Sunday, October 10, 2010


In the early 90s I was having a sleepover with Ixchel where we sat up late, talking over our reaction to a Barry Lopez essay we had both just read about when Cortez burned the aviaries of Moctezuma. She told me that if time travel were possible, she would kill Columbus and all his crew as they waded through the surf to reach the New World, not allowing them to so much as set foot in this hemisphere.

I looked at her, a blend of races, wondering at the implications. She laughed and said "Yeah, that would mean I'd never have been born, and I don't care about the space-time contradiction. I'd find a way because it would be worth it."

That night I dreamed a small group of us had, in fact, stumbled across the means to travel through time. I chose to take crates of automatic weaons and three Hueys to Lakota in the Black Hills at the end of the Civil War, when all the soldiers and officers steeped in warfare against their own were turned loose to perform American genocide. I lived among the Lakota to train them in the new technology, but they were fast learners, saying the copters were not much different from ponies.

After I woke up, my modern brain took over, recoiling at the slaughter I was enabling, the arrogance of my assumptions. I also noted that stopping white westward expansion would have hit my own ancestry in the solar plexus, and likely meant the tenuous path to my own birth would have been interrupted -- most of my people moved to Texas as CSA refugees, counting on the hated Union army to "handle" the Comanches and Apaches.

However, I still recall the satisfaction I felt in that dream as fusillades of bullets ripped through blue woolen uniforms, imagining the panicked telegrams that would begin to flow into Washington. It was ferally gratifying, that reset of history.

Europe dodged its need to mature and deal with rot at the core (mostly fueled by patriarchy in the form of christianity) by excreting westward its misfits and substance abusers. Like teenagers who have acquired handguns and credit cards, my people didn't just immigrate to keep from starving (although that is often part of the reality). They also aspired to own land and a house and further their family name, all European ideas of success. They bought 400 years of avoiding coming up with a different, sustainable idea of prosperity and community at a terrible price.

But here we are now as the bills come due, and if there is anything that will enable us to clean up the mess we made, it will be the thinking and will of descendants like me, who refuse to nostalgically celebrate continent-killers and instead dream about arming those who would have stopped our grandfathers, dropping them into dirt moistened by their blood.

The real struggle, of course, is not a scifi dream. It is more complicated and intensive, fueled by self-love rather than guilt because I must believe all my lineage is cheering me on, grateful for my chance at a comprehension they were too limited, too damaged to ever attain in a way that stuck. And forgiving them is also part of the equation, because what is going to save us will not be found in either mythologizing or demonizing those who came before.

Still, I often think of Ixchel's approach -- vaporize Columbus in the waters of the Caribbean -- and ponder what even another 100 years of Europe having to deal directly with its own problems might have done for the future of humankind. Because, in all the most relevant ways, they are us.

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