2014



Face negotiation

"Within our newly aquired possessions on the boarders of Mexico and the Pacific coast, and the recently organized territories in the interior of the continent, are numerous powerful and warlike tribes, of whom little is known, and whose history has no connection with that of the people of the United States, exept the fact that they were original occupants of the soil, and that some of them, especially the Californian Indians, yet dispute our right to sovereignty." Benson J. Lossing, "The Western Tribes", A Pictorial  History of the United States: For Schools and Families

The collapse of native american culture and invasion of their land followed by their displacement and resettlement, functions as a core example in my authenticity negotiation and I compare it with other cultures or individuals who went (or go) through the same process. I focus among others on alienation and mutual cultural influences/similarities/differences, language restrictions/limitations/misunderstandings/power relations, identity change and xenophobia.

“Face negotiation” started with finding a story of Olive Oatman that I present in many versions depending on from whos perspective it is told. "In the early 1850s, Olive Oatman was a typical pioneer girl heading west on a wagon train full of Mormons in search of gold and God. By the end of the decade she was a white Indian with a chin tattoo, torn beteen two cultures." (Margot Mifflin. The Blue tattoo. The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2009). I am not interested in the story itself but Oatman´s transformations between different cultures and the negotiation structures she has been exposed to deal with during and after her captivity. How did the tattoo effected her identity?  How this act has changed her authenticity? Could she go back to be a ”white woman” in a western society? Could she have developed a transcultural, hybrid identity?
"The greater fascination, however, lies in her unresolved duality. No American immigrants or captives have worn their hybrid identities so publicly."..."Oatman wore a permanent symbol of soul - searing transgression.She was, in the parlance of her day, "redeemed" as a captive, but there´s little redemption in her story. She was a half - finished woman who neither fully renounced the Mohaves nor settled back comfortably into white culture, which may explain why she contradicted herself: her affection for her Mohave family, for example, bleeds through the pages of her biography (Which includes long streches of first-person narrative) even as she disparages them, following Stratton´s virulently racist agenda."
..."the Mohaves, a once charismatic and idiosyncratic tribe - the largest in California - now vastly diminished and all but purged from national memory. In the mid-nineteenth century they, too, were hybrids of a sort, blending Southwest and Califormian traditions, such as face painting and tattoo, respectively, and straddling California and Arizona geographically, on either side of the Colorado River. An accidental ethnographer, Oatman recorded her momories of them in their last decade of sovereignty. Soon after she left them, they were forced off their land and pressed into a life of poverty; today only about a thousand survive."(Margot Mifflin. The Blue tattoo. The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2009)
With the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, half of Mexico was swallowed up by the United States. For Californian Indians it meant genocide: between 1848 and 1865 an estimated fifteen thousand out of seventy two thousand Indians were killed in the Golden State. "A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the races", California´s first governor told the lagislature in 1851, "till the Indian race becomes extinc".
Olive Oatman "survived the botched pursuit of the American Dream, arrived at a geographical and utopian terminus- California - where, as Joan Didion famously put it, "we run out of continent". Then, reborn as a white Mohave, she turned around and went east again. Her blue tattoo bacome a poignant, permanent, ethnic marker, involving both cultural imprint of her Mohave past and the lingering scars of westward expansion."
(Margot Mifflin. The Blue tattoo. The Life of Olive Oatman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2009)

I am interested in group dynamics and fixed structures, traditions, trust, loyalty, excluding, including and a sense of belonging. I investigate defense mecanisms and failure of an individual, a community or a whole nation.

© Aleksandra Jarosz Laszlo 2019