The Color Yellow in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony

The color yellow comes up quite a bit in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, a novel about a Laguna Pueblo World War II veteran, Tayo, who suffers PTSD not only from fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific but also from his squalid upbringing as an indigenous person growing up in early-1900s America.

The color’s meaning and symbolism evolve as the plot unfolds. When Tayo’s uncle-in-law, Robert, leaves him alone in Gallup, New Mexico, with Betonie the medicine man, “he stared at the dry yellow grass by the old man’s feet. The sun’s heat was draining his strength away…” (Silko 109).

The diction in this passage evokes, at once, a sense of dying, caution, and sickness.

Take the “dry yellow grass” (109), for example. My mind immediately goes to unwatered and withered dying front lawns that are a common sight around here in Western Washington during the summertime. And that’s here in the rainy Pacific Northwest. Imagine if we were in the middle of a six-year drought.

Furthermore, the “sun’s heat… draining [Tayo’s] strength” (109), though not a visual image like the yellow grass, indirectly hints at extreme brightness, which can cause some people to feel sick and nauseous (think heat exhaustion).

I also think it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that the heat and brightness gave Tayo flashbacks to his childhood, when police raided their shelters in “The summer heat” (103) and forced him to hide “in the tamarics, breathing hard… smelling shit on his bare feet” (103).

The stench in the “grove of tamaric and willow” (103), where the natives relieved themselves, also evokes the yellow color of urine and shit without directly painting the picture (think a nasty gas station restroom, only outdoors).

Finally, just as a yellow traffic light serves to warn drivers of an impending red light, Tayo’s noticing of the yellow grass “by the old man’s feet” (109), combined with the blinding hot sun, seems to do the same in the passage. Tayo feels an urge to run away, but at the same time feels betrayed and hopeless that his own family would leave him with this weird old man.

Later on in the novel, the color yellow begins to take on a more neutral (possibly even positive) connotation, when Tayo begins to warm up to Betonie.

Things which don’t shift and grow are dead things

Leslie Marmon Silko

The medicine man reassures Tayo of the ever-changing nature of the ceremonies, telling him “when the people were given these ceremonies, the changing began, if only in the aging of the yellow gourd rattle or the shrinking of the skin around the eagle claw, if only the different voices from generation to generation, singing the chants. You see, in many ways, the ceremonies have always been changing” (116).

In this passage Betonie not only attempts to alleviate Tayo’s doubts about his unorthodox method of performing ceremonies—which scares the natives—but also serves to help Tayo accept his otherness, being a “half-breed” in the eyes of his people.

The ceremonies, as well as the people themselves, must change and evolve in order to survive in this new world. As Betonie explains to Tayo: “things which don’t shift and grow are dead things” (116).

Later, as they sit by a fire, Tayo finishes his mutton ribs and throws “the bones to a skinny yellow dog that came out from behind the hogan” (118).

Silko uses the yellow dog to symbolize what Tayo used to be—an abandoned, homeless boy wandering down alleys, looking for scraps of food and finding and chewing on the “soft bone cartilage of pork ribs” (104), after the police raids.

The passage also calls back to and pays off the foreshadowing of the abandoned “bundle of bloody rags” (102) brought by the mother into the “pale yellow hills” (102) and buried “in the yellow sand” (102).

The “bundle of bloody rags” (102) most likely contained an aborted “half-breed,” and Tayo, being a “half-breed” himself, recognized it could have easily been him buried in the yellow sand, thus his negative psychological association with the color yellow.

If this were truly the case, I can’t help but feel some admiration towards his mother, despite her horrible life choices and negligence as a mother. Which mother would you side with in this particular case—the mother who chooses abortion, or Tayo’s, who gives him life, albeit a terrible one?

If you haven’t read the novel and enjoy Native American literature (or are just looking for a good read), I highly recommend this book.

Featured Image by Mike Goad from Pixabay

The Good Die Young

I was friends with a boy, beginning in kindergarten until his death in fourth grade. On our very first day of school, we kissed each other on the lips after another kid dared us to.

