May 28, 2008

Students can't overcome stereotypes

Chumash storyteller visits Paso librarySalazar advocates for a strong sense of living history, which helps to remove the stereotype from Native Americans. Teachers, he said, are doing a wonderful job of educating children about the history of local Native American tribes, but children are still influenced by long-held tropes popularized by Hollywood. Salazar pointed to an instance at a school when a young student, who was very educated on the history of the Chumash tribe, asked if Salazar had ridden a horse to the school.

“The myths and misconceptions, even among the students and young people that are learning a lot of good stuff, are still obvious,” he said. “So it is important that they see and hear the stories from a Chumash person, from a Salinian person.”
Comment:  The ancient Chumash didn't own or ride horses, of course, since they lived on the Southern California coastline. So it's ludicrous that a child would ask a 21st century Chumash if he rode a horse to the school. What a sad testament to the power of stereotypes.

For more on the subject, see The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence.

Real Indian:

Imagined Indian:


Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Salazar's statement and think that what he's doing is great. I disagree with your comment though, and your title that "Students can't overcome stereotypes."

While ancient Chumash didn't have horses, that doesn't make the child's question "ludicrous." This isn't Culver City. People still ride horses in the streets today in many parts of the central coast, let alone fifty years ago. Another chumash elder told me that as a child, he used to joyride his chumash neighbor's horse when the man would ride to the bar and get drunk. Double the stereotype, but that doesn't mean the story isn't true.

Mr. Salazar was there, and I'll defer to him if he believed a stereotype motivated the question. But, it's not a "sad testament" at all. The child ASKED instead of assuming the stereotype was true! That's a success story... a happy testament that Mr. Salazar is making a difference, despite the countless bottles of firewater he surely drinks per week. Iiiiiii'm KIDDING!

- BJ

Rob said...

We're talking about riding for business, not pleasure. I'd love to see the stats on how many Chumash Indians ride horses to professional appointments in the city. I'm guessing the number is approximately zero.

I'll defer to Salazar too, since he agrees with me. So what exactly are we talking about? He and I are right that the question was stereotypical.

Yes, it's better that the student asked the question than assumed the answer. But it's about as ludicrous as asking every Indian if he or she lives in a teepee. It's a sad testament to our students' knowledge that that's still a common question.

Are you going to defend that question too? I'm sure some Chumash live briefly in teepees when they camp out or attend a powwow. Does that make it a sensible question?

Not really. The kid obviously was asking if that's how Salazar normally travels. Which is why Salazar reacted as he did.

Suppose the kid implicitly asked, "I know you drive a car normally, but did you choose to ride a horse for some reason on this occasion? Even though I don't see any evidence of it? And I don't know a single Chumash who travels that way?"

In that case, I believe Salazar would've reacted differently. He wouldn't have used the opportunity to talk about student myths and misconceptions. And we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Anonymous said...

Your main point (title) is that "Students Can't Overcome Stereotypes." That is really cynical, and I'm sorry, but it's just not true. The child didn't ask about teepees because he was no doubt educated about that - stereotype overcome!

Second, your reason for the question being ludicrous was that "ancient" Chumash didn't have horses. That's true, but many Chumash have been fine horsemen for generations. Horses appear in Chumash rock art! Mr. Salazar isn't ancient, so I don't see what that has to do with it.

People ride the streets for pleasure around here. Chumash usually don't ride to appointments, but they don't usually wear claw necklaces and beaded chokers either. As adults we can differentiate all that, but for a child in awe of a traditionalist Native? To think that riding a horse was likely because he's Indian is, as Mr. Salazar put it, a "misconception" but it's not "ludicrous" as if an adult thought that, and it's easily corrected. It's an indication that Mr. Salazar's efforts are needed.

I've met him and he seems a positive, gentle individual. He's worked with children for decades. Don't assume that he would join you in characterizing a child's question as "ludicrous" or that it gives him sorrow or despair. He is a person of hope. And he certainly doesn't think that "Students Can't Overcome Stereotypes" or he wouldn't waste his time helping them do it.

