Page Contents:The Toad Female Shame No You Can't Racial Profiling The Media Lineup Time to End Media Sterotyping The Cage Won't Stand Forever Our World Diminished Spilling the Beans
Our home made from adobes glowed in the late afternoon sunlight like the fabled City of Cibola. I sat in our broken down blue Cadillac reading Perry Mason stories from the Saturday Evening Post. No one was home except me when our neighborhood pachuco gang attacked me. They tied my hands to a back door handle with my blue hair ribbons and tore off my panties. I pulled harder and harder until I was free. I sat, now a horned toad, on the hood of the Cadillac, watching them, my arms still tied to the door handle. The horned toad was armless too, blood dripping from the jagged edges of skin where they had once been attached.
The toad hobbled off to the house as best it could. Inside, as if it had just rained, the cactus in the atrium flowered: lemon yellow tulip-like rainbow cactus, brilliant red prickly pear cactus, pink chisos, prickly poppy much like pink evening primrose, orange claret cups with a lime center, bright pink strawberry pitaya cactus and pink chollas. Potted in ceramic pots, in tin boxes, in whiskey barrels, basking in the warm glow, like a cat on a windowsill, the spines of the cactus were safely contained within the glass garden. A parrot hung on a trapeze high above the saltillo tile and the prickly glory.
In the living room, a sunrise at Canyon de Chelly and a sunset over Tesuque framed the east wall. A picture of a Navajo woman shaping a ceramic bowl covered the west wall. A red sandstone peace pipe shrouded in eagle feathers lay still, waiting for a return of our sacred past. On the mantle, a clock ticked away in the timelessness of the hazy room, the dust like pollen in the air, blessing our home.
A figure of Kokapelli playing his flute mesmerized the room with its haunting sound. The toad hid behind Kokapelli, shaking and shivering, sick at its stomach, its fear contained in the subcutaneous fat under the surface of its skin.
The Toad, Part II
At a work dinner party, the speaker joked about an Indian who received an engineering degree, returned home and was the first one to wire a head on his reservation. This assignment had created conflict, with employees telling me I wouldn’t get ahead as fast as I had in the past and this particular speaker wanted me out. I said nothing. I went home, sat in the bathroom next to the toilet, wanting to cut my arms off, to feel the jagged edge of my flesh, my blood flowing. I wept, helplessly shaking my bloody arms in front of me.
The Toad, Part III
It was time to bring the toad into the light of day - a symbol of the passage of time, of shame returned, of guilt pardoned, of fear conquered, of rage released, of bargaining bereft, of sadness echoing in my heart.
First I needed to get my arms back. I went to the Cadillac, opened the rear door, untied the blue ribbons and got them. I decided I would go to the Indian Hospital and have them sewn back on. I knew that I would need to be hospitalized; that I would need anesthesia; that it would hurt after the surgery; that I would need physical therapy. I was trying to build up my courage. I was scared because I didn't know how much it would hurt or how much use of my arms I would get back.
I dragged my feet all the way to the Hospital, muttering under my breath. The yellow roses were in bloom. The pine trees stood high. The adobe brick mud buildings were comforting. Still I lingered outside.
As a sick Taos man, his legs wrapped in a flannel blanket, went in, I followed him. I approached the front desk and told them who I was and what I needed. They told me to have a seat and they would pull my chart. I was admitted.
It was no big deal to them. They got about the task of sewing my arms back on.
