When considering the history of what is now known as Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, there is a saying among Mexican Americans: “We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.” It’s a reminder that claims to territory and citizenship rights predate the current boundary between Mexico and the U.S. It’s a rallying cry to tell the true history of American lands and the people who originally belonged on them. With the rise of Indigenous voices in the mainstream, that history is finally beginning to be recognized for its complexity and vitality, its literary power and potential.
Oscar Hokeah’s debut, Calling for a Blanket Dance, tells the story of Ever Geimausaddle through generations of his family. Before the novel even begins, Hokeah provides readers with a family tree, preparing them for the importance of blood ties in the story ahead. Each chapter belongs to a different leaf on the tree, and from these many perspectives, we see Ever grow from an infant into a man, eventually raising his own kids in the strange double bind of Indigeneity. After all, when your heritage and ancestry are the reasons for your oppression, to whom can you turn in order to survive, but to family?
As Ever comes into his full self, we see the impact that his family members have on each other, shaping the ways they live and love. In the opening scene, for example, Ever’s mother, Turtle, takes Ever’s father, Everardo, and their 6-month-old son across Texas and into Mexico in an attempt to rescue her husband from his addiction to alcohol and remind him of his heritage. From the love languages of food and manual labor, to the easy manner in which Everardo tells lies, this scene is the foundation for Ever’s life and his later abilities to parent his own children.
Hokeah’s prose is punchy and descriptive, filled with Native American phrases and words that come naturally to the characters. This blending of languages is still uncommon in contemporary fiction, but the current Indigenous literary and cultural renaissance promises that more and more voices will grow this singularity into a rich multitude. With television shows like “Reservation Dogs” and “Rutherford Falls” attracting critical and popular attention, it seems that this resurgence is only getting started.
But of course, renaissance and resurgence are the wrong words to use here. Hokeah, who is of Mexican heritage as well as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, shows that this tradition has been here the whole time, evolving and surviving. It’s the lines in the sand—what we call borders—that are new. Why should we act like these lines are valid and the people are not? Calling for a Blanket Dance proves that the people are more real than anything.