115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Turning a Colonizer Fourth Grade Mission Project into a Memoir: Bad Indians by Deborah A. Miranda

Rebecca Beardsall, Western Washington University

This paper examines Deborah A. Miranda’s memoir, Bad Indians, and how it is a testament to the passing down of stories, and how those stories of the past are ever present in our lives. She weaves in family stories with historical and personal events. And she does this not only with text, but also with images; thus, Miranda combines the past, present, and future by the merging together of stories spanning centuries.


In my paper, I look how Bad Indians combines the past, present, and future by the merging together of stories spanning centuries. Specifically, I investigate section called “Dear Vicenta,” and how this section highlights the way Miranda weaves her story and the story of her ancestors.

I investigate how Miranda links together story and culture not only in how they hold the past, but also in their fluidity. She states, “Story is culture. Story, like culture, is constantly moving” (Miranda xvi). This movement of time, story, and culture is exactly what she is doing in “Dear Vicenta” –she does this in the form of a letter, which moves the story from Vicenta to herself to all native women and finally back to Vicenta. I consider the how Vicenta’s story moves through the generations; according to Miranda. This movement from oral history to written and recorded history also shows the fluidity of story: “I see Vicenta’s story as a precursor to modern Native Literature, a stepping-stone between oral literacy and written language . . . I regard the field notes that J.P. Harrington took while working with Isabel Meadows as her body of work” (Miranda 28).

In addition, in Miranda’s letter to Vicenta, she communicates the difficult subject of rape in the form of a personal letter allowing the weight of the situation to sink in. The tone of the letter is similar to a correspondence between relatives; thus, providing the space for the reader to enter the conversation: “I mean, it happens all the time, right? It’s not just that we’re women; we’re Indian women . . . poor Indian women” (23). This personal tone helps bridge the life of Vicenta and Miranda – essentially saying “we are the same.” By addressing Vicenta directly she keeps her and her story and the stories of many native women alive, “Vicenta, I keep thinking of how you ran home, telling everyone what had happened. I have to tell you, girl, that was brave”


Overall, I look Miranda’s conversational, correspondence tone through “Dear Vicenta” and how it helps to bring the story forward into the present. By using the written notes of Harrington, which portrays the voice of Meadows and following it with her own letter Miranda creates the cycle through time. Miranda states in the introduction of her memoir, “I choose to make this book: to create a space where voices can speak after long and often violently imposed silence” (Miranda xx). Through her voice she allows Meadows and Vicenta speak. Miranda, in a sense, creates a dialogue through the generations.