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October 4, 2010

Mom told a couple of stories while we were on vacation that made me realize prejudice was alive and well in ’30s Michigan. I had naively assumed, since there were so many American Indians in her hometown, indeed a reservation, that everyone peacefully coexisted.

When she was in elementary school, there was a boy whose idea of a joke was to ask Mom if she knew how to speak Indian. “No,” she’d say. “I do,” he would reply, “fry bread!” Oh, the wit and wisdom of a child.

Several years later, another smart aleck kid, perhaps the same one, discovered that Mom wasn’t quite so complacent any longer. For lunch, she used to love to bring a bean sandwich made with fry bread (editorial comment: um, yuck!). The kid would taunt her, “Whatcha got there, squaw? What’s for lunch, squaw?”

“My name’s not squaw, it’s Audrey,” she would retort.

One day, he started in again. “Whatcha got for lunch, squaw?”

“My name’s Audrey,” she told him again.

“Ya got some fry bread, squaw?” he persisted.

That was it. She punched him in the nose. He was laid out on the sidewalk with a bloody nose, and Mom’s mother was called in to school. Mom doesn’t remember being punished by her mom.

The kid didn’t call her squaw any more.


From → Mom stories

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