I’d like to introduce you to three women.
A Native American woman, a Jewish woman, and a Chinese woman.
I’ll call them Odahingum, Maya, and Shui.
The stories are true, if not these details.
Odahingum was born near what is today Sterling, Colorado, Maya near Poznań, Poland, Shui in Tianjin, China.
Odahingum was young when she had her first period, so she was preoccupied with thoughts of womanhood when her nation’s leaders signed treaty with the U. S. government. At seven years Maya experienced PeWuKa at the fairs, hand in hand with her professor father, her closest friend, who laughed like a child as he walked her through the crowds that celebrated Poland’s decade of independence. When 3000 students and teachers were shot and killed by the soldiers of the People’s Republic of China in Tiananmen Square, Shui was very young, but the Chinese media would have ensured she wouldn’t notice even if she were older.
When Odahingum was ready, she agreed to marry a young man who wasn’t handsome, but who had been her closest companion since childhood. Before the ceremony, he was shot and killed in their own country by gold miners as he went to pray where his people had always prayed. Maya became a Bat Mitzvah the same year Chancellor Hitler centralized power in Berlin, so the event passed unnoticed by her in her celebration. Shui earned the highest marks in Intermediate School so her father was able to afford High School.
At twenty years of age, Odahingum was married to her first love’s brother and expecting her first child in days. They were living temporarily near Fort Lyons. In the morning she went as she did every morning to get water from the creek. As she rested between rocks on the grassy embankment, she sang to the baby inside her, now so heavy that its movements pressed against her skin. She held a note longer than the beat as she heard thunder from the blue skies above Sand Creek. Then a Methodist minister and hundreds of drunk militiamen were upon her and her community.
She couldn’t move in her terror as one man fell over her, smelling of liquor and unclean body odor. He shot her in the right breast when she found the strength to resist and scream. Then he cut her open, pulled her baby and her uterus from inside her, leaving both mother and child to bleed to death in the auburn grass. After over 150 members of her community were dead, the man returned to pull fetus and uterus from the woman’s resistant postmortem embrace, and carried them in and out of Denver saloons for everyone to see his power. Today, the Sand Creek Massacre U. S. National Historic Site serves as a landmark for the world to the horrors that happened there.
At twenty years of age, as Maya prayed from the Talmud Bavli–”O Lord, grant that this night we may sleep in peace.”–her father was shot in their own home by German soldiers as he defied them to seize his daughters. Maya was separated from her young husband, while carrying their second child, as they were loaded into transport trucks. They were assigned to Konzentrationslager Posen. As they were unloaded at the concentration camp, she prayed the Shema as she did three times every day, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is One!” She started the prayer more quietly in her fear but grew louder with her conviction. Then an officer somehow recognized the words she spoke and singled her out. As her mother and grandmother cried, Maya grew stronger in the memory of her father, and said the words aloud: “Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad!“
At the direction of the officer, several Schutzstaffel seized her. She heard the pleas of her mother and her grandmother that she was with child. The SS responded by bending her over as the officer drove the butt of a rifle into her abdomen and laughed as she screamed out with the pain. Then they tied a loose noose around her neck and lifted her gagging body bleeding out above her crying family and neighbors. They left her there for days so that everyone could see their power. Today, the Muzeum Martyrologii Wielkopolan – Fort VII serves as a reminder to the world of the horrors that happened there.
At twenty years of age, Shui’s father arranged style name for her Ji Li and a young husband. They could afford only a very humble home in Beijing. Not long after, in celebration of their ultrasound confirming her pregnancy with a boy, she and her husband rushed to join the international attendance of the Olympic Games. As she turned to retrieve the stuffed Fuwa that slipped from her hands she saw a policeman pull his baton. She looked to see that his intent was a Buddhist monk praying in protest of China’s occupation in Tibet. As the policeman raised his baton, Shui was overwhelmed with the impression that this monk was some mother’s child.
Before she knew what she was doing or why, she interrupted the officer, only trying to explain that the monk was only praying. As her husband tried to intervene, the dishonored officer grew angrier and the confrontation escalated. Soon she was transported quickly away from the public, there was no one to see, she was kept in the cell for too long before appearing in court with no real representation. At the direction of the judge, the police seized her. She felt her baby pressed down. The prison staff interrogated her with pointless questions for hours, left her with no water for days, no food for weeks. Under duress she signed ‘legitimate’ papers she couldn’t read through her pain, tears, and fatigue, all the authorities attesting to Shui’s consent to the scientific use of her and her baby’s remains. Then the guards executed them, quietly, carefully. First they sold their hearts, their livers, and other organs to rich Westerners shopping for donations. Then they replaced the water and fat in her body and her baby’s body with rubber and placed her with her baby in a display. Today, Shui and her daughter are displayed, splayed open in suspended animation at the Bodies… The Exhibition while Premier Exhibitions makes millions of dollars by charging Americans $20 a piece to see it.
What is such a display of violence doing in the United States of America?