Friday, March 4, 2016

1 Little, 2 Little, 3 Little Indians...

My name is Manuel A. Marcano, but within my tribe, I'm known as Maneco Manaque'to, or Hurakan. The tribe I'm from is called the Manaque'to and live generally in the mountains of Puerto Rico, but also have roots in Brazil, specifically areas near the city of Rio. We are generally disconnected from the greater Guarani and Taino nations to the point where we function as an independent nation. We sometimes identify as either Taino or Guarani, but in truth we speak for neither community as both, while somewhat similar have their own distinct cultures, languages and most importantly ways of being that we do not reflect. The sad truth is, it's easier to say I'm a Taino because of our shared ancestry and where I'm from. The alternative is to try to explain that I'm from a tribe most people have never heard of, and the ones who have, believe to be extinct.

A number of years ago, I was asked to lead the Manaque'to as a caci'que or chief.  Due to the small nature of our society my role is essentially to be a parental figure for all of the members of my tribe. As of this writing, I am 26 years old.

My duties as chief include providing support for members of the tribe. If they feel down, I try to cheer them up. If they can't afford rent, I try to help them figure things out. I teach martial arts, I tutor, I cook. In short, I provide support in any way that I can to keep the day to day of our lives moving. Normally, these things come naturally to me but the most notable exception is my difficulty with providing hope for the children of the tribe.

If you're reading this, then you likely know that I'm a programmer working on the wonderful tactical brawler Treachery in Beatdown City. It's a full time job unto itself and I often speak on my experiences as a Native-American working within the games industry. What you might not know, is how important of an outlet games were to me while growing up. It may sound like an exaggeration but to say they've helped me stay sane but considering I've lived through sexual and physical assault, substance abuse, homelessness and extreme poverty, the truth is without the media I consumed, I would have given up hope a long time ago.

According to the CDC, suicide among Native-American and First Nations peoples is at crisis levels. The suicide rates among Guarani people in Brazil is among the highest in the world. NDN kids often feel hopeless. Considering that they will statistically grow up to be the poorest, most prone to be assaulted and least represented of any group in the western hemisphere, can we really be surprised?

Art got me through. Books, movies, music and most importantly games, both analog and digital. Earthbound helped me deal with my mom being sick. Ys helped me deal with isolation and games like Final Fantasy 6 helped me accept heavy concepts like death and the worth of a life. I can't be sure that I would have been the same or even gotten though some hard times without them. An issue with all this is that almost none of the games I loved were able to understand some of the basic problems I had. Yes, I played Turok, and I enjoyed using Wolf Hawkfield, neither of these characters was truly like me.

"Indians" in video games were mostly limited to fighting games and historical games. Fantasy, Modern settings and specifically Sci-Fi tent to feature absolutely no NDN cultures or characters. Within media, NDNs hav no future, and only exist in a past shrouded in mystery. For the most part the only characters being fleshed out in any way were in Westerns and even then limited to cliches. Imagine for a moment, that you are a child. You are told that you have no place in today's world and that in the future you will not exist.

The youngest member of my tribe is Pachamac, my 3 year old nephew. Pacha plays videogames and I sometimes test out new mechanics or tutorials on him. I do my best to shield him from the poverty and violence surrounding us. Right now, Pacha is simply a child that loves Mariokart, and likes to watch as I work on games, and cheers in Japanese for Minoru Suzuki, or hum's along to John Cena's theme. Pacha doesn't know that their bibas have hospitalized people in self defense or that their yamoca'biba and gua'biba have taken lives to protect others. Pacha doesn't know that their race is the poorest, most targeted for violence, and most likely to commit suicide. At what point does that bubble get burst? Is there a way for me to make this reality, to make this world a better place. Can I, in my short time on this plane, change this hopelessness into pride?

This is where my profession can be of use, not just to my own tribe, but to all NDNs. Using my knowledge and experience I can contribute to the media that will help shape their personalities. More then that, by showing them characters like them, made by people like them, they will feel that these professions might actually be within their reach. Representation matters, for us it could even be a key to ensuring a future for our children.

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