What the Sign Says, When It Means “Keep Out”
From the September 18th issue of the Adirondack Enterprise, regarding a recent proposal to change the name of Swastika, NY:
“I’m dead-set against changing it,” [Councilman Howard] Aubin said Monday. Aubin said the word swastika means “well-being.” Swastika does mean “well-being” in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. Aubin said “only an intolerant person” would assume the name is connected to the German Nazi Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler, whose aggression prompted World War II.
Even without the coronavirus, 2020 has been a historical year. We’ve witnessed political debate of an intensity rarely seen, from big cities all the way to the most rural hamlets. Here in the pages of the Almanack, in local newspapers, all over the region, communities are having discussions over the meaning of certain symbols in the Adirondack Park. This conversation has been around for a while, but it was renewed in late May by activism associated with the Movement for Black Lives (also known as Black Lives Matter), which has been taken up by many local residents. There have been town council debates, many letters to the editors and other articles, and even protests in support of racial justice.
A recurring theme in these discussions has been to question the authority and authenticity of some who participate. In particular, some folks keep using the word “outsider” to describe people with whom they disagree. This charge is leveled especially often when a controversial symbol is being challenged. In June, when a local anti-racist educator pointed out that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, she was called an “outsider.” When her words were echoed in October by a town councilor in Tupper Lake, blame was assigned to an “outside” publication that is based a mere 20 miles away that dared weigh in on the discussion.
For those of us who love the Adirondacks, but don’t have the opportunity to live here full time, or at all, this word is employed even more readily. Our geographical status becomes equivalent to our stake in the discussion, or at least our perceived stake.
Since I am not a full time resident, and have been cast into this “outsider” bucket, I feel the need to share my personal perspective. My authenticity as someone that cares about the display of certain symbols is being questioned, and because of this, I should be allowed to answer. The display of these symbols profoundly affects my experience of the Adirondacks. I, and many others, have a lot more stake in this question than some may assume.
I will speak on the example that is most personal: the recent debate surrounding the name of Swastika, NY.
The swastika, like the Confederate flag, is a symbol associated with the hate-based ideology of white supremacy. It feels strange and discouraging to have to remind anyone of this in 2020. But perhaps you’d be forgiven for forgetting, if you were following the recent debate over whether Swastika (a hamlet within the town of Black Brook) should change its name. When a frequent visitor to Essex County wrote to the Black Brook town council requesting that the name of this hamlet be changed, his idea was unanimously rejected. Among other things, one town councilor said that “only an intolerant person” would assume that the name of his town is connected to World War II or Nazism. It was also pointed out that the swastika has multiple meanings. The far more ancient meaning of this symbol, indeed, the original meaning, is one associated with peace and yes, “well being.”
As a Buddhist, I’m already aware of the original meaning of the swastika. In fact, the symbol is still quite important for many eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. In India, I’ve seen swastikas on temples, on jewelry, and incorporated into clothing. I’ve seen a local police woman sport a swastika nose piercing, and a robed sadhu with a swastika embroidered into his scarf. Throughout my life, I’ve had many Buddhist teachers who associate this symbol with peace and happiness, and they are greatly saddened by its appropriation by the Nazis in the early 20th century.
But in the West, we’re kidding ourselves if we assume that the swastika has only the above meaning in the 21st century. Putting World War II aside entirely, the swastika is used in the West as propaganda in anti-Semitic and white supremacist hate crimes all the time. 2019 had the highest recorded level of hate against Jewish people in America since the Anti-Defamation League started keeping records. Drawing a swastika on a temple in the East is quite common, but if you saw a swastika painted on almost any place of worship in the West, you’d be completely justified in suspecting that a hateful message is meant.
The above dichotomy is complex and deeply emotionally uncomfortable. Especially given the extremity of the different meanings, where this symbol represents some of the most profoundly ethical and non-violent people I know, and also some of the most horrifying crimes against humanity – it’s not the type of situation that is easy to come to terms with. Given the above, it’s jarring, at best, to hear a few Western individuals attempt to dismiss those of us questioning the name of their town. Further, it’s totally fair to challenge whether the “debate” had so far has been a good faith attempt to resolve this question.
When considering renaming Swastika, did the town council of Black Brook really do any work to consult people for whom this symbol carries serious weight? The heavy lifting of recognizing the dual meanings of the swastika is often discussed by the most affected parties. Local media in the Adirondacks is also doing good work by interviewing people who have a real stake. Were any of these perspectives consulted, or were they too far “outside” the local context of one small town to merit consideration?
In other such “debates” over symbols, there is no positive side of the coin to reference. There’s no positive meaning to the Confederate flag, for example. The Civil War ended over 150 years ago. Many have already pointed out that the side that lost did not include the state of New York. For the vast majority of the 20th century, the only collective meanings of the Confederate flag are either to support revisionist history, or as stated before, to support blatant racism.
I don’t think anyone having a serious discussion on this topic disagrees that individuals have a right to free speech, or the ability to collectively determine how a town should identify itself. Put whatever sign or flag that you want on your lawn; call your town a name that you deem appropriate. However, no one can deny that symbols derive meaning collectively. Although individuals try all the time to assign a personal message to particular symbols, efforts to do so, no matter why they’re tried, certainly don’t guarantee success.
The town council of Black Brook or people that choose to fly a confederate flag are not blind to the negative meanings associated with the symbols they choose to display. On the contrary, their strong reaction to people like me shows they understand that we disagree. But instead of listening to legitimate feedback that is born of direct trauma associated with the symbols in question, we are dismissed, and even called “racist” in one case. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like we’re actually having so much of a debate here. Rather, we’re stuck in a situation where one side keeps narrowing the group of people who are “allowed” to have the discussion.
More so than anything else, I do wonder if what some of the folks who use these symbols are trying to say, ultimately, is “Keep Out.” If you know that someone may have a different opinion than you regarding a symbol you choose to embrace, and then you not only choose to embrace it anyway, but attempt to shut down and evade discussion, then it’s quite possible that you’re not interested in a true dialogue. This is a discouraging attitude indeed, if true, for folks representing the Adirondack Park through media and public office.
