Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bury My Heart

I guess it was a learning experience. That's what big people, otherwise known as adults, say when they make a mistake but still...don't...quite...get it.

It's been a busy week for Adinah. Last Wednesday, she went on a field trip to a bakery. Then Friday was Berufstag (Professions Day) at her Kindergarten. The kids learned about what people do for work, and they come dressed up for a job they'd like to do. Most of the other girls dressed up as ballerinas and actresses and cooks. Adinah dressed up as a doctor. I was so proud of her. Not that I'd want her to actually grow up be a doctor. I just think it's cool that she's testing meritocracy and confronting gender roles.

And yesterday, the kids had a Faschingfest, which is basically a Fat Tuesday party without Jello shots.

We'd been planning for it for a couple of weeks, because Adinah had decided to dress up as an Indianer (Native American). When she told us, I had turned to Anette and said, 'I got this one.' My father worked on a Sioux reservation when we were kids, and I'd grown up hearing lots of real stories about Native Americans. So I wanted Adinah to know a little bit more than Western movie stereotypes and myths about them. We went to the library and looked at some old photographs, and I started telling her a little bit of what I know about the Hopi and the Commanche. I wasn't gonna read her Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or anything, but I had a program worked out. Sort of. I wanted her to know that the Indianer were beautiful, brave, sophisticated people of color--so much for good intentions. I didn't really think it through enough to realize that any real discussion of Native American history would make it clear to my Ethiopian daughter that brown people and white people have a history of violent conflict.

One morning, she pointed to a picture in one of the books we had borrowed for her, and asked me, "Papa, why did the white shoot the Indianer? Why did they say 'That is our land!' to the Indianer?" She was completely upset about it, and all I could do was tell her, "Well, sometimes people fight with each other, sweetie. Sometimes people are bad to each other."

The next day, Adinah decided she would be a cat instead of an Indianer for the party. I mentioned it to a friend, and she said, "Well, if you were her, would you want to dress up as someone who was cheated, robbed and murdered?"

I thought it was a pretty fucked up thing to say. But she had a point.

As it happened, Adinah the Cat had a good time at Kindergarten that day. She was still in her costume, rolling around on the ground in the garden when I picked her up in the afternoon. I haven't had the heart or courage to re-approach the subject of Native Americans. But...maybe somewhere down the road. Maybe there's a way I can explain it to her. Maybe not. She's just reacting plainly to an episode in American history that many of us have abstracted and intellectualized. And even for big people, there's something more than sad about these pictures....

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