How does one define oneself? Is it through land, oral tradition, or language? If we were to ask Simon Ortiz, one of the leading Native American writers, he would answer, to an extent, all of the above. In agreement to Ortiz, Kieu also identify herself through these three factors. “They are all connected in one way or another,” she says. Although these two authors have a completely different background, one being a Native American while the other is a Chinese-Vietnamese-American, they share the same feeling about their identity—that is, they identify themselves through their relation to land, oral tradition, and language.
Ortiz states that the indigenous people and their land have a very close and strong relationship. If the people protect and respect their land, it will return them with favors, such as providing them with nutrient-rich soil that allow them to grow fruits and vegetable on. In fact, he further explains that land and people are one that cannot be separated; they are the essential matter of Existence, and that “without land, there is no life” (Speaking for the Generation, xii). Land, as he stated, is our identity and home place (Ortiz 1988). However, when the earlier settlements came, they conquer the land and the indigenous people, which allow them to treat the Native Americans in any way they wanted. The colonizers had never treated their land in the same way as the Native Americans did. They also prevent the Native Americans to do traditional rituals to affirm their relationship with all things in Creation (Speaking for the Generation xv); therefore, the colonization process foreshadows the breaking of this bond between the Native people and their land.
In “Now It Is My Turn To Stand,” Ortiz mentioned that his Acoma childhood memory centered around the chunah, a little stream “two hundred yards north of McCartys” (Speaking for the Generation xvii). It was where he got the water to wash his clothes and to give to the animals. It was also where he learned to swim and catch fish. In return, he as well as the Acoma Pueblo and other southwestern Pueblos communicate with this little stream through ceremonies, songs, and prayers (Speaking for the Generation xv). However, since the Americans came, these practices were stopped. As a result, “the chunah change from a stream running full and vigorous in its channel to one flowing limply and weakly, and from being clear and clean to being gray and brackish” (Speaking for the Generation xvii). Without this stream, his people were left without a water source, place to swim, and fish to eat, which are all an essential parts of the Native American life.
Kieu, in a sense, also identify herself through land, but in a very way than Ortiz. She is a Chinese who were born and raised in Vietnam. In her heart, she is always a Chinese. However, she cannot deny her relation to the Vietnam land. One particular place that she mentioned during the interview was her grandmother’s garden. It was where she...