Cultural Identity In America Literature Reader II english 235 Prof. Jesse Schwartz

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Eighth Grade

Atthe farm town junior high, in the boys’ bathroom, I could hear voices from thegirls’ bathroom, nervous whispers of anorexia and bulimia. I could hear thewhite girls’ forced vomiting, a sound so familiar and natural to me after yearsof listening to my father’s hangovers.

“Giveme your lunch if you’re just going to throw it up,” I said to one of thosegirls once.

Isat back and watched them grow skinny from self pity.


Back on the reservation, mymother stood in line to get us commodities. We carried them home, happy to havefood, and opened the canned beef that even the dogs wouldn’t eat.

Butwe ate it day after day and grew skinny from self pity.


There is more than one way tostarve.


Ninth Grade

Atthe farm town high school dance, after a basketball game in an overheated gymwhere I had scored twenty-seven points and pulled down thirteen rebounds, Ipassed out during a slow song.

Asmy white friends revived me and prepared to take me to the emergency room wheredoctors would later diagnose my diabetes, the Chicano teacher ran up to us.

“Hey,”he said. “What’s that boy been drinking? I know all about these Indian kids.They start drinking real young.”


Sharing dark skin doesn’t necessarilymake two men brothers.


Tenth Grade

            I passed the written test easily and nearly flunkedthe driving, but still received my Washington State driver’s license on the same day that Wally Jimkilled himself by driving his car into a pine tree.

            No traces of alcohol in his blood, good job, wife and twokids.

“Why’dhe do it?” asked a white Washington State trooper.

            All the Indians shrugged their shoulders, looked down atthe ground.

            “Don’t know,” we all said, but when we look in themirror, see the history of our tribe in our eyes, taste failure in the tapwater, and shake with old tears, we understand completely.

            Believe me, everything looks like a noose if you stare atit long enough.


Eleventh Grade

            Last night I missed two free throws which would have wonthe game against the best team in the state. The farm town high school I playedfor is nicknamed the “Indians,” and I’m probably the only actual Indian ever toplay for a team with such a mascot.

            This morning I pick up the sports page and read theheadline: INDIANS LOSE AGAIN.

            Go ahead and tell me none of this is supposed to hurt mevery much.


Twelfth Grade

            I walk down the aisle, valedictorian of this farm townhigh school, and my cap doesn’t fit because I’ve grown my hair longer than it’sever been. Later, I stand as the school-board chairman recites my awards and accomplishments, and scholarships.

            I try to remain stoic for the photographers as I looktoward the future.


Back home on the reservation, my former classmates graduate: a few can’t read, one or two are just given attendance diplomas, most look forward to the parties, The bright students are shaken, frightened, because they don’t know what comes next.

They smile for the photographer as they look back toward tradition. The tribal newspaper runs my photograph and the photograph of my former classmates side by side.


 Postscript: Class Reunion

            Victor said, “Why should we organize a reservation highschool reunion? My graduating class has a reunion every weekend at the Powwow Tavern.”

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