Rob said...

Chumash rock art with Indians (not Anglos) on horseback? I'd like to see proof of that. Send me the URL if you have one.

So far I haven't heard a shred of evidence to justify the child's question. Was there a horse in the library's parking lot? Or a hitching post where a horse could be parked? Does this library have a stable or barn to house horses while patrons browse for books?

Exactly what facilities for horses do you think this library has? How many libraries in the US are equipped to handle horse traffic? I have a master's degree in library science, but somehow I missed this little-known aspect of library management.

I could go on, but I trust I've made my point.

If you're seriously asserting that a modern-day child could believe anyone would ride a horse to a library in an urban setting, I'd say that's even more ludicrous than the kid's question. There's no reason whatsoever to think a "normal" person would've journeyed to a library on horseback. The only reason the child thought that was because the person was an Indian.

Apparently you admit the question is stereotypical. The only question seems to be whether it's ludicrously stereotypical or not. Based on the common-sense rationale above, I'd say it is.

I have no idea how Salazar would characterize the question. Since he's a "person of hope," let's suppose he'd call it "unfortunate" (or whatever word you choose). His interpretation of "unfortunate" is equivalent to my interpretation of "ludicrous."

Example: "Chief Wahoo is an unfortunate representation of an Indian." Or, "Chief Wahoo is a ludicrous representation of an Indian." Same stereotype, different interpretations.

I hope Salazar can overcome the children's myths and misconceptions too. Since I spend a few hours a day battling Native stereotypes, I'm heavily invested in that cause. But I don't pretend it's easy or even possible.

Kids have been asking if Indians live in teepees or ride horses for decades. So far they haven't overcome such stereotypes. We know this because the stereotypes have persisted despite every effort to eliminate them.

If you want to imagine that the title of this posting is "Students can't overcome stereotypes (yet)," be my guest. Since we don't and can't know the future, it's obvious that things can change. Students can't overcome stereotypes for now, but maybe they'll be able to someday. With efforts such as Salazar's and mine.

Anonymous said...

Again, your statement was that "it is ludicrous BECAUSE...ancient Chumash didn't have horses." I still don't see why that means Mr. Salazar can't ride a horse. The Chumash largely turned to agriculture and husbandry a couple hundred years ago and there have been proficient Chumash horsemen ever since.

Also, you really don't need a graduate class to park a horse. When people ride in town, they just hitch to a lightpost or railing. Parking horses isn't common enough for special posts, but it happens enough to not be surprising or "ludicrous." I can't believe you expect this child to ponder equine infrastructure before he asks a question.

Anyway, this is all academic. The reason I bothered to write was that your title and comments take a story of hope and wrap it in pessimism. Mr. Salazar is effective with his use of optimism and teaching. Maybe you should try love instead of battle.

Rob said...

The crux of your argument seems to be that Chumash Indians occasionally do ride horses to the Paso Robles City Library. But you've offered no evidence whatsoever for this supposition. Seems to me you're inventing excuses for the child's implausible question. For some reason you don't like to think our children still believe ridiculous Native stereotypes.

Let's recap: The Paso Robles City Library is in the middle of town, an urban environment. It's 50-75 miles from Ventura County, the heart of Chumash territory. For every Chumash Indian who travels to the library on horseback, I'm guessing about a million travel to it in a motor vehicle. In fact, I'm willing to bet no Indian has ever arrived at the library on horseback.

It's not sensible to ask a serious question about a million-to-1 shot. Salazar could've arrived in a tank...or parachuted in...or crawled through the sewers and come up through a manhole. But the kid didn't ask about these unlikely possibilities. He didn't ask because they didn't fit his preconceived notion of how Indians travel.

Rob said...

For more on the "Indians ride horses" stereotype, see How Stereotypes Affect Real People.