Sherman Alexie proves that cultural assimilation is not worth it.
Picture Credit: Marco Lopes from Pixabay
Introduction: Sherman Alexie, a Native American storyteller and writer, is known for his culturally impactful writings that represent the struggles of the Native American existence in a white supremacist structure. Though his career has been recently tainted with the stain of scandal, it doesn't take away from the lessons to be learned in his writings. One well-known example is his short story "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona."
Cultural Assimilation Seems Necessary for Survival
In Sherman Alexie's story of cultural struggles, we meet the protagonist named Victor. Victor is a conflicted man, torn between two worlds: (1) the world experienced through his tribal upbringing as a Native American; and (2) the world outside of his tribal home influenced by American white supremacy. He ultimately chooses the second world and accepts its demands - that he assimilate in order to survive. He succeeds at fulfilling the demands of assimilation, but it comes with a loss. He loses his unique identity, his connection with the cultural heritage that made him who he was.
Cultural Assimilation Ultimately Proves to be Detrimental
The lost of identity ultimately proves to be traumatic for Victor. His trauma is demonstrated to the reader as we learn that he has lost a valuable friendship through his assimilation. Specifically, he is no longer close with his childhood best friend named Thomas. In addition, Thomas' refusal to assimilate has alienated his from people like Victor, but he appears to be the most at peace with himself.
Alexie's Story Helps Us Visualize the Impact of Cultural Assimilation
In the end, Sherman Alexie has crafted a powerful story, one that offers understanding and identity to people of color who constantly deal with the demand for assimilation, as well as the consequences of meeting that demand. This is a story that successfully portrays the tension of embracing your culture versus diminishing it to find acceptance in a dominant culture. This is not a story that offers a pretty solution or ending to a real-world battle. Instead, it presents the harsh reality that many people experience.
Ultimately, the question to be asked of readers and writers is simple: how can we amplify the power of words to voice the struggles of marginalized people?