Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Toughest Indian in the World

sad-funny-sad sandwich.
"Our vows were witnessed by three dozen of Susan's best friends, along with most of her coworkers at the architecture firm, but Susan's handsome brother and parents stayed away as a protest against my pigmentation.
'I can understand fucking him,' her brother had said upon hearing the news of our engagement. 'But why do you want to share a checking account?'
He was so practical." (39-40)
Alexie is introducing a horrible concept through marriage, racism. At the wedding of a red man and white woman, the white woman's family wouldn't show up because of his skin color. This is obvious by the brother's statement. What is ironic about the last half of the brother's questions is the fact that the red man is paying for the entire wedding, despite the fact his to-be-wife makes twice his salary. Luckily, Alexie finishes us off with a sarcastic statement, "He was so practical."

"Is this what it feels like?
To be loved, to be held, to be intimate without the fear of penetration?
I think so.
Yes, I think so, too. I think this is what women have wanted from men for all of our lives. I think they want to be held in our arms and fall asleep in the absence of body fluids.
I think you may be right.
They held each other tighter and tighter. They were not aroused. They were warm and safe." (70)

Two men are trying to fall in love because they both believe in love, but are not gay. Their situation might seem funny, but there is not much love existing in the world today. So, their sad situation is made comical through a comment about women, which i think is true. Then, the two men realize how right it feels to be "warm and safe."
funny-sad-funny sandwich.
A: Good for you. But don't you want to talk about powwow dancing?
Q: Well, sure, what would you like to say?
A: I was the worst powwow dancer in the world. I'd started dancing at some powwow, and Master of Ceremonies would shout out, 'Hey, stop the powwow, stop the powwow, Etta is dancing, she's ruining ten thousand years of tribal traditions. If we don't stop the powwow now, she might start singing, and then we're really going to be in trouble.'
Q: Well, I suppose that's not going to help my thesis." (207)
This situation turns sad because an Indian woman doesn't fit a stereotype. She cannot dance well. What the Master of Ceremonies says is way too harsh, especially the "ruining ten thousand years of tribal traditions." Then the white boy interviewing the Indian woman states that she is not a help to him, which is funny because Etta had pointed out that he didn't know anything about Indians.
"When I was six years old, a bear came out of hibernation too early, climbed up on the roof of the Catholic Church, and promptly fell back asleep. In itself not an amazing thing, but what had amazed me then, and amazes me now, is that nobody, not one Spokane Indian, bothered that bear. Nobody called the police or the Forest Service. None of the Indian hunters who'd always taken advantage of defenseless animals and humans. Hell, even the reservation dogs stopped barking whenever they strolled past the church. We all, dogs and Indians alike, just continued on with our lives, going to work or school, playing basketball and hide-and-seek, scratching at fleas, sleeping with other people's spouses, marking our territory, while that bear slept on." (221)
This story was the most amazing i have ever read by Alexie. The situation is of course funny, but it is very serious too because the bear was undisturbed. That courtesy is so uncommon among people. They are more likely to do what they do best, like "sleeping with other people's spouses," which I thought was funny.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reservation Blues Cont.

The "Alexie Sandwich" continued.

The sad-funny-sad sandwich.
"'Are you a Christian, Thomas?'
'No. Not really.'
'Are these two Christian?'
'Junior and Victor? No way. All they know about religion they saw in Dances with Wolves.'
'Do you pray?' Chess asked but wasn't sure what she wanted to hear. Of course Thomas prayed. Everybody prayed; everybody lied about it. Even atheists prayed on airplanes and bingo nights.
'Yeah I pray,' Thomas said and made the sign of the cross." (145-146)
This sandwich has extra meat in it. Alexie introduces the bread through Chess asking Thomas to join her and Checkers on Sunday for church service. Thomas has bad memories in church, and is skeptical about going. Alexie then smooshes two pieces of freshly sliced jokes inbetween Thomas's skepticism. One joke pokes fun at Victor and Junior, while making a reference to culture. White people learn through the cinema, and red people are no different. The next joke is aimed at atheists. The funniest thing I found about this joke was its truthfulness. Everybody prays; especailly in dangerous or potentially prospective situations. These jokes lighten the mood of the irony of Indians being Christianized willingly, because it was once forced upon them.

The funny-sad-funny sandwich.
"He even called a few companies in Seattle, like Sub Pop. Sub Pop discovered Nirvana and a lot of other bands, but they never returned Thomas's phone calls. They just mailed form rejections. Black letters on white paper, just like commodity cans. U.S.D.A. PORK. SORRY WE ARE UNABLE TO USE THIS. JUST ADD WATER. WE DON'T LISTEN TO UNSOLICITED DEMOS. POWDERED MILK. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST. HEAT AND SERVE.
The taverns refused to hire Coyote Springs." (187)
Thomas is desperately trying to get his band, Coyote Springs, a gig, but doesn't seem to have any luck. The fact that a pre-typed rejection note is mailed from a famous record company is comical, but the fact that the note reminds Thomas of commodity food is not. Even the mixed rejection note can be confused with the food labels. "SORRY WE ARE UNABLE TO USE THIS," could be a response to the people handing out the commodities at the beginning of the month; because the commodity food is usually disgusting and artificial. Finally, Alexie relieves us of this sad realization by saying that not even Indians wanted to hire the traditional Indian band.

