When I was 11 and in New York visiting our East Coast cousins, my 12 year old cousin asked me about cowboys and Indians. He had the impression that they were a regular part of my life in Oregon. I had to tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he had a very wrong impression of Oregon! We lived normal lives, free of shoot outs on the back 40 acres. We did frequently play at cowboys and Indians, though we were always all cowboys. No one in my circle wanted to be an Indian. We weren’t sure why, but we knew on some level that the Indians lost.
Donald Trump and I were near contemporaries in school. We both were taught American history as a story of constant progress, exceptionalism and power. We were not taught about the “losers” in America, those people displaced, enslaved, deported and exploited. Slavery was an unfortunate blip in an otherwise sterling American story. When he says he wants to “Make America Great Again,” he implies that somehow we need to get back to that sense of the United States our textbooks portrayed.
I reflected on that a lot when visiting Plymouth. I thought about it most deeply when I encountered this plaque:
I began, not for the first time, to wonder whose story I had been taught so many years ago when we dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians to share a Happy Thanksgiving.