Successful Assimilation?

Successful Assimilation?

A Story by M J Moore

A rambling of words as I take an introspective look inside.


       I look at myself in the mirror. I know that what I see there isn’t the same person that shows up on camera. Believe it or not, I’m actually prettier in my own eyes than I am in reality. Though that is not to say I find myself attractive. Just…less repulsive.

         I look at myself and am at a loss. I’m a mixture of features that I don’t think fit themselves together particularly well. Small eyes, though when I put makeup on they do appear larger. A blunt nose. Straight hair. In a black and white photo I am a picture of an American Indian. The right features. Maybe not the nose. I blame a Dutch ancestry for that. But the cheek bones, the eyes, so many non-white features on a white girl just doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t fit. Because those small eyes that should be brown are instead blue. And not sky-blue that you hear about in country songs. Or even a deep dark blue, but a greenish blue that is nondescript unless you’re looking into them with focus. Like everything else about me, even my eyes fall into a background.

            And then I move on to the hair. Mostly straight, flaccidly straight, except right around my ears those pesky baby hairs, as my mom used to call them, curl, making a pony tail never look quite groomed on me. Most days I love my hair because it is so low maintenance. But it’s not blonde, not red, not brunette. A weird hybrid of colors that lets it simply be described as a mousey color, dishwater blonde, I’ve heard it been called. I resent my light hair. I see dark haired people every day and wish I had it. I look at my mom, with her rich chocolate hair with a touch of red in it in the right light, and am I am remarkably jealous.

         But beyond my light eyes and hair, I resent most is the color of my skin. I read about women hating the color of their skin because of its dark, rich color. Most of these stories from African American women, Latinas, Asian American women, gypsies, left outside the white world because their skin was too dark. I feel on the margin for the lightness of it. Even my white father had naturally tanned skin. Though mine is not a redhead’s white and freckled complexion, it is not dark enough. I could spend the rest of my life outside, and I still don’t think my skin would be dark enough to make me love it.

        I look in the mirror, look at my surroundings at a Top 25 University, a conservative university, no less, with my non-liberal major in Economics, and I think ruefully that I am merely the product of successful assimilation.

        I wonder what my great-grandmother would say. I know she would be proud in the way that all grandmothers are proud of their grandchildren’s success. But… would the Indian be proud? Would the Indians of my past, those very people whose voices are passed down generationally to form my collective memory of a past full of oppression, heartache and struggle, like who I am?Or would I not be totally accepted there either, but rather disgraced, rejected for becoming like them.

        I do not know. I can read Sherman Alexie and be moved. I can admire Crazy Horse and admire that he never let himself be photographed. I can look at a picture of another Indian and know it is Tatanka Iyotanka and never think Sitting Bull.

        But I cannot look at myself in the mirror and know who I am. Am I white, with only part of myself being Indian. Or am I an Indian who learned from birth how to pass in the white world? Some say you simply are whatever you choose to be. If you feel you are white, then you are. I am resentful every time there is a survey asking what race I am. I can remember being young in school and the teacher filling out those surveys, and saying “three Hispanics, two African Americans, fifteen white” and knowing that that was not right. But when I raised my hand to say I was not white, I was promptly dismissed as being “white regardless.”

          I have never answered “white” to one of those surveys since. I usually bubble in both, whether I am supposed to or not. My race and/or ethnicity cannot be summed up in a bubble on a scantron.

            Either way, whatever I mark, doesn’t answer the question in my eyes when I look in the mirror. This mixing of features makes me unique, perhaps, but I do not think in the best of ways. Bulky and odd, small, almost slanting eyes mixed with a bulbous nose, skin too light, hair not dark enough… but it’s not white enough either. I pass to the point that no one would question my ancestry, my being white. But that’s not good enough. I want to be question. I hate to be assumed anything.

            I wonder if when my great-relatives were sent to assimilation schools, even as the mid-1930s, they knew or expected that their progeny would be so remarkably white, so un-Indian. I wonder if I am the product of success—these wild savages were taught to be white and go to a white school and breed with them to beyond recognition for what they once were, or if I am the product of failure—failure to remember the old ways, the tongue, the way of life before and after the journey from Nebraska to Oklahoma, the name meaning “red land” as a practical joke.

            Maybe my wanting to be an Indian is success. I still fight being white, rather than embrace it for what it brings. I still go to powwows, even if I’m too embarrassed of myself to dance. Maybe wanting it hard enough is to be it.

            What makes an Indian? Is it growing up on the rez? Is it attending powwows and eating fry bread? Is it the long, black hair in two braids down the sides, red skin, and moccasins on one’s feet? Or is it simply a passion, a love, for what each characteristic means, and means to oneself?

            I do not know the answers to any of these questions. I simply think to myself as a look in the mirror, a sad, sad smile on my pink thin lips, what a success you are.


© 2009 M J Moore

Author's Note

M J Moore
I'm not sure what I'm doing with this, so much as I think it's just catharsis. Though any comments on it are welcome.

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you know what i see when i look at you Melissajo. i love you, i see perfection. i see the brains i've always wanted to have, i see hair that i envy, i see eyes that remind me of the ocean in all her infanite mystery. I see you melissa, not some collection of genetics, not one ethnicity or another, i know who you are, i know what you are made up of. i know that if one woman could effortlessly rule the world it would be you. So loose this crisis of identity, you aren't your breeding, you are whatever you aspire to BE. you are greatness, in the very begining of it's blossoming. So why can't you see it too?

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Added on March 10, 2009
Last Updated on March 11, 2009


M J Moore
M J Moore

College Station, TX

I want to be different some days. Some days I'm perfectly happy and content being me. I think in third person. I don't like to cry. Only 2 people can make me cry. I tend to strike out when I'm sad o.. more..