Dangerous Compassions

cultural appropriation, what to do when a spirit animal visits you in the night, and how brown my Grandpa was

I was talking to my friend about spirit guides.  Recently on facebook I saw a thing saying how non-Native people can’t / don’t have spirit guides, ever.

I think about cultural appropriate a lot.  It’s not okay to wear a kimono unless you’re Japanese, I heard.  But it’s okay for anyone to eat Japanese food.  Why is that?  Glad I can eat the food.  I don’t need to wear a kimono.  But I wonder who made these rules and whether they’re really helpful.

Also I think it’s okay for anyone to learn and speak any language–is that true?  Well, it’s okay for anyone to learn and speak Japanese.  But maybe not some Native languages?

Once Ming and I were learning about Druids.  We went to a local Druid meeting, curious.  I love the earth and nature.  I love the divinity of trees and water and all life.  So I wanted to learn more.

They were all white people, and I wondered if Ming could be a Druid?  What about me, a person who is half Mexican-American and half white?  Does it makes sense for us?  If we’re doing ancestor worship, are our ancestors supposed to be white?

Tried asking about it.  Honestly, didn’t like the answers.  It gave me a lot of food for thought.  Should I be looking for Mexican-American religion?  But my dad was white, and I will always be mixed, no matter what.

What about Ming?  He’s a Chinese-American pagan Jew who went to Hindu church with me for four years and sang in the choir with me in Sanskrit and Bengali.  I feel like he should get an award for the unlikeliness of that!

I heard an Indian sadhu say–Americans should be Christian, that Americans are all truly Christian, that we should do our Christianity and be satisfied because we’ll never understand Hinduism, that we’re playing around and should return to our Christian roots.

I felt annoyed by this, but I haven’t heard it much.  All the Indian and Nepalese people I met during all my 20 years going to Hindu church were welcoming and kind.  Indians of other sects have all been nice to me too.

I feel like we can do whatever we want, religion-wise, unless non-Native people try to appropriate Native religion.

Back to the spirit guides.  I told my friend over txt that I’ve heard non-Natives can’t have spirit guides.  Then I asked, But what if the Jaguar comes to you?

I was telling Ming, there’s what I’m supposed to believe, then what really happens at night.  If a spirit guide speaks to me, and I supposed to tell her to go away?  I don’t know if she would listen.

When someone was talking with me about what to name her baby, I remember thinking, it’s a modern world.  There’s so much communication and interchange.  I think you should name your baby whatever you want.  The language or culture doesn’t matter.

But I knew someone white who named her white kid an African word for love, and I did think twice about it.  Not that I decided it was wrong, but I wondered about the kid, how she would be treated at school, would she like her name, would it be a source of grief.

A friend posted on facebook just today about how sad she was these white women are writing children’s picture books about Black kids and winning awards.  My friend believes writers of color should be the ones winning awards for writing about kids who are people of color.

But then I’m like, if I’m half white and half Mexican-American, am I supposed to only write books where all the characters are half white and half Mexican-American?  Am I allowed to write about other ethnicities and races of people?  I always thought I could write about whatever I wanted.

I think about how I’m an odd combination of things.  My mixed ethnicity, my severe mental health diagnoses / disabilities, my unusual religious choices, my extreme political views, my living in community, my large size, some unusual life choices like being a vegetarian, not having kids, not driving, not watching TV or movies.  Being kind of educated but living in poverty.  Being part of a movement of Catholic anarchists.  Though I’m not Catholic, I can talk about the Mystical Body of Christ and the Works of Mercy.  On the wall above my desk, I have a poster of the Works of Mercy.  It’s my life.

I want to be free, but I need not to hurt people by appropriating their cultures.  I just think the rules are kind of odd.  I guess I want what’s really best for people.

Many years ago, I was working on a reservation with kids.  I was teaching, then tutoring, mostly third graders, but also some teenagers, and then adults at the community college.  I would watch kids play at recess, sometimes, and make them snack.  Then I was working with the small library, there, ordering books for them.

I realized with shock that this particular tribe, their language had no dictionary.  I offered my boss I could start working on a dictionary for them.  I could do it as a job, and it would be helpful.

He talked to some people, and they decided no.  They didn’t want a non-Native making a dictionary of their language.  I was sad because no one else was doing it and it sounded fun.

I could google right now whether they ever did get a dictionary, but I’m tired.  I feel I’ve kind of written myself into a corner here.

I think a dictionary would have been a good idea.  I could have worked for a couple years then handed it off to someone else.  But I can see them not wanting an outsider messing with their language.

Being half Mexican-American, well–Mexicans are mixed by nature.  The Spaniards came over and met the Natives.  Through whatever way, something alchemical happened–that’s how I think of it, anyway.  My mom has pale skin, so maybe my peeps are more Spaniard than Native?  But her dad was brown.  I’ll end with a picture.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

One reply on “cultural appropriation, what to do when a spirit animal visits you in the night, and how brown my Grandpa was”

Hi Laura-Marie,

I think it’s complicated. I’m not sure I can even attempt to explain all the intricacies. I dunno. I find this kind of thing tiring.

I like Native American stuff too


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