Home > Free Essays > Literature > American Literature > “When My Brother Was an Aztec” Poems by Natalie Diaz

“When My Brother Was an Aztec” Poems by Natalie Diaz Essay

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Aug 25th, 2020

When My Brother Was an Aztec is a collection of poems by Natalie Diaz, an author of Native American background. Diaz raises multiple subjects in the collection as it is full of versatile poems (Petracca par. 1). However, the most common and visible theme is the issue of the native American identity and the difficulties these people had to face on their way of struggling to take over a place in the white-dominated American society (Petracca par. 2). The title of the collection expresses the poet’s bitterness and anger concerning the fact that her brother gave it to substance abuse and quickly degenerated as a person.

Diaz used her unique gift to speak about the problems, express her rage and frustration, draw the verbal pictures of her past that would explain to the audiences of versatile backgrounds how impossible it was for her and the other Native Americans to stay focused and confident in the society that did everything to diminish their identity and culture. The specific poem selected for this analysis is called Hand-Me-Down Halloween; the poem presents a description of a Halloween evening when the author (a little girl back then) broke down from constant bullying and attacked a white boy.

The title of the poem is Hand-Me-Down Halloween, which provides an instant idea of something cheap and used. The author tells a story of a particular situation that occurred when she got to celebrate Halloween outside of the reservation for the first time. Living close to multiple white families, Natalie and her brother were bullied by the white children. The feature that was attacked the most was their identity. Diaz mentions that when she was a child, being Native American meant being associated with poverty, limitations, and deprivation of opportunities; therefore, she experienced an ongoing aggressive disrespect coming from the white people. Diaz informs that the clothes and toys that these families provided were not an act of generosity or kindness.

On the contrary, the Native American children were mocked for wearing used clothes: “white / Jeremiah told all his / white / friends that I was wearing his old costume/ A hand-me-down? / (Diaz 13-15). The toys and clothes white children gave away were still perceived by them as their property. All in all, the settings in which Diaz and her brother had to live looked harsh and extremely violent. Not to be constant victims, the Native American children had to fight their attackers. Due to this reason, Natalie attacked the son of her white neighbors, the boy who “generously” provided the Native American girl with the “Indian” Halloween costume. Diaz writes, “I was a / fake / Indian” (10). Natalie was wearing a costume if portraying some kind of mythological creature. This situation angered the girl, and that is why she hit the boy several times unable to hold back her frustration.

The image I would like to use to illustrate the poem and to expand on its meaning is called “The Three Lakota Boys”.

The Three Lakota Boys

This image dates back to 1900, many decades before the story told by Diaz took place. This was the time when one of the most popular mottos in the United States was “Kill an Indian, save a man”, a quote by the US Army captain Richard Pratt (Reyhner par. 13). Back at the beginning of the 20th century, the schools for Native Americans were obliged to take before and after photographs of their students to emphasize the difference and show how education managed to “civilize” these children. This theme of social disregard and disrespect towards Native Americans and aggressive attempts to force them to assimilate to the culture of the white citizens is the main focus of Diaz’s Hand-Me-Down Halloween.

The main difference is that in the poem, Natalie fights the bully while the children from the photograph are forced to submit to the dominant part of the society and embrace their practices and rules regardless how alien they may seem to the Native Americans. Obviously, it was impossible to magically turn all the minorities into the white people, and that is why the powerful white communities focused on limiting the rights of the other populations in order to leave them no choice but to start to adhere to the dominant beliefs and behaviors.

Interestingly, looking through the series of similar photographs of the Native American students taken at the beginning of the 20th century, one would notice that even though the “before” pictures portray the same people as the “after” pictures, the skin tone of the children differs significantly. The pictures taken before the children began their classes portray them in their native costumes, some have head dresses on, loose pants, robes, and long hair. The skin tone of the children is much darker in the first pictures.

At the same time, the “after” photographs depict the same students but several years later wearing suits and ties, their hair is cut short. Also, their skin looks several tones lighter. It is theorized that such drastic difference occurred because of the manipulations with the filters (Reyhner par. 17). Namely, since the photographs were black and white, a colored filter could have been added to create an effect of a darker or a lighter skin tone. To be more precise, shooting a photograph through a green screen made the skin of the people look darker, whereas the use of the yellow filter made it lighter (Reyhner par. 17). That way, it looks like the image of “the fake Indian” Diaz mentioned in her poem Hand-Me-Down Halloween has been artificially popularized and promoted by the white community. The schools for the Native American children took those pictures for a reason; and the reason was nothing but to demonstrate how “wild” and uneducated the Native population had been prior to the intervention of the white community that was perceived as bringing the “right” culture, enlightenment, and a better lifestyle.

Today, the appreciation of the Native American culture in the United States still looks like mockery of the white people. One should just remember the recent claim of Milo Yiannopoulos, the editor of Breitbart Tech, to appear at his speech in Yale wearing “a traditional Native American costume” to provoke the proponents of the cultural appropriation (Cicotta par. 3). After this event, it becomes rather clear that the ignorance towards the Native American culture and the meaning of actions such as dressing up as “Indians” still exists in the contemporary American society. Many individual require education in order to understand the context of the issue properly and see how their actions may impact a large Native community.

Works Cited

Cicotta, Tom. . 2016.

Diaz, Natalie. . 2012.

Petracca, Elise. . 2014.

Reyhner, Jon Allan. . 2016.

This essay on “When My Brother Was an Aztec” Poems by Natalie Diaz was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:

Reference

IvyPanda. (2020, August 25). "When My Brother Was an Aztec" Poems by Natalie Diaz. https://ivypanda.com/essays/when-my-brother-was-an-aztec-poems-by-natalie-diaz/

Reference

IvyPanda. (2020, August 25). "When My Brother Was an Aztec" Poems by Natalie Diaz. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/when-my-brother-was-an-aztec-poems-by-natalie-diaz/

Work Cited

""When My Brother Was an Aztec" Poems by Natalie Diaz." IvyPanda, 25 Aug. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/when-my-brother-was-an-aztec-poems-by-natalie-diaz/.

1. IvyPanda. ""When My Brother Was an Aztec" Poems by Natalie Diaz." August 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/when-my-brother-was-an-aztec-poems-by-natalie-diaz/.


Bibliography


IvyPanda. ""When My Brother Was an Aztec" Poems by Natalie Diaz." August 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/when-my-brother-was-an-aztec-poems-by-natalie-diaz/.

References

IvyPanda. 2020. ""When My Brother Was an Aztec" Poems by Natalie Diaz." August 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/when-my-brother-was-an-aztec-poems-by-natalie-diaz/.

References

IvyPanda. (2020) '"When My Brother Was an Aztec" Poems by Natalie Diaz'. 25 August.

Powered by CiteTotal, the best citation creator
More related papers