He had the bushiest eyebrows of any kid I’d ever seen in my life, and a little cavity on one of his canines (I can’t recall which one). Somehow, I just knew that we would be best friends that first time we met.

As we moved from K through 4th, we gradually became closer, though we rarely saw each other outside of school. The Christian academy we attended didn’t have a cafeteria. It didn’t even serve lunch, so everyone had to bring their own.

My mom always packed me an egg or a bologna sandwich, like most of the other kids. Sometimes, when she didn’t have time to make me lunch, my dad would buy me a burger and drop it off at the school office for me.

My friend, on the other hand, would come to school with fried rabbitfish or some savory chicken dish in a huge Tupperware and perfume the entire classroom with his lunch. His food often turned off a lot of the other kids, especially the foreign students, but I always joined him, and we’d share our lunches.

I remember that morning, the day after he died. I was walking towards my classmates, gathered in front of our classroom, and I knew immediately that something was off. Everyone was quiet and some of my friends were hugging each other and crying.

My teacher was also among them, crying too, which was weird because she’d usually come into the classroom after everyone was seated. Before I reached them, an older cousin of mine, attending the high school academy, came over and told me what had happened.

I remember feeling confused at first, before turning angry and slamming my backpack into a wall.

The day before, we had gone to the local college where my dad worked, to research our science project at the library. After that we walked to our classmate’s house and played video games before returning to school, just as the sun was beginning to set, and wrestling at the kickball field.

The next morning, he was dead.

It took me a long time to revisit those memories. Even longer to come to terms with my friend’s death. So long, in fact, that I was a grown-ass man when I finally did, and I cried like a baby that day.

After that, I jumped on the internet and googled everything I could think of to find a picture of him. I think I might have started the search sometime around 6 PM and kept at it till well after midnight.

Finally, after wracking my memory all night for anything that might turn up results, I found a video on YouTube. He looked exactly how I remembered him! After watching the video maybe a dozen times, I paused it at the perfect angle and took a screenshot of my deceased best friend.

It was weird watching him moving around and breathing and smiling, especially since the last time I’d seen him, he was lying in a casket.

Sometimes I wonder what he would look like if he were alive today. Would we still be friends? Would he be married and have kids of his own? Maybe our kids would be the same age and be best friends like we used to be.

So many questions come to mind whenever I think about him.

Was I the way I was in elementary and high school—distant, cold, and untrusting of people—because death had taken away my very first real friend? Except for my wife, I don’t think I’ve ever really had a best friend since he died.

This year my daughter entered the fourth grade. She’s the same age as I was when my he died. When I told her about him, her reaction was probably the most authentic reaction I’ve ever gotten whenever I’ve shared this story.

She didn’t pretend to know how I felt or tell me how sorry she was. She just asked me a bunch of questions with a dumbfounded look on her face.

Then she told me she would be “kinda” sad but also “totally” mad if her best friend died and left her. Nothing like a child’s opinion to put things into perspective, huh? I think the fourth grade me would “totally” agree with my daughter. He just didn’t have anyone to answer his questions truthfully.

Some folks might hear a story like this and think, “Poor kid. Never got to grow up.” Or say, “Too bad he never got to reach his full potential.” I used to feel that way, too.

But now whenever life gets hard, I feel like those who died young, they’re the blessed ones. They never got the chance to grow up, so life never got the chance to grind them down.

My friend didn’t have to stress out about trivial things like being late for class or missing curfew. He never had to deal with his first girlfriend breaking his heart or go on living after his mom dies.

He never had to dread turning 30 and feeling like he hadn’t done anything with his life.

Here’s the screenshot of my friend, forever young. Check out those bushy eyebrows lol. Miss you bro!

Image courtesy of Sha Merirei

Is Home a Place or a Feeling?

Though I think it could be both, for me personally, home has gotta be a place. When I think about home, I think about lush, green limestone islands, clean, white sandy beaches, and a lazy, laid-back atmosphere that’s conducive for lounging the day away.

Palau is home. It’s where I experienced many important “firsts” in my life. Things like my birth (though I don’t remember it happening, which is a blessing when you think about it), my childhood, my adolescence, my entering into adulthood. And with each stage came memories of happy times and heartbreak.

