So let me tell you about the Halloween costume I wore when I was seven. I was an Indian chief. My parents made the costume (they made all the Halloween costumes for me and my sister.) My mother sewed the leggings, breech cloth, and shirt out of burlap, with red felt fringe. My father made the war bonnet. I helped him. Twenty-four (I think it was) turkey feathers died to look like eagle feathers, because eagle feathers were illegal, national bird and all. Horse-hair extensions. Hand-beaded headband; I chose the design motifs and did some of the beading myself. Side ornaments of abalone shell with ermine tails hanging from them. It was beautiful and I loved it.
Of course, it was also an act of cultural appropriation. It would be hard to get away with such a costume these days. But how the hell would you explain cultural appropriation to a seven year old boy who wants to grow up to be an Indian? I’m not even sure you could explain the concept to my parents, who were quite intelligent, and were certainly aware of and sensitive to injustice visited on the Indians.
But it was more than a costume, you see. When I played at ‘cowboys and Indians’ I made sure that the Indians won some of the battles. Fair is fair, right? I remember at summer camp in 4th grade when we were watching some Western. The Indians were slaughtered. I complained that it wasn’t a fair fight. The white people had Gatling guns ferchrisake while the Indians only had bows and arrows.
A couple years after that I’d adopted Rafael Mendez, a Mexican American, as my first music hero. And you know what I specifically like about his repertoire? all that Spanish/Mexican stuff he played, all that Latin tinge duende. A couple of years later and I was buying records of jazz trumpeters, some white, some black.
And then I bought a collection of transcription of Louis Armstrong trumpet solos. I spent a lot of time working on those solos; my teacher, Dave Dysert, incorporated them into my regular trumpet lessons. However you may think about it, playing a person's music is necessarily a profound identification with them. And, looking at the copyright dates on those solos, they must have been transcribed and on the market within weeks or at most months after they were recorded in the mid 1920s. That's an awful lot of identification going on through the years by an awful lot of trumpeters.
I figure my identification with Indians, aided and abetted by my parents, was a secure foundation for that, and a lot else besides.
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Psssst.... Don’t tell anyone, but I have some very nice Navajo silver that my father bought me over the years, four bolo ties (two with turquoise stones), and two belt buckles.