[News] Native Americans Should Have Let the Pilgrims Starve
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 8 11:19:43 EST 2013
Weekend Edition November 8-10, 2013
*The Day of the Fools*
Native Americans Should Have Let the Pilgrims Starve
by RODOLFO ACUÑA
British historian EJ Hobsbawm died just over a year ago. His works had a
tremendous impact on my generation of progressive historians. He would
take a theme and deconstruct it by using meticulous logic and
documentation. Hobsbawm never suffocated his narrative with obtuse
theory or meta-language.
One of my favorites was a thin anthology that he co-edited with Terence
Ranger titled /The Invention of Tradition/. In his introductory essay,
Hobsbawm defined the invention of tradition as "a set of practices ...
of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values
and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies
continuity with the past." The invented traditions had a purpose, and
gave a continuity of varied accuracy that formed a largely fictitious
Other historians have tied this invention of tradition to state building
endeavors. William H. Beezley in /Mexican National Identity: Memory,
Innuendo, and Popular Culture/ sees identity as fashioned "in the
streets"; however, there are others who say that very few holidays come
from the people, tying the process to state building.
Essentially, the state builds a historical narrative that gives its
citizens a sense of unity. Holidays are designed to give legitimacy to
the accepted version of history that not does always conform to the
Truth. It is a process that builds a "national culture."
Deviation from this narrative disturbs people and even offends them. My
sister would not invite me to social gatherings during the Vietnam War
because I would bring up topics such as racism, police brutality and the
Vietnam War. I was told that I was a party pooper, and would lay
intellectual pedos (farts)---forcing people to move away.
Hobsbawm was like Rene Descartes who in the 17th century began his
journey by questioning scholasticism, and paved the way for historical
materialism. It was and is not easy to correct traditional narratives.
Like toddlers people want to hear stories told the way they first
learned them. There are people who still cling to the story of George
Washington cutting down the cherry tree, for instance.
The months of October and November are replete with fictitious versions
of history. During these to months, the state allocates holidays for
Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. These official narratives
become the Truth. Teachers teach students fictitious narratives, and in
turn the public is grateful for the gift of a holiday.
By far the "the king of the holidays" is Thanksgiving. The narrative has
been burned into our consciousness to the point that few Americans
question the facts because no one wants to lay the proverbial
Almost everyone is grateful for the day off. Merchants love
Thanksgiving. It is the perfect opening act for Christmas.
The ritual of sitting down with the family to eat cheap turkey, chucked
full of hormones, has been immortalized by Norman Rockwell. It is a day
when you eat cheap turkeys and hams and everyone can pig out.
Not much thought is given to the truth of the narrative. Kids just want
their four day relief from school, and parents are smug in the belief
that the colonist and the Indians lived in peace. The only ones that
care about changing the narrative are Native Americans who call it a
National Day of Mourning.
I call Thanksgiving "/El Día de los Pendejos/" (The Day of the Fools). I
tell my students to enjoy making graveyards out of their stomachs that
they fill with the flesh of turkeys that have been held prisoners in
small dirty cages.
Why do I call the Indians fools? Because they should have let the
Few people know that the tradition of Thanksgiving was invented during
the Civil war by President Abraham Lincoln in October 1863 when he
proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. Thereafter, the myth of the
Pilgrims and the Indians was constructed.
The story is known by almost every American. For twelve years, from
K-12, they learn the story of that in the early autumn of 1621
fifty-three surviving Pilgrims celebrated a successful harvest. The
natives joined the celebration and instead of attacking the Pilgrims
they made peace.
The Indians were thanked: their land was stolen from them, they were
massacred, and many lived out their lives in slavery. The consequence is
that less than one percent of Americans have Native American blood,
contrasted to 90 percent of Mexican Americans with indigenous blood.
It is difficult to change the narrative because most Americans love
their myths, and they love their cheap turkey. They want to believe the
lie that makes them feel exceptional.
There is little doubt that invented tradition strengthens nationalism.
The elites are legitimized by the invented traditions, and in turn they
invent other traditions. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the United
States where it permeates political views and historical narratives.
No doubt that Thanksgiving happened. However, the narrative is not
vetted, and it introduces a new set of dynamics. It affects our
decision-making, and often clouds what is true and what is fiction.
When the French peasantry was starving in the 18^th century because they
could not afford bread, it caused widespread discontent. The myth was
born that French Queen Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake." It
inflamed the masses -- beautiful story but it wasn't true.
Traditional narratives are good and bad, and are difficult to correct.
As Napoleon once said, history is the tale of the victor. Today the
narrative belongs to the state and those who control the state.
The truth be told, Thanksgiving hides the reality of the soup kitchens.
The corporate owned media show charitable groups passing out free
traditional Turkey Dinners to the poor when the reality is that many
have been deprived of jobs, food stamps, and their children have been
robbed of free nutritious lunches. Greater numbers are homeless. Yet the
Thanksgiving narrative shows us as a compassionate people -- one big
The myth of the grateful Pilgrims permeates this narrative. In many
ways, we are like the Indians who were robbed and killed after sharing
The invented tradition of Thanksgiving is so much part of the American
narrative that many people go into depression if they cannot celebrate
it with family and friends. Psychologists say that it is the worse time
of the year to be alone; loneliness causes a social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Thanksgiving is the ultimate example of social control, and the invented
reality that Americans like the pilgrims were justified in stealing the
land and killing the people.
Our lives become one big Thanksgiving for being an American. The Sierra
Club reports "that the average American will drain as many resources as
35 natives of India and consume 53 times more goods and services than
someone from China ... With less than 5 percent of world population, the
U.S. uses one-third of the world's paper, a quarter of the world's oil,
23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of
There is a similar gap between the poor and the 1 percent in America.
The fictitious history alleviates our guilt, and we forget the reasons
why some people are in food lines, and others are eating cheap hormone
infected birds, while a few eat organic turkey.
Not knowing, not questioning makes this El Día de los Pendejos. We are
fools because we don't question the narrative. It is why we keep
So now pass me the gravy.
/*RODOLFO ACUÑA*, a professor emeritus at California State University
Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly
articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept
which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His
history book Occupied America
been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson,
he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and
written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the
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