Renaming – Miranda

One theme Miranda talks about that I found particularly interesting was the act of renaming. As the Europeans invaded the Americas one of the many things they did to undermined the native people and assert their authority was renaming. As Miranda says, “Renaming both human beings and their own names for people or objects in their world is a political act of dominance.”

I completely agree with this statement. Each name has a meaning and significance behind it, especially for American Indians. Names are chosen carefully and may even involve ceremonies. While I was visiting the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation I learned that no two Mohawk people have the same name at the same time. A name can only be passed on once the person holding it has passed away. Many of the children had both Mohawk and English names, but for some of the children it was very important that we call them by their Mohawk names and not their English ones. One reason for this is probably because of the European efforts to erase the Mohawk language and traditions through boarding schools and assimilation.

Miranda discusses Christopher Columbus’s renaming of indigenous lands with Christian names as “a ‘gift’ that cannot be refused, and perhaps more properly called an ‘imposition.’” Not only did the Spanish rename the lands, but also the people as a way of “exercising power over the land and inhabitants…” One of the first groups of people they renamed were the “third-gendered” individuals consisting of men dressing and acting as woman, who often performed important ceremonial duties in the community. The word they used for these people was joya.

Interestingly enough, the Spanish seemed to think of the joya as homosexuals, but didn’t choose to use their own derogatory names for homosexuals in Spain. Instead they created a new word, which implies they may have recognized them as “an indefinable gender role, a ‘new’ class of people.”

Although those who wrote about the joya wrote as if this was the word the Indians used to describe the third-gender in their communities, this was plainly not true. Each tribe had their own language and therefore had their own names for the joya in that language. Because their histories and education was done primarily orally, the documentation of the joya is primarily by Europeans and, in California, using this terminology.

The Spanish words joya has many possible meanings, but none of the ones Miranda explores are ones that hold the respect or spirituality the joya were believed to posses by many Indian communities, and actually had a ridiculed or sexual connotation. In this way the Spanish took power over these people and their communities by renaming and attempting to redefine their roles in the community.


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