Archiver > MIXED-BLOODS > 2006-11 > 1164227843

From: "P Gunter-Hernandez" <>
Subject: [MIXED-BLOODS] An Immigrant Steeped in Meaning Of Thanksgiving
Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2006 12:37:23 -0800

An Immigrant Steeped In Meaning Of Thanksgiving

November 17, 2006

Article by Bessy Reyna,


Thanksgiving kept coming to mind as I viewed the artwork now on display at
the Aldrich Museum for Contemporary Art in Ridgefield. The main exhibition,
the work of 10 artists both Indian and non-Indian, is called "No
Reservations: Native American History and Culture in Contemporary Art."

I was struck by the intensity of the work on view at each gallery, and the
political content depicting the effect of the European conquest of Native
Americans then and now. Living in Connecticut with the Mohegan Sun and
Foxwoods casinos gives one a skewed view of contemporary American Indian
life. This exhibition brings many other realities into sharp focus.

Since 1975, when he was sentenced to life in prison for allegedly killing of
two FBI agents, Native American activist Leonard Peltier has been a beacon
in the struggles of Native American people. His guilt or innocence is being
debated to this day. At the Aldrich, artist Rigo 23 has recreated Peltier's
tiny prison cell. Inside there is some of Peltier's original art work and,
in glass boxes and on the floor, there are copies of his appeals, letters
and other documents. The steps leading to the Peltier exhibit are marked
with each year that he has been imprisoned.

>From a shoot-out between larger-than-life fiberglass cowboy and Indians, to
the revisionist Hudson River School paintings of Peter Edlund, this show
transforms the ordinary, the familiar and the beautiful providing new
historical and cultural insights.

The symbolism of Marie Watt's "Dwelling" and learning of the Ridgefield
community's involvement in this project represented the spirit of
Thanksgiving for me. More than 1,000 blankets staked from floor to ceiling
form a colorful and striking monolith. About 160 of these were donated by
residents of Fairfield County and tagged with the story of how they were
acquired or used by each family, in some cases for generations. Another 900
gray blankets were purchased by other donors. Dozens of people in the area
spent hours sewing bindings around their edges. When the show ends in
February, these blankets will be donated to local homeless shelters and
families in need.

Simple blankets, traditionally used by Native Americans for trading or
shelter and shamefully used by British forces to infect Native Americans
with smallpox in 1763, now represent the commitment of a community working
together to create something of beauty, to make connections between one
another and to help others in need.

As I read the stories and learned that the people of Ridgefield had gotten
together to make this a community project, I thought I was experiencing a
"modern-day" Thanksgiving.

Each year as this holiday approaches, I think about how connected it is to
my experience as an immigrant in this country.

As an undergrad at Mount Holyoke College, I was invited to join my friends'
families, the Drinkos in Cleveland and the Pryors in Philadelphia. As a grad
student at UConn in Storrs, I joined many families in celebrating in
Connecticut. When I became part of my partner Susan's family, we spent hours
on the road, regardless of the ice or snow, driving to Massachusetts. There,
the whole family would recount anecdotes of their lives. I watched the
nieces and nephews grow from little kids to suddenly sitting with their own
children on their laps.

As I was leaving the Aldrich museum, I walked into an exhibition of photos
by Paul Fusco. His photographs were taken at funerals of servicemen and
women who died in Iraq including Army specialist Tyanna Avery-Felder of

For the families of the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, each
day they don't get horrible news about their loved ones must be a day of

Some of us are so used to the freedom and comforts we have that we don't
even realize how much, and to how many, we have to be thankful.

I will think about that again this year. I hope we all do.

Bessy Reyna Freelance Writer/Hartford Courant

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