In that way, home is a place.

Having said that, all those memories, which have remained with me everywhere I’ve gone since, do evoke strong feelings of home within me. They’re like little mementos, locked away somewhere deep in my mind, that I sort of neglect.

But every once in a while, something happens, jolting me awake and causing a memory to come rushing to the forefront.

In fact, a couple weeks ago, on my way downtown to see a realtor about an office space, Greenday’s “American Idiot” came filtering through the car speakers from a random playlist on Soundcloud. I was suddenly back in Palau, a teenager all over again, free of adult responsibilities and stresses.

From behind the safety of my ride, I rocked out like it was 2004. Folks who might’ve seen me, from the street and the passing cars, must’ve thought I was a total idiot. But it didn’t really matter though, because for those 3 or 4 minutes, I was back home, in Palau.

I love how music can do that—momentarily transport us to a specific time and place, in an instant. Next to writing, it’s most definitely one of my favorite pastimes.

I remember another time, at an aisle in Walgreens, with my wife. She was buying herself underarm deodorant, seemingly going through every single one of them, uncapping and sniffing each and asking for my opinion.

Honestly, I was bored out of my mind. If memory serves, I think I might’ve told her liked all of them, hoping she’d choose one and we could get out of there.

Then she handed me a cherry blossom-scented Secret.

All it took was one whiff and memories of my first girlfriend, both sad and happy ones (but mostly happy), flooded my brain. It had been a long time since I’d thought about her, but that warm feeling of home, of Palau, came alive within me at that moment.

I kinda feel guilty about this last part, but I really wanted my wife to buy it and tried my best to convince her to. I’m not exactly sure why I did, but I did.

Could be that the smell made me feel homesick, and I thought that if my wife wore it around me, it would be as if I’m back home all the time. Maybe. In the end she decided on some other brand whose name I’ve since forgotten.

Upon further reflection, I guess I was wrong in my first assessment that home is more a place than a feeling.

Perhaps, home is a feeling, associated with a place, where important events in our lives happen.

I think of it like the proverbial “white room syndrome” in writing, where characters exist in a vacuum.

We all need a setting to ground our experiences. Some of my fondest memories here in the U.S. have been at loved ones houses, and even Airbnbs, just as those in Palau happened at parties and my ex’s place.

I wonder, whenever I finally do return back “home” to Palau, will I recall my time here in the U.S. and get those warm homey feelings? I think I will, honestly.

This place is, after all, where many important events in my life—raising a family, learning invaluable lessons, discovering my passion for writing, and many more to come—have (and will have) occurred when it’s all said and done.

Featured image by Peter R. Binter

New Writing Space for a New Writing Project

I rented an office space in downtown Tacoma, for the entire month of June, so I can finally have some incentive to get up bright and early, make the commute, and sit my butt down in a chair and finally get to work on my first novel.

I figured, “Hey, if you don’t wanna watch $450 of your own money go down the drain, you better utilize that office space, dude!” So that’s what I signed myself up for this summer. That and Environmental Science 160.

I’m the type of person who hates deadlines. I’m also the type who needs them in order to get anything done—an expert procrastinator, one might call me. I prefer the term “Clutch.” I like to think this attitude comes from my athletic background (I was a basketball and tennis star in high school, sorry not sorry about the humble brag).

But now I’m beginning to think that I’m just a plain ole’ lazybutt. Yeah, I really think that’s it.

Here’s why I think that. My office lease began on the 1st. I didn’t move in until today. There are 30 days in June, and I paid $450 for the month. I didn’t use the space for the first 2 days of the month, and though I’ve been here for more than half of the day today, it’s mostly spent moving stuff in and chatting with Dom, the hippy dude at the front desk.

Considering I’m paying for the office space specifically to write my novel, and I’ve barely even begun it, that means I’m out $45. Not good.

It’s not all bad, though, I think. The lost 3 days have created a sense of urgency in me. Scare me into action, one could call it.

