Paula Gunn Allen was born in Cubero, New Mexico, in 1939, to Elias Lee Francis, a Lebanese American who had once been lieutenant governor of New Mexico, and Ethel Gunn Francis, a Laguna Sioux-Scottish woman of the Keres Indians, an intensely gynecocratic-centered culture. Allen’s multiethnic (or “breed”) origins are not unusual in the Laguna Pueblo, which consists of a multitude of cultural worlds uniting through mutual desire into a reciprocal tribal whole.
Allen was born in the seventh year of a thirty-year drought and in the first year of the area’s uranium mining. She remembered blocking windows and doors to keep out dust, which at times was so thick that it was difficult to see across a room. Equally vivid were her memories of her stone-walled home, surrounded by white flowers and safely nestled in a hollow, where she would read and listen to her sister play classical music on the family’s upright piano. Both her parents were also musicians, and Allen learned early in life to recognize and value the distinctive rhythms of both music and language in the cultures that nurtured her.
The road by their house fascinated Allen. In one direction, it ran to a city; in another, it ran to a mountain. Yet it also remained there, in her homeland. This road was dominant in Allen’s life and in her writing. Allen sees herself as standing at a crossroads, valuing the mountain (sacred wilderness) more highly than the city (civilization) and measuring civilization in terms of the mountain.
The bicultural alienation that haunted Allen appears to have begun when she was sent to an Albuquerque convent school, where she was taught that all humans are innately hopeless, guilt-ridden sinners and that Indians are worthless savages. In “Easter Sunday: Recollection,” Allen...
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