"'Victor,' Thomas said, "I brought an eagle feather for protection. You can have it.'
'Get that Indian bullshit away from me!'
The crowd at the gate stared at Coyote Springs. They worried those loud dark-skinned people might be hijackers. Coyote Springs did their best not to look middle eastern.
'That ain't going to do nothing,' Victor continued, in a lower volume. 'It's just a feather. Hell, it fell off some damn eagle, so it obviously wasn't working, enit?'
Victor was being as logical as a white man." (218)
Victor is afraid of flying and hilariously rejects his own religion in the middle of the airport at full volume. Because of Victor's public display, racisim rapidly spoils inbetween the bread. At airports across America, before but mostly after 9-11, every dark-skinned person has had to be humiliated in the security line. Alexie is guddesting that white people are suceptable to stereotypes, and he is also suggesting the Indian band is among a large group of whites. Luckily the reader is finally returned to the jokes of Victor who rationalized his mistrust for the eagle feather. Unfortunately, Victor is compared to a white man due to his rationalization. This sandwich leaves a moldy aftertaste even though the bread was good.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reservation Blues

With this story of a classic nature I will continue my research on the "Alexie Sandwich." The story of Reservation Blues is a continuation of Robert Johnson. Johnson is traveling the road by foot when he comes across a crossroad on the reservation. He is trying to earn his soul back, and loses his cursed guitar in the process. Thomas Builds-the-Fire picks it up and forms an all Indian band to change the world.

In Reservation Blues, I found mostly sad-funny-sad sandwiches, which should come as no surprise, considering the book is titled Reservation BLUES, but i did manage to find one funny-sad-funny story.

The two most powerful sad-funny-sad sandwiches I found made me think very deeply.
The first of which made me depressed because if the story is true, Native Americans are not receiving the medical care they need. When Johnson happens upon the reservation, his hands are badly hurt, and Thomas wants to help him.
"Thomas wanted to take Johnson to the Indian Health Service Clinic, for a checkup and the exact diagnosis of his illness, but he knew that wouldn't work. Indian Health only gave out dental floss and condoms, and Thomas spent his whole life trying to figure out the connection between the two. More than anything, he wanted a story to heal the wounds, but he knew that his stories never healed anything." (6)

The Indian Health Service Clinic is uninvolved in reservation life, which is horrible because that is the only care some Indians have access to. But, Alexie makes a joke about the connection between condoms and dental floss, which adds to his point; why is medical service on the reservation so poor? Then Alexie brings us back down with a sad excerpt about stories not healing wounds, no matter how much you wanted them too. Plus, stories is all Thomas has most days. This was seriously upsetting.
The other sandwich is a jab at religion, and how even though Christianity was forced upon Indians, they still believe in God.
"The sisters walked to the church, which was one of those simple buildings, four walls, a door, a crucifix, and twenty folding chairs. Those folding chairs were multidimensional. Set them up facing the front, and they serve as pews. Circle them around a teacher in the middle, and you have Sunday School. Push them up to card tables, and you feasted on donated food. Fold those chairs, stack them in a corner, and you cleared a dance space. Folding chairs proved the existence of God." (105-106)
Poverty is the bread to this sandwich, and the proof is the church building. The only difference between this building and any other building on the res is the crucifix. Alexie makes jokes about this with the folding chairs. The folding chairs prove the building's many uses and poor funding because the building has to have so many uses. Even through all this, Alexie brings us back to God on a slightly sarcastic note, but I read it as the existence of God must be real, because look how we live; we have survived.

Finally, I came across a funny-sad-funny sandwich. It is about the day's events for Checkers, the youngest flat-head sister. Victor has pissed her off and they got into a fistfight. Shortly after, the band left without her so she could cool off, and she describes what she will do for the day.
"Checkers waved goodbye as the blue van pulled onto the reservation highway. She waved at Chess with most of her hand, saved a little for Thomas, and maybe a bit for Junior. She excluded Victor from her wave.
'What are you going to do this weekend?' Chess had asked her sister before she climbed into the van.
'I think I'll go to church. It's been a while.'
Father Arnold was the priest down there. She had read his name on the greeting board when she walked by the church. Father Arnold. She wondered about Father Arnold's favorite song." (127)
What a way to start off an impossible joke. How ridiculous! You can't exclude someone from a wave! Still, the concept is hilarious because it is so ridiculous. To understand the next serious part, you have to know Checker's character. She is into older Indian men who she feels like can save her, therefore she has fallen in love with many priests throughout her childhood. So, it is good she is going to church because she is a good singer, and singing is like therapy to Checkers, but the ending is mysterious. Checkers is walking into church with the intention of seducing the priest, or at least flirting with him. Thus, the last two sentences are comical. "Father Arnold. She wondered about Father Arnold's favorite song." Checkers uses Father Arnold as his own sentence, pondering him. Then she devises a plan to immediately get on his good side.