After finally getting moved in, getting connected to the wifi, and taking some pictures of the setup for my wife, I sat down to read the assigned chapter for my ANTH 204 class.

So, there’s this guy called Otzi the Iceman, who was murdered 5,300 years ago, on a mountaintop somewhere in the Alps. He died from a flint arrow to the back. Some archaeologists believe he had been in a fight 3 days earlier and was on the run. His body (including tattoos), clothing, copper ax, and other gear were preserved relatively well because he was covered by glacial ice.

Fascinating stuff.

Anyway, I found myself wondering if Otzi had had a wife, maybe kids, too. Maybe he was on his way back home to them when he was murdered. He probably didn’t expect to die when he did. No one ever does, unless they choose to do it themselves.

He was only about 40. From what we know, there’s no written word back in Otzi’s time. We only know his story because he was 10,000 feet above sea level, and a freakin glacier just happened to be his final resting place.

It’s 9:57 P.M. right now, and I’m still at the office. I’m happy to report that I’m 348 words into the first draft of my first novel. I was gonna wait until tomorrow morning before starting it, but what if I died on the way and never began the one thing I’ve been working toward since summer of last year?

No way I was taking that chance. Anyway, it’s getting hella late. I really gotta go before my wife begins to think I’ve been murdered and left in a ditch somewhere in downtown Tacoma.

Featured Image by Лариса Мозговая from Pixabay 

What Makes a Good Life?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately, and so many things have come to mind about what makes a good life. Of course, I wanna be financially secure, be able to know I have a home to come back to every night, have family and friends that I can turn to, and be healthy enough to enjoy all these blessings.

As I write this post, I honestly feel like I already have all those things in my life right now. On the one hand, I wanna be selfless and just be grateful to be so blessed. But on the other, there’s a part of me that wants to be selfish and reach for something more, to have the ability to not only hold on to the blessings I already have but attract even more into my life.

Like a squirrel stocking up for winter, I want to have replacements (I guess is the word), just in case I fall on hard times financially, or lose a couple of loved ones to death or betrayal or whatever it is that causes relationships to fall apart.

So, after a whole week of ruminating on this question, two things have emerged in the forefront of my mind as possible answers to what makes a good life. The first is self-discipline; the second is time.

I believe these two go hand in hand, and, at least in my case, whenever one has complemented the other in my life, those periods have always been productive and deeply satisfying. I think the best way to explain what I mean is with an example from my own life.

For a couple of years, from late 2016 to early 2019, I was hopelessly dependent on marijuana. My marijuana use began innocently enough, actually helping me to overcome some self-destructive tendencies I’d developed after leaving the army.

Not surprisingly, people around me began noticing positive changes in my behavior. And for the first time in a while, I felt like I had some control over my life. It felt like I had shed my old skin and emerged a different person with a brand-new, optimistic outlook on life.

But as marijuana took on a more central role in my identity, my tolerance to its positive effects began increasing. Gradually, it became harder to focus on my responsibilities as the marijuana haze enveloped every waking moment of my life. It got to the point where I was paying top dollar for buds in the high 30% THC range and smoking through my entire stash in a matter of days.

I knew I was addicted (whether to THC or dopamine, I don’t know) when my entire day would be shit unless I was high. Basically, I had to be high to be around people—even my own loved ones—or I would be irritable and unsociable the whole time.

That was the endless game I became stuck in, always chasing the next high, most of my time spent either getting high with friends and wasting the day away, or half-assedly taking classes that I didn’t even care about.

I was like a banana leaf swaying in the wind, waiting for things to happen to me and not going anywhere. I stood still as life passed me by.

Today I look back on that not-too-distant past as a stepping stone to where I’m at now. But it’s hard not to wonder how much farther along I would be if I’d had enough self-discipline to regulate my marijuana use.

Regret is a very strong word that I hate using, but if there’s one thing I would’ve done differently in those days, I would’ve started journaling. It would be fascinating to know all of the thoughts going through my head while I was caught in the throes of marijuana dependency.

I did write a few poems that give a glimpse into my mindset. Most of them were quite dark and still conjure up a part of my shadow self whenever I reread them.

