The People Who Stayed
Having left the northern and western parts of our country, I’ve arrived down south. Now, I really hope I don’t have to tell you that Europeans were not the first people in this country. And that many of the people who were originally here were eventually driven out of their homes and forced out west. It’s a long, unhappy story that I don’t have much time to get into right now. But what I want to talk about are the Native Americans who stayed in their own lands in the southeast. Aptly titled The People Who Stayed, this book is a collection of legends, writings, and oral history of the southern Native Americans who had to navigate the complicated racial landscape of the South. The book not only has a lot of history, but some interesting personal stories of Native Americans who joined either white or black communities, and how, like many ethnic groups they tried to keep their identities, while deciding how much they wanted to assimilate into the main stream. If you want to learn more about this, check the book out! It’s a very interesting and little-known important part of our cultural history.
How about we stay in the south (or the southwest) and look at another notable ethnic group in the U.S., the ever growing Hispanic population. Unlike the last two books, this one is more contemporary, dealing with issues in the Latino community, like migration, cultural assimilation, and gender. As the most rapidly growing minority in the U.S., Hispanic culture has become a major part of mainstream America. This book has a nice combination of writing, with poetry, short stories, and essays. It’s also a good mix of different nationalities and backgrounds (Latinos/Hispanics being a pretty diverse group) as well as a mix of time periods, with poetry from Hispanics serving in WWI, to modern day Latina women navigating cultural traditions and the desire to join the professional world. I know that some people are touchy about certain Hispanic issues, like illegal immigration and Spanish being such a prominent language, but this book isn’t about that. It’s about the importance of Hispanic writing, and its cultural impact on America.
Interested in another American subgenre? You could fight me on this, but I would count the work of John Steinbeck (and others of his era) as a genre of its own. His depression era stories, such as The Grapes of Wrath, marked a time when artists, musicians, and writers looked around their country struggling in the Great Depression, and wrote about the awful things they saw, with no sugarcoating. Steinbeck’s most famous book, the tale of an Oklahoma farm family migrating to California in a desperate attempt to find work, is an American classic. It’s a story less about individual characters, and more about the country as a whole, whose people desperately struggled, persevering despite the odds against them. This book also has a famous movie, which I like a lot, but beware- there’s so much dust and grime onscreen that you just want to take a shower. America does love its outdoors.