I’m writing this from the land of the Doeg people, in the area currently known as northern Virginia, on the continent that is traditionally called Turtle Island by the people Indigenous to the land. It is thanks to the Doeg people that my Korean-Dominican family and community have been able to live and thrive here.
November is Native American Heritage Month.
I am part Indigenous. Part Taíno, on my father’s side, to be exact. Like anyone of Caribbean descent, my family history is complicated by over half a millennium of colonization, slavery, disease, atrocities, and fights for freedom. My white Latina grandmother boasts of how my father and uncle were baptized in the Dominican church that claims to house Columbus’s remains, and her family is able to trace their lineage to one of Columbus’s original sailors. Meanwhile, my Afro-Latino grandfather was born of an Italian immigrant father and a mother who was almost entirely West African and Taíno in heritage. Like I said: complicated.
I don’t usually claim my Indigenous heritage out of respect for people who grew up in those distinctive cultures and are harmed by the discrimination that brings; I did not have that culture, and grew up with a certain degree of privilege because of my racial and ethnic ambiguity. I know it’s there — it always has been, and my family was always aware of it even before DNA tests became en vogue — but it’s something I know became clouded by the typical Latinx and United States melting pot experiences.
I spent most of my life enjoying Thanksgiving day off, spending time with family. How do I now navigate this season, and all of this history, as someone of Indigenous descent but void of the culture, and as an American who went through our public school system, with all its glossing over?
I focus on honest history. Like many U.S. students, I memorized the old poem about Columbus “sailing the ocean blue”. I had a Scholastic Book Fair book on Tisquantum, or Squanto, who could understand the Pilgrims and was kind. I learned the extremely watered down history of Matoaka (more widely called Pocahontas), and heard how Spanish priests attempted to “civilize” Indigenous people with their “missions” in California. All from one perspective: that of the white folks who took over the land.
Matoaka is considered the first documented Indigenous victim of human trafficking. Indigenous people, particularly girls and women, have undergone and continue to undergo human trafficking at extremely high rates. (Please look up the #MMIW movement — those involved fight for and have won some policy change. Despite being one of the smaller ethnic groups in our country now, Indigenous women are many times more likely to be victims of trafficking and assault.)
Spanish priests were not always the peaceful monks we might imagine, but were from the era of the Spanish Inquisition, and employed torture methods on the Indigenous peoples in the west.
I’ve learned about Wounded Knee and the broken promises. I’ve learned about water protectors and the Doeg people, who once occupied the part of Virginia where I currently live. And I plan to continue learning.
So I encourage you, during this season of gratitude and reflection, to join me and continue learning. Continue pushing for honest history. And be thankful for that knowledge.
This post was written by Annie Toro, GC Communications Manager.