Nothing exposes every bad choice every member of your bloodline has ever made like Thanksgiving day. Take the
one where my newly-divorced mother’s brand new man friend devoured a turkey leg only to flippantly flip it over his right shoulder and straight out the open sliding glass door. It landed in the yard, near my dog who must have experienced a full religious conversion (at least until I took the leg away, telling him we don’t eat scraps thrown by strange men, and besides, cooked turkey legs splinter). I file the holiday under the same category as New Years Eve. And Valentines Day. Simply 24 expectation-packed hours that must be endured with the hope that nobody gets his or her feelings hurt. Including mine.
For much of our indigenous population (although not all: read the words of Sandra Lee, who is gracing our cover this issue, on page 31) in this region and across the country, what the holiday represents is insulting. This includes local indigenous chef Karlos Baca, to whom Thanksgiving only represents genocide and the destruction of his culture. Karlos Baca doesn’t do Thanksgiving.
Baca (Tewa, Ute, and Navajo) has quickly gained national and international notoriety with his pre-Columbian self-foraged menus
(“I only cook pre-Columbian,” he said). He is on the road all the time. Teaching. Speaking. Cooking. However, recently he found time to address a crowd of about 60 people (the vast majority looked like me; white with a suntan.) at the community gardens in Durango. I arrived late.
I stood in the back (mainly because I forgot my collapsible chair which I believe to be standard issue, along with portable hydration containers, down at the Department of Caucasian People.) Karlos Baca talks softly, thus I admit I didn’t hear much over the wind and the chronic ringing in my ears. But what he was saying, judging from the crowd, must have been interesting (story on page 20).
“What can we do to repair the damage that we have done to your culture?” someone asked from a camp chair during the Q&A that followed his presentation. Poor soul, I thought, you just teed yourself up. Then, Baca kindly and gently (and quietly) answered something to the affect: “Nothing. Leave us be. We don’t need your help.” And then he smiled. The smile could have been to fend off the awkwardness, or to just simply bathe in it.
As a descendent of former European marauders myself (although I find it hard to believe that my Italian ancestors had a lot of excess energy for conquering anything but their next glass of wine), I don’t get the feeling we are all that fulfilled with the bounty. We gained it all only to feel a vague existential emptiness. Thus, I believe many (at least, it seemed many sitting in the community garden that July evening) look at people like Karlos Baca and see a chance to atone. A do-over in the making. But you felt that didn’t you, Karlos? I didn’t have to hear a thing you said. The karma you were tasting seemed delicious.
I am not sure if Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting of Thanksgiving hasn’t ruined it for all of us (no matter where you come from). For white people, we appear as an entirely untroubled culture. Happy, warm with a perpetual Freedom From Want (the name of the painting). I will submit to the “warm” part, but it seems to me that we always “want,” and we are rarely “happy” when we get it. Although I do have a vague memory of The Turkey Leg Thrower possessing quite a joyful spirit.