When I came to pick up my kids from school yesterday, I caught the tail end of story hour in my daughter’s preschool. Her teacher, who immigrated to Boston years ago, held a large picture book for the group’s perusal. “And then,” she boomed in her Russian accent, “Squanto said, ‘I come in peace!’ and taught the Pilgrims how to hunt and raise crops here.”
A dozen little boys and girls leaned back and sighed. My Israeli daughter sat between her ‘American American’ and her ‘Russian American’ and her ‘Israeli American’ and her non-American Israeli friends, and sighed along with them.
This, I thought. This is America.
The story went on, and the children giggled when Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant dead fish with their corn seeds, and ‘ooo’ed and ‘aaa’ed when their teacher showed them pretty pictures of Native Americans, and enunciated words like ‘tipi’ when she asked them to.
These kids, I thought, are forming a very rosy picture of the relationship between the Native Americans and the Europeans who came here. In the classroom, the story is one of kind help and coexistence. But out of the classroom, a long history of blood and death and dispossession is casting shadows on the quaint Thanksgiving tale.
Our kids are hearing an uplifting truth today, I thought. They’re hearing words that will inspire them to kindness.
But inspiring or not, these words are only partially true. The story is a happy one… If you squint.
This, too, I thought. This too is America.
Away from the world of the preschool, I knew, squinting is falling out of fashion. If the past few years are anything to judge by, we will be seeing an awful lot of heartfelt Facebook posts today. College students and teenagers, professors and politicians, all will debate over the appropriateness of appropriating the Native American heritage in, say, costume design. They will scoff at what they will describe as ‘myths’ and ‘lies’. They will lament the fate of America’s first Peoples.
And they will eat gluten free pumpkin pies and organic turkeys, and enjoy the fruits of the American Promise of prosperity that brought all those dispossessing European immigrants to this continent in the first place.
And this, too, is America.