Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sand Creek

I just finished reading a collection of poems by Simon Ortiz titled "Sand Creek." I've read quite a bit of Native American poetry, but this collection felt the most relevant to me and to the Chamorro experience. There are some ways that the Native American experience in all its variations connects to those of Chamorros. The ecological spirituality can be nice, but also feels very abstract and very disconnected from the present at times. The family ties and closeness to the land carries the same beautiful, but sometimes abstract weight. The centuries and layer of oppression and injustice also hit home, so do contemporary feelings of loss and cultural erosion. What made the difference in Simon Ortiz's volume was the scattered mentions of militarism and its role in Native American culture today. Military service has married itself to Chamorro culture over the past century, but the same can be said for different tribes across the US. From marganilized, infantilized and feminized positions within US colonial society, Chamorros and Native Americans signed up for the military in order to reclaim a feeling of power and masculinity. They also did so in hopes of improving their lives economically, getting opportunities they felt were impossible otherwise. Both communities generally celebrate the positives. After all from mess attendants, to cavalry scouts, to Navajo Codetalkers to nowadays generals and admirals, it is pretty exciting to think how from such tortured and despicable and violent histories native peoples have accomplished so much. But these narratives do so much damage as well. They gloss over historical marginalization and also deny contemporary forms of it. They create false feelings of inclusion, for example, for Chamorros, the fact that they serve in the military so much, and wear the uniform and "fight for freedom" does little to nothing to solve the colonial status of their islands. 

Below is one of the poems:


Busted Boy

By Simon J. Ortiz
He couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old,
likely even fifteen. Skinny black teenager, loose sweater.
When I got on Bus #6 at Prince and 1st Avenue,
he got on too and took a seat across from me.
A kid I didn’t notice too much because two older guys,
street pros reeking with wine, started talking to me.
They were going to California, get their welfare checks,
then come back to Arizona in time for food stamps.

When the bus pulled into Ronstadt Transit Center,
the kid was the last to get off the bus right behind me.
I started to cross the street to wait for Bus #8
when two burly men, one in a neat leather jacket
and the other in a sweat shirt, both cool yet stern,
smoothly grabbed the kid and backed him against
a streetlight pole and quickly cuffed him to the pole.

Plastic handcuffs. Practiced manner. Efficiently done.
Along with another Indian, I watch what’s happening.
Nobody seems to notice or they don’t really want to see.
Everything is quiet and normal, nothing’s disturbed.
The other Indian and I exchange glances, nod, turn away.
Busted boy. Busted Indians. Busted lives. Busted again.

I look around for the street guys going to California.
But they’re already gone, headed for the railroad tracks.
I’m new in Tucson but I’m not a stranger to this scene.
Waiting for the bus, I don’t look around for plainclothes.
I know they’re there, in this America, waiting. There; here.
Waiting for busted boys, busted Indians, busted lives.
Simon Ortiz, “Busted Boy” from Out There Somewhere. Copyright © 2002 by Simon Ortiz

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