Why is it so easy to explain the flaws of others while being blind to your own shameful actions? Growing up, history books adequately explain racist Nazi Germany or the gruesome colonization of the Congo by Belgium; however, the mistreatment of American Indians by the American government and society is rarely discussed. Throughout American history, the American Indians who originally occupied the land we call our own, have been disgustingly marginalized through the implementation of programs that eliminate American Indian culture or that force tribes out of their land. In 2013, PBS released a short documentary film called “Worlds Apart” which walks through the life of Rose Vasquez and the hardships she faces as she bridges the gap between her life on the reservation and her life at college. Within Sherman Alexie’s collection of short stories called The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Alexie exposes many of the everyday struggles of the American Indian people especially in the chapters “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore” and “Indian education.”
Throughout the chapter “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore,” Adrian and Victor sit on a porch watching the lives of others flash bye in a continual cycle of depression and alcoholism. On this reservation, the people place their hope in a boy named Julius who was a basketball superstar; however, due to the influences of alcohol and the lack of motivation, he drifts into history. Similarly, Rose Vasquez in “Worlds Apart,” discusses the temptations to merely fall into the cycle of her ancestors whom have no major life accomplishments. In order to counter the cycle of past generations, Rose “wanted to move off of reservation for opportunities that [she] didn’t see others going for” by pursuing a college degree. Even today, it is difficult for people on American Indian reservations to break the cycle of poverty and alcoholism due to a deep desire to preserve their culture which is a reason that many have no aspiration to leave the reservation in search of other opportunities.
Within “Indian Education” in Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven, Victor gives insight into his education which consists of being educated off of the reservation in a white majority school. Being educated out of the reservations causes many different struggles between the identify and acceptance of Victor which is similar to the struggles of Rose Vasquez. Even though Victor becomes valedictorian of his class, “back home on the reservation, [his] former classmates graduate: a few can’t read, one or two are just given attendance diplomas, most look forward to the parties (179).” This quote demonstrates how the surrounding culture impacts motivation of the children; however, Rose claims “growing up without culture is the same as growing up without identity, we need it.” The only reason that the people on the reservations are able to survive surrounded by the current American culture that encourages material success and fame, is their dependence on each other and their unique culture. Even though many people on reservations may fall into the cycle of alcoholism and poverty, everyone relies on each other for survival. Because Rose is engulfed by two contrasting cultures, one of the American dream, and one of Indian cultural preservation, “every day is a struggle to bridge the gap of two worlds.” For many American Indians that venture beyond the confines of the reservations, it becomes very difficult for them to balance their innate identity with the identity that the American society forces down their throat.
Us Americans have wronged the American Indian culture by not admitting to the hardships we have caused in the past and present; however, in order to create a society of inclusiveness of all differences, it is necessary for us to recognize our faults and strive to promote and support cultural diversity.