Monday, March 12, 2012

One Stick Song

The beginning of the "Alexie Sandwich." The "Alexie Sandwich" is a term i have coined to Sherman Alexie's stories and poetry when he makes a point. It is almost like telling a joke. First, he explains a funny situation, then he hits you with a punch of serious emotion, then he finishes with a light punch-line. Or the situation is reversible; either way, you get punched.

Two perfect examples of these "Sandwiches" are from the long narrative story, The Unauthorized Autobiography of Me.

First is a sad-funny-sad story.
"When I step into the house, my mother is sewing yet another quilt. She is singing a song under her breath. You might assume she is singing a highly traditional Spokane Indian song. In fact, she is singing Donna Fargo's 'The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA.' Improbably, this is a highly traditional Spokane Indian song. The living room is dark in the late afternoon. The house is cold. My mother is wearing her coat and shoes."
The song his mother sings is about a girl who is so lucky to be married to a wonderful husband. This song is both funny and ironic because Alexie sets us up with "highly traditional Spokane Indian song." We are introduced to a scene where his mother quietly and sadly sings another song, then we learn what that song actually was, then Alexie brings us back to reality in the cold house of his mother where she must sew quilts to pay the electric bill and feed her children. The song is also ironic because Alexie's father constantly left the family to drink himself away. Sherman has always been upset about this and often writes poetry about drunk fathers, but his stories are sometimes taken too far.

This brings us to the funny-sad-funny story.
"Years later, I am giving a reading at a bookstore in Spokane, Washington. There is a large crowd. I read a story about an Indian father who leaves his family for good. He moves to a city a thousand miles away. Then he dies. It is a sad story. When I finish, a woman in the front row breaks into tears.
'What's wrong?' I ask her.
'I'm so sorry about your father,' she says.
'Thank you,' I say, 'But that's my father sitting right next to you.'"
Alexie sets us up with a sad story about an Indian father, which is probably a common situation even though Sherman made it up. The woman cries and apologizes, and Alexie says "Thank you." To me, this means Alexie does indeed hold his father responsible for his childhood. Finally, the last line unchokes our throats that were previously tight from crying, and gives us a good laugh with an awkward situation.

As readers, we are both sympathetic and empathetic to the stories we read. Our reactions are predetermined by the author, maybe even controlled, but depending on our own personalities and situations, we perceive stories differently. For this reason, I seriously respect the presentation of Alexie's stories. When I feel something while reading his work, I have this strange acknowledgement that Sherman meant for that specific emotion. It is almost like he takes in important factors such as color, guilt, suppression, and haunted pasts into his mechanics of poetry.
I will explore these "Sandwiches" further in more of Alexie's works.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Summer of Black Widows

A recurring theme of survival appears throughout Alexie’s poetry. In historical order, first comes massacres and relocation, then come the abuses of land and the abuses of people, and finally comes alcoholism and diabetes. Survival is the interruption by the white man and the guilty conscious of the red man.
Alexie alludes to the disruption and destruction of the American Indian people. “In my dream, Fred Astaire stumbles (yes, stumbles)/ into the powwow and is shocked by the number of Indians/ who have survived/ the smallpox blankets, U.S. cavalry, relocation, etc.” (79-80) The words truly specify the “weapons” of the white man, and they only describe the premeditated tactics used by the government to wipe out the Indians. They do not describe the psychology behind getting the Indians to turn against one another. Alexie is stating that the survival rate of American Indians is so astounding that it forced a graceful dancer such as Fred Astaire to stumble.

There are also allusions to the treatment of Native American land and people. “This is a poem for my tribe, who continue to live in the shadow of/ the abandoned uranium mine on our reservation, where the/ night sky glows in a way that would have invoked songs and/ stories a few generations earlier, but now simply allows us to see/ better as we drive down the highway toward a different kind of moon.” (51) America has completely taken advantage of their land. Not only are they poisoning the Indians through uranium contact with air and water, they also “allow” the Indians to work there and die of uranium contact with the skin. Alexie also plays with the ignorance of older generations of Indians. Just as Columbus tricked the ancient Indians into submission through an eclipse proclaimed by his god, so the U.S. toys with the current Indians’ stupidity through the uranium mine. The only difference is now, the Indians can distinguish between the lies. Alexie also references the Holocaust to show the abuses of the Native American peoples. “We too could stack the shoes of our dead and fill a city/ to its thirteenth floor. What did you expect us to become?/ What do we indigenous people want from our country?/ We are waiting for the construction of our museum.” (119-120) What an image to picture. Through experience, Alexie states that those shoes, like other American Indian “junk,” will be taken by the whites (or bought based on luck) to be placed in a museum where they will charge Indians to walk inside and experience the culture they were forced to abandon by those same white folks. Alexie utilizes despair to express survival.

