A Yellow Raft in Blue Water - Mixed Blood
When we read books, especially when we're young, we're especially alert for things to recognize, clues to help us place ourselves in a confusing and daunting universe in which gender, age, economics, and identity itself are muddled by too much information, too many possibilities. We are externally ordered by one constellation in our immediate household, another in our social or school setting, many others on television. Where do we fit? What is the community of "us" to which we comfortably and securely and enduringly belong?
Such questions, I've always imagined, must be easier for some people to answer than they have been for me. ...view middle of the document...
Around the house, among my relatives, I was simply me. In the outside world, I had to make the case.
Blah-blah-blah. My late father was Indian by way of and to varying degrees via both his parents, who themselves were also descended back through history from an occasional English or French ancestor. My mother is a union of rural Kentucky lace-curtain Irish and Indiana Swiss. My parents met and fell in love during World War II when my father was in the army and stationed at Fort Knox, and for a long set of complicated reasons, some of them ethnic-related, they had to go to California to get married. I had, as a result, a lot of relatives who were darker than I was, and a few who were lighter, and I could account for each feature of my being through reference to a different and color-coordinated gene pool. Some of my kinfolk were Roman Catholic, some weren't. None were rich, a few barely middle class, but the majority of whatever hue were poor. I felt, one way or another, at one time or another, equally comfortable or uncomfortable living on a reservation, in a city, on a farm--and because of my immediate family's economic situation, I seemed to stay in no place long enough to fully blend in. Satisfied?
All this palaver usually made me anxious, then bored, then angry. It was so much preamble, a kind of endless Japanese etiquette ceremony that preceded real encounter, a repetitious ritual that, more than anything else, ultimately inspired me, during my teens, to either say an instant "yes, you're right" to the first guess a perfect stranger might throw out as to who or what I "really" was, or to stay home. Sometimes it still does.
And what did I do at home, with no resident siblings and often living too far out of town to walk to a friend's house? I read. Everything. I read my grandfather's slim volumes of Victorian poetry, my mother's Good Housekeeping magazines, the Hardy Boys mysteries, old National Geographics. I read cookbooks, newspapers, the ads in the back of Popular Mechanics, and hundreds of comic books. I read about the lives of the saints, the betrayals of Osceola and Crazy Horse, the adventures of A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur's Court. And much as I enjoyed and learned from it all, hard as I looked without truly realizing what I was looking for, I never, not once, found myself.
Everybody I encountered in literature simply was unequivocally who they were--even the Green Lantern, depending on necessity, was either kelly green or picket-fence white, never a nice pastel. Nobody, unless one counted The Prince and the Pauper--who after all knew the hidden truth of their clear situation all along--ever just wasn't. Where were my role models? Where was Helen, Half-Breed Hunkpapa of Houston, or Murray, the Mixed-Blood Maverick, leaping conflicting ethnicities in a single, effortless bound? Look, up in the sky! It's both a bird and a plane! It's Super-Combo!
The absence of fictional or biographical...