NEW BABYLON

Exiled in Babylon
wading through bile within the beast
Where the daily grind takes a toll
on the body and the Mind

Where strangers walk the grounds
Where danger’s all around
Competition’s the name of the game
for me to win, someone’s got to lose

Where love is hard to come by
Where true friends are hard to find
Where i live, always wary, always weary
In a Babylon State of Mind.

I guess my point is that we all need self-discipline to even begin to discover what our true passion is. There are so many options in today’s world that it’s hard to choose just one discipline for our self (pun intended lol).

Once that’s established, we need to set a waypoint, a goal we wanna reach, and that same self-discipline is needed to keep us from deviating from the path. We can’t fool ourselves into thinking that this path is gonna be an easy one. To make it through the hard times, it’s gonna take a lot more of that self-discipline (sorry, that’s the last time I’ll use that word in this post).

And finally, we only have a limited amount of time on this Earth to reach our goals. It doesn’t matter how much passion we have, or how great our plan is, when death comes-a-knocking, all our goals might as well be ice cubes under a hot summer sun. 

Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

The Racist Anti-Asian President Who Locked Kids in Concentration Camps

Mary Matsuda Gruenewald was only sixteen when the government forced her family to leave their home and be interned into a concentration camp. She was only one of tens of thousands of children legally living in America (many of them citizens) who had to endure this treatment because of the decision of a sitting U.S. President.

Almost two years ago today, I wrote an essay about the horrible treatment of Japanese people at the hands of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration. For my research, I read a couple of autobiographies about internment experiences, but one really resonated with me — Looking Like the Enemy by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald.

The book really changed my perspective about the not-too-distant history of the region I currently reside in with my family, and U.S. history as a whole. I often wonder how I, as a husband and a father, would react if put into a similar situation as the author’s own father.

With the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S., I hope my sharing of this essay can, in some small way, contribute to the resolution of this more recent, unjustified xenophobic period of history.

The following is the first half of the essay:

