins. I'm watching for it and hope you do, too.