Xuxa Says Let’s Play Indian

Xuxa is a Brazilian TV presenter, film actress, businesswoman, and famous singer in both languages – Spanish and Portuguese – in Latin America. She was best known for her children’s song Ilaire in the early 1990s – the first song I heard as a toddler in my crib. Ilaire is an easy sing-along pop tune that inspires people of all ages to clap, twirl, and jump to the catchy rhythm.

In 1988, Xuxa produced a song titled Let’s Play Indian. It was the second or third song I listened to as a child – and one that stayed with me for ages. The song goes like this:

“Vamos a jugar a los indios pero sin armas con qué pelear.
Vente para mi tribu, yo soy cacique, tú eres mi igual.

Let’s play Indians but without weapons to fight with.
Come to my tribe, I’m the chief, and you’re my equal.

Indio hacer barullo, indio tener orgullo,
píntate la cara que la danza va a empezar

Indian makes war noises, Indian takes pride
Paint your face the dance is about to start.

Tomo mi arco y flecha y mi canoa, voy a pescar.
Luego junto a la hoguera comer del fruto que el campo da

I take my bow and arrow and my canoe, I‘m going fishing.
Then, by the bonfire, we eat the food the land produces.

Indio hacer barullo, indio tener orgullo,
indio ser tranquilo mas también sabe pelear.

Indian makes war noises, Indian takes pride
Paint your face the dance is about to start.

El indio ya no lucha ya no hace guerra, guerra,
el indio fue un día dueño de esta tierra, tierra.

The Indian does not fight, the Indian does not go to war,
the Indian used to be owner of THIS land.

Indio quedó solito, indio ser muy buenito,
indio querer tan solo estar en paz…

The Indian stayed alone, The Indian is very good,
The Indian wants to be alone …

Let’s play Indians, kids/ let’s teach the world to respect them/because Indians are our brothers, too.”

I listen to this song again and I shake my head at the war noises she made, the stereotypes she perpetuated, and the nostalgic message she sang about the “good” Indian “who does not fight” and “who used to be owner of THIS land.”

When I was a kid, I remember children made “Indian” war noises to this song in my living room. They painted their faces like “Indians” and wore headdresses like “Indians.” They played bow and arrow like “Indians” and performed a round dance like “Indians.” The parents thought it was funny as they took pictures of us “playing Indians.” If I ever saw this picture, I can only imagine a dozen of kids with “Indian costumes” – including the “real Indians” – my cousins and me.

What was Xuxa thinking when she sang this song holding an Amazonian Indigenous child’s hand on stage in the early 1990s?

jugemoslosindios

Was she well-intentioned with her message? Was she trying to save the Amazon from deforestation with “Indians who want to live in peace”? Was she mocking Indigenous culture by wearing the headdress?

I once thought of Indians as a group of people in the past. I thought of them as “savages” because they “painted their bodies” and went fishing. Because they “used” to be the owner of this land. Because to me, they did not exist anymore in 1992 when she said the very same lines.

Children get the message pretty clearly. Indians are goodie two-shoes. They do not fight back. They go fishing in their canoes. They paint their bodies and make war noises. Even the title of the song suggest an innocent mockery of some sort.

As children grow older, the initial stereotype gets reinforced with Halloween “Indian” costumes and football mascot teams like the Washington R****. They hear if from their family about “savage Indians.” They hear negative stereotypes about their people and this, believe it or not, is a leading factor to cultural genocide in Indigenous communities. Today, the Natabuela Indigenous community (Ecuador) experiences loss of language, tradition, and clothing in the new generation. The kids feel embarrassed and ashamed to be “Indios” so they integrate with the national identity: mestizo.

2013-Halloween-costume-Indian-girl-costume-Adorable-cut-role-cosplay-costume-Blue-brown-Free-Drop-shipredskins-logo

According to Michael Friedman, a clinical psychologist, he states in his recent article about NBA banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, “Scientific research suggests that the consequences of racism go way beyond political correctness and are significant public health concerns for affected communities. Studies of African-Americans demonstrate that exposure to racist events causes unhealthy physiological responses, such as increased blood pressure. Native American mascots for sport teams can cause lower self-esteem and lower mood among Native American adolescents and young adults.”

I mean, do we ever “play Pilgrim”? Do we play “Hindu”? Do we play “Jewish”? Do we play “African?” Or better yet, do we promote a national song that encourages kids of all backgrounds to play “Pilgrim, Hindu, Jewish, and African” and recount their respective sad stories? Of course not. Because it hurts the children just like Michael Friedman said.

Imagine a national song that tells the sad story of the holocaust and encourages children to play “Jewish”? Or a national song that tells the sad story of slavery and encourages children to play “African?”

That’s what happened to two-year-old Santy and thousands of Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous children who listened to this song. His cousins and friends played “Indian” around him when he was a kid. He thought “Indians” were a people of the past with no culture, no history, no narrative, and no accomplishments. He walked in school with the label Latino/Mestizo on his forehead and sat in front of TVs where his Indigenous and mixed-Indigenous people took the role of maids/servants in telenovelas. He learned “Indians” needed saving from Jesus in Catholic workshops and classes.

He had no idea he carried Indigenous blood, Indigenous culture, Indigenous oral tradition, Indigenous language, Indigenous festivities, Indigenous spirituality, and Indigenous heritage because media, religion, and society made him believe that his ancestors were cowards and his relatives were not “Indians.”

This confusion was imposed on his people for decades – along with other colonial tactics to distance them from their “Indianness” in Ecuador.

It all started with the children’s song “Let’s Play Indian.”

What are your thoughts?

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3 Responses to Xuxa Says Let’s Play Indian

  1. nick arroyave says:

    speechless brother! very good article~ It is true. Negative stereotypes do get passed this way. Reinforcement of something adds and adds until the individual takes it as fact. When that “fact” is countered, they get defensive.. Craziness. Keep standing for the people bro!

  2. Michelle says:

    Oh man this is just ridiculous. It’s funny I always knew I was mixed but this is just dumb and insulting! A majority of Brazilians don’t even have native blood anyway and it’s not a joke to mock someone’s culture native or not. Brasil no tiene respecta los culturas indigenas!

  3. ixchelyesenia says:

    Reblogged this on yeseniamujerdemaiz and commented:
    Let’s play Indian

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