Gracias a la Vida
was composed by Chilean Violeta Parra who was of mixed blood. This video
(link above) includes the well-known (but now dead) Argentine mixed-blood folk singer
Mercedes Sosa singing with Joan Baez who is a Mexican/American. Is this
Indigenous music? I believe it is. That it is in Spanish and not in an Indigenous language or dialect does not make it less Indigenous. in nature.
As time progresses inexorably, words lose their meaning or change.
Such is the once intimate visit (visit us at www.vancouvergarbage)
or the lovely share which now
involves placing videos you like with no explanation into social media. Another word is ghetto.
Chinatown in Vancouver is disappearing as such. When it opened years ago it was because the Chinese were not allowed or could not afford to live anywhere else. Now the younger generation of Vancouverites have to move to the slightly cheaper suburbs. A ghetto was once a place in a city. Chinatown was a de facto ghetto. Now a ghetto has been transformed into a wide ranging area.
The above is my entry into attempting to explain how the word Indigenous is currently going through another transformation from my perspective.
For those who have gotten this far you might want to
consider what my grandmother used to say of people who stated what they knew as
if they were experts. She said, “They
have a doctorate from F.W. Woolworth’s & Co." I am no anthropologist or linguist. But in the Martín Fierro you will find, "The devil knows more not because he is the devil but because he is an old man."
Because Canada and the United States share a culture that I believe is Americocentral, those in Canada are not aware on how far Indigenous music and culture can go in our continent if we modify what we say is Indigenous.
Few in Canada might not know that the Indigenous Peoples of my native Argentina suffered the same kind of brutal genocide as those in the United States. The campaign to push them west in the 19th century was called La Campaña del Desierto.
But unique, I believe, is the fact that the prose poem work
by José Hernández, El Gaucho Martín
Fierro, 1872 is considered seminal in having brought into being the concept
of a country called Argentina. That its main protagonist, Martín Fierro is
conscripted by the Argentine army to participate into military genocide is only
now being seen with different eyes in this 21st century. This is far different from those who say the Pierre Berton's book Vimy signaled the birth of modern Canada.
Mexico, where I lived for many years and married my Canadian wife in 1968, has a different narrative on its Indigenous Peoples. When Hernán Cortés arrived in what was yet to be Mexico in 1519 he used a woman called Doña Marina, but known by Mexicans in an unkind epithet as La Malinche as a translator and the help of the Aztec-subjugated Tlaxcalans to conquer the country in short time. To this day a malinchista (religions, nationalities, etc are written in lower case in Spanish) is a person who prefers imported goods over the local-made ones.
And yet while we all know that the United States had a Black
president in Barack Obama, how many know that Benito Juárez a full-blooded
Zapotec Indigenous man served as the 26th president of Mexico from 1858 until
his death in 1872? And unique to Mexico, no statues to Hernán Cortés ever had to be taken down as none were ever put up.
How could this be?
I will give my personal explanation via my doctoral degree from F.W. Woolworth.
Day in Latin-American is called El Día de
la Raza. Because there was much more intermarriage between the
invading Spaniards and the local Indigenous peoples a more favourable expression
was used to denote the making of a new race (raza) of mestizos. Another word is criollo. At first the word in Argentina denoted Spaniards born in the colonies. In the 60s Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez published his now famous and first ethnic Roman Catholic Mass, La Misa Criolla.
I believe that the concept of a mestizo is not used in Canada. The Indigenous Peoples are either full-blooded or described as of mixed parentage.
In Mexico, as in all other Latina American countries, there
is an active and also sometimes hidden racism. In my Argentina a dark-skinned
person is called a morocho. This can
either be because of black hair or of dark skin. Those poor people who followed
Perón were called descamisados (shirtless
ones) and cabecitas negras (those with heads of black hair). They were singled
out from the lighter skinned and more patrician white-skinned folks. Wealthy and or patrician white-skinned had no time for "cabecita negra" Maradona but love Messi as he is white.
In my years in Mexico we would discuss why it was that many Mexican women would wear lovely stockings on unshaved legs or why Frida Kahlo sported a moustache. In the 70s the Mexican police departments attempted to prohibit the sporting of moustaches by its malepolicemen. Full blooded Mexican Indigenous Peoples have no body hair or beards. The word used is lampiño. The unshaved legs and moustache declared to anybody, “I have Spanish blood and I am proud of it.” In buses I saw many ads for skin lightening cream. If someone who was dark-skinned told you they had a new love interest the obvious question to ask was, "¿Blanquito para mejorar la raza? Which translates, “Light skinned so as to better the race if you have children?”
While in Austin at a Roman Catholic boarding high school, I was in a racist limbo. I spoke Spanish but was white. The Mexican/Americans in the school shunned me as well as the white/Americans. When we would go to get cheap haircuts at the barber college on 6th Street we were told to be careful as we might be rolled by “spics”. It was in those years that the Mexican/Americans began to use the term raza as “one of us”. By the Mexican Olympics of 1968, the term raza de bronce, or bronze race was being used as Mexico began to take pride in their Indigenous heritage.
Before coming to Vancouver in 1975 with my Canadian wife and two Mexican-born daughters, I was from a school tradition where we were told about “los pieles rojas”, the red-skinned Indians and los "orientales amarillos" or yellow Orientals. Strangely I was taught that the Indians of India were Caucasian. A Caucasian in those days was defined by features and not by skin colour.
When I arrived in Vancouver I told Rosemary that I had seen what looked like Mexicans on the street and when I talked to them in Spanish they did not understand me. It was then that I found out the Canadian Indigenous Peoples were no different in appearance from those in Mexico.
My first job in Vancouver was washing cars for Tilden Rent-a-Car on Alberni Street. As soon as I was promoted to counter clerk I was told, “Do not rent to anybody whose surname is George or John.” I asked and asked and finally I was told, “Because they are fu….. Indians!”
Soon after a man called Moving Rock wanted to rent a station wagon. I was determined to give him what he wanted even if he didn’t qualify. When he abandoned the station wagon in Arizona I was almost fired. And I was told, “No more Moving Rocks or Johnny Stones.” Johnny Stone was a black Seattle pimp who came to Vancouver and rented a Chevrolet Vega. He always paid and the car was always returned clean.
My first photographic jobs were for the CBC. While there I never saw an Indigenous person of any kind, even as a stagehand. In fact the only Indigenous persons I ever met up with were Pat John in the Beachcombers and Buffy Sainte-Marie in CBC variety shows.
There is an increasing respect in Canada for all things Indigenous. In my native Argentina, the adored writer Jorge Luís Borges, went on the record disparaging Canada sending a totem pole as a display of its high culture. In his literature Argentine Indigenous Peoples do not fair any better.
But there are now signs in my Argentina of the necessity of removing statues of General Alejo JulioArgentino Roca who was president from 1880 to 1886 and from 1898 until 1904. It was he who as a young general was in charge of the now infamous Campaña del Desierto.
In many ways we in Canada are ahead on these important processes called reconciliation and reclaimed But I do believe we must widen our horizon and include the Indigenous Peoples in the rest of the continent.
A very bright spot here in Canada for me is the pioneering work by Indigenous Peoples dancers to incorporate traditional dance with contemporary modern dance. One such luminary is Byron Chief-Moon.
Besides being an inspirational dancer he is a fine writer.