I see it quite often written that the Adirondack region should be welcoming to visitors and especially potential new residents, as population in the towns and hamlets of the Park continues to decrease. People of all political perspectives, and all statuses of full-timer, part-timer and visitor have spoken about the need to be welcoming in recent years. This need is as much economic as it is social. It seems like we have a long way to go in attracting younger and more diverse residents of the park, if there is a continuous chorus by some residents that aren’t willing to discuss topics that potential transplants care about.
We certainly do not have to agree on all topics, especially not political ones. But I hope we agree that it is good for the Park if we keep having good faith discussions on many topics. We all have shared goals of protecting the Adirondacks environmentally and economically. Let’s take that common ground and have the tough discussions, without calling anyone an “outsider” or “intolerant.” The Adirondacks will benefit from such frankness, and so will we.
Who are these people – and I say this openly and generically – that come out of no where and attempt to put their shallow minds behind efforts to tear down or replace what has given generations much to be proud of ? YES PROUD …. and by this I mean the statues, flags and even names of towns that were NEVER created for any other reason than to show appreciation for those so represented and/or named. Should any hurtful thought have been in back of any of them – long ago they would h\ave been removed … but in THIS era of CHANGE anything that can be considered worthy of challenge falls prey to very narrow minds and it’s far time THIS ENDS – and once again the majority to rule as it was and as it should be !
Wow, did you even read what the author said? Can you not understand the hurt that is associated with that symbol? And the Confederate flag?
I’m Jewish with grandparents who survived the Shoah. I love the Adirondacks. Respectfully, I understand nuance. Leave the name alone.
I’m going to take a hopefully singular foray into this comments section to say that I appreciate the respectful tone here. I mean the following respectfully in reply.
I was inspired to write this piece because Councilor Aubin specifically invoked my religion, which I’m gonna take a guess he probably doesn’t know much about, to criticize of people uncomfortable with the name. I too understand nuance, but my religion shouldn’t be lazily appropriated to excuse anything, especially not a symbol that is, as both you and I point out, associated with violence at the level of the Shoah.
I don’t think the councilor cared about nuance very much when he was quoted in the paper. People across the nation will think his attitude represents the ADK. I found 1 Jewish and 1 Israeli publication that picked up the original story in researching for this piece, and those articles would have been read by a very different audience than local ADK folks who may read the Almanack. That’s one of my big points here: this stuff makes its way around forums where we may not expect, and does absolutely influence what people think of the region.
And hopefully people across the nation will not think YOUR attitude represents ADK
Thank you for reinforcing the stigma that Adirondack natives are either uneducated or stupid. I believe many, if not most of the residents, are quite familiar with your religion. Thank you
Matt. Your comment was refreshing in the current climate.
The word ‘Adirondack’ originated as a derogatory term given to the Algonquin tribe by neighboring Mohawk, meaning “barkeaters.” To a people who prides themselves on hunting abilities, this is the equivalent to one using the N word to describe a person of color. Vanessa, perhaps we could have a “tough discussion” on changing the name of the mountains and eliminate this hurtful word from our vocabulary!
I know there were a bunch of people upset about the name of Intercourse Pennsylvania but to date I don’t think they have changed the name of Their town. I wonder what their city seal looks like?
One cannot ignore Bird-in-Hand, four miles west of Intercourse. I hope that guy made it in time. These Amish really know where it is at.
I have a question. Is the word swastika the same as the symbol? I am offended by the symbol, but not the word, which seems to me to be descriptive.
Do the words “middle finger” have the same message as the gesture?
I see the same issue with the word “Master”. It is being removed from real estate listings describing the largest bedroom. Yet, I see no effort to alter “Master Yoda” from Star Wars.
I agree that words matter, so does meaning, context and usage.
Thank you for this Mitch.
“Master Yoda” is one thing, “Yes Massa” is quite another. How many thousands had to say “Yes Massa” while enduring unimaginable treatment? Charles Dickens toured the US in 1845. He wrote many essays on his experiences. When it came to “slavery” rather than publish his own words, he reprinted excerpts taken from Southern newspapers. They included “Missing my Man XXX- has no fingers on left hand. I cut them off,” “Wanted, fugitive slave XXX – has stripes down her back,” “Wanted, XXX, left arm cut off for punishment.” etc. You can read Dickens’s comments yourself and decide what connotations “Massa” has.
Funny, I had the great privilege of meeting some of the residents of “Swastika” this past summer, as one of my friends has a family member who lives there and took me to meet some of their neighbors, who have resided there for generations. After reading about this terrible symbol and the debate in the media, I was curious as to what they thought about the “Swastika” name dilemma they had found themselves in, not of their own volition. And I was quite surprised to see the town itself was basically comprised of a street with just a few homes, an old abandoned school house which is now a chicken coupe, and only a tiny, worn street sign that said “Swastika” . If you blinked, you missed it!
What I learned was far from what was reported, which now I know, was nothing but fishing for a story in order to suit someone’s narrative to paint the ADKs as systemically racist. People will do and pay anything for a good race story these days. And this is a fine example.
After greeting one another and chatting about the weather, the subject came up right away. They were quite aware of their own history and dual meaning, yet they made it clear- no one cares what they think! There is only objective: Change the name . One woman, who was clearly in her late 70’s at least, would not even answer her phone or door anymore because she was so harrassed by the news media . The other couple was so upset that their town name was depicted on CNN alongside an image of a Nazi Concentration Camp, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Talk about blatant lying!! There was not an ounce of Anti-Semitism or bias. Quite the contrary. Yet after speaking to them, I can clearly see why they would call people “outsiders”. Because when, in fact, outsiders come barreling in, such as those social justice warriors who invaded Swastika, with their own opinions/agendas, without even considering sitting down and listening to these folks about their backgrounds, history and personal values, yet feel it is their self-appointed moral obligation to change the name of a town that they don’t even live in, while totally disregarding the residents who have lived there for multiple decades, they are indeed, nothing but, “outsiders”! I was not only honored to meet some of Swastika’s residents, I found their stories both valuable and worth listening to. Friendly, down to earth people that mind their own business.
Maybe it’s time to redeem the word, “Swastika” back to its original meaning and educate why they want to keep it, instead of ditching it because it was hijacked by evil . There is always another side of the story, rarely told anymore, since true journalism is becoming a lost art which also needs redeeming.
