There are many people from different countries with different cultures who want to live the American Dream. They want the idea of freedom and they feel that United States is the only country in the world who can give the people the liberty it offers. The life of a person whom no one speaks with because of one’s difference can be quite miserable. The story “This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie shows the audience how different the life of Native Americans are compared to modern day Americans.
Throughout the story, details about events that happened in Victor and Thomas’s life which combines the Indian and American side of their heritage were given. Alexie was trying to tell the readers how the Indians in the reservations want to hybridize their Native American and modern American culture. Since Thomas and Victor both grew up in the reservation, they see a big difference their lives are compared to the modern day Americans. The first detail that illustrates my thesis was the Fourth of July celebration when Victor and Thomas were kids.
Thomas states, “It’s strange how us Indians celebrate the Fourth of July. It ain’t like it was our independence everybody was fighting for” (16). Alexie displays how Indians try to act more Americanized in order to fit in better with the modern American crowd. Back then, no one besides their own might have spoken to them because they were different so they want to be accepted. For example, the event when they were in the airport and had talked to the gymnast, Victor says, “Everybody talks to everybody on airplanes.
It’s too bad we can’t always be that way” (19). Alexie sends the readers a message of how in their minds, the only way that they were going to be liked was by forgetting their Native American culture and acting more like the modern Americans. Another factor the author provides the audience of this hybridization was through the remains of Victor’s father. Alexie writes, “They set him down carefully behind the seats, put a cowboy hat on the wooden box and a Dodgers cap on the cardboard box. That’s the way it was supposed to be” (20).
The cowboy hat displays the Indian side of their heritage and the Dodgers cap conveys the American side. In this situation, Alexie provides a clear view of how the characters combine their two different cultures. It is not the fact that they are forgetting the beliefs they grew up with; they blend the two cultures together to better their lives in both nation. Next was the Spokane falls incident with Thomas and Victor’s father. Thomas utters, “He drove me over to Denny’s, bought me dinner, and then drove me home to the reservation” (20). Denny’s is an American fast food restaurant.
The way Alexie combines the fact that they eat at a modern American restaurant and then goes home to the reservation once again shows the mixture of the two customs. In addition to the modern American cultures, Alexie also shows how Victor and Thomas hold on to their Native American heritage. When Thomas and Victor were kids, they had stolen a car and parked it in front of the police station. Now in the modern days, if a kid was to do this, it would be a crime and the kid would be punished. Yet the turn out for this was the exact opposite. Instead of being scolded, everyone cheers “You were very brave. Very brave” (17).
They even thought of themselves as warriors. Moreover, the fact that they still call each other junior also shows a way they keep their tradition alive as Native Americans. Nowadays, people do not often call each other with respect. They just call a person by their name no matter the age. The Native Americans, on the other hand, gives the people who are older a term that shows respect. Thomas states, “Everybody on this reservation is named Junior” (17). Victor and Thomas were two of the youngest people that live in the reservations therefore everyone to them are called Junior. It is a symbol for elderly.
Alexie uses Victor and Thomas Builds-the-fire as the representation of these two cultures. Thomas is the person who sticks to the old fashioned, Native American values while Victor illustrates the modern day Americans and wanting to fit in. Thomas is more traditional. He demonstrates the old Native American beliefs. Victor, on the other hand, lives in the present. Both holds on to their Native American beliefs while also trying to grasp the modern American traditions. Alexie clearly represented the hardships the Native Americans have had living in the poor reservations by using details about Thomas and Victor’s life growing up.
Being judged at by the way a person is or what culture they came from is a big reason why Victor and Thomas, but mostly Victor, try to act more like the modern day Americans. Although some traditions were forgotten as they grew up, in many ways, they still held on to the fact that they are still Native Americans. Some events in their life displays Victor and Thomas turning away from their culture but still is able to remember it. No matter where a person is or who they communicate with, a culture one grew up with can never be easily forgotten.