Filling in for an absent teacher
at a middle school
somewhere in the city of Downey,
I look out the classroom window
before the first bell,
before any students arrive on campus—
the classroom peacefully quiet—
and I see a giant native Indian painted
on a huge wall that faces
a small green field and a black top
where students are supposed to line up for P.E.
In a sudden rage—my nostrils flared—
I scowl and shake my head.
What gall, I think,
knowing full well this country
was forged from the genocide of American Indians.
We butchered they’re culture.
We butchered they’re lifestyles.
We butchered they’re families.
We butchered they’re livestock.
We butchered they’re rituals.
We butchered they’re matrimonial beliefs.
We slandered they’re forefathers
and their spirituality
and polluted the waters
and the sky
and cut down the trees;
and just to be nice, to continue the belief
that Americans are hospitable people,
we let them keep some land
in the middle of nowhere
and placed boundaries around them
and called these ostrisized areas reservations
and let them sort out the total annihilation
of their identity on their own.
Wanting to break the window of the classroom
and spit on the linoleum floor,
I turn and glance around the room,
which is filled with history books
that glorify the white man’s pursuit of progress
and how he’s explored the new world
and how he’s conquered the wilderness
and how he’s risen to the status
of President of the Unites States,
and I clench my fists
and turn to face the window
again, and I stare at that painted Indian Mascot
on the school wall with a look of shocked horror;
the Indian, for the white man,
has become a thing of mythology,
something not real, something in the text books,
something to disgustingly admire like a wild animal
that had once roamed the civilized planet.
“Mother fuckers,” I say with a sneering smirk, knowing the politicians,
and even the administrators of this school, the ones who actually decided
on using the Indian as a mascot just didn’t know any better.
I’m sure they figured they were honoring the Indian
rather than insulting him; and in a blue-berry-pie-kind-of-way,
I feel the warmth of that thought. That’s the American for you:
we’ll kill you if you have what we want,
and then we’ll revere you and put you on some kind of heroic pedestal
to justify our guilt and to inspire the revolution in us all. But still,
standing in that American classroom, on territory that had once blossomed
with wild grass and wild trees, animals living off the land and a myriad of streams trickling with slithery slabs of sunshine—the sound of birds chirping in towering branches—I can’t let go
of this overwhelming injustice strangling me
from within; looking out that window, noticing
the metal fence surrounding the school’s grass field and all the buildings
behind that fence
and the sidewalks and the roads and the streetlights
and the cars zooming past, I picture a Patwin mother crying from the death of her child—mourning paint running down the sides of her cheeks.
I hear the avenging wails of Crazy Horse
and Sitting Bull. I see teepees burning.
I see forests burning.
I see green hills transform into factories.
I see the buffalo stripped of skin.
I hear the neighing of a skeleton horse.
I picture the bones of a Cherokee warrior
on that horse, and I feel the intensity of his eyes;
somehow those dead, immortal eyes possess my eyes;
and I look at that mascot on the wall, and I can’t believe
they’re getting away with it, these Americans, flaunting their murderous greed
and morals to generations of children, perhaps
not in the same brutal way Hitler passed on his sickness,
his hatred to German children in Aryan Youth programs; but still, there’s something similar here, something stealth and disguised
like the fox dressed in sheep’s clothing.
* * *
I hear, nowadays, these Indian mascots for schools and sporting teams
are becoming a thing of the past, as Indian activists have been on the case for some time. I suppose that was inevitable; and something about this feels like a victory.
But honestly, for me, this doesn’t satisfy
the past, the atrocities committed
in the name of Manifest Destiny Incorporated.
I say, if we’re going to eradicate these native Indian mascots,
then why not replace them
with mascots that fit the spiritual values
of its country.
Let’s be downright bold, not just let things disappear.
Let’s paint a face of Ronald McDonald
on all the school walls across the country:
his smiling clown face and orange Afro hair.
And maybe add a Nazi sign
on his forehead.
I think that would be more appropriate for the times.