I don’t take offense at the “people” of Swastika. I’m sure they are all good and decent individuals. I am also sympathetic to the history of the symbol and its sad misappropriation by a gang of horrible and sadistic human beings. There are always people who want to turn good things bad. Just witness the use of a cross by a hate mongering gang like the KKK. But ideas and symbols have power which is why we use them. The founding fathers immediately drew up new symbols to represent our republic. However the time has come to recognize that the meaning of the word swastika and its symbol have drastically changed. It now stands for a great evil and it offends a large number of decent human beings. Our country was founded upon the ideals of freedom and liberty for all and we are currently embarking upon an effort to rid our public spaces of those symbols from our past that embody hate and intolerance. I hope the good people of the town can find another name to express the values they cherish.
Perhaps you are creating intolerance with your insistence to associate any given symbol with a negative connotation. You need to learn to look past it.
You’re exactly right Shane . If she doesn’t people will just tone her out or turn the dial to a different station.
This discussion is relevant no matter where we live. My heart will always be in the Adirondacks: I am from “The North” living in “The South” for a generation now. I am watching so-called intelligent, modern people tear apart the culture and history of the South bit by bit, by statue and name. There is so much more behind the man Robert E. Lee than the fact he defended his homeland which “lost” the War Between The States, but that has been erased by facts convenient to a particular point of view. The Confederate flag represents a people, a culture, not just slavery, and not all of that culture was evil. As others above have stated: tell the whole story. Educate. Using any symbol reduces an ideology to one graphic image, albeit powerfully, for good or ill. How would anyone be able to restore the meaning of the rainbow to its original context in this present culture?
The Southern states seceded from the Union because they wanted to keep slaves – plain and simple. At the time of the Civil War no one was criticizing southern cooking, culture, charm, ways or mores – as nobody does today! “Slavery” was the reason for the war. Then, after the Civil War the entire South embarked upon a “De Jure” system of apartheid politely called “Segregation.” Southerners beat and killed people in order to maintain “segregated” schools, neighborhoods, civic spaces and more Those who fought for the right to vote and to sit anywhere they wanted on a bus, in a restaurant, a movie theatre, or stay at a hotel were mercilessly persecuted. If you want to talk Southern History you have to include the racism as well as the cooking and charm. Sure, plantations looked nice, but they hid a terrible secret. BTW: the Nazis actually used Jews for slave labor do you want to defend that too?
Absolutely correct, Joe! Well said, sir. Between Jim Crow and redlining, sharecropping and “separate but equal”, the KKK and lynchings, the century following the Civil War was one of terrorism, economic slavery, and rank discrimination. Only in the last 50 years have things really changed, and there are still plenty of ways that minorities are discriminated against. Not sure why anyone would want to be on the other side of this discussion, but that’s for them to answer for themselves, I guess.
Please stop polluting the Adirondack Almanack with your political agenda-I want to think of the Adirondacks as a place where I can take in the wonders of our surroundings in a special place come home with a refreshed view on life-maybe catch a fish or two while at it. Start another newsletter for your topics and call it something else.
Please stop polluting the Adirondacks with inappropriate names such as “Swastika.” Do we want to see a new “Lake Placid Club” in the area?
First of all, I think the people of Swastika should petition the people of New York, New York to change their city’s name. What could be dumber than having two same names, as if I were to be Bill Bill, or perhaps Vanessa would be known as Banti Banti. I know this tongue-in-cheek argument for what it is, but I do have a serious point.
Some 40-50 years ago I met a guy about my age named Hitler. Reading this thoughtful article and its comments brought him back to mind. I only met him a few times and all I can remember is that I felt strange around him, only because of his name. I am quite sure he did not feel strange about his name that he had lived with since birth. It would have been his choice to change it, and not right for me to even mention his heritage unless I had known him much better. So be it with the proud town of Swastika – outsiders (including me right now) would do well to let them be.
I think a NYS historical marker at a parking area with a picnic table would be appropriate.
The issue in the name “Swastika” isn’t the “dumbness” of the name. It’s the terrible human suffering caused by those who wore the “symbol of peace and brotherhood” on their arms, flags uniforms, tanks and war planes.
Maybe its time to lobby for changing New York back to New Amsterdam, as it was appropriated from the Dutch by the British, erasing the rich cultural history of Dutch life and replacing it with the culture of the British crown through aggression.
Nobody knows what Konijn Eiland is but almost everyone knows what Coney Island is.
… and yet many place names in New York State maintain their Dutch names, e.g. Stuyvesant Town, Van Wyck Expressway, Van Sicklen Avenue in Brooklyn, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Catskill, Kaaterskill, etc. Washington Irving openly celebrated his Dutch heritage in uproarious books and stories. These names do not connote evil, immoral and unethical plans to take over the world and eliminate 40 million of the planet’s inhabitants, people who brought scholarship, erudition and learning wherever they went, by the cruelest, most horrible means possible.
My bad, based on the original article and the resultant comments I mistakenly thought we were playing a robust game of non-sequiturs.
Let’s not forget Gansevoort, Fort Oranje, Auplaus, Coeymans, Valarie, or Nassau…..
Wow, a fair cross-section of broad and narrow minds in the comments it seems. As for flags, I find the display of Confederate flags in the Adirondacks ironic. Since we were never part of the Confederacy, the “we’re proud of our heritage” excuse doesn’t fly. The message conveyed is “I’m a racist and I don’t care who knows it.” OK, then why get defensive when others get the message and call you a racist? If that’s how you identify, then own it. We have the right to freedom of speech (still), even that speech (or other expression) that others may find offensive. But we don’t have the right to be insulated from criticism or opposing views for our choices. The right to expression doesn’t guarantee universal acceptance of your views. That would be totalitarianism and we’re not there, yet.
Why can’t we simply concentrate and highlight the beauty of the Adirondacks without trying to weave this ‘woke’ material into the natural beauty?
If these articles continue, I’m afraid this almanac will rapidly lose its relevance and go the way of Poor Richard’s 🙂 ….. seems this publication is rapidly losing its’ focus.
I totally agree.
