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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Life in Alaska
Writing Truth, Three Generations  -  Adventure in Chinatown
By Susie Silook « Prev   Page 1 of 4   Next »

My father was a steel worker in Skokie, Illinois.
He would leave before dawn and return long after
the sun no one ever saw in Chicago went down.

My mother says the buildings were too tall and the air
stank.
The only place I went was church, she remembers.

Sculpture by Susie Silook is 'Yupik Angel,' photo by Jimmie Froelich.
My brother Barry was a month old, making me nothing
but
a nagging worry in my mother's mind.
No more babies she thought
after the third child
after the fourth child
after the fifth child
and the sixth child.

My father's hunting fed his family
and his mother's family
and his brother's family.

People still wonder why he agreed to
the government relocation program and
without my mother's consent
to move his Yupik family to Chicago.

In those days they paid the expenses to move
Native folk out of Native neighborhoods
and into Asian ones.

It would save them from the mistake
of the reservation
would solve the problem
of that persistent Native identity.

My sister used to take all her clothes off
and run about naked --
that's everyone's favorite Chicago story.

My other sister got lost and only spoke Yupik
and so they took her all over Chinatown
looking for her non-existent Asian family.

Someone must have told them
that child is not Asian for
she remembers eating ice cream at the
precinct and my father remembers
how big her eyes were when he
came to claim his
relocated but not indigenous to
Chinatown girl.

Mrs. Silook, why do you want to poison your children?
the psychiatrist asked my mother.

My father would repeat day in and day out
Sakuuma paneghaallequusi
You will all starve if something happens to me.

Finally my Inupiaq-Irish mother who spoke only Yupik
shouted
Then we should buy poison and prepare ourselves!

My father wouldn't go to work unless
she stayed up all night to watch everyone.

The woman was tired you got that?

I didn't mean it, she told the lady,
I was tired of Saavla saying we were going to starve.

So, Custer's Last Stand II
or infinity
lasted one month
in Chinatown.

Better to starve as a Yupik than as impossible immigrant
read the fortune cookie of my father
who says only that
Chicago is too big to remember.

© 1999, Alaska Quarterly Review

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About the Author: Susie Silook is a sculptor and writer, currently living in Anchorage. She is a recipient of a Governor's Arts Award 2000. Her writing has been most recently featured in Alaska Native Writers, Storytellers and Orators: The Expanded Edition published by Alaska Quarterly Review and funded by a Heritage and Preservation Grant from The National Endowment for the Arts. Her sculpture is featured in The Anchorage Museum of History and Art, The Alaska Shop on Madison in New York City, and in many private and corporate collections in Alaska, New York, and San Francisco. She is the grant writer for the tribal government (IRA) in Gambell, Alaska.
 
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