Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir

Deborah A. Miranda
This beautiful and devastating book--part tribal history, part lyric and intimate memoir--should be required reading for anyone seeking to learn about California Indian history, past and present. Deborah A. Miranda tells stories of her Ohlone Costanoan Esselen family as well as the experience of California Indians as a whole through oral histories, newspaper clippings, anthropological recordings, personal reflections, and poems. The result is a work of literary art that is wise, angry, and playful all at once, a compilation that will break your heart and teach you to see the world anew.


Reviewed: 2019-03-15

Deborah Miranda, an enrolled member of the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation of California, takes the reader through the history of California Mission Indians and her own family using both poetry and prose. Her book could be read and understood by young adults, but because of the nuanced content, it would best be read by those 15 and older for a complete understanding of the material. Some people will be familiar with the 21 Spanish Missions along the California coastline, but not enough know of the un-romanticized history of abuse, slavery and genocide on which those missions and the rancherias of California are built. Miranda takes a deeper dive into old photographs, detailing their true history. Further, she presents field notes, letters, and news articles from times when the missions were thriving both from their intended purpose of conversion and forced labor, and later as tourist destinations. She intertwines these historical sources with her own background, weaving a narrative that demonstrates the connection between Spanish colonialism and modern-day California Natives. The second half of the book is devoted to memoir, covering deeply personal topics while still discussing aspects of history. She makes the transitions from history to modern day seamlessly, and though it surely took great effort, the effect is that, to the reader, it seems effortless.

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