Finally, after adapting to relocation and white settlement, Indians fell prey to alcoholism and diabetes. Alexie begins with his father’s generation, then moves onto his own generation. “Drunk like that, I/ imagined myself as/ you, drunk like that/ and carried the same/ small ambition: I/ only wanted to live/ one day longer than you.” (39) Alexie places himself in his father’s shoes and still wishes for the same exact thing, “to live one day longer than you.” As a son, Alexie is hoping to differ from his father and not drink. As his father, Alexie hopes to live long enough to be able to watch himself grow up. Alcoholism is so strong among American Indians, it could be considered a disease, one that plagues the Indians as much as diabetes does, if not more. “Having learned sugar kills me/ piece by piece, I have to eat/ with more sense/ than taste.” (44) Unfortunately, sugar is put in everything, making survival that much more painful.

Although, Alexie suggests a reasonable (yet improbable) solution to all the problems Indians face.
“I want some Indian to finally learn/ to dance the Ghost Dance right/ so that all of the salmon and buffalo return/ and the white men are sent back home/ to wake up in their favorite European cities.” (138)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Old Shirts & New Skins

“Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?” –Disney’s film, Pocahontas

It is well known that Sherman Alexie wrote poetry pivoting around the characters from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, but the fact that Sherman Alexie makes references to other verses in older books of poetry is underappreciated. I have found some quotes from Old Shirts & New Skins that refer to poems from The Business of Fancydancing, both the book and the film, as well as First Indian on the Moon. Alexie also references the poet James Wright, which was surprising to me at first, but once I reread Wright’s poem, I understood the message. The quotes I have chosen are related to the importance of skin color, and how it feels to have that skin color.
Being two colors mixed together in one body is tough when they are opposing colors. Neither culture will accept you because of a stupid number, the fraction that represents the color they abhor. “Then, I cut my skin into sixteen equal pieces, keep thirteen buried in/ my backyard and feed the other three to the dogs…Now, in the dark of the house near Benjamin Lake, I hear digging, the/ slow moan of earth changing, the silence of something taken, cold wind/ rushing in to fill the empty spaces.” (6) The boy in the story is 13/16 Indian and 3/16 white. He feeds his white parts to the dogs because he wants to be accepted by Indians. Therefore, he rejects the white pieces like “white trash.” Unfortunately, someone steals his Indian pieces during the night. It is described in a melancholy way with, “the silence of something taken, cold wind/ rushing in to fill the empty spaces,” but I think the theft is a happy occasion. Now the boy belongs to no man, and can be himself. I understood the metaphor behind the sixteen pieces because of the quote from “13/16” in The Business of Fancydancing, page 16. “I cut myself into sixteen equal pieces/ keep thirteen and feed the other three/ to the dogs, who have also grown/ tired of U.S. Commodities…father (full blood) + mother (5/8) = son (13/16).” Alexie explains reservation mathematics in “13/16” and describes how hard it is to be poor.
Just as Alexie has led us into the rejection of a color, he also tries to question why colors can’t exist in harmony. “memories of the old/ days/ when an Indian basketball player could be Jesus.” (9) Jesus is being referred to in two different ways. Because Jesus’s ethnicity can be called into question, Alexie suggests that Jesus could be a red skin. Also, because Jesus is a savior, Alexie states that an Indian basketball player is the reservation savior, which is true. Alexie constantly writes about how Indians on porches drinking beer will see the res M.V.P. and hope that they’re good enough to make it outside of the res. Alexie also wants to blend Jesus into other things, such as the example from the film The Business of Fancydancing. Seymour says, “If only Jesus could be a red man and a white man intertwined.” Jesus represents harmony and peace, as well as perfection, so the underlying message must be coexist.
Alexie then explains where the Indian originated from. “I acknowledge you, black man/ who first loved the curve/ of the buffalo./ I acknowledge you, buffalo woman/ who stood still and loved/ the black man back./ And I give thanks. …/And I sing alone.” (46) I understood this quote to be appreciative of the Indian race because of the strong yet horrifying line from “Collect Calls” in First Indian on the Moon, page 72. “Indians are living proof that nigger fuck buffalo.” Alexie compares Indians to the offspring of black men and buffalo because Indians are segregated and discriminated like the black man, but are compared to savage animals such as the buffalo. The buffalo is a fitting animal to describe the Indians for many reasons. Buffalo were the Indians main food source, and they followed it across America. For this reason, the government permitted the massacre of great numbers of buffalo hoping it would kill the Indians, just as they massacred the Indians themselves. Also, when Alexie thanks the black man and buffalo woman, he “sings alone.” None of the Indians are proud of who they are and why they were the ones to survive.
Finally, Alexie makes one more reference that is stranger than the others. Alexie compares Indian basketball players to the football players of Martin’s Ferry Ohio. “‘suicidally beautiful.’ Jesus/ my father said. I played ball like that.” (67) The Indian basketball players are “suicidally beautiful” because of the aggressive way they play ball. In “Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio,” a poem by James Wright, the football players are described the same way. “Therefore,/ Their sons grow suicidally beautiful/ At the beginning of October,/ And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.” (lines 9-12) The boys on both teams seem to share the same experience in high school; the boys peak at eighteen. The boys from Ohio are sons of industrial workers whose only time to be popular and attended to is in high school. Then, they will become just like their fathers with blue-collar jobs. The Indian boys are sons of diabetic and alcoholic red men who will only be admired at practice and games, before they drink their lives away.
Alexie sure depresses his readers with colors. The feelings associated with heritage are too strong to ignore, and can only be compared to hopelessness and desperation. If Alexie weren’t so funny, I wouldn’t be able to handle my own tears very well.
red and white...two dangerous colors to mix.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Indian Identity

