If you asked a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, "are you peanut butter?" What would it answer?

1

I was in Kindergarten, only five years old. Indians were only in story books. At Thanksgiving we had a party with the other Kindergarten room. Both rooms made popcorn. One room got to be the Indians. For craft that day they made construction paper head bands with construction paper feathers. The other room were Pilgrims. During craft they made black construction paper hats with white buckles for the boys and white hats for the girls. I wanted to be an Indian and make a head band. I thought the white hats looked dumb. It was deeper though. My room as it turned out were the Pilgrims, but it was all right, I just thought it would be neat to be an Indian.

My sister and I had a baby sitter for when mom and dad went out. One day the babysitter decided that she wanted to give us her old barbie dolls. They were kept nice. I didn't think Barbie dolls in general were very pretty and I didn't like the name Barbie, but I played with them a lot. I liked to take them outside in the summer and play with them in the trees. I pretended they lived there. I found places they could sit where they would be comfortable and could see a long way. I liked the dolls because their arms and legs moved. I had one doll who even had wrists that moved. I had seen her advertised on T.V. with a "Skipper gym." She was a gymnast, that's why all her joints moved. I saved up from my allowance the nine dollars to buy it. But then it was my birthday and my parents bought it for me. She could sit in any tree and hang on to the branches.

When our babysitter brought over her dolls, she let my sister and I decide how we wanted to divide them up. There were two or three dolls who looked pretty ordinary. Then there was this one doll. She was beautiful. She had brown skin and long black straight hair. Her features looked younger,she looked maybe twelve years old. I had never seen a doll quite like this before; The only Indian dolls I'd ever seen were made out of cheap plastic and had gaudy felt glued on them. I wanted this doll because she was pretty, but her knees didn't bend. It would have been hard to sit her in a tree, so I let my sister have her.

Later though, I changed my mind. I wanted to trade with my sister for the brown doll. My older sister knew how much Iwanted her and she would not trade. She would not trade for any other doll than my skipper doll, the gymnast who could move her wrists and head. I didn't like the looks of the skipper, she had blond short hair tied into two funny puffs on the sides of her head. So I agreed to trade. At first my mom would not let me trade because my sister was cheating me, but I said,"she is not, I know what I'm doing, I want the brown doll more than the skipper doll, so I'll trade."

We were adults when my sister came to me holding the skipper doll. She handed it to me and said,"here, this is yours . . . I knew I was asking too much for the Indian doll, but I knew how much you wanted it and that I could get anything I wanted for it."

"I still don't want to trade back," I said.

"I know," she said,"you can keep both."

2

We read two poems in class. At first I did not know that the author was Cherokee. I made a comment about the first poem that it reminded me of what had happened to the Cherokee. From history I knew about the trail of tears, and my mom just finished,Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I didn't know that my great grandfather was Cherokee/Creek until I was in college. Even in elementary school though, I felt a strong, dull ache when these stories would be taught. I suppose a Biologist would say it's mysticism that I felt this way: There isn't anything in DNA that records "a few drops Indian blood."

"Ridiculous!" I also said to myself as my eyes began to fill with tears hearing the second poem read. I hoped I would not have to read any of it out loud. Maybe, I thought, I could just say "I can't" and graciously leave the room.

3

"You're Indian, aren't you?"

I'd only been in Ojibwe class for a few weeks, and was feeling quite at home. It was the first quarter I'd had any real contact with Indians on the campus. "What?" I thought to myself,"can't she see my skin, it's white." I almost convinced myself. "Well," I said, "that's not an easy question." I began to give the statistics. "My great grandpa was Cherokee/Creek, but he signed all the legal papers that he was white. So, not really, but . . . "

4

Leslie Silko wrote several stories about the mixing of cultures and races. She touches on some conflicts resulting from differences in cultures, but it's not her main emphasis. Instead her writing acts as a sort of bridge between people, by establishing common ground.

"In 1918 Franz Boaz,ethnologist and linguist" (Silko 254) is a story within a story. Silko writes about a story her grandfather told to an ethnologist and linguist who was collecting texts from the Laguna. The larger story is about her greatgrandfather who was a white man. She outlines the fact that there were problems resulting from his and his brother's intermarriage with Laguna women. But the emphasis is on the smaller story which in a sense reconciles him at least to her, even if not to the rest of the community.

Silko interprets the smaller story herself at the end of her discussion of her grandfather. The story is about a coyote who is so affected by the ridicule of others that she lets her pups die. Silko interprets,"Maybe he (grandfather) chose that particular story to tell Parsons because for him at Laguna that was the one thing he had to remember: No matter what is said to you by anyone you must take care of those most dear to you" (Silko 256). The "moral" of the story is neither Indian or White, it is both: It is universal. Also, "those most dear" in this story are from two different cultures and races.

Another story, although uniquely Indian in style, is about crossing boundaries. "He was a small child" (Silko 207) can be interpreted in many ways. Some interpret the plot literally, they believe that it is about a boy who actually began to transform into a bear, and was brought back by Indian medicine. This interpretation usually concludes that,"he wasn't quite the same after that",(Silko 209) means he is left with some special spiritual connection with the bears, whose medicine can help the people. He became a messenger, or go-between of sorts connecting with the spiritual realm.

I'd like to interpret it in a more general way. When Silko uses this story in Ceremony, she seems to be making a parallel between the Tayo's reentry into the human world, and Tayo's reentry into the Indian way of life. She seems to emphasize the fragile web (Silko Ceremony 35) between two different worlds, and how they have to be crossed carefully. She also leaves an image of the boy as someone with an ability to reach both worlds. He is different to both worlds, he is not quite the same as either the bears or the people, because neither of them have known each other like he has known both. Yet, he is not left in a hopeless state. I see Tayo as someone who by the end of the story, is able to see the world in a bigger way than those who did not experience, or did not come back either mentally or physically from the war.

I have another example of applied interpretation. When anyone is raised in two worlds, whether they're of mixed blood or are raised in an atmosphere of mixed nationalities, they seem to 1) feel different 2) be on a somewhat different plane because they see a bigger world 3) have special opportunity to bring understanding across the fragile web of cultural differences.

1. Understand that woman!
nisidotaw a'aw ikwe
2. Sometimes she doesn't know if she is Indian or White.
a'aw dash wiin, mii gaawiin ogiizhendanziin jianishinaabe wigwen maazhaa gaye jiwaabishkiiwegwen.
3. She is both. She cannot be all one and none of the other.
mii naazhiwid, gaawiin eta bezhigosiin.
4. Maybe God made her to be that way to be a messenger between the two cultures.
i'iw dash ikwe ogiiozhi'igon (the Creator, I will not translate) jiizhiwebizid i'iw keyaa jiminoanokiitawaad iniw (the Creator).

Works Cited


Nancy Vogt,
nancyv@citilink.com, September 1994.