Swastika describes a shape, as does cross, star, triangle, and crescent. How this shape are used is another matter. If the people of Swastika were flying the Nazi flag, I’d find that offensive as most do when seeing the Confederate flag. For the people of Swastika, they take its meaning to describe who they are as a peaceful hamlet, similar the earlier meaning of peace and well-being. When I visit Buddhist temples, I am not offended by their use of the Swastika, which is very present in the patterns they use to decorate their buildings and shrines. Nor do I petition the lamas to change the image, to use perhaps a cross, star or some other pattern to decorate their buildings, pamphlets, and musical instruments. Rather, I do my best to sit still, cross legged, and find my inner peace as is the desire of those who live there.
Another take on the same issue – Nazis identified Jews with armbands displaying the star of David. Their businesses were “defaced” with the same symbol along with other insulting graffiti. This was despicable. It was used by a terrible regime to help them commit terrible crimes against humanity. How should we view the star of David today? Did the act of the Nazis adopting the symbol for their own terrible purposes alter its symbolism for eternity? Symbols are symbols, flags are flags. The people displaying them determine their meaning.
I’m a Texan who LOVES Upstate NY and the Adirondacks in particular, and hates that the bigotry and ignorance so often on display in TX is encroaching on your lovely area. While the town name of Swastika may be much older than the Nazi regime, it still has very unfortunate connections to it. In the interest of showing your best side, of being compassionate to the feelings of all, and in having no truck with such base movements as white supremacists, I would recommend that you change the name. As for the confederate battle flag in the window, there is no excuse. You can’t honor the heritage of a treasonous rebellion based on maintaining slavery, which was beaten decisively 150 years ago. It is hopelessly stained, and there is no such thing as The Lost Cause. It is only the fevered dreams of the deluded. It is also hopelessly stained by its use as an emblem of the KKK and other white supremacist groups. It is a signal for all to see that blacks need to keep on moving or stay away entirely. It is a threat of unwelcome and violence toward them. There is no possible redemption of this symbol, and it says a ton about you and your morals if you wish to display it. Texas, to our shame, was a part of that rebellion, but NY was not. You have no connection to the confederacy, other than fighting against it. Sweep this emblem into the dustbin of history, where it belongs.
Here we go again. It is the right of everyone, so far, in this country, to express their opinion. However, can we let this lie? Many things offend many people. Who is to determine what is correct? Which history is to be erased from a country? History helps us to understand where we are going and why? When we allow political correctness to creep into our culture, we open ourselves to dictator type governance that will determine and tell us what we believe. I reference North Korea as an example. We are not only creeping towards those possibilities, we are rushing towards them. I am more concerned about “re-education programs” being implemented in large school systems and our federal government. When a tiny, remote “so called” town is characterized as a major city influencing large populations; it is amusing, if not down right misrepresentation. I am offended by many things such as abortion on demand and babies being destroyed. That is something that happens every day in this country and it makes the the little town of Swastika or someone flying the Confederate flag (which by the way I find silly) pale in comparison. When do we become concerned about the important issues? I agree with some of the commenters who are unhappy about the Adirondack Almanack becoming another editorial political sounding board. Enough already!
peggy is 1oo% correct
When we make excuses for such blatant insults and try to change the subject as you have, you put yourself into an entirely different camp. If that is where you wish to reside, and that’s where you want to plant your personal flag, I can’t stop you, but you tell us more about yourself than what you are trying to downplay. Sadly, there are more and more like you.
Agree with Gabe. Peggy is 100% spot on, particularly the part where she says “Many things offend many people”. Can’t worry about offending people. There are lots more important things to worry about than flags and names.
You are absolutely correct.
Everyone in this country has the right to express themselves as they wish.
That includes the right for all to knowingly and willingly post your ignorance and social intolerance on the internet for the whole world to see.
Now you’ve got it Sean. You’re exactly right. If only you believed it yourself.
Oh Peggy I’m so sorry, but even after reading this comment like 5 times, and even after consulting with the politburo at my local re-education program…
…regardless of what you meant here, the take I’m seeing is that abortion is morally worse than ignorance of / lack of sensitivity to violent white supremacy, anti-semitism, the Holocaust, etc. Like as long as we condemn abortions, we shouldn’t bother with the “silly” worries of condemning actual violent crime. Didn’t have that take on my bingo card for this comments section. 🙁
Thank you Peggy. I am not entitled to comment further! Thank you.
If someone wants to put signs in their yard with confederate flag, it is ok with me. When I see the sign, I just take note of where I am and maybe who lives there. It is nice to be able to identify people’s political persuasion just by driving by. I would only worry if there is alot of these signs and so far, they are very few. These few signs are wasting time and energy. I don’t think highly of people that think the confederate flag is great… but I can ignore them when there is one or two of these. They make themselves the target of vandalism. That is more effective that news articles. (And if I lived in Swastika, I would prefer to change it rather than be the center of unwanted attention, too)
so you are saying if a person has a sign in there yard it is okay to do criminal acts
against them? boy you are a piece of work, i dont like the flags either but people
have the right to display them. i bet you would not say anything to these people
because you would be scared. if would like i can give you a place we can meet so you can try to steal some of my stuff. you sound like a key board toughguy
I think the Almanac should do an article like this everyday . Really get people fired up and hating each other . Hey , if it generates clicks that’s all that really matters .
actually, all the editors here know how to get ‘clicks’ .,.., just bring up the ‘rail vs. trail’ idea.
Ms. Banti’s essay is perfectly on point. I second her suggestions. First, I find confederate flags grossly offensive. I have to wonder why a resident of New York State, which was part of the Union, would fly such a flag? What kind of history could this person possibly be celebrating? Why aren’t they flying the Stars and Stripes or a New York State flag? If they want a flag that’s historic fly the Revolutionary War Flag since seventy-five percent of that war’s battles were fought in New York. That’s historic! When I see a confederate flag I consciously take note that “this town” is not safe. Except for a few people in the south whose ancestors actually fought in the war, the flag universally means “hate” and “white supremacy” pure and simple. Sadly, the Adirondacks has many racist residents as evidenced by the recent incident involving the bridge in Saranac Lake. So if you’re going to display one of these flags be aware that visitors will be offended and think twice about returning. Second, swastika is even worse. My Father and every one of my Uncles fought in WW II. One uncle was an artillery man during the Battle of the Bulge. He experienced Nazi fire first hand. For his sake I am offended by the town’s name. I can’t imagine how families of Holocaust survivors feel about it. May I remind you of the insult and stigma “The Lake Placid Club” still conjures for many individuals residents and non-residents alike? Why not just call the town “Hitlerville” for that matter. I submit that no explanation would erase the outrage and offense such a name would cause. It’s time for the town’s officials to wake up and face the present. Or, could it be that they sympathize with the bridge vandals in Saranac Lake? Unless they change the name, we’ll never know will we? If they truly want a symbol of love and happiness how about “Sunshine,” “Peacetown” or some other word whose meaning is unmistakable?