I found the main theme in the film The Business of Fancydancing was discovering and confronting what it means to be an American Indian as well as an individual. I also found an article online that perfectly described each character’s struggle with their identity. Rob Blackwelder writes about the juxtapositions in Seymour, Aristotle, and Agnes’s character.
Seymour Polatkin is one of the most complicated characters I have ever read about. As Blackwelder puts it, Seymour is “a minority within a minority” because he is a gay American Indian. Seymour tries to escape his heritage by leaving the reservation immediately after high school, getting a college education, and becoming famous through poetry. The only problem is, his poetry causes frustration among his childhood friends on the res. “The film identifies with the mixed feelings of those people Seymour abandoned in his resolute determination to shake off the shackles of his ancestry while capitalizing on it at the same time.” Seymour exploits what he tries to deny, his heritage.
Seymour also struggles with identifying himself as a gay man, not because of the concept of two men dating, but because of the men he dates. “I’ve slept with one Indian woman, 112 white boys, two black men, and zero Indian men.” Seymour’s current boyfriend is the opposite of everything his reservation friends would approve of. For this reason, Seymour believes he doesn’t belong at the funeral on the res, but his friends reject his presence at the funeral for a different reason.
Aristotle and the others are angry with Seymour because of the stories he stole from them. Seymour publishes events that he didn’t experience and writes about a place he won’t even visit but originates from. Aristotle calls Seymour a “little public relations warrior” who “puts on little beads and feathers for all these white people.” Agnes is the only friend that defends Seymour. “He’s out there telling everybody we’re still here.” She also chastises him for being cocky about his fame. “These Indians you write about are giving you help every damn day!” Aristotle and Agnes also fight with their identity. Aristotle has fallen prey to the Indian stereotypes of alcoholism and bitterness while Agnes battles with her Native American blood and her Jewish upbringing. They both feel the irony in their lives and are perfect examples to prove to Seymour that he is not the only suffering Indian. “[Seymour] masks his social unease with a conspicuous sense of superiority when it comes time to face the old friends whose lives he’s often usurped for his poetry.” Throughout all of the struggles Seymour, Aristotle, and Agnes confront, they realize one thing – they can’t change who they are.
The Business of Faqncydancing is a beautiful film that Blackwelder describes exceptionally well as “a highly personal meditation on the choices we make that define our identity…” The scenery was magnificent and the actors were superb in portraying the conflicts of the identity-confused characters. “None of these performances shies away from character flaws and all of them are heartfelt, honest, unaffected, and uniquely human.” I couldn’t agree more with Rob Blackwelder.
The article by Rob Blackwelder – “Gay American Indian poet’s identity, integrity at issue in extraordinary ‘The Business of Fancydancing.’”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Here's to the Big Dogs with Turtles for Feet!

First Indian on the Moon
Once again, Sherman Alexie addresses the stereotypes associated with Indians. Before reading another one of Alexie’s collection of poetry, I wondered if he made allusions to animals. I wanted to concentrate specifically on the horse, curious to see if he would reference them more often than Crazy Horse. He didn’t allude to horses more than Crazy Horse, but he did allude to them frequently.
Because one of the biggest stereotypes among Indians is that they all come from tribes of great horsemen, I didn’t find it surprising that the animal Alexie referred to the most was a horse. So, even though the horses in Alexie’s poems are figurative, he gives us a real visual of a horse that feeds the stereotype, yet proves a point at the same time. “If you put your ear really close to a buzzing beer sign hanging in the window of the Powwow Tavern, you can hear horses thundering, you can hear rifles, you can hear a cavalry sword leaving its scabbard.” (39) Sherman Alexie refers to real horses in the past during the Western expansion of the U.S. To me, his reference suggests that Indians drink because of the past, and no matter how much they drink, the past will never die. I  imagine a man so wasted he is puking outside of a tavern, not hearing a word his girlfriend is yelling at him, but hallucinating that the buzzing noise from the neon sign is screaming bloodshed and thundering hooves.

