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When I hear foolishness like Bush's insistence that the U.S. national anthem be sung in English only, my mind is transported right to the history of cultural genocide inflicted by Americans on Native people. I am Anishinabeg and we know how this was done because we remember how they tried to do it to us. Our shared memory as a people goes right to that place.

But, why are we triggered so when we hear these stories of American cultural arrogance and bigotry? Why do we bother to personalize things that we could just as successfully ignore if we really put our minds to it?

We are triggered because assimilation, a loaded, devastating word of war we will no doubt hear more than we can stand before the immigration debate is over, always comes disguised as part of the national good when all it really amounts to is a fist to smash in the face of non-European people.

We bother because our pain is a shared experience.

It happens because we have long memories and we can't stop those memories from living among us like neighbors or the trees in our yards.

There's more on the jump.

When Indian children were forced into boarding schools, those hellish asylums of pestilence and abuse, the first thing they were told was that, to speak a native language is to risk severe punishment or even death.

Forcing Indian children who were caught speaking their language to eat lye was one of the favorite punishments. After that, they took their clothing, cut their hair and forced them into uniforms, then beat them every time the Indian started to show. "Kill the Indian to save the man," they said at Carlisle School. March them around, take away their Indianness, keep them away from the influence of home and, in no time, we will have destroyed the Indians once and for all, these whites thought.

Just who are these Americans that they feel so culturally superior to non-European people to the extent that they will dictate their ways to them and dare to tell us how to speak? What kind of people are these? Fortunately, we know that answer because their history of genocide and brutality to non-whites follows them wherever they go. Hell, we remember their history better than they do.

When it came to Indian people, when killing them wasn't practical or convenient, you dropped down to this: Take away a people's language, force them into the uniform of the oppressor, drive out their sense of group identity and you have control over them. You can make them do whatever you want and make them believe whatever you tell them about themselves.

It's all about the unbreakable bond between language and culture. Own the language, own the culture. Own the culture, own the people. It's simple algebra, really. That's America's history in dealing with indigenous cultures.

So, what is President Bush's solution to all of these brown people who dare to sing his national anthem in their native languages? Send them soldiers and bombs and McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken and demand that they form a new government? Cut out their tongues so they can't sing at all? Make them eat lye? Stand them on a box with wires attached to their genitals and threaten them with torture before you really do torture them? Learn enough about their religion so you can effectively humiliate those you capture and imprison? Hang them from the ceiling and pound their bodies into pulp for not talking?

He hasn't said what he plans to do but we will soon learn, I have no doubt.

I will say this, though: This president may be a fool, but he has no shortage of company when it comes to cultural arrogance.

Remember Ronald Reagan's "city on a hill"?

John McCain was surely remembering Reagan's hubris when he blustered, "I believe in American exceptionalism. I believe we were meant to transform history. I believe that the progress of all humanity will depend, as it has for many years now, on the global progress of American interests and values. I believe we are still the last, best hope of earth."

But, it was Bush himself who said of his misadventures in the Middle East that his is nothing short of "a war to save civilization itself."

Now that's some world class arrogance and done in six words.

I don't know if the guy who said of Bush that he is "a man whose esteem for himself is too high and regard for others too low" is the same man who dubbed Bush's foreign policy "schoolyard bellicosity," but the power of both phrases needs no further help from me. Powerful language that can tag a man for all of history in ways he would prefer it doesn't is language that needs to be suppressed, Bush would no doubt say.

Or, to bring it to the present, if we let those Mexicans sing the national anthem in their language, that means they'll start to feel more like a people with a stake in the future and a piece of the deed and less like the indentured servants we so desperately need to keep our economy afloat.

"In our countries, national anthems are a beautiful expression of who we are," said Juan Carlos Ruiz, general coordinator of the Washington-based National Capital Immigration Coalition. "Our immigrant communities want to be a part of this country. We want the American dream."

Can't have that, but maybe we'll create a Mexican version of the American Dream and let you have some of that. It won't be quite as good as the one we have, but it's better than the hopeless cesspools you came from, no?

Or, as Michelle Malkin said, "Whose anthem, whose flag, whose country is it anyway?"

Now line-up for your one-way trip to the boarding schools. Your free haircut and lye appetizer await your arrival.

In the end, though, the joke may be on the Americans, the ones who provoked one of the guys involved in the Spanish anthem recording project to say he'd received "more hate mail in the last 24 hours than I've ever received in my life" ... and he's not even Mexican.

I know at least this much and it's a cautionary tale for the Malkins and the Bushes and the rest of these Americans: You lose your soul when you colonize and rape and plunder and destroy, when you teach hatred to children and scream invective at people who don't look like you. And, when you lose your soul, the only thing left is waiting for sad death ... yours and your country's.

In The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,  Edward Gibbon wrote, "The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest. Cold, poverty, and a life of danger and fatigue fortify the strength and courage of barbarians."

See?

Conquest, decay, destruction.

Those people that these Americans once owned now threaten to overwhelm the country as they ask for an equal share of the birthright while their oppressors see themselves turning to cultural dust, screaming in the night that it cannot happen this way.

But it can and it likely will.

Worst of all for those whose souls will shrivel when it happens is they will know how it started. It started when a bunch of impertinent, ungrateful brown people wanted to borrow the national anthem for a few minutes and see what it felt like on their native tongues.

Now, who are these Americans who say they cannot do that? Where's my cake of lye and my clippers?

My answer, as near as I can tell, is that they are us and my dream is that we won't make the same mistakes these Americans did when they found my people in the way. Somos Americanos indeed.

Originally posted to megisi on Fri Apr 28, 2006 at 01:33 PM PDT.

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