Friday, November 6, 2015

The Acoma village

and the peoples who live there were one of the sites we visited on our recent trip to New Mexico.

I wanted to provide some elaboration of my reason(s) for refusing to enter the San Estevan del Rey Mission church which is located in the Acoma homeland.

I  placed this photo of that structure in my previous post.

It's a rather pretty building...but seeing it with some knowledge of how it came to be built makes it not look so pretty.

When I was there it was with a group of European appearing women and men who all followed the guide into the interior and oohed and aahed at the appearance of the place. I stayed outside. From the view of the building in the the left out of sight of the mission is a graveyard containing the remains of Acoma peoples. Some of those who are buried there were killed by the by the Europeans (Spanish) to get the mission constructed.

It was built by Acoma people who were forced (under threat of being whipped or killed) to carry logs on their shoulders from mountains located some 40 miles away. If a log was was considered to be not usable any longer and those who dropped it were whipped and forced to go back and get another log. All of the earth and stone and wood that was used in the building was carried up onto the mesa by the enslaved Acoma peoples. No one knows how many were killed during the building of this church. It is a monument to slavery and suffering and death...but...mostly all anyone sees when they look at it is a pretty building.

The guide briefly related the history of how the mission came to be built to the tour participants...but none of them said anything about the horror (that I heard anyway) and none joined me in not going inside. My avoidance of seeing the inside was a paltry protest...but it was (at least to me) better than nothing. I felt sad seeing that building and comprehending the misery and suffering it represented.

The young Acoma woman who was our guide related some of the history of the building in a matter of fact way and the only comments I heard from the tour participants were statement about the impressiveness of the building.

I don't know what the guide thought about it all...and I never said anything to her about it. I couldn't think of any way to say anything without maybe sounding like I was trying to present myself as a good guy or something. So I kept my mouth shut.

When the Spanish came and started exploiting the Acoma...eventually the Acoma rebelled...several times. The Spanish, in one instance of reaction to the resistance of the Acoma murdered more than 600 men, women and children and all of the men who survived and were over a certain age had their right foot cut off. This is one, and only one, example of how Europe "civilized" the "new world".

If you take the time to read the wikipedia entry about the construction of the mission, you'll see that the authors of the entry say that Father Juan Ramirez "oversaw" the construction. "Oversaw" is a nice word that sort of leaves out the whippings and suffering and death involved in the enslavement of the Acoma people who were forced to construct the place. "Oversaw" is one of the words we Europeans use to sort of elide or smooth over our history of violent murder and enslavement and subjugation towards Native Americans and all people of color. 

In my only overt act of subversion against my European ancestry, I talked to one of the Acoma women who arrange the tours and asked her if the guides had ever written a book about the tours. She looked very serious and said no, because some of the ceremonies and activities of the Acoma people were sacred and not to be shared with those who weren't tribal members. I explained that I wasn't talking about the practices of the Acoma...but about whether the guides had ever written a book about the ignorant and clueless questions and comments the white people made who came for the tours.

She looked shocked and stunned for a moment and then she started laughing and laughing. I felt a little bit of warmth that she was so delighted. She said no, but that was a terrific idea and then she laughed some more and thanked me for the suggestion. Her laughter was the nicest part of the visit.

Most of us who are white skinned do not realize that, in Jane Elliot's phrase, the brown eyed people (many/most of them, not all of them though) look at us white people with skepticism and dubiousness. Rightfully so, given our history. They know how we white people think and comprehend but they also have their own comprehension and thinkings. Very few white people understand this and even rarer are the occasions when white people, in person at least, will be directly let in on these different comprehensions and thinkings. I was gifted with an unspoken acknowledgement of these differences by the laughter of the Acoma woman. I greatly appreciate that she shared her laughter with me.

I doubt that any book will ever be written about the oblivious white people who come for a tour. It would piss off white people and do damage to the Acoma people...even though it would be true...and probably funny in a sad sort of way. But I wish we lived in a human society where such a book was possible. Maybe someday. Other Native Americans have written about their views of white people. If you're interested you can read "Custer Died For Your Sins" by Vine Deloria, Jr. He's a delightful and insightful author.

This "double consciousness" isn't a's just mostly invisible to white people. We (European ancestored people) don't see it because we are taught not to...our victims have been trying to tell us about this for a long long time...but it evades most of us with white skin because it is uncomfortable and scary and we mostly pretend it doesn't exist. And we pretend so well that we don't realize we are pretending. It is, in part, what is meant by invisibling.

But...many/most brown-eyed peoples are aware of the pretense and don't buy into the invisibling. They are generally, very wisely, reluctant to let white skinned people know that they comprehend things differently than we least not in person. Because we mostly don't want to hear it and get upset when we do hear it. And...we're dangerous...and if you don't understand that white skinned people are dangerous...go back in this post and read again how that mission was constructed. It's a pretty building that is a monument to European arrogance and violence. In fact, any areas of the planet unlucky enough to have experienced European colonization are invisibled monuments to horror and violence.

That's a long time ago, you say? Well...if that makes you feel better...good. Just don't read anything about Ferguson, or Baltimore or Wounded Knee or or or any of the myriad recent instances of white people harming those they saw as "different". William Faulkner said it best: "The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past." But...that makes us uneasy so we white folks ignore it and if we can't ignore it we'll lie about it or minimize it or make excuses for it...anything to avoid taking responsibility and maybe working toward some sort of redemption or rectification. 

I didn't start out to write this much about the Acoma visit. just came out. Acoma is a beautiful place but it was mostly sadness and sorrow that I felt while I was there. I'm happiest that I was able to bring some laughter to the young woman. That was the nicest part of it all, along with the beauty of the land and the plants and the animals and of New Mexico.

Taos trees and mountains, October 2015


Christine said...

Indeed looks a beautiful and peaceful place. It is sad that such brutality and vile treatment of the Acoma people took place there, as it did for many indigenous peoples. The mentality behind the treatment of others as slaves is shocking to my way of thinking, I can never understand the mentality. But these atrocities should never be forgotten. Though we can’t change the past we can ensure that in the future such awful things never happen again.

Indeed it would be enlightening if such a book as you mention was written, most certainly people are oblivious about the atrocities of the past and also those that take place in this world of increasing turmoil and as time passes this becomes more so.

Thank you for another interesting article.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. I appreciate your thoughts.