I found this video of horses to listen to the pounding of hooves.
                Horses are also alluded to through sight. More specifically and ironically, it is in the reflection of an Indian man. “The faces I see in my mirror look the same: U.S. Government glasses, fractured nose, braids like wild ponies, eyes like mine and his and his and yours.” (50) Another irony is the simile between combed braids and wild horse hair. Wild horse hair is matted and full of knots while braids are smooth, organized, and hang in place.
These pictures show hair side by side.

Maybe the Indian man had messy hair that he forced into a braid to deceive onlookers into thinking he has pulled himself together when he is actually falling apart. Horses reappear as a visual in Alexie’s next allusion. “I would close my eyes and dream of something strong, dream of horses exploding, rising into the air, their hearts beating survive, survive, survive.” (51) This quote is linked with the last because Alexie has established Indians are like horses. In my opinion, Alexie is comparing exploding horses to Indians to describe the feeling of survival. What happens to a creature that has been destroyed but can still feel the remains of a beating heart? To me, this spells depression that will continue to be bred into further generations of Native Americans.
                Horses are not only representations of Indians, but are a creation of Indians as well. “Believe me, the Indian men are rising from the alleys and doorways, rising from self-hatred and self-pity, rising up on horses of their own making.” (108) All of the struggles, hardships, and racism Indians have faced can be escaped on imaginary horses they are building. This connection to the past is evident through the fact that the Indians escaped and avoided the first cowboys on horseback, but this time Indians are running away from a different enemy, themselves; which can be the scariest experience one can go through. They create something beautiful from something horrifying.
I typed "something horrible into something beautiful" and found this ironically, with horses in it.

                Finally, and regrettably, the last allusion to horses I found confused me because its implied uselessness is overwhelming. “…give him a blind horse/ who isn’t afraid of trees/ give him a car without breaks or a steering wheel/ give him a ticket to the symphony and tell him all the flutes are snakes…Baby, come make me promises, tell me/ you’ll love me as long as/ the winds blow/ the grasses grow/ the rivers flow.” (87) Even though promises of love are lies, the man is asking for them anyway. A promise of love is like a blind horse unafraid of trees. Again I see a horse personified as an Indian. Alexie’s character is in love with a paradoxical girl, a horse who doesn’t shudder at foreign objects.
                Alexie addresses a stereotype to make a point: horses are beautiful, powerful, and timid creatures that can represent a beautiful, powerful, and timid nation of people, Native Americans. I am reminded of the story I was told about how Indians first discovered horses. A flood was fast approaching, and would have wiped out many tribes. The chiefs all gathered to pray for safe passage to a mountain. The heavens sent them horses, or as they called them, big dogs with turtles strapped to their feet. The horses were able to carry every man, woman, and child to safety while hauling their food, shelter, and tools. Ever since, the horse has been remembered as a blessing. This is how I view the American Indians. Their heritage has been a blessing to learn and appreciate during my academic career.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The White Supremacy Order

