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Plural Society in the Southwest

Updated on February 6, 2012
SW USA: guaranteed plural
SW USA: guaranteed plural | Source

Plural Society in the Southwest, edited by Edward H. Spicer and Raymond H. Thompson, published in the early 1970s, deals with the historical and ongoing cultural and demographic diversity in the American southwest. In addition to Spicer and Thompson, contributors include Miguel Leon-Portilla, Thomas F. O'Dea, Robert W. Young, Emory Sekaquaptewa, Ernesto Galarza, John H. Parry, and Ithiel de Sola Pool. The main thrust of their essays is that despite the dominant Anglo, the American Southwest lives on, much the way it has for millennia, as former, current, and future residence of many, many peoples. In the past, Hopis, Yaquis, Halchidhomas, Opatas, Tarahumaras, Huichols, Coras, Pimas, Papagos, and Seris lived there. These tongue-twisters are difficult to master, but they serve to indicate just how pluralistic the region was that did not simply go from Indian to Spaniard to Mexican to American. Indians long ago mastered the rare art of living together with other tribes more in peace than in war. To the mindless, pluralism is a scholarly concept that perhaps one day can, with multiple obscure efforts, be achieved in a distant future. Read: never.

Of course, to Mexico the Southwest is the Northwest, meaning only that with nations as with populations, perspectives are relative. Early Jesuits claimed spiritual conquests in Sinaloa, Sonora, Durango, Chihuahua, and southern Arizona. Franciscans created missions in Zacatecas and New Mexico. In Baja California, the Pericu and Guaycuras disappeared. It was not until 1848 that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the US-Mexico border. Only a year before, in 1847, Mormons entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Ten years later, the US government sent troops into Utah to root them out. A hundred years later still, oil was discovered on reservations. But like casinos, black gold did not serve as a panacea. In 1961, the Secretary of the Interior appointed a special task force to study how best to encourage Indians to more fully assimilate. In other words, the Southwest refused, and still holds out against, homogenization.

Not to worry. Pluralism is actually a good thing. It is an effective guard against the various rigidities that might favor a certain ten percent over the remaining ninety. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to preside over a profoundly divided, multicultural society in an age that is more judgmental than any in living memory. To govern all and sundry requires an extensive knowledge and higher understanding. The essays in this book show just how clumsy Washington insider-manipulators were. It must have been mind-boggling to legislators and ranking bureaucrats alike that Hopis, for instance, were different than Navajos, and that uniting them haphazardly on a mutual reservation logically resulted in hostilities.

There is no overarching theme evident throughout this collection of essays other than that there has always been, and always will be, diversity in the Southwest. It is the unshakable norm. Attempts have been made by the relevant groups involved to lord over the others. Human nature or its aberration under capitalist regimes, according to the Left, makes such aggressive actions inevitable. The point is, however, that hegemony has never been achieved by any competing entity based predominantly on DNA. One writer emphasizes that all the Pueblos in New Mexico managed to survive. It is a stretch to think, given what is known, that they made it owing to explainable reasons rather than blind luck or divine intervention. The New World, like the Old, remains a devil's playground. But in the Southwest, somehow, cruelty did not win the day. Apaches and Navajos were well-known for raids. The Spanish were on occasion brutal, as were an earlier generation of Americans who drove Mexicans into submission and mistreated the Indians. Today, most of the major players in this people-stew still exist. There are those who live well on large estates. There are others who live miserably in wretched domiciles. All in all, though, there is a sense that no one truly owns the land. Further, and more importantly, sameness, alone, is not a value. This applies to people of a single faith as well as those derived from an identical molecular template. No segment of the diverse population of the Southwest has ever actually triumphed over all. Not really. Instead, every element of this pluralistic society continues to endure in a complex community, sometimes harmoniously, sometimes not.


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