If you are an American, born and raised, reading this article, then you were most likely told as a child the same Thanksgiving fairytale that I was. Presumably, we all went through a similar rude awakening later in life when we were taught the real history, not the BS Americanized version.
I remember in the second grade my teachers would concoct these art contests. One year we got assigned to draw what we imagined the first Thanksgiving dinner looked like. My first thought: I’m going to ask my dad to help me with this one. You see, every time there was an art contest with a prize involved, most kids would come in with these intricate and perfectly detailed masterpieces that were clearly done by their fathers or older brothers. I said to myself, “Not this time!” Except when I got home and asked my dad – he refused.
He said to me in his Argentine Castellano, “No tiene sentido si yo lo hago,” which means, It doesn’t make sense if I do it for you. His argument was that I didn’t need his help, and that I was perfectly capable of doing it on my own. “Así es como vas a aprender.” That is, How would I actually learn?, he would say. But, then, sat me down to teach me what really happened, the real history of Thanksgiving. “Now think about how you are going to do that art project,” he said.
“So what you’re telling me is that you guys don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Argentina,” I asked.
“Of course not,” Dad said.
“What about Columbus Day?”
“No, we celebrate el ‘Día de San Martin,’ the main figure in liberating Argentina, Chile and Peru from Spanish control. This is a whole other topic we can discuss another day, honey.”
Being a first-generation American has put a lot of things into perspective for me, especially having a father such as mine whom I could always count on to teach me the harsh truth. I have always seen the world from the perspective of an outsider, taught as if I were from another country living here, which in hindsight is the best gift my parents could have given me.
I was completely mortified and couldn’t understand why we were being taught something completely different in school. How was that even allowed? Can you change history that way? Water it down? You know how it is when you’re a kid; you think all rules are actually followed, and that nothing is left out of the story. Oh, youthful ignorance. For some it’s short-lived. For others, it’s lifelong, for good or ill.
Back to the art contest.
I thought about drawing the Pilgrims with their long rifles and Native Americans with bows and arrows fighting for their lives, blood gushing everywhere, on the turkey and yams. I wouldn’t win the prize with that one though, I thought.
I chose to not cause so much controversy as I always did in history class, and opted to draw them all sitting happily around the dinner table together. I think I also may have really wanted that prize. I put so much heart into it, gluing real feathers in the chief’s head to give it a more 3D look and outlining the entire thing before hitting the sheets, excited for the next day’s event.
Of course some little shit came in with a comic book looking masterpiece of art; the Indians were depicted with huge intricately drawn muscles and perfect, manly jawlines; quite Greek-statue that way. Obviously he took the prize home that day, and I was left with regret thinking I should have said, “fuck it” and gone with the truth. I learned a valuable lesson that day. Although Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in South America, the indigenous people endured a very similar historical outcome.
Whenever I was asked where I was from while traveling through South America, I was repeatedly reminded that people there, too, are, “Americans.” The people there call this the “Unites States,” leaving out the “of America” part, and they consider us estadounidenses (like United Statians), not “Americans.”
Maybe it’s because of my parents, or maybe it’s a strong personal fascination of my own that explains my closeness to my South American culture and people, I consider myself more South American than anything else, so I tend to always see their point of view very clearly.
This helped me come to the conclusion that it is not our selfish use of the name “American” that bothers them as much as it is the lack of attention they receive from us, and the third world perspective we have of them that drives them off the walls, which is why it is no surprise that not much is written about the South American Indigenous people. Well, not in English anyway.
As I write this, I remember the adorable tan, small-eyed, chubby-faced children who would extend their tiny hands offering gifts made out of Alpaca wool in exchange for food or money as I walked the streets of Humahuaca, Jujuy in Argentina. Like the Native Americans, the indigenous people of Argentina were the first nations of the land, yet they are constantly ignored by their own government and are subjected to violence, hunger, discrimination and extortion. They suffer from a lack of resources for education, poverty, health issues and shortage of housing among other disparities.
The Bering Strait Theory would suggest the first peoples of the North American continent spread throughout the new land and diversified into hundreds of culturally distinct nations and tribes. Allegedly, the first peoples eventually moved southward towards Central and South America. Whether you prescribe to this idea is your pleasure or burden. Nevertheless, the European would come into the picture centuries later to claim the land as their own since, to them, indigenous peoples were merely barbarians running wild with no formal legal tie to their ancestral homeland.
The indigenous populations of Central and South America faced the same fate as the Native Americans in the United States ages ago, and they continue to suffer similar circumstances even today, such as discrimination and government neglect. Yet we don’t seem to put enough focus on the South American population here in the US.
I lived in Argentina for over three years, and while I was there, I witnessed many indigenous protests concerning their ancestral land and human rights. Their rainbow, squared indigenous flags would blow in the wind as one individual would rally the crowd and speak through their megaphone with various bumper stickers adhered to it. Signs would surround them with powerful quotes and the misspelled names of politicians and government officials who ignore their numerous requests.
A reform had actually taken place in 1994, guaranteeing all legal titles over the land to the aboriginal people. This is actually stated in the Argentine Constitution. Still, these people face a lack of implementation of such laws and of overall attention from their government. Despite what the law states, the indigenous people are completely ignored, treated like foreigners in their own land.
One of the first things I learned living in Argentina was that no one seemed to follow the rules. This goes for most countries in South America. Corruption and a lack of control has people in power doing as they wish, and creating their own rules as they go along. Besides, if you ever get caught doing something illegal, you can just pay them off. No big deal. This is how it is there.
On an everyday scale, this lax law may seem perfect for good fun for those who would wish to hold a beer outside of a bar in the U.S., on the sidewalk, while having a cigarette. But on a larger scale, this has many serious consequences.
After the Spanish conquest, the land ownership system that was established did not account for indigenous people, which left them without legal protection and their territory fell in the hands of local expropriators and authorities. The destruction of their traditional lands and food source was a way to push them out and into remote and isolated areas or into cities.
It is quite complex when two legal systems exist in one country. While the pre-existing society believes in an informal oral tradition system built on culture and practices recorded in historic memory, the conquerors practice a much more formal written process enforced by bureaucratic governments. Ring any bells?
The indigenous people believe the land was destined for their development through a deep spiritual relationship and that it is nontransferable. Europeans, on the other hand, see land ownership as wealth and profit in the real estate market, and the ownership is certainly transferable.
Even though the country supposedly recognized the presence of indigenous Customary Law in the reform passed in 1994, the country would never recognize its multi-ethnicity since there is no room for that in their Western psychology.
So, it was said 20 years after the reform that the constitutional law did not derive in clear legal guarantees. In order to halt evictions related to territorial rights, the law was extended until 2013. A survey took place with the Territorial Survey of Indigenous Communities, which included land reconnaissance; registration of real estate property for the title of ancestral lands and land surveying.
Unfortunately, this only caused more agitation due to a lack of indigenous participation and conflicts of interest, so the chamber decided to extend the law again until 2017. Basically, the government keeps prolonging it. How long will they keep ignoring this issue?
Whether in North America or in South America, indigenous peoples struggle to gain the attention of the masses, and especially government entities, on issues that, for some, took root centuries ago, not long after their invasion into indigenous territories.
Jessica Carro has a Master of Arts degree in investigative journalism from Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She works as a freelance journalist and focuses primarily on South American issues. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.