Would you like a side of guilt with that order?
My personal experience with Native American literature can be described with one word, adoration. I believe Native American literature is funny, entertaining, and extremely informational. Unfortunately, because the literature is so informative, it brings up issues from the past. History cannot be escaped. People have tried to rewrite history, but the truth has a way of resurfacing.
I was completely aware of the racism and hostility shown towards the Indians, even though history books record a loss with the Indians as a massacre and a victory with the Indians a battle. I have come to know what happened, accept that it has happened, and realize that it is still affecting their race. My reaction to their literature is of course guilt because I am a white descendent, and feel personally responsible for things that I have no control over. I come from both sides; I am German and Native American, and I have always wished growing up that I were more Native American than white because the Indian in me can be represented with a tiny fraction. Because my white heritage dominates my blood, I feel this sense of guilt overwhelming the pride I should feel for American Indian literature. It is hard to come from a heritage that has displayed immoral behavior and dishonorable actions. Sometimes we can forget that even though where we come from as a people is important, who we are as a person is more important.
So, it is an established fact that while reading Native American literature as a white American, guilt is a natural response. What I don’t think is a “natural response” is the responses I have come across when people are dealing with white guilt. I was completely baffled by what these critics have to say about American Indian literature.
Some people shut down all at once, or reject Native American literature. “I can’t believe this. I don’t want to read this. This isn’t even literature.” Well, what qualifies literature to become part of the Canon? Why is it important enough to be studied by scholars? People approach these questions from a biased angle. American Indian literature cannot be held to the standards of Western literature. In Western literature, the stories are put on paper to be read in a romantic way. Choosing the right word is a crucial factor in Western literature because the goal is to state something in two different ways or insinuate something else in a witty way. When love is compared to a rose, the writer is insinuating that love is beautiful, fragile, short-lived, etc. In Native American literature, the stories are put on paper just so the world has documentation of a version of a moral that used to be told. It is difficult to read something that is meant to be spoken. American Indians expressed their stories orally and were specific to certain types of audiences. The classic trickster tale of how Possum lost his hairy tail is aimed toward teaching modesty and discouraging boastfulness.
Still, others react to Native American literature in an exponentially negative way. “This is bullshit. This is disgusting. I don’t have to read this because I don’t owe it to anybody to participate in this nonsense. This literature contains racism all right, racism against whites.” Obviously, American Indian literature is diversity intensive, not because of its crude humor, but because it is different from what we are used to reading. People claim that reading jokes about private parts, bodily functions, and profanities is insulting. This can be proved to be quite the opposite. Not only can this type of humor be found in Italian and African literature, but Western literature as well. Exhibit A: THE MOST WIDELY READ BOOK IN AMERICA AS WELL AS ACROSS THE GLOBE – the Holy Bible. The Bible is a beautiful piece of literature that is studied by Christians and atheists alike because of its astounding stories. It is an ancient text full of poems and morals that anyone can learn from. Although the Bible is very beautiful, its contents are far from a PG rating. Where did we coin the term “sodomized?” From a story in the Bible at Sodom and Gomorra where full grown men were raping other men. If that story doesn’t make you puke, the story of two daughters who manage to get their father wasted on wine so that he would have sexual relations with them because they believed the human race would end with them will make you vomit. These stories and more are contained within the pages of the Bible, yet it is one of the most esteemed books of all time.
It is natural to feel guilt while reading Native American literature. No, this generation of whites is not responsible for Wounded Knee, broken treaties, or reservations, but we owe it to us to learn what happened because this generation can be responsible for positive outcomes. We should thirst for more knowledge of the past instead of denying it or pushing it away.
“Knowing is half the battle.” –G.I. Joe
This expression is stupid but true. At least if we are educated diversely and open-minded, we empower ourselves with the ability to change and learn from our mistakes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Business of Fancydancing

When I started reading The Business of Fancydancing, I expected racism, alcohol abuse, even the feeling of emptyness, but nothing could have possibly prepared me for the degree to which Indians are poor.
"'Hey, Dad, we ain't got any food left.' 'What's in your hand?' 'Just two slices of bread.' 'Well, you can have a jam sandwhich, enit?'" (13)
At first I imagined what a sandwhich would taste like with only jam in the middle...disgusting. What a lazy way of making toast, or half of a pb&j.
"'What's that?' 'You just take two slices of bread and jam them together.' Willie laughed loudest and looked back at me." (13)
I laughed too. I laughed so hard that my eyes started to water, and I could barely read the next sentence.
"'You can have a wish sandwhich, too,' Willie said. "All the time you're eating, you wish there was something in your sandwhich.'" (13)
Then, the water rolling down my cheeks formed real tears; I cried at the first page. Even though the story is fictional, I know that the situation is real. I remembered the photographs that Reel Injun presented of reservation Indians without food, hot water, or a home.
They all look so hopeless, just waiting for something to come along that is different from what they know, better from what they know.
"Then, the blue van shuddered, the headlights went dim, out, and the van stopped dark in the endless night. 'What the hell is it?' 'Out of gas.' 'Shit, we're going to have to push it home.'... I turned back to the van, put my shoulder to the cold metal and waited for something to change." (15)
Again I felt hopelessness. I can't give the boy a proper sandwhich or start the "res car."

"I cut myself into sixteen equal pieces/ keep thirteen and feed the other three/ to the dogs, who have also grown/ tired of U.S. Commodities,..." (16)
Sherman Alexie always confounds me when he says something two ways in one sentence. He directly insinuates that Indians can only afford groceries through the government, but he suggests the method of payment is through the fractions of race in your blood. If his father is a full-blood Indian (8/8) and his mother is 5/8 Indian, he is left with 13/16 Indian blood. (8/8 + 5/8 = 13/16) To feed the dogs, the boy must feed them his white blood, the only blood worth money. Then he will be a full-blooded dirt poor Indian.
"I know all the mothers of America have told their kids: 'Clean up your plate. There are people starving in India.' When I was young, living on the reservation, eating potatoes everyday of my life, my mother would tell me to 'clean up your plate or your sister will get it.'" (18)
I grew up learning about starvation in third world countries. My mother used to tell me, "Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in Africa."