Joseph, Under the “Stars and Stripes”, On December 29, 1890 The 7th United States Calvary Regiment Massacred nearly three hundred Lakota people at Wounded Knee creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Mostly elders, women, and children. That’s the flag you would rather see people displaying?
Thank you for this.
And, under the Stars and Stripes my uncles landed in Normandy to free Europe of one of the most atrocious regimes in human history. And that uncle who fought at the Battle of the Bulge shook his head in dismay when his Country dropped a horrible new bomb upon innocent civilians. Luckily our flag still stands for freedom and justice and many Black Americans have stood by that flag despite the terrible treatment they received under it. They believed our system allowed for change from within and so far they are right. However, there comes a time when a symbol becomes so associated with horror that it means nothing else. Sadly, this has happened to the swastika.
And Many Black Americans have denounced the stars and stripes for the terrible treatment their people have received under it. Just look at the Black Lives Matter Movement! For some people That flag is just as offense as the swastika is to others.
Black and Native Americans have legitimate gripes with our country yet I do not think our flag has become a universal symbol of evil There are still people of color who find it a beacon of hope. That cannot be said for the swastika. Skepticism and suspicion of government, criticism, and protest are more American than apple pie and Chevrolet. It’s through criticism and protest that we move human rights forward. I hope current trends have that effect.
Than burning the American flag in the streets of American cities is an acceptable form of criticism and protect?
Exactly, the First Amendment to the U.S.Constitution guarantees the right to free speech. That certainly includes offensive speech, including burning the U.S. flag. The Supreme Court in 1989, ruled on this in Texas v. Johnson with Antonin Scalia joining the majority.
Free speech that is limited to non-offensive speech, is no guarantee at all.
Reading the comments here it’s simply astounding the level of ignorance and poor command of the English language users here display. Clearly, a sign of the quality and level of education one can expect from the people living in the ADK.
Times change and there is absolutely nothing that anyone here or living in the Adirondacks can do about that.
Your cities and towns are dying and you people are arguing about the socially unacceptable name of a town? Are you all really that freaking clueless?
I took a road trip to ADK back in Sept. 2020. In those 4 days, I spent $2500 at local businesses. Now thanks to that trip, this, and other articles like it, I know where NOT spend my money in the future; and of course thanks to the internet I can share my experiences and suggest that others boycott towns that refuse to bring themselves into the 21st Century.
During my trip, I saw social racism 1st hand, and of course the ever-present Confederate flags on car bumpers, the sides of barns, houses, and other buildings.
And you all wonder why tourists take issue, and why your economy is failing?
I am 1 of the people that will be moving up to ADK in the next 3-6 months.
I will buy property, I will open a couple of businesses, I’ll create ECO-tourism opportunities, and I and others will become the faces of the ADK.
We will change town names, road names, become active members of the town and civic boards, create hundreds of jobs, and pay a whole lot of taxes; for which we will insist on these socially conscious changes.
Money talks people, and your city’s businesses are starving.
Think about that before you insist on continuing to live in a century that is long gone.
Wow Sean. 2500 bux. How long did it take you to save that?
Sounds like ego on steroids. I agree that this argument is fallacious. Why make a tiny little town into BIG NEWS? What kind of dialogue are you promoting ? You are coming North to teach everyone how to think, as well as accuse individuals of being ignorant and uneducated? You are going to open businesses and make money ? Really?! Good for you! Sly inclusion about eco friendly business. Guess what? There have been and still are many who promote conservation of resources. We also have the EPA and the DEC along with all their support rangers to assist those who get in trouble up here. By the way local fire departments, sheriff and state troopers are here to protect.
For your information, we do know what the internet is and many of us are professionals; college educated, teachers, doctors, educators, administrators, and small business owners. There are craftspeople who create beautiful furniture and all manner of arts. Retirees with a broad range of skills and education move here. There are hard workers who live here; loggers, farmers, home builders, well drillers, electricians, plumbers etc. The Adirondacks is not just a destination to be enjoyed or improved in your eyes. It is a place where many people live, warts and all. Why is it important to push your agenda and encourage outrage?
Your description doesn’t sound like you like the people, who live here, very much. So I’m confused. Pray enlighten us. But, of course, the people here don’t recognize they are in the 21st.Century, nor do they recognize that there are wrongs in the world. (Forgot that point!) Putting everyone’s backs up against the wall doesn’t add anything to the conversation. Would you be happier in Colorado or California? They have mountains , lakes, rivers, outdoor pursuits and more educated and intelligent people.
Good luck in all your endeavors.
P.S. Never been a fan of fascism, racism, communism, socialism or most of the political “isms”. When do we support each other instead of running each other down ?
Even though I am not personally put off by the bizarre town name at question, this is a really nicely written challenge to the community. Kudos.
A lot of emotion in these comments. The “cancel culture” disturbs me, as there’s little nuance to it. I was with the Marines in Vietnam in 1968, and was disturbed to see swastikas on some temples, as well as on trinkets and other display items, until an old villager gave the young Marine a history lesson, and an introduction to Buddhism, which still strikes me as much more in possession of wisdom and truth than the Abrahamic religions most of us follow today, and the minor differences between them which still cause us to kill other peoples over.
We all mythologize, especially when we make religious claims, which are largely built on shifting sands. You just don’t believe you’re doing it, which is pretty funny considering how simple truth and evidence is so far out of fashion in our country today. I was 19 in I Corps, and didn’t fully appreciate that symbols come and go, often with altered meanings, never mind completely different aims.
The three main versions of the Confederate flag are not older than the civil war, and despite the efforts of revisionist historians to separate the flag from slavery, I don’t see any way of spinning it to symbolize anything other than the darkest period in American history. I do experience the confederate flag as representing an evil cause, even if the Southern economy required slavery to make Cotton the economic powerhouse it was in trade, not just in the South, but in the factories in England, which manufactured so many of the products spun from cotton.
