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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 14)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 14 March 28th, 2020

Trento, Italy

Freedom


I don’t know if today was an anomaly day, but it seems like more Italians are getting sick of the quarantine. I saw someone jogging (which has been banned) along the riverfront on Lungadige Marco Apuleio; then I came across four elderly people sitting on the sidewalk eating cans of tuna (also a very good reason to be outside), and another humorous sight (which didn’t actually break quarantine laws); since I’m not a big fan of internet shaming, I’ll only share the last thing I witnessed.


The fury of some Italian mayors over their citizens’ inability to stay at home has been all the rage on the internet recently, but from what I’ve personally been seeing on the streets, it’s not doing too much good.


All this naturally begs the question: Why was I outside? In full and partial disclosure, my brother and I went shopping again. I know—I know: How much shopping can two people do? Well, we’re law-abiding citizens and when we want to break quarantine, we do so legally. Here’s me—yet again—standing in front of the supermarket.

Don’t worry, dear reader—today we also carried a ton of groceries and didn’t enjoy our walk back home; we’re following the law as best we can. The only problem is that we can no longer break the quarantine rules; now we don’t just no longer don’t need groceries—at this point we don’t have any space left for them. As this picture clearly demonstrates, I guess we’ll have to take walks the old-fashioned, illegal way.

Nevertheless, I don’t think pictures of our fridge are very interesting, so I’ll move right along to that amusing sight I’d been promising to show you. On our way back from the supermarket, I happened to look up for some reason—and good thing I did because below you’ll find my reward.


Such sights, as the one you’re about to witness, are quite common in the suburbs of Glendale, where barbeque-loving Armenians constitute forty-five percent of the population; however, I didn’t think that Italians were experts at balcony cookouts. Singing from balconies is something I can believe—cooking kebabs on balconies, however, smells like a byproduct of the quarantine, I guess. You do what you must to stay sane.

Well, that was the highlight of our entire quarantine day, and I would now like to continue the discussion I started in yesterday’s entry. The injustices endured by Native Americans at the hands of white colonizers have been substantial. One of the most brutal incidents during this period was the Wounded Knee Massacre, where approximately three hundred Lakota were killed—two hundred of them were women and children.


Twenty US soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for partaking in the battle—a designation that the US itself changed to a massacre one hundred years after the event, along with issuing an official statement of apology to the Lakota people. “So it goes,” said Billy Pilgrim.


The Lakota have been campaigning to have those medals rescinded, but so far the effort has been unsuccessful.


It seems like every attempt made by Native Americans to repel the whites has been a failure, whether it’s lost battles, forced relocations, or the inability to secure justice; however, that’s not entirely true. The indigenous population has shown great resilience, resourcefulness, and dedication to protecting their cultural identity.


In 1791, for example, about one thousand Native Americans from Ohio defeated General Arthur St. Clair in a battle which to this day has no name. The account is described by Colin Calloway in his book, The Victory With No Name. Although they couldn’t enjoy the spoils of war for too long, the victory was both the biggest which Native Americans had ever won and in terms of proportion the biggest military disaster the United States had incurred.


The fact that this victory has no name while every victory by the US is properly designated, shows precisely the attitude of this country towards Native Americans—the only thing they deserve is loss because this land was meant for the white colonizer; with this in mind, I was completely shocked to find out that Native Americans have served in the US Army—and continue to serve—in greater numbers than any other ethnic group, and this has been true ever since the American Revolution.


This is a fact that doesn’t manage to escape Calloway’s attention either, as he mentions it at the end of his book. And many Native Americans didn’t just serve—they did so with distinction. In WWI, the Native American Code Talkers transmitted messages in their tribal language to help the US win several battles. In WWII, the US once again relied on their skills to create unbreakable codes; the program was so top-secret that their existence wasn’t declassified until 1968.


One of the first Native Americans to enlist was Carl Gorman, who said the following: “This whole land was Indian country and we still think it’s our land so we fight for it. I am very proud to serve my country sir.” A major Hollywood movie, Windtalkers, was even made in 2002 to honor the Native Americans’ efforts in the war, but reviews for it weren’t positive because it didn’t focus on the Native Americans enough.


Besides military victories, activism has also brought degrees of success. For example, the Native American Occupation of Alcatraz, from 1969 to 1971, helped bring national attention to the plight of Indians. The majority of Native American activism, such as the 1973 Wounded Knee Occupation (which I’ll discuss), can be traced back to this event.


Although public opinion and support from the public began to decline as a result of a fire on the island, along with the collision of two supertankers (unrelated incidents), the occupation of Alcatraz and other activities by the American Indian Movement helped end the Indian Termination Policy (an attempt to erase Native culture by abolishing tribes and promoting assimilation into urban society), ushering in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975.


Below are some pictures from the time I visited Alcatraz Island in 2013. The only evidence remaining from the Native American presence is the graffiti, which is more than enough, I guess. The government could’ve whitewashed that as well.

I don’t know how they got up onto that water tower, but the graffiti there reads: “Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.” This graffiti isn’t original—to the government’s credit, however, it’s a restoration kindly carried out by the National Park Service.

The original graffiti looked like this picture and has been restored, according to the aforementioned article, more or less true to the original.

The Wounded Knee Occupation likewise had a significant impact in bringing attention to the Native American struggle. Apart from a few minor clashes some years later, the massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890 represented the conclusion of the Indian Wars.


It symbolized the fact that Native Americans would never be able to recover the land they had lost and, thus, the life they knew. As Black Elk said after Wounded Knee: “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.” The significance that Wounded Knee has on the psyche of Native Americans is precisely the reason why it was chosen as the site of the 1973 occupation.


That occupation also inspired Marlon Brando’s act of solidarity the very same year. Protesting the portrayal of Native Americans in film, along with voicing support for their activism, Sacheen Littlefeather rejected the award on Brando’s behalf (not without a few boos from the audience), which brought more attention to Native American issues.


Truly, Hollywood movies often did depict Native Americans in ways that made them seem like they were all the same, lacking any kind of depth or complexity; besides the lack of heterogeneity, more problematic was the portrayal of Natives as savages.


According to an article by Beverly R. Singer, a filmmaker and director of the Alfonso Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies at the University of New Mexico, “The view of Indians as savage and uncivilized was repeated in early films and crystallized the image of ‘Indians’ as dangerous and unacceptable to the normative lives of European immigrants whose lives appeared in films to be more valuable than those of the indigenous people they were colonizing. Mainstream films featuring Indians have been glacially slow in changing any part of this running narrative of conquest.” Indeed, things have been moving too slowly in this respect.


A recent Time article by Brian Young, a Navajo filmmaker, shows how Native Americans continue to be viewed in a stereotypical fashion, denying them any kind of complexity besides just the so-called bow and arrow identity. Young argues, thus, argues that while many things have improved in terms of how Native Americans are portrayed, mainstream movies still have a long way to go in this respect.


Looking back now, I realize that the most unique part of living in the US was having received the privilege of seeing and walking on this land. There still exists this unique sense of freedom that I haven’t quite felt here in Europe; you notice it driving down a desolate section of the 10 Freeway in Arizona; you feel it in the midnight silence of Death Valley; you see it standing on top of any peak in the Sierra range; it’s the feeling of being freed from society—that enigmatic realization: Something existed here that never did in the Old World.


All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.


Until next time.

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