On December 7, 1941 the United States of America was thrust into World War II (WWII) after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A wave of anti-Japanese sentiment would travel across the Pacific and wash over the entire country, causing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) to enact an infamous executive order that targeted and violated the rights of many Japanese in America, citizen and non-citizen alike. 
The signing of Executive Order 9066 (EO 9066) mandated that every person on the West Coast with Japanese ancestry must be “evacuated” into concentration camps. As a result, about one-hundred and twenty thousand of them would end up prisoners without due process simply because of their race. Many of them were hardworking, productive members of society who were just as horrified by the Pearl Harbor attack as other American citizens.
FDR’s executive order was not the first government legislation to target Japanese in America. Even before America’s entry into World War II, Japanese Americans, not unlike the earlier Chinese immigrants to America, were excluded from becoming citizens by biased immigration laws and prohibited from land ownership because of targeted anti-alien land laws.[1] 
An example of such a law was the Immigration Act of 1924, which targeted the growing population of the Japanese by banning any further immigration. “Ironically, the [earlier] exclusion of Chinese immigrants … prompted [the] recruiting [of] Japanese immigrants,” into the U.S. to work as laborers.[2] 
Other examples were the 1913 and 1920 Alien Land Law. These laws meant that because first-generation Japanese immigrants couldn’t become citizens, they “weren’t allowed to own property.”[3] FDR expressed support for these “exclusion and alien land laws … based on [the] supposedly innate and incompatible racial characteristics” of the Japanese.[4] This made it very difficult for the Issei – first generation Japanese immigrants – to settle down and build their lives in America.
In 1931, the U.S. government conducted a study to assess the “loyalty of … [those] living on the West Coast and Hawaii.” The results of the study, which were kept from the public until well after WWII, found “no Japanese problem.” In fact, the Japanese had an “extraordinary degree of loyalty.” Despite these findings, FDR remained suspicious of the activity of Japanese American citizens in Hawaii. 
In a secret memorandum in 1936, FDR asked his Joint Planning Committee "to make contingency plans for ‘the Japanese population’ of all the islands,” as well as placing identified suspects on a special list for those who would be placed in concentration camps “in the event of trouble.”[5] He would later authorize “further surveillance … on the West Coast Japanese population, but not on resident German and Italian populations.”[6]
Furthermore, a 1939 memo issued by FDR “gave ‘sweeping authority’ to … and directed three [intelligence] agencies to coordinate their work and exchange information” on matters of domestic security. Two of the three intelligence agencies, the Office of Navy Intelligence (ONI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), would go on to oppose the mass exclusion of Japanese Americans on the West Coast. 
Kenneth Riggle, an officer in the ONI who investigated the Japanese American community before the war, concluded that they “did not pose a security risk … and oppose[d] their mass removal and incarceration.”[7] The FBI director at the time, J. Edgar Hoover also expressed his opposition to the exclusion, contradicting “Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox[’s] statement about fifth column work in Hawai’i [following] the attack on Pearl Harbor.[8] Ultimately, FDR was not swayed by both men’s positions and moved forward with the mass exclusion by signing EO9066.
With the stroke of a pen, every single Japanese on the West Coast would be in violation of the law if they refused to be interned. This meant that Japanese American families had mere days to plan for the care of their property before internment. 
Many families that couldn’t make such arrangements were forced, “in the midst of the crisis,” to sell their property for pennies on the dollar in what amounted to “highway robbery!”[9] Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, a former internee, posits in her autobiography that the “war provided the excuse for removing the Japanese … to eliminate competition and … take over whatever gains the Japanese had made.”[10] 
This harkens back to the 1885 Chinese expulsion of Tacoma when white residents bought Chinese property for bargain prices, and in some cases, taking them over forcibly before removing them from the city. An important distinction between the two events being was that the number of Chinese forced out of Tacoma numbered in the hundreds compared to over a hundred thousand Japanese who were forcibly evacuated from their homes and properties. FDR may have not been physically present for the Japanese evacuations as Mayor Weisbach had been  for the Tacoma expulsion, but with his signature, he might as well have been.
It is hard to quantify how much of an effect the earlier exclusion movements had on the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII. However, we do know that FDR held racist views regarding the Japanese. 
According to historian Greg Robinson, FDR’s “history of anti-Japanese prejudice and racialized thinking led to a carelessness in judging information … and a malign indifference to the rights of Japanese Americans in the face of political pressure for their exclusion.”[11] 
Emily Anderson proposes that “the exclusion movement … and the legislation they helped pass … ultimately cultivated an environment in the West Coast states where the systemic scapegoating of Japanese Americans … and their ultimate removal from [their] homes, businesses, and communities, could seem acceptable.” She also argues that “the exclusion movement is a critical aspect of pre-World War II history that paved the way for the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.”[12] 
In her autobiography, Looking Like the Enemy, Gruenewald gives us a glimpse into her emotional turmoil at the time of her incarceration. She writes:
We had lost our right to be in the privacy of our own home, the right to come and go as we pleased, the right to voice our opinions openly without the fear of retaliation, the right to be involved in creative activities of our choosing. I was loyal to the country that guaranteed these rights – and that country no longer existed for me. The sudden loss of these rights forced me to realize that this whole mass movement against the Japanese in America was the culmination of more than a half-century of anti-Asian prejudice. And no one, not even the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, would defend us.[13]

[1] Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 3-4

[2] Emily Anderson. “Anti-Japanese exclusion movement,” Densho Encyclopedia

[3] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 98

[4] Brian Niiya. “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Densho Encyclopedia

[5] Greg Robinson, “FDR Hawaii Memo,” Densho Encyclopedia

[6] Niiya, “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Densho Encyclopedia

[7] Niiya, “Kenneth Riggle,” Densho Encyclopedia

[8] Niiya, “J. Edgar Hoover,” Densho Encyclopedia

[9] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 91.

[10] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 92.

[12] Anderson, “Anti-Japanese exclusion movement,” Densho Encyclopedia

[13] Gruenewald, “Looking Like the Enemy,” 125.

[11] Niiya, “Franklin D. Roosevelt,” Densho Encyclopedia


Featured Image courtesy of the National Archives