I do experience the Confederate flag today as representing an apology for racism, bigotry and forced miscegenation, and enjoyed the comment above which pointed out that you’d think the most important American War for New Yorkers, in terms of where it was principally fought, was the Revolutionary War, giving the lie to the claim that flying the confederate flag today is all about history and preserving tradition.
At the same time, most of the southerners who died in the Civil War weren’t slave owners, and were told they were fighting for their culture, their country, and when they died, their relatives and descendants didn’t want to be told that their ancestors were on a fools errand, fighting to preserve a system which marginalized their lives as well as the lives of slaves. Yeah…. Like most things… it’s complicated!
Most of the folks I’ve met who proudly display the Confederate flag, tend to be defiant in character, not the brightest or best informed people you’ll meet, and not real effective at explaining themselves or what they believe the flag symbolizes. I’ve lived in Wilmington for twenty years now, and we have the Wilmington Historical Society, which does an admirable job of teaching folks about the area’s history. In all this shouting, has anyone tried to find out about the history of the hamlet of Swastika, how long has it been there, how it came to have that name, and what it meant then as well as what it means to its residents today?
Be careful what you ask for. When I first heard about statues being torn down, and names being changed or separated from historical contexts, it concerned me because you’ll not only see more aggressive attempts to rewrite history, but it will be just a matter of time before they start coming for your favorite symbols. Made me think about when the Taliban was tearing down priceless historical statues and buildings because they committed the sacrilige of depicting Allah or Buddha etc.
I tend to lean more on the left side of most issues, and agree with many of the commenters above who affirmed that there are many issues more important than the name of this town, or whether we can ban certain symbols, but as the old saying goes, those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. Seems to me what we need today is much better education for youngsters, and much better training and salaries for folks on the front lines of our social squabbles, for example teachers and police. Oh, by the way, I love the name “Adirondack”, even if it is a Mohawk slur, cause it’s been such a magical sounding word for me, since I was a little boy, and I applaud the Almanack for helping us think about local issues. Thanks for reading.
Thank you for your service and for your thoughtful comments.
Stephen, I find it very disheartening that you, knowing the offensive meaning of this Mohawk Slur still find it acceptable! It amazes me how the white culture is so offended by certain racial slurs and totally fine with others. I believe you call it political correctness?
Hi Phillip, Hey what do you want? It took 50 years to get that Redskin name erased from that Washington football team. These things take time!
This politically correct white man – did I miss any of the witless stereotypes you assigned me in your comment? – congratulates you on completely missing the thrust of my comment. Let us allow Phillip to rename everything in a manner which satisfies his current views, and hope that he never changes his mind!
No, I believe I got the Thrust of your comment correct, the part I referenced anyways.You acknowledged The word Adirondack is a racist Mohawk slur, aimed as an insult towards a particular minority group. Yet you not being part of that minority you don’t find it offensive so you feel its ok to continue to use it in your own vocabulary. Hmm?, what stereotype might one assign to that way of thinking?
As for renaming everything, We’ve always stuck with the names of places and things that were handed down to us by our elders. The White culture are the ones who found it necessary to change them to fit their current view. Based on this article iits looking like perhaps they have changed their minds.
This was a thoughtful comment – thank you for taking the time to post!
Since you were so kind to post your thoughts without beating me up, I’d like to offer a few thoughts in reply. Hopefully this will provide some further context to address your comment.
I took out the part of the piece that addressed the history of the name of the town. Some of this history is covered here: https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/09/24/915307315/swastika-new-york-is-keeping-its-name.
This part of the essay got scrapped because I wanted to engage with the modern meaning of the swastika in the West, which as mentioned is associated with white supremacy & anti-semitism. But it’s absolutely true that in the era when the town was named, way before WWII and the rise of Nazism, very few people in the USA associated the swastika with hate. Instead, it was a cultural artifact that many Westerners associated with orientalism and eastern exoticism. Relevant example: my own grandma was really into talking about “kismet,” a word who’s lingual origins she didn’t know. A “swastika” was similar – it was like a good luck charm.
In 2020, we have new ways to look back on the dynamics of orientialism and recognize that overall, orientalist takes were bad. Appropriating complex cultural themes that you don’t have background on, regardless of your intentions, (which again were often quite innocent!) isn’t seen as moral anymore – I mean, by some of us anyway. This isn’t re-writing history, because all of the facts are the same. Swastika was named by folks who wanted to refer to a general concept of good luck and well-being. I’m not arguing against those facts.
Instead, I want to think about how and why they were motivated to take these actions. I want to look at a more holistic picture than just one act without context. I also want to look at other elements of their lives: namely, the even far deeper institutional racism of that time that kept people from understanding the origins of the symbols they adopted. I want to interpret history, which is a natural process that all people do regarding the actions of previous generations. If we didn’t interpret history, we’d repeat it over and over again!
As a side bar: the Buddhist world really mourned the loss of the “Buddhas of Bamiyan” statues (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhas_of_Bamiyan), which indeed were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. These were priceless examples of the Greco-Buddhist style, of which I am a huge fan. 🙂 I know that your intent was NOT to compare my work to the type of intolerance and hate espoused by the Taliban, but I’d humbly ask that you be careful with takes of this nature. Many thanks.
Not at all. My point was simply that issues like these get our ire up and are interpreted through our life experience, and are generally more complex than our experience tells us. Seeing confederate flags saddens me more than angers me, because of what it tells us about those who openly display them, and how many people behave as though they might as well display them. The recent election tells us that many folks believe what they like, undeterred by whether there is any evidence to substantiate those beliefs. I recall naively believing that the internet and the digital revolution would make us all smarter and better informed, but with some exceptions, I fear it’s really had the opposite effect.
I too naively hoped for great things re the internet! Certainly hasn’t turned out that way has it…
Anyway, seriously I really want to thank you for the thoughtful comment. I wouldn’t write here if I needed everyone to agree with me. But some folks here are going a lot further than disagreement.
BTW your animal sanctuary looks marvelous! Hope you don’t mind if I come visit when it’s safe to do so?
