“Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir” by Deborah Miranda
A Tribal Memoir is a book by a modern American writer named Deborah Miranda. The life of native citizens of Californian lands was difficult during the period of Spanish Missions. Mission Indians, as they are called nowadays, faced much cruelty and injustice, and Miranda, whose ancestors were Indians, is also a victim of Missions. She claims that school students nowadays are taught the right version of history, “reinforcing the same lies those children have been breathing in most of their lives” (9). Supposedly, that fact is what has led Miranda to writing this book, illustrating the unenviable fate of Californian indigenous people. In general, the book provides many insights into the life of Californian Indians, their past, and the consequences of their formerly established image.
In the first part, the author tells readers about her family and the difficulties related to being a representative of the Indian culture. According to Miranda, she has often been told she is not a “real Indian” since her ancestors’ language is not spoken, and their culture was obliterated (6). However, it is inappropriate to link the absence of language to the destruction of culture. Miranda believes that culture is lost “when we stop our retelling of the past, our imagining of our future, and the long, long task of inventing an identity every single second of our lives” (6). Culture is a unique feature that unites large groups of people, and it does not even require them to speak the same language. As long as people remember who they are and can tell stories about it to their descendants, the culture will live and prosper.
Discussing the problem described above, Miranda emphasizes the importance of telling stories among people, especially those who represent the same culture. She believes that the power of storytelling can be enough to save a culture (Miranda 6). Indeed, it is almost impossible to forget people, events, and traditions if they are constantly discussed. Thus, representatives of a particular culture will always have a way of keeping it in their heads and hearts if they do not stop telling the related stories. However, Miranda mentions that Native Americans “did not enter the canonical field of American literature until 1969”, and their history was told by non-Indians back then (7). Therefore, indigenous people did not have an opportunity to represent themselves as an independent part of this world, and rumors, stereotypes, and biases significantly influenced their image. It should have been difficult for all Indians to see other people making conclusions without even knowing them personally. When an entire ethnicity confronts such an issue, the consequences may be disastrous since it is not easy to change a historically-established image.
In the case of Native Americans, the issue of someone telling their story for them is incredibly impactful as the rumors about them have been terrible. Miranda says that Europeans started telling stories about Indians “long before any of them ever left European shores in their small boats and actually met a native person” (7). Thus, Europeans created a specific image of indigenous people of America, seeing them as bloodthirsty cannibals making children with animals. Such a picture can quickly push other people away as they would not like to contact someone whom others describe as a monster. It lays a dark mark on people’s future, the one that is not easily wiped out. A person can avert the consequences of their words about another person, but it is much more difficult to avert the consequences of an entire continent talking about a specific ethnicity. Miranda seems to understand that, which is why her book is, in many respects, a manuscript used to tell the actual story of her ancestors to other people and explain their fallacies.
In addition, being a part of ethnicity with history surrounded by many untruthful rumors can be dangerous for children as they may perceive a wrong image of how they are supposed to behave. As a native Californian Indian, Miranda has also heard the “European version” of history – the history of primitive and weak-willed people who can only serve their purpose as the workforce (7). From the psychological viewpoint, being raised in such conditions can lead children to severe mental issues as their perception of their personalities may be damaged. In the case of Miranda, she has managed to overcome the negative effect of the stories told about her ancestors. She has even written a book on the related topic, contributing to the correction of Native Americans’ image worldwide. However, she had an opportunity to see the life of her people from the inside, critically analyze the stereotypes and biases, and make her own conclusions. There is a high chance that children raised in less favorable conditions may perceive the wrong version of their ethnicity’s history as a true one, which can negatively impact their personalities.
Furthermore, the incorrect image of Indian tribes was probably the reason for Spanish Missions in California described in the book. Miranda mentions that many conclusions about Californian Indians made by Spanish invaders were made based on the animal-like nature of the indigenous people (18). There was a high chance that the Spanish decided to enslave Indians precisely because of the idea that those people were primitive and misbehaved. These characteristics could make the invaders suppose that Native Americans were either an easy target or potentially efficient and obedient workforce. According to Miranda, the events related to Spanish Missions were cruel and involved much pain and suffering as the Mission Indians were not even treated like ordinary people – more like animals (18). It is unbearable to think that all those events could occur only because of the misperceived image of Californian Indians.
Overall, the book is highly insightful in terms of Californian Indians’ lives, history, and the issues they have had to confront due to the typical image of their ethnicity. Miranda’s work allows readers to analyze how rumors, stereotypes, and biases can affect thousands of people and lay a mark on their future. The book’s value is multiplied by the author’s Indian origin as it is much more interesting to hear about the indigenous people of California from the representatives of the group. In addition, the author has a unique way of leading her readers to the essence of the narrative: she discusses saving culture by telling stories, and then emphasizes stories’ importance on the example of her own ethnicity. It is a highly efficient method of connecting a single significant thought – “telling stories is important” – with a large amount of information. Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir is an insightful literary work that can help readers to watch the history of Californian Indians from a different angle.
Miranda, Deborah. Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir. Heyday, 2013.