In "Too Good For Her Own Good," Claudia Bepko and Jo-Ann Kristan, analyze the code of acceptable behavior dictated to women by society: how we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to be attractive - a woman is only as good as she looks. We are supposed to be a lady - a good woman stays in control. This means to not be competitive, loud or aggressive, to not be angry or argue, to back down, to not challenge or show strong emotion or seek power. This means to be calm, kind, patient, to sooth the egos of others while controlling or submerging one's own. If not, the person is overreacting or "too much of something": hysterical, crazy, serious, intense, demanding, threatening, etc. (Bepko, 9)
Women are also supposed to be unselfish and of service. We live to give. This means setting aside our own agenda, at home, in the workplace and in the community. And what are women supposed to do: we are supposed to make relationships work, to be competent without complaint. According to Bepko and Kristan, "the Code of Goodness keeps us focused on what other people think, want, or need. Any impulse to act in our own interest leaves us feeling anxious, guilty and ashamed. We end up wanting to fulfill society's prescriptions because of guilt and shame." As they further state, "When we are slighted at a meeting or passed over for a job, when we are sexually harassed or abused, when we are told in countless ways who we are doesn't count because we aren't male, we get the message that we are less valuable than a man; that something is wrong with us. We forget to remind ourselves of our own worth. We sink into a state that we aren't even aware of. It's a state that we call basic female shame." (Bepko, 42)
"We compensate for this shame by doing too much for others, assuming that the more we do, the more valued we will be. We compensate for this shame by becoming silent participants in life, fearful of expressing what we truly feel and who we truly are. The silence that expresses shame is most powerful and most damaging when we fail to speak up for our rights and when we fail to talk about the fact that our rights have been violated. Ironically, one of the dominant reactions of women who have been sexually abused or battered is to become silent and to fail to speak about it. They hold inside a belief that somehow they are responsible for their own abuse. They feel so shamed by having been abused that they silence and thus shame themselves further with their secret." (Bepko, 52) "Ultimately our shame is only as deep as our secretiveness about it." (Bepko, 56)
No You Can't
We used to stand at the mailbox, waiting for Daddy to come home from work. When we saw him, in his sharply creased khakis, we'd yell, "Little Daddy, Little Daddy." While he soaked his feet in a pan of hot water, I hung on the edge of his chair, waiting to dry them, so I could feel his tough, black nails. His feet had gotten frostbitten when he was eight, out herding sheep, on horseback. I traced the tattoos he got in the Army, an eagle, and an Indian chief in full war regalia with Daddy's name underneath, and he traced my blue veins that sat on top of my skin, and told me the 'Y' was for Yagniza. To assure a quick mind, his ears had been pierced at birth with a sharp stone, and the long, creased lines lay flat.
I remember the Summer day Daddy came home for lunch, sat down on a chair in the kitchen, and said to Moma, "I didn't get the promotion, Mr. Barnes did."
Daddy's weathered face reminded me of a lake bed, dried up, the caked mud cracked in a million pieces. I wanted time to go in reverse, for the decision to be different, to cry out, "It isn't fair. You put the star at the very top of the Christmas tree every year. Mr. Barnes would never even climb up there. It wouldn't even be important to him." I wanted to hug Daddy but the distance was too great. The cataclysm loomed in front of me and I couldn't cross.
With venom and disgust, Moma stared right at Daddy, then turned away, as if it was his fault. It was never brought up again.
As an adult, I participated in the demonstration and takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in Littleton, Colorado, protesting the discriminatory hiring, training and promotion practices within the BIA. Several men were arrested, tried and acquitted of any wrongdoing. This matter resulted in litigation which led to the preferential hiring, training and promotion of Native peoples, not as a matter of affirmative action, but as a recognition that this agency was set up to serve Native people and who better could provide that service than Native people themselves.
It hurt to find out people would dislike me just because I was Indian, even when they hadn’t met me and didn’t know anything about me. It left a gaping wound in my soul.
The Media Lineup
This was a cover of People Magazine demonstrating the non-representation of women of color.
Time to End Media Stereotyping
I could never list all of the articles stereotyping Native Americans in the media. We are all aware. It is time for this to end.
The Cage Won't Stand Forever
Daddy had taught me that if anyone insulted me because I was Indian, I should say a prayer for them and go on my way. Forgiveness though was very hard for me. I carried the hurt inside me, unable to let it go, imprisoned. For me, each experience was fresh; I never hardened to the reality of racism.
Our World Diminished
Today, people of color are the majority of the world's population; they are not minorities.
Yet you and I know who's in charge.
The scourge of racism will not last forever.
Spilling the Beans
With all of this came a tremendous fear that I would get in trouble for spilling the beans.