We’re open daily from 10 to 4 year round, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. No need to tell us in advance. No fixed entrance fee, Wolf Gathering Lecture begins about 10 am. Face masks, social distancing, no pets. Steve
Excellent! We’re sheltering in place right now, but I hope we’ll see you and the wolves in a few months.
Yes, this article is a classic example it having the opposite effect!
Venessa Maybe this will help.Native American Indians were a deeply spiritual people and they communicated their history, thoughts, ideas and dreams from generation to generation through Symbols and Signs such as the Swastika symbol. The origin of the Swastika symbol derives from the ancient Mississippian culture of the Mound Builders of North America and were major elements in the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex of American prehistory (S.E.C.C.). Some of the Native Indian tribes still retain some elements of the Mississippi culture and the symbolism of the broken cross symbol – that is commonly referred to as a Swastika.
Hi Phillip, I’m going to take this one as good faith. I’ve heard of what you’re referring to here, but only for Native American folks in the Southwest…a long way from upstate NY. Those folks probably didn’t know the founders of Swastika. I don’t want to make big assumptions about different Native American groups that may or may not have relevance to this discussion.
Further, generally the scholarly consensus is that the symbol originates in ancient India, predating lots of modern religious traditions. I believe that even ancient Judaism adopted the swastika at some point.
But this is why I kept this whole part of the discussion out of the article. It’s an avoidance of the 2020 issue – in the West, today, the swastika is a hate symbol. When the councilor or anyone else wants to get into broad history that we’re all going to interpret differently, it’s distracting from the 2020 concern. And in my case, I don’t think it’s ok to invoke history/cultural concepts you may not even have a handle on to imply that other people are “intolerant.”
Hi Venessa, First the Mississippian culture of the Mound Builders of North America extended east as far as the atlantic ocean, in the present day Carolina’s. For you to see it fit to include references to the historical importance of this Swastika symbol to civilizations a half a world away in your article, and yet not include the American Indian aspect of the symbol due to regional importance is mind boggling!
Anyways, Let me try to fill in some blanks.
. First Swastika is not even in any American Indian Language that I’m aware of.! I really have very little personnel knowledge of the symbol ever being used in NE ceremonies. None I have ever attended. However I do remember seeing the symbol among the people on occasion. It was explained to me as being in (English interpretation) the “Twirling log” Symbol, representing peace and tranquility. I am aware of several 19th and early 20th century Navajo Weaving that depict the “Twirling log” symbol. I have also seen a few
Apache Basket weaving’s from the same period that depict the Symbol. So yes the symbol seemed to have moved West More Than Northeast. Mysteriously the Symbol seemed to had disappeared from native Art Sometime around 1930. As you may or may not know this was a very “difficult” period for these people. I’m assuming they just gave up hope of ever seeing peace and tranquility in this world and Abandoned the Symbol all together. Than in the late 20th century the “twirling log” symbol started to again appearing in Native American Art as the young people started once again exploring their history.
The origin of Swastika, NY was as a random name for a small post office in 1913 according to Wikipedia. Why save it?
Dear Adirondack Almanack, since when have you started to allow hate speech? Sean’s comments should have been blocked.
I remember asking for one of my comments to be removed after realizing it was inappropriate. John Warren removed it. I do not think people realize that what is written here is not just read within the town of Swastika, NY, but all around these wonderful United States, and also the world. I do not even live in New York, much less the Adirondacks, but I am ashamed to see some of the comments here. Melissa Hart can nix comments, but I think she is a believer in free speech. I would like us to exhibit, for all the world to see, polite speech.
This comment belongs way at the bottom, just like my beer supply.
Not sure what you mean by hate speech?
People ! If we were incorporating a new town today there would be absolutely nobody who would even consider naming it “Swastika “ ! Nobody !! They change Zip codes frequently and this zip code is part of a bigger township ( Black Brook ?) so why not go with the flow and euphemistically utilize the town name and give up the Zip assigned to Swastika ? And put this inane repartee to bed !
To quote the late, great Kurt Vonnegut: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”
Let’s keep our discussion civil, please.
It seems like the tone of this article is rather bullying.
Life-long, year-round residents rely on each other. We are respectful and tolerant of our neighbors because it’s how we were raised and it’s a necessity. You may not agree with a flag someone hangs on their house but when you’ve known that person for more years than you care to count, and that person has helped plow your driveway at 5 am, gave you car a jump on a below zero morning, returned your dog to you after he accidentally escaped the yard, checked in on you after a blizzard knocked out power, brought groceries to you when you couldn’t because you were too ill, etc., you know they are decent and you’re glad to have them as a part of your community. If you’d like to have a town adopt a new name, move to that town permanently, get to know the people by listening to them instead of preaching, understand who they are and what backgrounds they have, participate in the community so they can get to know and trust you, AND THEN explain respectfully why you feel it is important to change the name of the place they call home.
Geesh, I’m way more concerned with the issue of lack of child care in the region (as I just read an article about) than the name of town I don’t live in and don’t have to visit unless I choose to.
You’re right on, Jill. An amusing story about town’s names follows. Down near the Pa. border, south of Erie Pa. and Buffalo area , there is a town with a puzzling name. We have friends there. Upon querying as to how it got its name-the story goes like this. Way back when, the town fathers gathered to name their little village. There were many suggestions. But all of them met with the same response, ” Oh No!”. The longer this went on, frustration built. Finally , a wise cracker suggested “How about Oh No ? Guess what? To this day the name is Ono, New York. End of story.
Totally agree with you Jill . A google or YouTube search may reveal that the writer of this article might not only be from outside of the Adirondacks but from another state .
Just to be clear, I’ve always been open that I’m not an ADK resident. That’s in my author profile, that’s in this piece (!) and I comment about it often in other places on this forum.
As has been discussed to death, there are a lot of barriers that keep people – especially younger people like me – from just up and moving to the area. Most of the folks I’ve spoken to in the ADK during visits and online – probably 100s now and plenty who don’t share my politics – want to eliminate some of these barriers.
I think if the region is serious about actually attracting people, it’s got to make the “values” barrier of entry a little lower. Jill accuses me of bullying when I’m already replying to having been called names, essentially, like intolerant, outsider, racist by one guy – for caring about the display of hate symbols.
