‘A Most Imperfect Union’, a graphic novel written by Ilan Stavans and illustrated by Lalo Alcaraz (2014) – 252 pages
Here is a chronological pictorial history of the United States told by two Mexican immigrants. It is a contrarian view as indicated by its author:
“I often criticize the United States for those aspects of its culture and national character that make me uncomfortable: its insatiable appetite for pleasure, its plastic-surgery aesthetics, its love of consumption, its frequent ignorance of history, its xenophobic disposition, its condescending political correctness, its arrogant foreign policy.”
Despite his sometimes contrary views, Ilan Stavans is an American by choice, an immigrant.
As a child I received a very traditional view of American history in my one-room grade school in western Wisconsin. First the history was United States-centric. We were hardly taught anything about the rest of the world, even about our nearest neighbors Canada and Mexico. Yet we were told every detail about George Washington, even the story ending in ‘I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.” About the trials and tribulations of the Native-Americans, we were only told that the Pilgrims invited them to Thanksgiving dinner. We were taught that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and that act put an end to racial problems in the United States. Even though we were only eight years old when we were taught this stuff, I can’t believe how naïve we were.
The first thing I did when I got to college was sign up for a course in European history, because the only things we were taught about Europe were the names of the explorers who first discovered America.
So first of all, ‘A Most Imperfect Union’ is a necessary corrective to the simple-minded view of history that was instilled in us at an early age. I could even see this graphic novel being used in grade schools to give children another view of American history at an early age besides that of the history textbooks. ‘A Most Imperfect Union’ deals with American history all the way up to 2014.
However I do have one objection to one page of the book. This is the page that is pictured here, “Pilgrims vs. Indians” – The Jamestown Massacre”. This was a massacre on March 22, 1622 in which the Powhatan Indians killed at least 347 Jamestown settlers. Just about any grade school student in the United States could tell the authors that the settlers at Jamestown were not Pilgrims; they were English and other European settlers in search of economic opportunity. The Pilgrims who left England to escape religious persecution settled up north in New England. To any even casual student of United States history this mistake by the authors is near unforgivable.
Overall ‘A Most Imperfect Union’ does raise important points on nearly every step along the way. It is an especially fun book for those of us who have been taught a very traditional view of United States history. The artwork by Lalo Alcaraz is also impressive.