Monday, May 03, 2010
38, El Apache
Colorfully decked out in dyed-in-Taiwan turkey feathers, El Apache stands at the crossroads of Indianism. Simultaneously having nothing and everything to do with real native American people, he's both a travestic joke, a kind of clown, and an idolized fantasy of the eternal noble savage. No actual Apache ever looked like this, while millions of little white (and brown?) boys certainly donned similar exotically preposterous outfits in childhood play. And yet, he is tinged with the regret of the centuries that this continent of immigrants is what it is today only by the subjugation, destruction, and marginalization of its original inhabitants.
It's interesting that this card comes from Mexico, whose capital city was founded by the Aztecs with broad clean plazas, fertile gardens, and running water while the citizens of the capitals of Europe were rolling about in "nightsoil" and sharing their muddy hovels with rats, whilst hawking up bloody mucus into the dark corners. Today's Mexico is inescapably the fruit of its mostly poor native masses and its European-ancestered elite.
El Apache lives on in the erring imaginations of today's North Americans. Objectified as the wise spiritual being at one with nature or as the terrifying savage archer stoically dressed inappropriately for any season, our native American caricature reflects our aspirations and fears for a human nature much more complex; an inner conflict for generations of immigrants' heirs with exposure to few actual descendants of the survivors of the Europeans' American genocide.
(In addition to continuing The Cahokian's series of meditations on Loteria cards, this post marks the first of a series of posts on the phenomenon of Indianism, with all respect due to the late Edward Said, author of Orientalism).