The Heartland Chronicles

The Heartland Chronicles

The Heartland Chronicles

The Heartland Chronicles


A complex portrayal of the double structuring of the perceptions people have on opposite sides of a cultural border. Like most Native Americans, the Mesquakis have survived numerous popular and academic misrepresentations of their culture.


This is a tale about Indians and whites living together in a small Iowa community. It is also about an anthropologist returning to his hometown and boyhood memories. The idea for this book came to me during my twenty-fifth high school reunion. Upon hitting town, I discovered that the Mesquakis had started a high-stakes bingo operation. This turn of events really piqued my imagination. How ironic that the longsuffering Mesquakis were making money on the whiteman's vices. There was even speculation about a future gambling casino that would employ hundreds of whites. Such a turn of events sounded like quite a story.

But, being an academic, I could not write a journalistic account about the great Mesquaki gambling caper. My study had to flow from my professional specialization. Having spent fifteen years studying Hispanic-white relations in South Texas, I am supposedly an expert on American race relations. In South Texas one incident in particular planted the seed for this study. During a dinner party an outspoken Chicano "radical" castigated me, "You'll never understand us. If you want to be a civil rights crusader, appease your white guilt by writing about racial injustice in your community." That confrontation was repeated several times over, and I left South Texas wondering about my own racial past.

In South Texas I often found myself mentally comparing the way white Texans and Iowans treated "their minority." Southern whites told me that was a typical guilty Northerner's trick. They said that Northerners like to pretend that things are better up North. I ended up writing that South Texas racism was built on a system of cheap vegetable and cotton pickers. South Texas whites thought of themselves as the successful, superior people who ran the economy and the local government. They thought Mexicanos were inferior because they were just laborers. The Mexicano workers supposedly lacked the get up and go of white folks.

Several years later, I ran into the same attitude in a small Mississippi town. Mississippi whites also felt that their economic success somehow made them morally superior to their poor black neighbors. Even more . . .

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