Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Book

I haven't blogged about this yet, but today seems like a good time. I took the day off from work to travel to the town where my mother lives. We participated in a book release party for the book that she researched and wrote and that I typeset and illustrated. The book is about our ancestors and the decisions they made as they moved from New England to the midwest in the 1800s. This book is based on letters and diaries that my mother discovered in the attic of the home where we both grew up. The letters describe the "frontier" experience for white settlers in the U.S.

My mother's academic specialty is the migration of people. What is it that motivates people to move from one part of the world to another? What decisions do they make in that process? Is the move gradual or sudden? What political, geographic and societal forces are most influential in those decisions?

What we discovered in this process is that, not surprisingly, the settlement of the "western" territories did not follow the plotlines we learned in school. Our ancestors bought midwestern land in the early 1800s but did not move there until years later. They hired other, less affluent, people to clear the land and establish the agriculture that became the basis of future wealth for our family. The family that cleared the land, built the barn, established the livestock and produced the crops was not our own. Once all the hard work was finished, my ancestors moved in and reaped the profits. The family that did the work is not longer mentioned. That's colonialism 101.

The release party was held at the retirement village in which my mother currently resides. 40 people attended, most of whom were residents of the building or friends of my mother.

This book is important because it dispels some myths and clarifies some truths. Colonialism is a messy, complicated affair. Families are affected in unpredictable ways by capitalism's need to expand and consolidate territory. The ground troops of colonialism are privileged in many ways, but they are subject also to unforgiving circumstances. Colonialism is bloody and messy and difficult. Even the so-called beneficiaries of capitalism often get a raw deal.