Educator + Researcher
Although I was born in the U.S., I was born on the land of the Ramaytush (San Francisco, CA). Until I was ten, I spent my childhood years on the land of the Tanka People (Macau during its Portuguese colonization). The American part of me was formed during the 7 teenage years in the Tamyen region (Cupertino, California). Since 2007, I’ve lived in Lenapehoking (New York City, New York). Coming from an immigrant family, I felt a sense of displacement my whole life. I didn’t understand the root cause of this until I started engaging in an art practice that was more aligned with nature. I became familiar with the practice of land acknowledgment and I have since questioned my own occupation on this Lenape land I occupy.
As someone who has gone through America’s U.S. History curriculum from fifth grade and up, I was only taught one version of history from the settlers’ point of view and the doctrine of discovery as the country’s origin story. My school memories were not so much about the content we learned but more about English as a second language and finding space to fit in as a teenager. While we did learn about Native Americans in history class in some form, the genocide, forced displacement, the oppression of indigenous language, and diminished knowledge of the indigenous community were left out.
Let’s pause and think about what were the stories and histories that we learned. How might our learning be different from the generations of lived experiences that Indigenous people have remembered? While Indigenous Peoples own, occupy, or use a quarter of the world’s surface area, they safeguard 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. They hold vital ancestral knowledge and expertise on adapting, mitigating, and reducing climate and disaster risks. There are approximately 476 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide in over 90 countries. Although they make up over 6 percent of the global population, they account for about 15 percent of the extreme poor. Indigenous Peoples’ life expectancy is up to 20 years lower than non-indigenous people worldwide. 
In a panel discussion held by the National Museum of American Indian at the Smithsonian that featured Native American youth, participants questioned the American story taught in society. In particular, they called out the mainstream narrative of the first Thanksgiving and the Plymouth Colony as well as Pocahontas and Jamestown while bringing light to Native Americans as central narrators to the history of America. 
The Doctrine of Discovery is a concept that was established by Christians that gave European explorers the power to acquire and claim the title of discovery on any land not inhabited by Christians. Explorers were able to claim any land by planting a flag in its soil, and reporting the “discovery” back to the European rulers, and returning to bring back others to occupy it. Any original occupants were dismissed as their way of living was not on par with European standards. The doctrine perpetuates Christian European settlers’ view of cultural superiority.This ideology of land dispossession, murder, and forced assimilation was the inspiration in the 1800s Monroe Doctrine. The declaration of U.S. dominance over the Western Hemisphere, to control all land between the Atlantic, Pacific, and beyond, birthed the Manifest Destiny belief.
Before colonial contact with the Europeans, indigenous civilizations were complex, sophisticated, and stewarded the land. We can see a snippet of the co-existence amongst different communities through the trade diffusion of corn which has traces to central Mexico dating back to ten thousand years ago. Trade routes connected the diverse tribes together through short- to long-distance travel along roads following the river to the complex network of advanced agricultural innovations often surrounding corn, bean, and squash. These three foods, also known as the three sister crop, served as the primary substance in their diet that provided the complete protein nutritional value.
The reality of the origin story of the United States is a history of settler colonialism based on the ideology of white supremacy, the practice of African enslavement, and policies of genocide and land theft. This mythological U.S. narrative is woven into the founding infrastructure of our country. The American Dream has been the impetus of immigration of global families uprooting from their home country to chase this dream in hopes for a better life for their family and generations to come. This narrative is embedded into local histories, monuments, and national holidays as if there had never been occupants living on this land before us. It’s essential to challenge the mainstream societal narrative to better understand the challenges, racial oppression, and polarizing political opinions that are layered into the DNA of this country.
In her book An Indigenous People’s History, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reflects on the disconnect of the historical truth and the generational trauma that our national holiday celebration perpetuates:
From the colonial period through the founding of the United States and continuing in the twentieth century, this has entailed torture, terror, sexual abuse, massacres, systematic military occupation, removals of Indigenous children to military-like boarding schools. The absence of even the slightest note of regret or tragedy in the annual celebration of U.S. independence betrays a deep disconnect in the consciousness of U.S. Americans. 
While this writing is nowhere close to a detailed history of the past, it challenges our portrayals of Native American communities. How might the story differ from what is taught in our school systems? And how might that differ from the societal consensus of our own history? While we can neither fix nor ignore injustices from the past, what we have the power to do is shape the present’s narrative to include Native Americans’ as central characters in the origin story of the United States. In what ways can we reconnect with the story of the past by retelling the story of food?
It’s critical to examine the interconnectedness of well-being from a holistic perspective rather than a singular event or topic. Examples from the past year demonstrate the need for historical context and understanding of generational trauma resulting from the effects of colonialism. How might we connect history to better understand why Alaska Native and Native American populations are most at risk to Covid-19 because of their underlying health conditions? Heart disease, diabetes, and poor access to healthcare, sanitation, and other preventive measures are a result of being forced from their traditional land tied to food sovereignty.
What does the phrase “being an ally” mean in my own art practice? Ally denotes that you are the “other” — not being a part of the community that the topic is referencing. Still, you stand in solidarity with the issue and offer support in whatever ways and means that might be without perpetuating the mainstream narrative. I am interested in uncovering the past through an alternative historical narrative through my embodied research practice.
We often use speculative design as an exercise to imagine what the future might look like. I’m proposing that we stop speculating about the future— instead spending time and energy in the present, confronting our past to better inform our actions and policies. By passing these lessons onto future generations, we can truly create a reimagined future—one that honors and acknowledges the indigenous people who came before us.
1. Indigenous Peoples, World Bank, accessed Oct 1, 2020, https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/indigenouspeoples.
2. (Re)Telling the American Story | Youth in Action, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, January 8, 2021, video, 47:00, https://youtu.be/cJLRGcNsOwc.
3. Doctrine of Discovery, Upstander Project, accessed on April 28, 2021, https://upstanderproject.org/firstlight/doctrine#.
4. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014), 16-31.
Educator + Researcher