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Appropriation and Telling History

After spending almost a week in San Antonio and prepping for my Pop Culture seminar, I’m coming back to thinking about  a few things. The first is mainstream representation of Native or Indigenous peoples in the US and Canada. And, the second is about the ways in which history is told.

I just opened my email and a dear friend sent me a link to a website. Apparently, Miley Cyrus has a new dreamcatcher tattoo. I wonder how many of her fans will follow suit? What does it signify for a white woman to have a sacred image placed on her body? Is this another example of appropriating a sacred motif in a new age sort of manner?

While in San Antonio on my walks, I passed a tobacco shop that had the apparently requisite wooden Indian sculpture outside of the shop and many other shops had Indians or their likeness outside of their shop or in the store windows. The area I was staying in is the Riverwalk and is a tourist destination or perhaps tourist trap. Where we might expect to see more of these kitschy depictions of Native culture and Latino culture for that matter.

This brings me to the Museo Alameda in the Marketplace. When a friend and I decided to tour the museum we stopped and looked at one another when we saw that the museum was funded thanks to the venerable Latino organization—the Ford Motor Company. Please note my sarcasm. We entered with pause wondering about the supposed benevolence of the car company. The first part of the museum referred to Diaz as a French liberator of the Mexican people.

For a moment I forgot I was in a museum and was ready to tweet that the museum begins with some revisionist history. The Mexican Revolution was actually in response to Diaz! A docent approached me and firmly noted that I could not take photos. From then on we walked through the exhibit. I later found out that there are some temporary and permanent parts to the exhibit. However, even knowing this I was struck how the history presented was really one that highlighted mostly an elite point of view and most definitely one that is male.

As a feminist political scientist, I know that I should not be surprised, but considering my familiarity with some Texas history I also know that there were many missing women—artists, activists, politicians, judges, philanthropists and the like. I kept on hoping to see more, but it never happened. I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to read books about Latina trailblazers, but what about visitors who have not?  They might not notice the absence, since it will offer business as usual. History told by men—about men. This might seem harsh, but this was my reaction after touring the exhibit.

The Institute of Texan cultures (Smithsonian institution) was a little better in this respect. The exhibit highlighted the diversity of cultures in Texas and more women were visible in the displays, but again missing were some of the prominent firsts in Texas—the first judges, politicians, artists, etc. The museums strong suit, if you will, was the exploration of the different communities. If you are ever in San Antonio, I suggest you visit Hemisfair Park and walk over to the Institute. It’s definitely worth the visit.

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