I am not going to accept that a requirement of living any place is being tolerant of hate symbols. Could you understand how I might not call you for help at 5 am, no matter where I lived, if your flag indicates you don’t care about my family’s right to live safely?
Do you know for a fact that these symbols are being displayed to represent hate , or are you just assuming they are ?
How many of the people you are passing judgement on for these displays do you actually know ?
Seems that somebody that displays the Confederate flag, having otherwise not likely been born or otherwise lived in the south, is spreading a message of hate. They may not understand that. They seemingly have this idea that it represents a way of life and/or some perception of freedom and independence.
I’m always puzzled by what exactly a northerner is identifying with when they display this flag. They want to be seen as a Good Old Boy ?, red neck ?, rebel ?.
Steve I think that is most likely the case , young kids who think of it as a rebel thing . I haven’t heard of an pro slavery meetings going on , have you ?
No, I believe they are just frustrated and using the freedoms that are now being used against us. Vanessa got what she wanted, attention for herself by stirring the bucket amongst a lot of good people. The Adirondack Almanack has disappointed me by allowing this to go this far.
Allowing what to go this far? Should I cut off the comments? This is a discussion forum…people are free to comment, or not.
Melissa Respectively, the best way I can answer your questions is this. In my 73 years I haven’t seen our country more divided then it is right now. In my opinion only, I see all of our freedoms & rights being tested to the limit where some thresholds have been crossed and loss of those freedoms are real. Again in my opinion only, adding fuel to fires that should have never been started in the first place for sake of discussion is not right. If I crossed the line on my comment then I apologize. This is my last word here. Sincerely Jack Barrett
Vanessa, I’m afraid you simply don’t understand what the majority of people up this way are like. You say “Could you understand how I might not call you for help at 5 am, no matter where I lived, if your flag indicates you don’t care about my family’s right to live safely?”…this is exactly what you don’t get…1. you wouldn’t even have to ask, you would simply get up in the morning and find that some kind soul did it as a gesture of caring, and 2. names and flags are not things we attribute much baggage to, unlike you. If your house was on fire, it would be that person in the house with the offending flag who would be the first to come and try to get you out.
It’s our actions towards each other that mean everything. As long as you live and let live, respect others opinions and beliefs, and help your family and neighbors, no one gives one iota what your color is, your beliefs are, your sexual preference, your gender identity, your political affiliation, or what anything else is for that matter. I’m sorry there are so many people who just can’t accept that.
Vanessa, you knew beforehand this editorial piece would stir contention among Adirondack residents. (And BTW, so did the ADK Almanack when they choose to post content such as this article) What amazes me most is the very thing you are desiring to achieve, which I assume from your writing, is peace, acceptance and tolerance in order to move here, you are actually creating the opposite by sowing discord & strife by pitting one resident against another. No one is really listening to each other because no one is going to change their own personal ideology. Oh, people will team up with those they agree with, that’s true. But that’s not really achieving anything productive. And, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as noble as your efforts are, you are not going to change anyone’s heart. You can remove all the offensive symbols & flags from every town in America but won’t alter one human heart. And there are others who display zero flags or symbols, yet are the most racist, bigoted person you will ever meet – but you wouldn’t know it because it’s not on display with a flag or symbol. So external judgements are at best, shallow. As Boreas said a few comments up, “Symbols are symbols, flags are flags. The people displaying them determine their meaning.” There is much truth to that statement. And a good example are the residents I spoke with in Swatstika, who have every right to hold onto the original definition of the name without being forced to conform to your or anyone else’s view. They have harmed no one and do not have a history of deep seeded hatred towards others. They like and embrace the original meaning of the word Swatstika- ‘well being; good fortune”- they told me so. They have no reason to apologize as they have always rejected the perverted symbolism, even throughout WWII when Nazism was in full display. The only ones causing the hatred are those pointing the finger at them!
And, the only reason this issue with the name even came up was because a liberal reporter from Albany who has ties to the MSM was riding his bike and noticed the little street sign and decided to give it national attention in order to point the finger at the tiny town in the ADKs in order to accuse them of being racists in ‘rural NY”. There was no other motive. Yet somehow it’s just ok for everyone to pre-judge these people as watch their tiny town being plastered on CNN and other media outlets mischaracterizing them. Really? That is acceptable now because people are ‘offended’ without any firsthand knowledge, therefore, who cares who it hurts? Sorry, but this is just wrong!
I am getting really fed up with the generalization and categorizing other people based off what they ‘see’ as well as judging others without any personal first-hand knowledge of them as people.
I believe the objective and motive of the article was meant to be positive and bring awareness according to your viewpoint but judging Adirondack residents based off ‘signs & symbols” is never going to achieve the goal you are after. You have to get to know people first. As the saying goes, “People do not care what you know until they know you care.” That is the only way hearts change. So, we welcome you as a fellow ADK neighbor if you choose to move here but please, leave your pre-judgements aka prejudices behind.
I’m done with racist morons. I’m not spending a dime in your town if I see racist flags and symbols around. The confederate flag is a purely racist symbol, and there is no argument. If you say otherwise you are a racist.
Lol, Zephyr, please keep your money and move on!
No Problem Zephyr. You probably never spent a dime here anyway. Thanks for reminding us of left wing rule #1. Call someone you either don’t know, or don’t agree with, a racist. That’ll stop ’em cold.
This is my last comment on this. You can have the last word Zephyr, and I’ll bet I know what that word is. Begins with r.
Ha! I grew up just outside of the Adirondacks and have been hiking and visiting the area nearly continuously for well more than 50 years. I worked fulltime within the blue line for decades. My wife’s family has a prominent member who fought and died in the Civil War, and his statue stands in a park. More than 53,000 other New Yorkers died and more than 400,000 fought in order to defeat those treasonous states and eliminate slavery and some think it is right to spit on their graves. Racist and disgusting.
Please send a post card! COD is ok
Peace be with us all.
Thanks Bill. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
MS. Banti, Think about it, please. With your education you know better that to credit an inanimate object as a source of human affect. The feeling is attributable to the person viewing the object. Some see hate, and that reflects upon their own beliefs. I see self-determination: ascendency and growth by accepting the consequences of your choices. Common sense advises against censorship, lest the censor next target something of value to you.
The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. -John Milton, poet (9 Dec 1608-1674)