Author Archives: jenninestg

About jenninestg

I am an anthropologist who loves to question the ordinary and see social patterns in daily tasks. I love contemporary fiction and podcasts about literature.

America’s Imperial Nostalgia

America's Imperial Nostalgia

Author: Jennine Grasso
Source for Image:

This image is representative to me of American society, as it shows the unique—and not altogether upstanding—history of the interactions between American government and society with indigenous American tribes. The first quality that stands out for me is the idyllic scene of the lakes and forests associated with a stereotypically portrayed indigenous American woman. Besides the blatant stereotypical depiction of the woman, the scene and the name of the brand are associated with Renato Rosaldo’s concept of “imperialist nostalgia”. In this case the Land o’ Lakes Company wants you to associate the “unspoiled” beauty of the scene with their product, to sell it from an all-natural angle. This is further emphasized by the letter “O” in the product name forming a halo around the woman’s head, associating the scene with the garden of Eden—innocent and temporary. It is implicit that this unspoiled beauty cannot exist with the modernity of today and that the settlement of the United States by non-native people have marred its beauty. Like both Renya Ramirez in Native Hubs and Renato Rosaldo in Imperialist Nostalgia, I argue that this, too, is a form of marginalization as it plays into the “vanishing cultures” mentality of classical anthropology. In essence, it is a phenomenon of people mourning what they themselves are destroying by their exploitation of certain attributes tied to an ethnic or tribal group.

The image of the woman is problematic as well as her positioning and association with the product feeds into the negative stereotypes of indigenous American women. The fact that she is kneeling, looking above her, and offering out the butter associates her with a subordinate role, as she does not have to be on equal footing with whomever she is offering the product to. This stereotype is contradicted by the reality of politically active indigenous women, such as Rosemary Cambra and her mother and grandmother. By challenging views of male politicians and fighting for the legal sanction of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe as an indigenous tribe, she defies the stereotype of indigenous American women being limited to the private sphere. Elizabeth Grannell was also involved in political struggles, but on a more regional level when she met with other parents to change the Freemont High School’s mascot, which was—much like the above image—a caricature of an indigenous American.

The issue Grannell fought for is similar to the one brought up by this advertisement; it is of representation from an outside body. Ramirez referred to the mascot as a “caricature” and detailed a few of its exaggerated features, such as its “goofy grin”. I would argue that most of these representations of indigenous Americans from outside sources are caricatures of indigenous people, because of the lack of understanding of both true tribal characteristics and the racially charged relations between the United States government and indigenous Americans.

Another issue the image brings up is the complex topic of ownership of the land, but I believe this is more the conceptuality of ownership, rather than the physical realities of deeds and private property. The idea is similar to a “virtual hub” in Ramirez’s book, only in this case it is from a more nationalistic sense, as the ownership of America as a whole is being disputed. The fact that a non-native company can associate itself with the purity of the image of “original America” before settler-colonialism really set in shows the appropriation of certain attributes normally tied with indigenous groups. The fact that the brand wants to be associated with people who used things directly from the land shows the trend of being tied to native culture. As one man told Jessica Sanchez, one of Ramirez’s informants, in Native Hubs “Almost everyone wants to be Native American now” (Ramirez 131). This “fad” of being indigenous American or being associated with a tribe goes hand in hand with the fears surrounding the discourse of authenticity. Much like the scorn Jessica Sanchez faced through this phrase, many people of mixed ethnicities who are also indigenous American feel like they must struggle to prove themselves and be accepted by their respective communities. Beth Begaye, another one of Ramirez’s informants, encourages her grandchildren to have ties both to their Hispanic and Navajo roots by teaching them both Spanish and Navajo. The matter of authenticity ties into the idea of national ownership, because the possession is purely for cultural reasons—to have a homeland associated with the “virtual hub” detailed in the stories about one’s people. This advertisement ties into the virtual hub-making process of imposing an American identity, which encompasses natives and non-natives, on diverse groups of indigenous Americans who have pre-existing cultural traditions from which to draw from in terms of their identity.


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by | March 17, 2013 · 9:20 PM