Two Silver Plates and the Wall

I inherited two small silver plates from my mother when she passed a decade ago. They are family heirlooms with a story attached. A gift to my step-great grandfather, William Morris Stewart, the first Senator from Nevada and a self-made millionaire through silver mining in the Wild West days. He was also a lawyer, originally from New York State. Large and formidable, with a long beard and a charismatic presence. He once housed Mark Twain in his house (they knew each other from when Mark Twain was a journalist in San Francisco) giving him a small stipend while he wrote his first book – Innocence Abroad.

I grew up with stories of this man and how amazing he was. He married my great-grandmother when both lost their spouses and helped to raise my grandmother Vera.

Shortly before my mother passed, when her mind was beginning to deteriorate, I went on a trip to Reno, Nevada and happened to mention that William Morris Stewart was my great grandfather. My host there stared at me. “He was the infamous man who started the Indian Boarding Schools here,” he told me. This information was a shock to me.

My mother never quite processed this knowledge. She kept repeating what a good person he was and how he had done this to help the Indians. (Which actually I like to think was his motivation, back in the days when us white people considered the Indians savages who needed to learn to be civilized and act like us.)

A few years after her passing, I returned one of the silver plates to the Nevada Indian Commission, whose office is now housed in the former Stewart Boarding School. A cousin and I wrote a letter of apology, on behalf of our family, and sent it along with the dish.

My sister refused to sign. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I have nothing to apologize for,” she said. I understood her perspective – it just wasn’t mine.

All this background is to explain that the second plate still sits on my dresser top. It was only last year that I read carefully the inscription on it.  Faint and flowery, it is hard to decipher. My shock couldn’t have been greater when I realized what it said. “From the Cortez Family with thanks to the Honorable William Morris Stewart for help.”

The Cortez family of Mexico? Hernan Cortez was the Spanish conquistador of Mexico whose rag tag group of Spaniards in armor and mounted on horses brought down (largely through disease) one of the greatest civilizations and cultures in the world at that time.

What had my step-grandfather done to receive such a gift?

I did some research and learned that while he was Senator he helped to raise money and US troops to cross into the Mexico and help the rich Mexicans (i.e. the Cortez family) subdue some Indians and Mestizos who were “restless”, meaning that they wanted to live the way they had lived for hundreds of years and have some autonomy and freedom.

At the July 3rd Swamp Bats baseball game in Keene, I was sitting in the packed stadium when my husband and I were stunned to hear a middle-aged brother and sister behind us exclaim loudly in their conversation – “He is going to build the wall.” To which the other replied, “Yeap, the wall. He will do it.”

What does this have with healing, you may be wondering as you read this article. I would suggest quite a bit. You see, we are not separate from the landscape and history of where we live. Neither are we separate from the legacy of our ancestors. Both impact us in profound ways.

Many cultures and healing traditions know this. The Toltec, who were conquered by Cortez, maintain some of their amazing healing wisdom to this day, despite centuries of attempts to obliterate it. They say that we are influenced by “Blue Winds or Energies” which come from our ancestors and “Red Winds or Energies” that come from the land where we live and also our own body and being.

Both of these winds or energies affect our health and well-being. Especially if we don’t have a sacred practice of honoring these winds and healing any discordant energies from them.

Why are so many people in this area experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, hearing voices that don’t exist, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs? What’s going on?

The other day at my job, I was reassuring yet another parent that sending their child to Chile was a safe (if not safer) than Spain, I looked up some statistics. And found out that in the US we have a 24xs greater chance of being murdered than Chile and more than double the chance of being raped. In fact, the US is #1 in gun violence.

So why this frenzy about a wall between Mexico and us? A wall that can never be fully built to span areas that in some places along the border are wild national parks? Where is the pain that we have as a nation that is causing some people who live in New Hampshire, who have most likely never been to the US-Mexican border and probably have never met a Mexican before to want to build this wall?

A wall that still, somehow, folks think could keep the Mexicans out of the US, but still allow us to go as tourists or ex-pats to visit Mexico whenever we want.

Then there is my silver plate that still sits on top of my dresser. What would my step Great Grandfather think of those two people from Keene discussing building a wall with such excitement and pleasure?

We can take all the medications we want, go to as many counselling sessions as we care to, but many of us may still feel that something is off inside of us these days. Six years ago around this time of the year, my daughter had a breakdown. As someone who grew up in Latin America and speaks Spanish fluently, she was sure that any car or airplane that passed by was coming to get her and others who are Latin American. “They don’t want us here,” she said to me. I reassured her this is not true.

She still refuses to speak Spanish around here. And others who are Latin Americans recount about having people stare at them with hatred in Walmart when they speak Spanish. Two Ecuadorian sisters who live around here now only speak English to each other in public when they go out for fear.

What should I do with this small silver plate? Who do I sent it to with an apology?

Printed in the Monadnock Shopper July 2019

3 thoughts on “Two Silver Plates and the Wall

  1. I have family who support the Lost Cause of the old South, since our ancestors fought for that “way of life,” forgetting that it caused a people to be enslaved and denied not only freedom, but basic rights as human beings. We have agreed to not argue over this matter, but I can’t help but think they need to evolve. It’s tough to deal with family in matters like this, but I went farther from home than anyone else and lived in more places. This gives me a different perspective on life. You seem to have a capacity for reflection too. Justice and equality for all is a worthy goal.

    1. I just found this now. It is more than six months but I want to thank you for sharing your comments and personal family experiences with me. It is challenging for sure when we have different viewpoints than other members of our family. Moving elsewhere can help, in a way (I’ve done that too in my life). But also sometimes talking it through at least brings out some amount of truth. And can show us how our truths can differ.
      I hope in this time now we can all have more period for reflection and consideration of our own pasts and our family as well.
      I wish you all the best with your own family and your own personal life journey.

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