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).


  1. If anything he might come closer to one of the Tainos, or Caribes, but then again I don't claim to be an expert on them either. Problem is that the uneducated mind, or the mind that's been educated by eurocentrism likes to reinforce its simple sterotypes of what is Apache, or Native American rather than to challenge, or bother itself with finding out or really looking at, or questing as to what and who were the Apaches, what did they really look like, or the Yaquis, or the Mexica for that matter. So the average Mexican caricturizes what he thinks is "El Apache," but he's really caricturizing himself while circulating ignorance to the general population, begining with young children who are indoctrinated into this.

  2. Thanks Manuel. I think that idea of Mexicans -- or white North Americans for that matter -- caricaturing themselves by way of imagining stereotypically noble or savage natives is key to understanding a whole lot of racism.