Teaching and Learning U.S. History through a Multicultural Curriculum: Conquest, Slavery, and Indispensable Labor

By Seniors, Paula Marie | Black History Bulletin, Summer-Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Teaching and Learning U.S. History through a Multicultural Curriculum: Conquest, Slavery, and Indispensable Labor


Seniors, Paula Marie, Black History Bulletin


The histories of Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans remain intrinsically linked through their collective labor history in the United States. Many methods were instituted in the U.S. to obtain a cheap indispensable labor force beginning with Spanish Conquest in the West, and the emergence of Spanish and Mexican mission programs (1533-1800s), which in effect culminated in a system, which enslaved Native Americans. (1) The desire for an expendable labor force led to the untenable position that Native Americans, African Americans, and later Asian Americans found themselves in as slaves and indentured workers.

In the Ethnic Myth, Stephan Steinberg argued that it was precisely because of the lack of a serf class in America that America created a serf class through the enslavement of more than a half a million Africans and kept them in place through brutalization and violence. Steinberg stated that, "It is facile to think that Blacks were enslaved because they were seen as inferior; it would be closer to the truth to say that they were defined as inferior so that they might be enslaved." (2) Because America needed a serf class the Spanish founded the Mission system, a system of forced Native American labor, and when this system failed it led to the enslavement of African Americans. When African Americans gained their freedom a cheap indispensable labor force was needed so this led to the use of Asian American labor in the West and the South, which replaced African American labor.

I use the sociology of art to help students make connections and visualize the labor history of the United States. For example, I use the drawing, "Mission Times" (3) by Native American artist L. Frank to explain the conquest of Native Americans and the mission system. Frank's drawing depicts the mission system as a holocaust for Native Americans. She depicts the mission as a place of forced labor and death for Native Americans by including drawings of skulls on the mission, a guillotine in the shape of a cross, and noose which also hangs on a cross. Moreover, I use the drawing "Mission Times" to teach students about the connection between forced enslavement of Native Americans and African Americans. Additionally, I use scenes (e.g., "Serra Overture" (4)) from the plays of Culture Clash, a Chicano Comedy Troup, to highlight the inculcation of Native Americans into Spanish culture through Christianity and as enslaved workers. Culture Clash also draws connections between Native American and African American enslavement and resistance in the West and the South. Through a class discussion of the scene and a textual analysis, students are asked to draw the connections between L. Frank's "Mission Times," and Culture Clash's "Serra Overture."

The following lesson plan highlights connections between Native American, African American, and Asian American labor history.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Lesson Plan

Teaching and Learning U.S. History through a Multicultural Curriculum: Conquest, Slavery, and Indispensable Labor

Paula Marie Seniors

Connections to High School

This lesson addresses connections between Native American, African American, and Asian American labor history. Consider the following lesson as an example of incorporating popular culture and relevance into your curriculum.

Goal:

Forced labor, prejudice, racism, and intolerance are a few of the issues students will analyze. The artists encourage people to be advocates for changing the injustices of society through agitation and protest.

Objective:

Students will analyze and interpret visual art and plays that illustrate some of the injustices and challenges of the mission system and illuminates connections between forced enslavement of Native Americans, African Americans, and Asian Americans.

National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) Standards

U. …

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