I never imagined starvation could be possible in America, and I wondered: How could they go on? Through fierce penny-pinching?
"I wept/ dimes into quarters and made a living/ on the corners." (32)
Yes, they survived on chump change and by cutting corners, or sacrificing common luxuries we take for granted everyday, but Alexie states another method of surviving. Through love, people can bare suffering because misery loves company.
"We raised our arms to the wind, silently/ my mouth was surrounded with words/ I could never speak/ alone. We had come together/ to call this space arched in our backs home." (33)
I honestly wondered if Alexie had experienced this sense of loss and comfort with a woman. The poem is dedicated to Kari. Who is Kari? I can't find anything on her.
"No one ever had no job/ but we could always eat/ commodity cheese and beef/ and Mom sold her quilts/ for fifty bucks each to whites/ driving in from Spokane/ to buy illegal fireworks." (35)
I laughed so hard after reading this because I know for a fact that my mother and I would pay 100 dollars for a gen-u-ine American Indian quilt. It would feel like being wrapped in a museum! I am curious as to whether Indians recieve more that just commodity cans from the government, more specifically, i wonder if they recieve health benefits.
"He smiles at his own joke. He has Indian teeth." (81)
What do Indian teeth look like?

I really hope this is not what Alexie had in mind.

Either way, Sherman Alexie once again made me laugh, made me cry, and made me want to watch his movies.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Hate John Wayne

Reel Injuns
The stereotypes associated with Native Americans in film and the irony that arises from those stereotypes.
A Good Indian is a Dead Indian: The Stereotypes
The movie Indians are always portrayed as free spirited people with a deep connection to nature in a religious sense. All the Indians come from a tribe of great hunters and horsemen. All Indians live in teepees and wear feathers, headbands, and human body parts. Finally, and most importantly, all Indians can be found in the deserts of the southwest, crawling over every rock in war makeup and skimpy loin cloths. Of course, all of these stereotypes were made up by white men or taken from a short encounter with someone who thought they were an Indian.
Before Indians were forced to live on reservations, there weren’t any fences that separated them from any land, and there weren’t any white people suppressing their religion. Before colonization, Indians were free spirited and connected to nature in a deep way, but not in such extreme ways shown in film. Not all Indians smoked pipes to have visions of their spirit animal and to rename themselves. Although, Indians were nomadic, and they roamed and hunted all over America before they were corralled into unwanted lands and forced to accept Christianity. This drastic change ceased all hunting as well as fishing. Not all Native Americans tribes were strictly hunters. Most Indians gathered food as well as hunted or fished. Not all Native Americans are great horsemen either. Only the Crow tribe exhibits a deep passion for horses. To them, a horse is a member of the family. At the burial of a horse, the Crow people will cry. They rode their horses everywhere and back, from the mountains to their homes, which weren’t always teepees. Indians dwelled in huts or lean-tos made of natural animal hide or tree wood. Their clothes were also made of animal hide, and never human skin, hair, teeth, or fingers. All of the apparel Indians wore in the movies was introduced by white men. Headdresses of feathers were used to distinguish cowboys from Indians in fight scenes, and headbands were worn by actors to hold on their wigs. The cowboys spread these concepts across the entire United States, and not just the southwest. Fact: not all Indians are from the deserts of the southwest. Indians originated from plains and mountains more often that deserts!
Iron Eyes Cody = Ironized Cody: The Irony
Crazy Horse, one of the greatest and most famous warriors in Native American history, will soon be honored with a colossal statue etched into the side of a mountain. The only issue with this monument is that an actual photograph of Crazy Horse doesn’t exist. All experts who have studied Crazy Horse agree that all pictures taken of “Crazy Horse” are phony because Crazy Horse never allowed himself to be photographed. He believed that his image was not as important as his actions or the legacy he left. The carved statue can only be a representation of a great Native American.
At least the Crazy Horse monument will be a more accurate representation of an Indian than the white men in the movies. Because the white men in the film business didn’t trust Indians, they spray painted white people and gave them black braided wigs. The way they walked, spoke, and behaved was completely inaccurate. The only thing the director captured on tape was a white man pretending to understand how a red man carries himself.
The most infamous of these white man/red man fakers was Iron Eyes Cody. He was an Italian man who repressed his identity because of the hatred of immigrants. To be accepted by society, Iron Eyes Cody played a Native American on film. Everyone immediately accepted him as the role he played, and Cody further convinced himself that he really was an Indian. He married a Native American woman and adopted two Indian boys. By this time, Iron Eyes Cody had completely rejected his heritage and believed that he was Native American. To his dying day he tried to persuade the public of his false background. I honestly can’t blame him. The Indians are like the energizer bunny; whatever happens, they keep on going to the steady drum beats of a pink rabbit. Besides, I’m completely convinced that all white people believe they are related to an Indian princess…“Pocahontas herself!”